The three weeks I’ve spent in Candidasa have been more fun that a barrel full of greased-up monkeys. Apart from the 25 hours spent cruising the clear, blue skies of Bali, my days and nights have been filled with heavy drinking, good eating, frantic dancing, mesmerising snorkelling, brutal violence and even a touch of romance (and I’m not just talking about the blossoming man-love between Hamster and Alan).
Candiasa is a truly incredible corner of the world, and it’s a place where I’ve experienced a lot of growth and change over the past year. High above the temples, jungles, beaches and monkeys, I finally felt that I was getting somewhere with my flying. Closer to the ground, I built friendships with people from around the world and from all sorts of backgrounds. From mad doctors to sex-obsessed musicians, and lesbian pilots to conspiracy theorists, Candi is a meeting place for all sorts of wonderful weirdos.
If you’re a fan of paragliding or diving, Candi is your idea of paradise, but it’s a wonderful destination for anyone who just wants to hang out and watch life go sliding on by. Just grab an icy cold Bintang, sit under a tree, and chill out. Have a wank if you want to, nobody will care. Buy a pair of sunglasses from street hawker Eric when he comes round, too – he’s trying to send three kids to private school, you know.
If you’ve been following my adventures over the past three years, you’ll know I have a tendency to fall for attractive European ladies and subsequently change my life plans in order to follow them to the ends of the Earth. I’m happy to say that it’s happened again, and I will be joining the lovely Lena in Moscow in a few weeks time. I’m a handsome bloke, but I’m definitely the ugmo in this relationship; I guess she’s just happy to meet someone who doesn’t wear imitation Adidas tracksuits and smash cinder blocks with his bare hands.
As for Alan and Hamster, they’ve finally succumbed to their burning lust for each other, and have become lovers. I wish they’d waited until I was out of the room to consumate their relationship, but I guess a few years of therapy and binge drinking will help me forget the sight of their aggressive romping. Honestly, it looked like two wombats fighting over a tennis ball. Last I heard, they’re moving to Newtown together to open yogurt shop. I wish them all the best, even if their brand of love is a violent one.
After a few weeks spent tearing up the skies above Nusa Dua and keeping the fine folks who brew Bintang in business, Alan and I packed up our gliders and headed to the gorgeous Balinese village of Candidasa to continue our adventure. Within minutes of hitting town we were up on the hill, launching out over the sparkling ocean. Alright, I went into a tree first, but after a while I managed a half-decent launch and climbed into the sky. As a flying site, Candi is one of the best of the planet. With a 400m cliff jutting out of the water, it’s easy to rise to 700 or 800 metres, which offers not only a top view but the option to practice all sorts of fun stuff like wingovers and spirals without worrying about splatting into the ground. It’s an awesome spot, and I was stoked to be able to test my new-found skills and experience at a place where, just one year ago, I was terrified to fly. Al and I landed after a few hours and raced back to our luxurious hotel, the Puri Oka, to have sex with each other meet up with the notorious Richard ‘The Hamster’ Ham, who blazed a path of destruction through Candidasa last year. A big fan of a good knee-up and known to get legless at any opportunity, I couldn’t wait to smash a bucket bucketload of Bintangs with him. Hamster’s the sort of bloke you’d expect to find swigging metho-and-Fanta cocktails and shitting in his neighbour’s letterbox, so I was surprised when he sashayed into the Puri Oka wearing clown pants and carrying a yoga mat under one heavily-tattooed arm. “Point me towards the nearest gluten-free lentil burger, and then I’m going to re-align my chakra in the spirt dojo upstairs,” he lisped, while Al and I exchanged astonished glances. “Oh, and from now on you can call me Ocean. The power of my positivity ebbs and flows across the planet.” I thought he was taking the piss, but Hamster did indeed order a bland, salad-stuffed meal, while lambasting Al and I for tucking into chips and schnitzels. As he continued to dribble on about healthy diets and the power of positivity, I couldn’t help feeling like I’d lost a mate and gained a hippy imbecile. When he started praising the Black Lives Matter movement and passionately talking about the importance of gay marriage, I realised I had to put my foot down. I ordered three large Bintangs, hoping Hamster would have one and return to form, but I was left heartbroken.
“I’ll have a glass of tap water, served at room temperture, but only if it’s been sourced ecologically,” he minced, before looking up an astology app on his phone. Al and I decided we’d seen enough, and took matters into our own hands. Al, a former professional wrestler (under the name Balls Sackington), took Hamster down and prised his mouth open. “I abhor violence!” Hamster tried to splutter, but I stepped over him and poured a full bottle of Bintang into his mouth. From the way he shook and struggled, you’d think I’d poured acid down his throat. The effect, however, was just what I’d hoped for. As soon as he calmed down, Hamster reached into his pants, scratched his balls, perved at a hot chick walking by in a bikini, and told me to get him another fuckin’ beer or he’d smash me. He had a couple of icy cold Bintangs in his hands within seconds, and was soon on his way to oblivion. The Hamster was back and better than ever! He started cracking jokes and snapping the bras on any girl who made the mistake of walking past him. We ended up in town at a disco, with Hamster gyrating in an incredibly sensual manner, and he soon worked up such a sweat that he needed to remove his clothes or risk a nasty case of spontaneous human combustion. His disrobing caused girls to rush the dancefloor, and in their lustful rage they managed to tear all of my clothes off, too. They left my undies on for reasons I can’t quite explain, so try to overlook that obvious loophole in my story. I swear this is true, though. Anyway, long story short, after I boned half a dozen babes and Hamster resisted because he’s gay a happily married man, we needed to rehydrate, so we swaggered over to the nearest Alfamart for a drink. “Oh no, not you fuckwits again,” said the little bloke behind the counter, recalling a similar incident 12 months earlier that almost got us kicked out of Indonesia. “But what happen to the one of you? Weren’t you a fat cunt last time? But this other man with the tattoo, he is still sexy. I dream of him every night.” We managed to get the shop assistant to stop wanking for long enough to take our photo, then raced out of there before we could be arrested. As we hurtled down the street, we saw Al arm-wrestling a lesbian and dragged him home with us, leaving the locals of Candidasa wondering which Hindu god they’d pissed off enough to deserve another visit from the Flying Hamster.
If there’s a more inspirational film than the 1991 classic Thelma & Louise, I’m yet to see it. The tale of two lesbians who smoke some poor bloke and then travel all over the place in a fancy car before driving it off a cliff provides lessons that we should all live by. Also, Geena Davis was pretty hot back then. So when Al, who looks a little like Geena in the right light, asked me to fly into uncharted territory with him, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.
We were cruising around above Pandawa Beach, when the wind shifted south and we realised we could start edging further and further around the bottom of the Balinese coast. Kilometres of rugged and remote beaches lay begging to be explored, and before long we found ourselves cruising through uncharted territory. The height we found was extraordinary, and it was exciting to escape from the restraints of the popular flying sites.
It’s a beautiful part of the world, with shear cliffs topped by million-dollar houses and exclusive resorts. Bikini-clad babes looked up from their expensive cocktails to watch us float by, most likely hoping that we would land nearby and pop in for a shag. But Al and I had eyes only for each other the end of the island, so we kept pushing forward. There were a few dodgy moments, but we stuck together and made it work.
“How far are we going to go?” I asked, my voice trembling.
“To the end of the world, baby,” came the unwavering reply. “To the end of the world… together.” The landscape became even wilder and more amazing as we swept past stunning beaches and misty mountains. Finally, we reached the headland that marked the start of Uluwatu, on the western coast of the island. We’d made it as far as two brave pilots could ever hope, and swung around to start the long, slow slog back to launch. The sun was fading and the headwind was powerful, but we knew we could make it.
Unfortunately, just like in Thelma & Louise, this story was not to have a happy ending. Coming back around a monstrous headland, we ran into wild rotor that threw us around and sent us scuttling towards the beach hundreds of metres below.
“Looks like we’re going down on each other,” Al called over the radion.
“Don’t you mean we’re going down together?” I asked, sure that he’d simply made a linguistic fuck up.
“Erm, yes, I guess that’s it,” he replied slimily.
I fluttered to the ground next to an ancient shipwreck, and looked around at a beach seemingly untouched by the hand of man.
I was packing up my gear and wondering how the hell I’d get out of there, when a funny little man wearing oven mitts climbed out of a nearby bush and started talking to me in broken Engrish. I thought he was a local hobo and was about to brush him, when I noticed he was plucking his wing out of a nearby bush. He introduced himself as Lee, from Japan, and an instant bond was formed between us. I saw him as a mentor; he saw me as the son he’d never had.
Even though our landing spot was as remote as the chances of Penny Wong taking out the next Miss Universe competition, it’s never hard to get a beer in Bali, so Al and I relaxed with a few Bintangs while Lee kicked back with a cocktail served in a coconut, complete with tiny umbrella and extravagant crazy straw to suck it through. It was a surreal vision in such an out-of-the-way spot.
It was fortunate that we rehydrated, because the climb back up the cliff was steep enough to have a Nepalese sherpa calling it quits. When we finally made it to the top we were treated to a (well-deserved) hero’s welcome by the local villagers, who showered us with love and affection and free nasi goreng. It was the best day of my life… until I caught Al and Lee walking out from behind a tree with guilty looks on their faces. I was crushed.
What a fuckin’ day! It was an epic journey and one of the most memorable flights I’ve had. Al and I pushed our limits and tested our skills, and we were rewarded with stunning views and an effort that we can be truly proud of. Every day of flying in Bali is brilliant, but that afternoon spent high above the beaches of southern Bali has to top it all. And after having some time to reflect on what happened, I wish Al and Lee all the best in the future. Keep flying high, you crazy kids.
Lake Malawi looks glorious, but shortly after arriving I decided not to swim in it because it’s full of flesh-eating bilharzia parasites. My mind was quickly changed when a decorative 24-year-old Austrian sheila begged me to share a kayak with her for a trip around Thumbi Island. Shit, there’s not much I wouldn’t do for a European stunna in a bikini, so a shortened life expectancy and the likelihood of my intestines squirting out my arsehole in the near future was a small price to pay.
Also along for the ride were Amilcar, a crazy 53-year-old Brazilian and Lucas and Celine, a couple of Germans working at a charity in the wilds of Malawi. All we needed was a Jew and an Irishman and we would’ve had the perfect setup for a joke.
The view from the back of the kayak was fuckin’ excellent (and the scenery wasn’t bad, either), with the wide, open lake giving way to immaculate mountains on every side. The water is crystal clear and as blue as an Aryan child’s eyes, making for a grouse place to splash around and have fun. After strapping my snorkel on and plunging into the sparkling water, I was welcomed into a world of astonishingly colourful cyclid fish, who swam and danced before my eyes.
After that we jumped off some rocks like people on a Coca Cola commercial and lost most of the flippers and snorkels (thus depriving some innocent Malawian dude of his livelihood), before heading back to the beach for about a thousand cheap cocktails. I figure the alcohol in them will kill most of the parasites. I even had a crack at my Austrian friend’s paraglider, and amazed the locals with my groundhandling skills (alright, more like gave them a laugh with my ability to put a wing in a tree).
That night we all headed along to a concert by some local Malawian reggae band called the Black Misionaries at a dive bar in Cape Maclear’s rundown fishing village. The place was absolutely packed when we got there, with rastafarians bouncing around in the sand and pissheads punching on in the dark. The wacky ‘baccy was being passed freely around and most people were holding hands or cuddling. It was a good vibe, even though the band kept ignoring my calls to play some bloody Chisel.
Being a handsome chap with a bit of a bad boy attitude (with a heart of gold that means your parents will love me), it wasn’t long before I drew the attention of the local lovelies. Alright, ‘lovelies’ might be stretching it – I was swarmed by a bunch of humans of indeterminate gender and unfathomable weight, who kept pinching me on the arse and trying to grab my dick. I scurried off into the crowd to escape their clutches, before seeking refuge in the toilet block. That was even worse, because what passes as a toilet in Malawi is a filthy, shit-filled hole in the ground. I decided to spruce the place up by pissing in the corner and snuck out of there, back into the maddening crowd.
Upon returning to the group, I was greeted by the highly unusual sight of Amilcar holding hands with a very tall, very thin black man, and busting out some crazed Ricky Martin-inspired moves. He was obviously enjoying himself, but I was shocked when he left to visit the toilet with the black man, returning several minutes later to dance some more. I was also devastated that no black men wanted to hold hands with me.
I was feeling rubbish the next morning when I rocked up to breakfast, but things were about to get stranger. Abud, a socially-awkward creep we’d met at the concert waddled into the restaurant shortly afterwards, hand-in-hand with a statuesque African woman who looked like she’d had all will to live fucked out of her by an obese Syrian the night before. The big fella gave me a high-five and then settled down to scoff a mountain of food. Amilcar staggered in a few minutes later, wearing only one shoe, no shirt, and looking confused.
“I do not know what happen,” he said to a pot plant. “One minute I have fun dance, drink beer, and the next I wake up in bed with two black people. One man, one woman. I am so ashamed.”
And what happened between your drunen hero and the Austrian? A gentleman never tells, but it did lead me on a strange and unexpected journey… but more about that next time.
With paragliding’s State of Origin Championship heating up, I knew I had to make the second day of competition a big one. After bombing out into a field of evil thistles on the first day, I needed a big flight if I was going to win the thing. But the conditions were rubbish in the morning, so I headed out into beautiful downtown Manilla to see what was doing.
Manilla’s remote location makes it a prime candidate for rampant inbreeding, and I was expecting a horrible, rundown cesspit full of three-legged mutants who think ancestry.com is a dating site. Instead, I was treated to a delightfully prosperous little town complete with heaps of well-preserved buildings, a Chinese graveyard, and even a giant fish.
The centrepiece of the village is the Royal Hotel, which has cold beer and and hot Indian cuisine (thanks to the lovable Sanjay, aka the Hyderabad Heartbreaker). The pub loses a couple of points for being covered in Parra Eeels memorabilia, but gains a thousand for having been owned by rugby league legend Dally Messenger. The Master was in charge of the place back in the early 1900s, and also introduced the great game to the region. I had a few beers in his memory over the weekend.
With the tour out of the way, it was time to head up the hill and write my name in the paragliding history books. The conditions were perfect and I launched into the bright blue sky with the rest of the Central Coast Guy Surfers Minsinks crew. This time, instead of sinking out into the valley, we all soared into the sky. We really did do it as a team, and I boomed into a massive thermal with Scotty and the Wheen Machine. We were 10 metres from each other as we spiralled in our column of hot air (that sounds like a regular club meeting) and gradually lifted up into the sky.
From 800 metres, to 900 metres, to one kilometre above the earth, we fought our nerves and defied gravity. I’ve spent a huge amount of my flying time within close proximity to Scotty, and it just felt right that the two of us climbed up to cloudbase together, peaking out at around 2100 metres. How high is that? Right, the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, is a frighteningly-high 850 metres tall. This is how high I was in comparison to that.
The immense height we reached allowed us to push out into the valley and truly go cross country. With Geoff finding the thermals and leading us on, Philby, Wheen, Scotty and I broke boundaries and traversed mid-western New South Wales. It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, covering the world from an immense height in a tiny seat attached to a glorified plastic bag. I made it so high that the temperature was close to zero and the world below me looked tiny, and I was amazed that I was able to take it all in and not be terrified. I’ve come so far as a pilot in the past year, and I didn’t wee or poo myself once.
I was thrown around like a hated stepchild (how could I possibly know about that?) in some rugged thermals and landed 18.71km from launch. I’ve done a lot of things in my life, but flying that distance trumps everything. I never would have thought I could achieve that, and I sat in that field for a good half an hour, simply reflecting on what I had done.
The rest of my team made it further than I did, and everyone busted their personal bests. I don’t like competitions and couldn’t care less about who I beat or by how much, but seeing everyone improve as pilots and push past their limits was awesome. It was brilliant to spend the weekend with such great pilots, and we’ll continue smashing the guts out of our personal bests in the future.
Of course, Scott’s performance was aided by the fact a bunch of cops were waiting for him when he landed, so he did his best to fly back to his hometown of Bangkok. Sadly, he didn’t make it, but after landing he was chaired into a police car by a group of very impressed policemen. They slapped him high fives whilst returning him to a life surrounded by concrete. Well done, Scott! You might be able to do even better in fifteen-to-twenty years!
The results of the comp came out that evening, but my team didn’t find out if we’d won because we had to perform at the Tamworth Entertainment Centre due to Slim Dusty cancelling a concert that night. I assume we won the State of Origin, but the true winners were the middle-aged sheilas when Geoff broke into a spine-tingling rendition of Gwen Stefani’s 2004 classic Hollaback Girl that had everyone in raptures. I can’t remember much about the rest of the night, but apparently I spewed in Lee Kernaghan’s hat, because the prick invoiced me for the cleaning bill the next day.
Thanks again to Tina Bednal for some of the photos. Yay!
“Hey bro, you wanna go to Manilla?”
I was sunning myself on the balcony on a bright autumn afternoon, and was startled to look up from my book to see my mate Scott sitting a few metres away from me. The shock was threefold; firstly, I hadn’t invited Scott over. Secondly, my unit is on the third floor. Thirdly, the last I’d heard Scott was serving a lengthy jail sentence for human trafficking.
“Mate, The Philippines is a long way away, and I’m pretty sure the cops will stop you at the airport,” I replied, whilst pulling my underpants back on.
“No, not Manila in Philippine,” Scott said with a smirk. “Manilla in country New South Wale. We go paragliding at State of Origin Championships.”
I had my bags packed in five minutes, and soon I was rattling off into the bush with paragliding’s most wanted.
Manilla’s a good four-and-a-half-hour journey from Gosford, and its a nice ride through historic towns and stunning scenery. Scone is a lovely town, but I am a little concerned about a statue I saw as we drove through. I don’t want to appear crass, but it’s of a horse sucking another horse’s dick. I’m serious about this. I’m sure the dude who made it tried to pass it off as a mare feeding its foal, but a horse’s boobies aren’t between its legs. Decide for yourself.
Scott’s colourful past includes a stint as a pop music hearthrob, so he’s chums with some of the biggest names in Aussie music, and barely a day goes by without him bumping into another sonic legend. Whilst cruising through Tamworth, we pulled in at the Big Golden Guitar so that Scott could snort cocain off a toilet seat with his former bandmate Lee Kernaghan meet up with his good friend and fellow music industry royalty Lee Kernaghan. Lee – famous for hit songs such as Boys From The Bush and Hat Town – currently works in the gift shop behind the guitar, so while the two has-beens caught up on old times, I snapped some selfies in front of the gigantic instrument. Unfortunately John Williamson ambled over and asked if I had any spare change, so I grabbed Scott and we got outta there.
With that unpleasantness out of the way, it was off to Manilla, population 2300. I was expecting the town to be a load of crap, but it’s actually pretty bloody nice, with old pubs and all sorts of historic buildings. Scott and I met up with the rest of our paramagliding team (the Minsinks, although reckon we should’ve called ourselves the Central Coast Guy Surfers) at the Rivergums camp ground. Along for the ride were team captain Geoff, his brother Philby, and The Ween Machine. The competition didn’t stand a chance.
At 850m, Mt Borah is a great place to launch from, providing access to hundreds of kilometres of rolling hills, wide open valleys and bucking thermals – heaven for any cross-country paragliding pilot. It’s a world class site that draws flight fiends from across the planet. The longest recorded flight in Australia – a staggering 360km – started from Mt Borah, so it’s a perfect place for beginners and sky gods alike. Not surprisingly, as soon as the conditions picked up, people were throwing themselves off launch like lemmings.
It was actually a bit intimidating to be launching alongside so many people, but I had my mates around me and it wasn’t long before we were all in the air. I haven’t spent much time flying inland, and because it’s far rougher and much trickier than coastal soaring, I took a while to get the hang of it. That wasn’t the easiest thing to do with 50 or 60 other gliders around me, jostling for space. I ended up finding a ridge to work with Scott, and the frantic action had me grinning like a retard. I may not have been setting the paragliding world on fire, but I was loving every second of it.
It wasn’t long before we were back on the ground, because Manilla’s legendary lift was nowhere to be seen, and the majority of the pilots who went up went straight back down to the bomb-out field. I’m never one to follow the mainstream, so instead of landing in the nice, soft, designated field, I went straight into a million thistles and ended up with more little pricks in me than my ex-girlfriend. Total distance covered: around three kilometres.
It was an inauspicious start to my first paragliding competition, but after a few beers back at camp and a debrief with Geoff, I was sure that the next morning would bring better luck and greater heights. And without wanting to ruin the surprise of the next blog, that’s exactly what happened. So, ah, read the next entry to find out just how bloody good it was.
I’d like to thank team photographer Tina Bednal for some of the photos I’ve used. Thanks to you, I can prove to people that I did actually fly off that big, scary rock.
Paragliding is cooler than a dog on a skateboard, and I’ve been doing a lot of it lately. Most of my airtime has been spent at Crackneck, on the glorious Central Coast of New South Wales. It’s been more fun than a threesome with Siamese twins.
I took this video on the last day of daylight savings, as the sun died on a memorable summer. I couldn’t hope to capture the fucking awesomeness of flying above Crackneck, but I hope this gives you some idea of the beauty of paragliding. Peace and fucking, homies.
I grew up on the hill above Forresters Beach, and one of my most vivid memories from that time is watching hang-gliders cruising through the clear blue sky while I played on the sand. I never grew up dreaming of flying, but those memories obviously had an effect on me, because when I got older and awesomer I started paragliding.
Thirty years on, I was looking down on that patch of sand I used play on, hundreds of metres beneath me. My first flight from Crackneck to Forries was mindblowing, and it was sweet to watch over the town of my youth while doing something I love. It was even better to be up there with great mates.
I’ve spent more than 40 hours flying that site over the past few months, and it gets better every time I leave the ground. More often than not, landing on Bateau Bay Beach attracts a throng of awe-inspired wellwishers who can’t believe what they’ve just seen. Usually, a plucky child will push himself to the front of the delighted crowd and say, “Mister! Mister! Are you Superman?”
“Almost, kid,” I’ll say while packing up my wing. “I’m a paragliding pilot.”
Here are just a handful of the thousands of exquisite photos I’ve taken during my airborne adventures above the Central Coast.
When I woke up to the sounds of birds frolicking and Khancoban trailer trash bickering, I didn’t know that I was mere hours away from paragliding immortality. Alright, maybe that’s taking things a bit too far, but I was about to smash my own personal best and have a bloody good time doing it. But there was to be some drama before before I even left the ground.
As I was unpacking my glider on top of Mt Elliot, Klaus pranced over to me while licking the remnants of last night’s quarkkäulchen from his smug face.
“Perhaps today you fly all the way to the moon!” he chortled, as his followers crowded around. “Nein, nein, who am I kidding? You maybe fly as far as I can throw wiener dog, haha! Silly man!”
Klaus’s entourage started laughing at me, and everyone on the hill looked my way to see whether I would respond. Klaus was just leering at me, his stupid German eyes bulging out of his sweaty face, and I knew I had to hit him where it hurt.
“Yeah, well,” I said coolly, putting my helmet on, “I fucked your mum.”
The hill went wild. Pilots slapped each other high fives and started calling me a legend. The Germans pushed Klaus over and surrounded me, chanting my name. My tormentor crawled off into the bushes like some sort of deranged goanna, never to be seen again. My new followers demanded I take to the skies, and I was not about to disappoint them.
Alright, I may have disappointed them a bit, as the light conditions demanded that I make four attempts to actually launch, but when I finally got up there I treated them to an unrivalled display of paragliding glory. I hooked a few thermals and climbed into the sky, making it well above launch before pushing out into the valley. I managed to link a few thermals, which was a skill I definitely didn’t have a few days earlier, and watched as the countryside washed away below me.
Inland is flying is tough, because it’s a rough ride and often incredibly humbling. The rewards are immense, however. Learning how to handle how to thermals, thinking about how to cross the valley, and watching my skills rapidly improve was incredibly satisfying. Soaring above such a beautiful valley, watching dams twinkle far below and mountains look like speed bumps, was humbling and awe-inspiring.
As I started to sink out, I looked into the distance and saw a racecourse. I set my sights on landing in front of the historic grandstand, catching a few more small thermals while I imagined touching down in front of an adoring crowd. I brought myself down right next to the home straight and landed like a feather before looking up to see that there wasn’t a person there. I’d missed out on the next meeting by around 11 weeks – but there was a very appreciative donkey tied up to a post.
There wasn’t anyone there to cheer my epic performance, but that didn’t matter. When I looked at my vario, it told me something that brought a massive smile to my face – I’d flown 6.01 kilometres, my best performance by far! Sure, it probably doesn’t qualify me for the world championships, but I was pretty bloody proud of my effort.
Scott was obviously pretty proud of his flight, too. He’s a deeply troubled individual who struggles every day with being an Oriental in a white man’s world. Paragliding seems to be his only escape from this torment, and I think his time in Corryong was really cathartic for him. I really hope he can overcome his demons and find peace, because his bad boy attitude remains remains a blockade between him and true happiness.
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.