There’s something brilliant about waking up in the country, and so it was with a smile on my face that I climbed out of bed to greet another beautiful Khancoban day. The birds were singing in the trees, the cows were mooing in the fields, and there was a violent domestic dispute in the caravan next door. But I didn’t have time to lay by the lake or call the police, because there was flying to be flown.
I’ve never tried to fly cross-country in my paraglider, instead spending my limited paragliding career shitting myself closer to the coast, so it was with some reservations that I jumped in a 4WD and climbed to the top of Mt Elliot, which rises 900m above sea level. The view from the summit is spectacular, with epic views out over the sprawling Upper Murray Valley, with the picturesque village of Corryong in the distance. And there I was, getting ready to fly over it in my glorified plastic bag.
A bunch of sour-faced Germans were milling about on launch, complaining about Jews and stuffing their mouths with strudel. They looked at us like we’d crawled out of an open sewer and then started launching and spiraling expertly into the big blue. Their tour leader spat on the ground and sauntered over to me while chomping on a bratwurst.
“I am Klaus, greatest paraglider man in world,” he smirked, while sausage juice oozed down his chin. “Good luck. You will need it.” And with that he turned on his heel and goose-stepped behind a tree to have a leak.
The world’s top cross country pilots can fly 500km or more, but I knew I wasn’t going to match that on my first day. Something around 300km would be a good start, I thought – maybe go for a few loops above Mount Koscioszko, then glide over to Melbourne for a coffee in one of their many trendy cafes. I strapped myself into my harness, trudged over to the launch, and then took off. I soon realised that I might not quite make it to Melbourne.
For people who regularly fly inland, catching thermals (giant columns of rising hot air, for those who aren’t experts on the lingo) is second nature, but as a cool coastie I struggled with it. Even with Geoff on the radio, I had a tough time seeking out the thermals, and when I did, they were so rough that I could barely suppress my childish sobs. I would’ve been better off with the violent woman back at the caravan park. I ended up bombing out down the bottom of the hill and almost landing on a cow, around 2km from launch. The record-breaking would need to wait.
I spent that night reviewing my GoPro footage, dissecting my GPS data, reading through in-depth thermalling literature and… nah, I just had a swim and a few beers, but by the next morning I was raring to go. And this time, things went a whole lot better. I launched and found a thermal almost straight away, managing to hang onto it until I climbed to over 1000m and pushed out into the valley. Things were starting to click, and cross-country flying was finally making a bit of sense. Melbourne was in my sights.
I was contemplating the type of trendy coffee I would order when I started sinking out as I cruised along the valley. I was losing height quickly and found myself a nice, green field to land in. When I was a couple of hundred metres off the ground I hit another thermal, and was able to dance in the sky for another 15 minutes, hopping from field to field before finally setting down an incredible THREE kilometres from launch. As I pulled down my wing I heard a loud honking from the nearest road, and looked over to see a truckie waving his arms around and calling me a legend.
“Yeah, I am a legend!” I thought as I swaggered out of the field, happy with my flight. As I climbed over the fence, Klaus pulled up next to me in an ominous black van and wound down the window. He looked at me with utter contempt, then spat into the dirt.
“You have already landed?” he sneered. “Pathetic.”
With little in the way of response, I shot him the one finger salute until he drove off in disgust.
Of course, ‘Sky Hog’ Scotty had to go one better, flying all the way back to Khancoban and landing just outside the caravan park – an impressive distance of around 12km. The cheeky bastard even flew across state lines, which probably put him on some sort of government watch list. Not surprisingly, he was really happy with his flight.
We celebrated with a swim in the lake and an astonishingly good meal courtesy of Ladda, the wife of one of our senior pilots, John. As the moon climbed over Khancoban and bathed the whole world in silver light, I had to admit that life can be pretty good sometimes. But it was about to get a whole lot better, for the morning would bring with it some epic flying.