Off to Ecuador for nine days of paragliding and other fun.
First stop was Ft. Lauderdale for a long layover that included several hours on the beach and swimming in the Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately none of us had sunscreen because the airlines won’t let anyone carry that big of bottles on board. So, Charles and I ended up with a nice base sunburn to start the week off right.
Uber back to the airport in time to catch the flight to Ecuador. We landed in Guayaquil after midnight where we were picked up by our friend and former student Lenin. Lenin brought along his paragliding buddy Sabastian, better known as Yuka to be our driver and guide. Yuka has been Paragliding in Ecuador for over 20 years and has established many of the flying sights down there.
Yuka’s local knowledge was invaluable. Not only has Yuka flown all the sights but knows the weather patterns at each site as well as the recommended times to be there and the conditions best suited for every site. His experience meant we were able to fly every day and most days we flew several times and sometimes multiple sites in the same day! Thanks Yuka!!
The first few nights we stayed at the lovely Cuna Luna Hosteria on the beach just north of Montanita. Atlantic Ocean yesterday, now we get to swim in the Pacific Ocean. Two oceans in less then 24 hours, awesome!
This is a surfer destination. The waves were a blast. Mariyan and I spent several hours boogie boarding during our stay there.
While we were on the coast we ridge soared at Playa Bruja and the cliffs at San Pedro. The warm breeze off the ocean was steady and predictable. The view of the ocean as we quietly flew up and down the beach was spectacular.
We chased thermals at the Puerto Lopez launch one day until it got too windy to hold our ground. Then we pushed the speed bars and glided the one kilometer to the beach. So much fun!
Beach time done, it was an early Thursday morning departure for the Andes mountains. We stopped and flew from the mountain at Cochancay on the western slope as we made our way over to the eastern side of the Andes.
Cochancay is a new site that was opened just a few months ago. A mountain top launch out over a green valley with the landing zone adjacent to the the little river at its base. Following the local birds helped locate the thermals and they made for wonderful flying companions. Mariyan apparently had a stare down with one until it dove off and caught lift Mariyan couldn’t stick too.
Then it was back into our trusty little van to complete the crossing of the Andes. Our route took us through the Cajas National Park. This otherworldly place is made up of cloud covered green mountains filled with little lakes. Well above tree line the views were unobstructed and insanely beautiful. I would have spent the entire trip here happily but we were headed to the Pan-American Paragliding Accuracy landing contest in Paute and needed to continue on.
We spent Thursday evening in the historic center of Cuenca. Cuenca is the wealthiest city in Ecuador and home to over 7000 people from the United States. This week happened to be Carnaval which meant there were concerts and people everywhere. Carnaval is a huge country wide celebration that seems to be like a giant water fight. Everywhere we went people were throwing cups and buckets of water at each other and us. They were also spraying foam from cans made specifically for this purpose. No one was off limits. Little kids, teenagers, grandparents were all in on the action. I took a nice shot of foam to the back of the head while ordering food from a street vendor. All good natured fun.
Friday we were off to Paute, the location of the contest. Being the last training day we took full advantage of the time we had and immediately jumped into the shuttle truck upon arrival. After a 15 minute ride to the top in the back of a four-wheel-drive truck we made our first run from the top of the mountain.
The target was an easy 10 minute glide down the river valley from there. We practiced until noon and then chased some food. We made more practice runs in the afternoon.
Saturday morning was an early start to the contest. I wasn’t competing but volunteered to be the wind dummy. Which means I went first to ensure the conditions were favorable for the contest. There were teams from Korea, Columbia, Ecuador, Chile as well as the United States and France. Mariyan did pretty well that day.
I had so much fun being a wind dummy that I decided to talk to the organizers and sign up to compete the next day. My intent was to compete in the recreational division but through a communication error, something was lost in translation, I ended up in the pro division with Mariyan.
Mariyan ended up 10th overall. Which, considering that the field included the current world champion, was pretty impressive. Had I been scored in the recreational division as requested I would’ve taken third in that group and would have brought home a trophy. However, since I was put in the pro division I ended up near the bottom of the ranking. No big deal, I was just doing it for fun anyway.
Monday we snuck in one more flight before heading back to the airport to return home. The only ride we could find was a little yellow taxi cab. I didn’t think it would make it to the top, Mariyan did, so we made a bet. Whoever was right didn’t have to pay for the cab. We got close but Mariyan had to pay for the ride as we ended up walking the final pitch to the launch site.
Then was back to the hotel to pack up and get ready to meet Edwin, our ride to the airport. Traversing the Andes again in his van, 5+ hours later we were back at the Guayaquil airport.
So many new friends, so much new knowledge and experience. If you get a chance to go to Ecuador, do it!
Great sunset flight with Reon last night. We took off from the field at his house. The sky was so beautiful and smooth we wanted to stay up for hours but it was getting dark and we were running out of time. So it was back to the house to warm up and have a couple post flight beers. Thanks Reon!
Today is more prop repairs. This time it’s Adam’s Helix that he clipped the crusty snow with. The ice removed the innards but left some of the outer carbon fiber sheet for me to work with.. The big time consumer is the epoxy’s cure time, 24 hours +. Should be good to go by tomorrow .
So much happening this past week, some highlights include:
Lake City Winterfest was attended by Ken, Mariyan and myself along with a big group of hang gliders, paragliders and paramotor pilots from Minnesota. The Mississippi River was frozen solid where it slows down and spreads out by Lake City so that was our tow road for the day. Simply plow a path through the snow the same direction as the wind and start towing, perfect. Mariyan took the accuracy landing contest seriously and was impressive. I think he’s ready for the international competition in Ecuador this month. We flew all day, made some new friends and overall had a great time.
Wednesday I met Josh in New Glaris with plans to fly past the brewery and Jack’s Links and other local landmarks. Unfortunately, Josh forgot to put his goggles down before launch. So, the propeller decided to eat the goggles on climb out, destroying his goggles and the prop before Josh was even 10’ off the field. Oops! So it was off to the hanger for me to grab a spare prop for Josh. An hour later Josh and I met Matt at the Verona Airport. We slapped the brand new prop on Josh’s miniplane and he was up and flying around the area with Matt.
Matt is also a rated mini wing pilot and has an 18 meter Ozone Firefly. He’s flown this wing many times but never with a motor. He wanted to give it a try but was nervous about how it would behave under power. He asked if I would give it a test flight first. More than a little interested to see how it flew myself I rigged up and gave it a shot. It’s like someone throwing you the keys to their sports car, of course you were going to take it for a spin. Wow, this thing is agile! The short lines and high speed made it very responsive. I could see myself going crazy with this little rocket once I get some more experience with it. Thanks Matt!
Thursday I repaired and balanced a couple props. No, Josh’s was not repairable. That one is headed to the wall of shame.
Friday I met Adam and Sean in Monroe for some midwinter flying. Sean had fun playing with the steam coming out of the stack at the cheese factory. It was super cool to see the clouds spin as his prop and wing created vortices in the mist. Then we all headed west. Low and slow was the theme. The wide open fields and nice headwind made for low flying fun.
Saturday I met Glenn and Shell at a nearby park to begin Glenn’s wing handling lessons. He did great! We covered wing inspection, hooking in forward and reversed, launch forward and reverse and kiting in both directions too. After lunch it was back to the hanger for a couple hours running drills in the simulator. Next up for Glenn is a trip to the sledding hill. This is so much fun!
What a great week! Several days in a row of low winds and grey skies meant lots of flying.
Tuesday morning started with a pre-work flight for Curt and myself. His wingovers are getting pretty impressive.
Then it was a quick refresher for Sarah before we took to the skies to explore the area. She was nervous that she wouldn’t remember how to fly since it had been a couple months since her graduation flight. She did awesome and after landing said “it’s like riding a bike, your body remembers what to do”.
When we landed TJ and Reon were there waiting for us. TJ has been absent for a couple months as well. The holidays were a very busy time for him and he finally was able to return to training. He started the day with eight flights under his belt and added another four Tuesday. We worked on trimming the wing and experimenting with the tip steering. It was great to see both of them again after such a long break.
Wednesday I met Reon, Josh K, and Robert at the Lake Farm Park boat launch on Lake Waubesa. Nick also dropped in to visit during his lunch break. The ice surface was pretty messed up by all the ice fishermen’s ATV tracks but once airborne the sky was great. We all had a blast!
While we were packing up a news crew pulled up and asked if everyone was ok. Apparently someone driving by on the Beltline saw me doing some acro and thought I was a skydiver crashing into the marsh, so they called 911. The news crew was the first to find us and they wanted to capture the incident and were disappointed when I told them everyone was fine, bloodsuckers! About five minutes later the cops show up and ask the same questions. They were more relieved than the news people. Funny thing is, one is the policemen is an acquaintance of Reon’s which immediately changed the mood from concern to more of a “I should have know it was you” vibe.
Then we all drove over to the next frozen lake, Monona, to meet Angelo and Matt. Matt actually flew to work that morning across Lake Monona and stopped to play with us during his flight home after work. The ice was much nicer there, no ATV ruts to deal with. We all worked on footdrags. For a couple guys it was their first try. Some were more successful than others but we all enjoyed the great open ice as long as possible and only stopped because of the dark.
Thursday I met Nick F and Jake at Lake Puckaway. I was returning Nick’s paramotor to him after tweaking a few things on it and test flying it for him. Conditions were awesome, fully clouded over (no thermals) with a nice steady breeze coming right down the lake. We drove out to the middle of the lake to set up because we could. How often do you you get to drive on a lake? Take off was easy with the smooth breeze and dense air. We played in the sky as long as we could then got a nice meal at the restaurant overlooking the lake and called it a day.
The lakes are only frozen for a couple months a year so you got to make the most of them when they are.
This week at Madcity Paragliding:
Matt, Dimitry and I celebrated MLK day by playing on the southern half of Lake Monona. Our max altitude was limited to 1450’ AGL by the upper tier of the Madison Airport’s airspace but that left plenty of room to explore. Several bigger passenger jets flew just a few hundred feet overhead while we were dragging our feet through the snow covering the lake, so cool! Curt dropped in to take a few photos too.
More night kiting with Stuart in the field outside of Epic. He’s doing great and is ready for a trip to the sledding hill. If his schedule cooperates he will be flying down the hill this week!
I traveled north to help Nick diagnose a motor issue he was having. We had access his dad’s awesome shop. Not only was it well lit and heated but it housed a nice collection of vintage snowmobiles and motorcycles. He even had an old Kawasaki 500 triple like I did in high school, nice! The paramotor was presenting itself like a fuel starvation problem so we checked all the usual items, carb rebuild, fuel filter change, change the fuel for some fresh fuel, ensure the lines we clear, adjust the metering lever...everything we could think of and everything that Hadly suggested on his Southwest Airsports website. We found a few minor things but nothing major so I took it home to work on it some more. A few minor adjustments of a couple small things followed by a long test flight (my favorite part) and it’s working flawlessly again. I plan to deliver it back to Nick Thursday and we will again take it on a long test flight to ensure everything is perfect, somebody has to do it, luckily it’s me. ;)
Sunday was going to be a day of ice climbing at the Winona, MN Ice Park with Matt but the weather changed and it was going to be a perfect day for towing in Sauk City. So I took all the ice climbing gear out of the Jeep and loaded up the winch and all the towing equipment. The ceiling was just 1200’ above the road meaning every tow put the guys at cloud base. Ken got the last four tows he needed to complete his P2 training. Congratulations Ken! He also operated the winch for one of Dimitry’s flights as he continues to train for his tow operators certificate. Charles worked on his wing skills. Curt hammed out 10 flights! He accidentally put the edge of his wing in the creek on his first landing filling it with Duckweed, oops. It stunk like crazy for a little while but soon dried and the plants fell off. Josh was there with his paramotor making an hour plus flight around the area too.
Preparations for the Ecuador paragliding trip continue. The itinerary is established with appropriate leeway for weather changes. Lenin has something like 6 locations planned already. This is going to be a blast! There is still room to join us on this epic adventure. Round trip air can be had for less then $400 and lodging should be inexpensive too. Get ahold of Mariyan or myself if you are interested in coming along.
Madcity Paragliding along with our partner Compass Airsports will be traveling to Ecuador February 17th-25th and you should come with! Lenin, an Ecuadorian native and graduate of Madcity Paragliding/Compass Airsports will be our local guide for this trip. We will explore this amazing country both in the sky as well as on the ground. We will be hitting as many launch sites as possible and visiting cultural and natural wonders along the way.
Round trip airfare is surprisingly inexpensive, I paid just $366 for seat with luggage! Lodging will not be 5-star as we are adventurers not tourists, so that should be cheap too. Get ahold of me or Mariyan if you want join in this epic adventure!
This week at Madcity Paragliding...
Night kiting with Stuart. Since he is stuck in an office all day, I met Stuart just outside his office last night to start his wing handling training. Fortunately, there is a nice field next to some lights and that worked well. He did great, lots of progress was made. Weather permitting we will be back at it again Wednesday evening.
Ben came over from Debuque to investigate PPG training. He’s in, just needs to set aside a few more bucks and he’ll be back to start training in a month or so.
Ken, Adam, Charles, Steph, Pie, Mariyan and I spent all day Sunday towing in Sauk City. The boys all made a bunch of flights and really improved their tow skills. Everyone’s launch, climb and landings were all looking better at the end of the day. Ken and Adam have nearly completed the P2 training. Ken also took control of the winch once and helped pull Mariyan up. We are working on getting him tow certified too.
While we were towing, Greg, Matt, Dimitry and Victor were on Lake Waubesa playing with paramotors. Dimitry was ripping it up with his new Macpara Colorado. Thanks Victor for the photos!
Jake finished up the flying requirements of his training with a fun cross country flight with Robert and I. He just needs to pass the written test to earn his PPG2 rating. Good luck Jake!
I visited welder Tom for a quick repair to Moster 185’s frame. If you ever need anything welded, he’s the man! Aluminum, titanium, steel...he does it all and his work is outstanding!
Jeff is one step closer to flying PPG. As soon as he returns from Utah we will get him in the sky.
All in all another fun and productive week. Thanks everyone!
So much has happened in the last week, here’s a few highlights-
Little 8 year old Pie took his first paraglider flight and loved it! His mom, Steph, is a skydiver and Pie has caught the flying bug from her. With Pie weighing so little, the tandem wing was very lightly loaded and we were able tow Mariyan and him to about 3,000’ before they released. This made for a nice long flight for them. Pie was so excited and his mom was so proud.
Ken and Matt W added several more tows to their flight logs. Both are working on earning their P2 free flying ratings. They earned their Cliff Launch endorsements earlier this week with a trip to the Hager City flying site that overlooks the Mississippi River. Keep it up guys!
Jake made a bunch of PPG flights on Friday. The sky was completely clouded over so we didn’t need to worry about the typical midday thermals stopping us. We began at 8:30 in the morning and other than a short lunch break, didn’t stop until nearly 3 that afternoon. We even made a short cross country flight together and turned around only after our hands got to cold to continue. Jake is doing great and has only the PPG2 written test and 5 flights left to complete his requirements.
Dimity picked up his new Macpara Colorado. The manufacturer says the dealer should make the first flight with the new wing to ensure everything is in working order, I was more than happy to oblige. The wing is a more aggressive design and requires more wind speed to launch. However, once airborne it is amazingly stable in bumpy air and just punches through turbulence. It’s much snappier than his previous wing but he took to it naturally. Upon landing Dimity commented on the responsiveness and the longer glide. I believe he is really going to enjoy his new ride.
I helped Greg and Curt fix an electric starter issue on Greg’s machine. A small crimp from a pliers and some dielectric grease took care of the problem. As is often the case, finding the problem proved to be the hardest part of the repair.
In other news, Mariyan has nearly completed assembly of his new Pay-in winch. He actually managed to squeeze a full 5,500’ of tow line onto the spool. Initial testing of the winch will happen as soon as weather permits.
Jeff is already an accomplished paraglider and regular attendee of our winch days. He has been toying with the idea of adding a motor for the last few years so he could get more flying time. Monday he began his PPG training with a little ground school and motor knowledge including a few minutes with it running on his back. We also put him the simulator to get accustomed to the more upright seating position and the throttle lever. It’s a pretty simple transition from PG to PPG but the motor can be intimidating at first. I’m sure we will have him flying confidently soon. Welcome to the dark side of paragliding Jeff!
Jake and Chris were back to fly again. Chris brought along his Dad and nephew Adam to watch him fly. Apart from one oscillation induced belly slide landing the boys did great and Adam really enjoyed the show. Jake is up to six flights now and Chris is into double digits. Both Chris and Jake are getting pretty good at launch and landings and we continue to add in flight skills. This is the real fun part as they gain control and work towards independence. Well done boys!
Greg was also at the field last night. I saw him practicing his wingovers about 2000’ up in the unseasonably warm sky. He has progressed nicely since graduating. Keep it up Greg!
Jake has been working hard to get ready for his first flight. We’ve spent a bunch of time working on his wing handling skills as well as ground school and time in the simulator. Earlier this week we spent an afternoon at the sledding hill making short hops down the hill. Today all that work paid off, he made his first paramotor flight.
Just as we rehearsed in the simulator before lunch, he successfully launched on his first attempt, flew three laps around the field and set it down safely on his feet. Jake had so much fun that he immediately made a second flight. This one was even better. Perfect launch and a textbook landing in the middle of the field. Way to go Jake!
Owner of MadCity Paragliding and Adventure Addict