X-Pyr: Paragliding Across the Pyrenees by Kinga Masztalerz Pt. 2

X-Pyr: Paragliding Across the Pyrenees by Kinga Masztalerz Pt. 2

Day 5


In the morning, despite low clouds, I hiked up to Santa Marina with Chris. Nice hike to kick off the day but difficult to find a takeoff, and hard to imagine how I would clear the very shallow, never ending ridge with see of trees on the one side and no road and no landings on the other side, which by the way is in the airspace... 

Chris helped me take off. I restarted breathing when got to the place where I could clear the trees, then took a little thermal with a vulture, then another one and slowly with strong head wind cruised around the ridge, crossed the valley, hooked onto a windy corner of Peña Montañesa and surfed it all the way to tagging the Turn point in flight! No one expected this to happen! I flew so well and was so happy! 

However, that was as far as I would go, low top of the lift and strong SE wind showed me my place immediately when I tried to fly around the corner to the south side, rodeo of sink and no penetration, I flew out and landed in front. 

It went way better than we expected, neither Ross nor I believed I would tag the TP in flight in these conditions so we had no real plan, in the weird place in front of the massive rock face with strong headwind and the sky shutting down. 

Ross found a second take off on the way, only 200m and traversing so why not check it out. The idea being that if it doesn't feel right, I can just keep hiking around Peña Montañesa. The fatigue caught up with me, the wind was crossed and very strong. Chris volunteered as a wind dummy, but I must have missed the memo because instead of waiting for him to probe the air, we took off together and it was all wrong. 

The air felt wrong, if the wind was less crossed, I could have soared the S face, but like this I was in the rotor of another ridge. What's more I got into the harness in the wrong way, nothing dangerous but it should be a serious warning that I ignored. In the air, it was rodeo and not much progress, I decided to fly out and on the approach I took my first ever proper collapse on Scala. A good one too, Chris said it was 70%, 10-15m above the ground. 

I've done 200h on Scala and took her some gnarly places and never ever had a collapse, always was able to catch any deflation before it happened. However, this time I was a moment too late, clumsy handling, shouldn't have let it happen. 

Scala dove to the right but then my muscle memory took over, massive weight shift, arm down, up, shake, other brake and a second later I landed softly pointing headwind, like nothing happened. Thanks for being so gentle with me, Scala. 

However, all together it was a messy, stressful waste of time which as a result put me further back than I would have been if I just hiked! I was really pissed at myself, this flight didn't feel right in my guts, at the takeoff I should have packed and keep hiking, instead ignored warnings, had this massive collapse so close to the ground and at the end landed farther from my goal of the day than I started, so this flight just added road hiking! 

Ross asked if I was capable of doing 25km to Campo before 9pm and I treated it as a challenge, something that would push me and take my thought away from the last flight. We were all getting tired and none of us stopped for a moment to touch base with my level of fatigue, mental state and especially, what would be the best strategy for tomorrow's good weather forecast. So, I hiked 25km on the road to Campo, mostly because Ross bribed me with a promise of a hotel room and a real steak dinner.

In the hotel room, I looked into a mirror for the first time since the beginning of the race and didn't recognize the person in it. I felt disconnected, like my body didn't belong to me. I know it can happen when you keep pushing yourself beyond your limits and it's OK if it's only physical, like some big ultramarathon. However, in X-Pyr the most crucial is to fly well on good days and tomorrow I was about to pay the price for the stress and exertion of today. I just haven’t connected to it yet. 

Day 6


I woke up exhausted. The morning hike up to Cervin was slow but there was no rush. Chris and Jesse drove up and waited with yummy pasta while Ross volunteered as a wind dummy today. We waited and then cruised above the takeoff waiting for the day to turn on. I could have slept two hours longer. It was a slow start, and I was so nervous from the previous day's drama that I had to top land to pee and breathe. 

Took off again, so tired and stressed, after yesterday I didn't trust my glider handling nor my decisions, whatever I tried, wherever I went, it felt forced, no flow, nothing seemed to work. 

What's more, Campo was a bad take off choice for the day, Pena Montañesa that I came from was higher and a closer crossing, I could have simply stayed there and save myself yesterday's dodgy glide, massive collapse and 25km of road jogging... Sounds easy but when you're racing, to simply say 'well, just sit and relax for the next 16h'... nah that wouldn't have happened! 

The topography is one issue, and another is that I flew like absolute rubbish, crossed the valley twice, lost heaps of time, even when the gaggle chasing me, that took off from Peña Montañesa, caught up with me, I couldn't stay with them. Actually, I wanted to take a deep line straight north but didn't trust my guts, instead I deviated with the others, crossed to Castejón de Sos and we all got stuck there for ages with E wind. Where the heck was this wind coming from? I didn't understand the air and felt like a beginner. 

I chose my own scenic route, talked to myself, breathed, sang, set small goals, used all the techniques I've learned for years and kept going. I made some mistakes that put me very low close to the main ridge of the Pyrenees, fighting in the strong valley wind and turbulence, but there was no way I would land, I was flying to France, that's it. Not to mention that landing there looked even worse than staying in the air! 

I made it work and soon surfed the main ridge of the Pyrenees. It was quite pretty, even though it took me 4 hours to fly 40km, I did it, I didn't have to hike it. It might have been the most challenging 40km in my life but I was there, soaring the sheer rock faces and finally gliding high over the low clouds covering the north side of the Pyrenees. 

I glided well and hoped that I could figure out how to progress further against the northerly and strong valley wind. All the gaggle had already landed on the last reasonable field but I hooked onto a spur and tried to decipher the puzzle. I love puzzles like this and was stubborn, tried different ways but every time got flushed back, couldn't figure out anything worth committing into the valley with absolutely no landings. Finally, I turned back and landed on that last good field, 2h behind the gaggle of 6 who were well behind me in the morning. 

I was mostly pissed that I flew so badly and lost so much time, it would take me a while to understand what I achieved, in the state I was in after yesterday's stress and exertion, I flew the same flight as the gaggle of these great pilots, but mostly alone, crossed the main ridge of the Pyrenees low over the committing terrain in the rough air and held it together all the way. It might have been one of the toughest flights of my life, but I stuck to it and made it work. It's easy when you're rested, happy and in the flow. Holding it all together when nothing works and you're mostly scared and exhausted, and other pilots (that you had put so much energy and good decisions to leave behind) just fly in front of you... well, this is the push, this is what racing is about. 

OK, get over it girl, 5 minutes of whining was over, it was time to hit the road and chase the boys! 

Reading next

X-Pyr: Paragliding Across the Pyrenees by Kinga Masztalerz Pt. 1
X-Pyr: Paragliding Across the Pyrenees by Kinga Masztalerz Pt. 3

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