Well it's been two weeks later than originally intended due to family illness but team GBR2 finally came together for our first practice run this weekend. A late night drive from Geneva on Thursday night eventually found us catching a few hours sleep in the car just south of Zurich, you see we were even training our bodies for sleep deprivation!.
Anyway on the go at 6.30 for an early morning drive up through St Moritz and the Bernina Pass near the Piz Palu turnpoint. Alas the late spring snow put paid to any possibility of launching near the top of the pass so we drove south eventually driving high up on the western side of the valley near Poschiavo. Now whilst we were overjoyed when Proctor and Gamble sponsored us with a Mercedes Marco Polo Camper van perhaps we had both thought in our own minds that something larger and more spacious may have been more our style. The roads, no that's not the right word, the narrow tracks above Poschiavo quickly put paid to that idea!
Anyway back to the plot, a pleasant launch site and Jon set off south along the valley heading for the Sondrio valley whilst I propelled the car back down the mountainside. Alas the weather conditions prevented aerial entry into the Sondrio valley so the flight ended just to the south of the Lago di Poschiavo. Still the day was still young, well we had started early, so we drove up into the Edolo valley where once again we climbed narrow roads up the steep north face of the valley above Cortenedolo. If I thought this mornings tracks were narrow and steep this was just taking the mickey. Still a decent launch site was eventually reached above the rather strong valley wind that had now developed. Jon launched with a comment that "I should make Sondrio", A throw away comment but one that was to assume great importance as when I returned to the car I was to find Jon's phone (an HTC Desire, clearly he did not desire it enough) still charging merrily away to itself. Oh yes, I forgot to mention, during the morning flight we discovered that only one out of the three radios appeared to be working (although if you think about that logically, how did we discover it?) which frankly is not a lot of use and as a result I was unable to make contact with Jon who by this time anyway had crossed the col into the Bormio valley. Using what I thought was a dead radio but just in case it was transmitting and not receiving I made a few transmissions suggesting Sondrio as a meeting point and then drove back down through Aprica to Teglio wondering how do you find a needle in a haystack. Jon however had other problems, a strong valley wind was blowing at up to 60kph in the valley bottom but somehow he managed to cross the valley and work the spurs on the north side of the valley westward to our meeting point in Sondrio. I however made an executive decision that as the wind was bending the trees in the valley he would not have been able to make progress and would have landed just the other side of the col just north west of Tirano so having already driven to Sondrio I drove back to Tirano probably just as Jon was landing 15kph backwards with full speed bar in Sondrio and wondering what the Italian was for "May I borrow your mobile phone for a quick call please" is.
We did eventually meet up and the situation had produced two positive lessons, a checklist before taking off, and a backup plan in case of communications failures. It also got me acquainted with the roads around this part of the Sondrio valley rather better than I needed but hey!
Camping suddenly did not seem like a good option so a night in a hotel in Sondrio,a meal and an early night restored our minds and bodies to peak performance.............well perhaps in Jon's case I'm a lost cause.
The plan next day was to fly towards Locarno and we set off to look for take off points on the north side of the valley above Ardenno, alas it was a fruitless task as complete tree cover opposed any takeoff plans and although some possible take off areas presented themselves high on the mountain these looked pretty inaccesible. We drove back down the mountain where once again the benefit of not having a giant Winnebago was obvious as even with a VW Touran some bends necessitated several turns to get around! (Still on the event he will have to walk up whilst I sun myself at the bottom!).
The 'club' take off on the SE facing slope above Gera Lario proved to be the best option although the first attempt resulted in s slope landing a few hundred meters below take off with no apparent lift at all. Second time the hill was working better but it still took a lot of work to climb out sufficiently to cross west via Passo di San Jorio to an eventual landing three hours later at the village of Preonzo in the Ticino valley just north of Bellinzona. Whilst Jon wrestled with the air I meanwhile risked certain death below ground in the road tunnels along the NW shore of Lago di Como from the driving of several Italian drivers who decided that my exceeding the speed limit by perhaps 10 kph was insufficient and that the double solid white lines in the tunnels and the No Overtaking signs did not apply to them!
The next part of the route Jon had flown at Easter whilst I was not around so we drove west to Santa Maria Maggiore where Jon, decidng that driving up hills was for wimps opted to walk up to a 'club' take off for a last flight of the day whilst I went and set up camp at a campsite in the valley.
Next morning Jon again walked up whilst I broke camp and packed the car which had now began to resemble a refuse truck. Note to self, good housekeeping will most certainly be important during the race to ensure efficiency! The plan was to walk to a take-off above Druogno and fly up towards the top of the Simplon pass, perhaps further into the Zermatt valley weather conditions allowing. As it turns out many of the paths shown on the map did not in fact exist so a planned two hour walk up took Jon rather longer and strong winds in the valley around Domodossolo meant that the flight had to be aborted whilst I was waiting at the top of the Simplon pass. The Swiss border had been rather more vigilant than usual when I had crossed on the way up, now I headed back through down again, only to return with Jon half an hour later. I'm almost on first name terms with the man with machine gun now!
Back at the top of the pass Jon elected to walk up the 600m to the col to survey the opportunities for take-off into the Zermatt valley. Feeling like I should 'support' this venture, that is after all my mission in this event, I opted to go as well rather than the more attractive proposition of slumbering in the car. There is a perfectly good path up to the col but once again the late season snow still covered most of it so our route was 'guestimated' in parts across snowfields in which we plunged up to our waists. Note. Shorts not the ideal garment for such terrain. Still the col was reached and mental notes taken of possible take off points and flight paths with much muttering of "Why did I not bring my glider with me". A quick run back down, across the snow fields, the theory was that at speed you would not sink in, wrong, and we were back at the car. It's perhaps as well Jon has a daft Father who cannot say no to a challenge! Just a drive back to Geneva now. Lots learnt, lots still to learn and much to get right, still if everything went perfectly you would not benefit from a rehearsal would you.