Aussie flatland XC

Aussie flatland XC

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Next up for my flying season was some time in the flatlands and a visit with Ronny in Deniliquin – all-round nice dude and awesome host. Ronny owns a rice farm in Deni and is a paraglider pilot.  He is also the proud owner of the most reliable (homemade!) winch on the east coast of Australia! Sebby has been living with Ronny for the last few months while he chases the elusive 400km flight, and Ronny reckons if Sebby’s careers in paragliding and chemistry don’t work out he will make a great rice farmer! Sebby is a pretty handy paraglider pilot, but he is now a dead-set expert at weeding the rice plots, plowing fields and herding livestock.

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Sebby flying over Deniliquin, his home away from home.

Ah the flatties… I could write pages and pages trying to explain what a harsh, remote and sometimes scary environment they are to fly in and still not do it justice. Days are usually between 40-45’C on the ground, which makes the tow paddock with its complete lack of shade a very punishing place to be and staying hydrated a real challenge. The road network going out of Deni is not too bad, however there are a few directions where there are long stretches with no roads and the promise of a looooong walk out if you deck it. GPS Spot units, 8+ litres of drinking water, big balls, competent high-wind launch and tow skills and a good local retrieve driver are essential. What would happen to you if you had an accident out there? Hmmm… best not to think about it.

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The forecast was looking good, but not hugely epic for the first few days after we arrived. We took a day to train up a new driver to operate the winch and a GPS, and to indoctrinate him with the single most important rule of retrieve driving in the bush – never pass a petrol station without filling up because you never know when you will see another one! Then it was time to get our game faces on. Sebby has set the bar pretty high this season on his Factor 2 and 300km now seems to be the new 200km. If we survived the unbearably hot, windy tow paddock, anything less than 150kms would be considered a ‘bomb-out’…

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With the day seeming not to have huge potential we were not exactly in a screaming hurry, but eventually I pinged out of the tow paddock around 12:30pm, with Sebby and another friend Bruce hot on my heals. As usual the first few climbs were only to about 800masl and we were in survival mode as we waited for the low inversion to break. For the first few kilometers I tried to follow the Cobb Highway, which runs roughly north/south just near our tow paddock, however the southerly wind had a little west in it and with every climb I drifted further and further into the boonies. When there is that much wind you don’t have a lot of say about the direction you get to fly in and eventually I had to get my balls out of my hand-bag and take the tiger line with no roads downwind for the next 80km or so.

Sure enough, not long after that life got a bit stressful for me. At about the 60km out I thought I was cooked – I got horribly low in the middle of nowhere and was staring down the barrel of a long walk to a road. Chock full of adrenaline and with my heart doing about 200 beats per minute, I charged along at about 70km/hr roughly 100m off the deck for several kilometers. Dams had been triggering fairly consistently for me all day and I made a little muddy dam my last roll of the dice. It didn’t work, but I had just enough height to squeeze over a little tree line, where I found some zeroes and spun around into wind going backwards at 10km/h. I turned again, and again, and again until finally the bubble pinged off a bit further down wind and took me back up to 1500masl, where I allowed myself to start breathing again. I have never been so happy to see the bitumen road as I was at the 100km mark a short while later.

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My friend Bruce was not so lucky. He also got low at that point and ended up landing at around 80km in the middle of the Oolambeyan National Park with complicated, restricted retrieve access. Phone reception is limited out there unless you can find something to climb like a windmill, so he hiked to a nearby water reservoir to try to make contact with our driver. At the reservoir he was confronted by a very sad scene – the reservoir was dry and dozens of dead kangaroos surrounded it, having died of thirst. Bruce climbed over the kangaroos to get to the windmill and eventually contacted our driver who had found the park ranger, who got him access to Bruce at the reservoir. To add insult to injury, Bruce, having ‘bombed out’ at 80km, would then spend the next 12 hours in the retrieve car chasing Sebby and I.

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As Sebby and I passed the 100km mark it was starting to become evident that we had underestimated the quality of the day and there was potential to push on for bigger flights than we had anticipated. We were now flying over the agricultural farmland north of the Sturt Highway and with the improved road network, my heart beat resumed a more normal rate. The flying also began to get a bit easier and we began to push along a bit faster. I passed Goolgowi and eventually landed just before dark around Lake Cargelligo at 297km. Sebby took a slightly more northeasterly line and landed at 323km passed West Wyalong.

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When you are flying long days in the flats, by the time you land your day is really only half over.  Unfortunately, even though you are hungry enough to eat a horse, dinner on the road is wishful thinking after about 8pm. By 10pm retrieve had collected both Sebby and I, and we started the long trip back to Deni on empty stomachs, dodging kangaroos, foxes and rabbits and arriving around 2:30am. It is safe to say this effort just about broke our new retrieve driver and he did not report for duty the next day.

We had many more memorable flights in Deni this season, however this flight was a PB for me and a new Aussie women’s distance record, so one that I will definitely remember for a while. And it has made me even hungrier for 300km next season!

A huge congratulations to Sebby for his flights out of Deni this year – well done mate, you have definitely had one of the most prolific XC seasons in Aussie paragliding history and I am stoked to have shared it with you! All the best for your 2014 season in the Alps!