I’ve been living in Brisbane since the last xalps, and I returned from my last overseas trip on 6 February last year. I don’t remember the last time I’ve spent 12 months in once place, but I’ve been really lucky to have been relatively unaffected personally by lockdowns. I’ve been stuck in a place with year round flying and lots of other options. Half way through the year I decided to learn to fly gliders (sail planes). Like starting out with paragliding it has been a frustrating learning curve, back then it was with finding decent flying conditions (small hills in Australia makes starting the crux), this time it was sharing instructors with other students and having work get in the way. Luckily there was plenty of epic paragliding trips for that unbeatable sense of freedom and even emulating the convenience of gliding sometimes, by flying a complete circuit and avoiding hitchhiking. There was also a few trips to the sand islands, including sailing, and my mate is always encouraging me to use his kiting gear – I’ve recently got going on the foil board – it really is another form of flying.
In February I still thought I’d be going to Pakistan in May, but in March we were all hunkering down for the imminent arrival of Covid19. I got a pile of library books (for the first time in years) the day before the library’s closed for business. Everyone else went mad buying toilet paper. I don’t know if they used the toilet paper, but I had to force myself to at least read a few pages of each book just before they were due to be returned a few months later. This year, having my trusty old Mac with me, I did a lot of video editing. I started a Patreon account, for the purposes of motivating me to trawl through old footage, and also to share some more special videos with a smaller group, to avoid the “instagram effect” – I’ve got a habit of keeping many of my videos to myself. My edited videos were in three categories – old footage, mostly from 2018; weather and climate briefings; and recent flights, with a high proportion of epic memorable ones interspersed between shifts in the last year. Oh, and another category: window time lapses of clouds; the view from the 50th floor of Sky Tower looking south over Brisbane river, and the more modest view past Mt Coot-tha in the other direction when I moved apartments.
A really good bunch of friends too, old and new, lots of hike and fly and even vol biv, although much of it on the low down as attitudes to land access in Oz are unfortunately closer to that in the USA than Europe. I’ve also been flying Felipe’s FLOW wings a lot (not to mention his kites), and since I’ve bought a SLR camera to take with me I’ve been able to supply him with a lot of photos. This comes back to the original reason I learnt to fly and it really is satisfying to document my flights – we see so many spectacular sights. While instagram has taken the focus off this blog (I actually tend to just repost links here), I find videos are more popular and I enjoy making them. I’ve had the idea of writing a book for many years, and to be honest most of that is done, but I think that will have to wait until I break a leg or run out of other things to do. Flying is still really good value. [Even better though, I made the cut of pilot’s in Gavin’s new book, a spin off from his popular podcasts.]
In July, with Felipe and several other Flow pilots, we went on a road trip to northern Queensland. Certainly a great bunch of people to spend time with, but after a week of “hanging in the hangar” (an acquaintance had set us up at the Charters Towers airport for towing) I was getting itchy feet. It wasn’t helping that the flying was tedious for me – often blue, weak, and flatlands drifting downwind. My weaknesses were exposed – I fly for fun and adventure, if I felt I needed more frustration in my life I’d take up golf! Back in Brisbane I prescribed myself an antidote – a one way car rental to Cairns, stopping to hike and fly random hills on the way, and exploring some new country.
The hangar experience was a reminder of what was coming – I started learning gliding at Kingaroy in the spring. A wealth of aviation experience with a high concentration of airline pilots. I had been warned not to wait until I was too old to learn gliding, and it took me a while to get used to three axis flying. The toughest part was waiting for a flight – corona had brought a lot of prospective students out of the woodwork. It was also a challenge to get everything right – volunteer instructors all have their own style and I joked about making a spreadsheet with their preferences. It was a great relief to get my solo rating, probably for them as much as me, and I worked on relaxing myself in the cockpit and fine tuning my flying style. Finding lift was always easy and more than once I stayed up for hours after it had become completely overcast – twice my instructors had long left for home by the time I landed. It is a really great feeling to bank it over in a thermal, and with a high range of flying speeds you have a lot of energy at your disposal. I look forward to being an independent operator and hope to be able to help the instructors introduce new people to the sport someday soon.
I suppose I should compare gliding and paragliding. Paragliding is the most accessible form of aviation, but also the slowest (if you leave out hot air balloons). The obsession with many Australian pilots is to fly maximum distance. In early 2016 in Manilla after my world tour, again struggling with weak fickle conditions, I pondered the best possible scenario: that you’d fly until sunset over brown dusty paddocks and then arrive back very late at night. Compared to the mountains where the views are always changing, lift sources are more plentiful and interesting, and you can avoid driving completely by landing and launching just about anywhere. This is something you can’t do with a glider – but you can at least have a much better chance of landing where you started. A much smarter choice for flatland flying, where pilots are less interested in distance (staying up is not an issue) and more interested in speed. Pete, the other paraglider I learnt gliding with, also likes to push and fly fast so gliding is a good choice. Also compared to paragliding we will spend more time close to the clouds, and get more experience reading them and looking for lifty lines. Finally you can fly a glider in just about any weather conditions – something which comes very handy in New Zealand.
So I’ve had a pretty decent year in southeast Queensland. Shift work has enabled a lot of recreation time, although I have been frustrated with the lack of flexibility, and still resent being denied a temporary post to Antarctica over a year ago due to short staffing. Management has acknowledged this issue widely, but I have less confidence that anything will change in the next few years. I was somewhat pleasantly surprised though that they granted my request to have up to six months unpaid leave per year. This is in time for xalps, which I’m still not confident will go ahead, but it is a good excuse to go to Europe again. I often think about living closer to the mountains, I love Europe and I should make use of my Dutch passport. I’ve prepared my statutory declaration for leaving Australia – quite remarkable that you need to be granted permission to leave – with the knowledge they may not let me come back any time soon.
Years ago though I decided that it’s far to risky to wait – exactly the reason I squeezed in the Pakistan trip, even though it was much shorter than I would have liked. Personal health and circumstances could change, and the world is a dynamic place, so far the rapid pace of technological change not enough to up with our need to eliminate carbon emissions, at least with the incentives we currently have in place. Finally, I should mention some of the youtube channels which I’ve really enjoyed watching throughout the year – if my very patient Patreon supporters are wondering what kind of value they are getting for their support, they can at least know these independent creators are getting a share of it.
Just have a think, comprehensive news on climate and renewables
Juice media, political commentary (Melbourne based);
Economics Explained which ties in nicely with geopolitics;
Michael West investigating corruption in Australian politics,
Veritasium exceptional delivery of wide ranging science topics
Kurzgesagt simply said, a breakdown of interesting topics for easy consumption
RealEngineering with comprehensive breakdowns of renewables and other topics
CGPGrey random topics, huge audience, worth a watch
Minute Physics short fun breakdown of complex science
Caspian Report – good geopolitics is so hard to find!
Smarter Every Day A smart American who likes blowing things up
Answers with Joe a Texan with in depth coverage of various topics