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Old 04-18-2009, 12:46 PM   #1
farfetch OP
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Ride/Climb/fly Pico de Orizaba, Mexico





Old dreams die hard. Visibility was low as I had ascended into a cloud at over 13,000ft. I adjusted the idle for the second time as the engine suck in the thin air. The trail was rough, but I was making steady progress in first gear.


I was spinning out my rear tire in volcanic silt, trying to top out of a steep section, when it crossed my mind to be more careful in the future when making commitments to myself. Six years ago I was hiking down to Tlachichuca after a successful summit bid on Pico de Orizaba. My lungs were happily sucking down the thick air of the lower altitudes relieving my body of the stresses of the high altitude climb. The ash laden track I was following felt soft and comfortable under my feet in contrast to the talus and glacier ice I’d been climbing higher on the mountain. The alpine scenery was enticing and exotic. Forests of tall black trunked pine trees were interspersed with meadows of chest high grass. The glaciated summit of Pico de Orizaba loomed above, its glaciated summit visible through the pine branches. It was on this 4×4 trail leading down the mountain that I determined to return some day on a motorcycle and ride up to base camp at nearly 14,000ft on Pico de Orizaba. It may seem inconsequential to anyone else, but to me it was important to at least attempt this self imposed mission. And now I’m back in Mexico with a very capable bike. I simply couldn’t just continue riding south with out giving Orizaba a shot. There were adventures to be had and old dreams to be fulfilled.
I had planned to circle part of the mountain on a dirt track from Cosmotopec to Tlachichuca. In Tlachichuca I would spend the night, then attempt the 4×4 trail up to the Piedra base camp. Working with a vague track on my gps and no maps, I wandered for 23 miles along various dirt and cobblestone roads for several hours.


The mountainous country side was green and shrouded in low clouds. The mountain folk seemed suspicious of me as I rode through their villages. They stared at me from horseback as I passed them on my motorcycle. I would slow way down to avoid frightening their horses or pack mules. I would call out a greeting and give them a nod or wave, but I never sparked any response other than a cold stare. I had a very real feeling of trespassing were I shouldn’t be. The terrain was so steep I was worried I’d never find a good campsite before sunset and be forced to ask permission to camp in one of these rough villages. Given the circumstances and wanting to make it to Tlachichuca that night, I retreated off this dirt route and onto the tarmac.


I prefer riding dirt tracks, but sealed roads can still offer a great ride. As with most Mexican roads, the tarmac contoured the dramatic landscape through lovely twisties, drops and rises. There was hardly a soul on the road and I thoroughly enjoyed the evening riding the Eastern flank of Pico de Orizaba to Tlachichuca.


I arrived in Tlachichuca’s town center after dark and scored directions to a hotel from a police officer. Hotel Gerar is the way to go. Prices are good, people are friendly, rooms are clean and they cater to climbers. Shortly after my arrival I linked up with a climber who was guiding for AMG(Alaska Mountain Guides). He had just finished guiding some clients on Orizaba and was enjoying a few rest days before flying back north. We swapped some stories and talked over a few beers. (note: He deserves credit for having the courage to try some of the moonshine I bought in Pie de costa) When I mentioned I was riding up to base camp, be generously offered to lend me his personal climbing gear. I wasn’t planning on climbing the mountain, but with climbing gear in my hand…new opportunities were evolving.


My first priority was to get to base camp, then, if the weather was right and I wasn’t laid over from the altitude, I would climb with my glider up to the glacier. From the glacier I would consider flying if conditions were perfect, and if conditions were not right for flying(which I suspected), I’d cache my glider and make a bid for the summit. I had not acclimatized and I was relying on a quick alpine style ascent and descent. (Most climbers dedicated at least 3 days for acclimatization.) I had to be back down to 10,000ft before the altitude laid me over, and I had to get the mountaineering gear back to Brian, the AMG guide. A lot had to come together for a climb- gear, weather, my body’s reaction to the altitude, and of course actually getting to base camp. I was surprised and lucky to have the gear(thanks Brian!) and I didn’t expect the rest to come together, but I wasn’t worried about it. Just attempting to drive my bike up to base camp was a worthy adventure. Actually arriving at base camp and then climbing on the volcano was all icing on the cake!
The trail was tough and it was a great GS challenge. The volcanic silt made the track slick, but once my TKC 80 tread dug through it and found traction on the hard pack dirt, I’d ultimately get through the tough sections.


I was hoping for epic views as I rode up the mountain, but instead I ascended into thick clouds. The fog was eerie and cool in a weird way. You could see just far enough to make out the trail and the big black tree trunks along the path. I only dropped my bike once on the way up, just another low speed get off to remind me to stay focused.

Mountaineers from all over the world pitch their tent at Piedra base camp waiting for a weather window to push to a higher camp or make a bid for the summit. I immediately parked the bike and went about shaking hands, hearing stories, and catching the latest conditions on the mountain. I found the exact same rock wind block we had camped behind 6 years ago.



I parked my bike, pitched my tent, sucked at the thin air, got a headache, made a hot brew, and went to chat with some German climbers camped nearby. Dennis and Yaki had (from Frankfurt) made the long and ardous trek in from Tlachichuca by foot(a notable accomplishment coupled with an anticipated successful summit bid). A bit waylaid from the trek and the altitude they were waiting for their bodies to adjust to the altitude before going higher. We talked of making a possible summit bid the following day.

I also met up with Jeff from Oregon. He had recently finished his masters in Glacier Hydrology and was now living out of a small backpack and traveling central and south America for a year. All he carried was a harness, climbing shoes, some clothes, water, and an ice axe,..and one nice set of clothes in case he met any hotties in EcuadorJ Its not often that you find a big wall climber that can still get his kicks with out the extreme vertical face of the Diamond or el Cap. Jeff struck me as a guy who usually has a smile on his face, and overlooks minor inconveniences in lieu of a vast appreciation for life’s adventures. We got along just fine! I sorted through my kit from the beam of my headlight. I’d never been on a big mountain before with out my full kit of climbing equipment and apparel. I felt I had just enough gear to safely climb and even bivouac if necessary. I would wear my motorcycle boots with my thickest pair of socks. I had my heavy cold weather riding gloves, balaclava, long underwear, and the BMW gortex liner to riding suit that I could use as a shell layer. I could wrap myself in my glider if I was trapped by the storm. Thanks to Brian, I had crampons, ice axe and a climbing helmet. Everything would fit into my reversible paragliding harness/backpack.
Sleeping at 13,900 feet with out acclimatization is never easy. I read for an hour, munched on some granola, spilled my water bottle over my bag, and tried not to worry about the upcoming climb. Long dark nights at high altitudes leave lots of time to worry and anticipate all the things that could go wrong during the upcoming climb. Its easy to psych yourself when your imagination seems to feed off the darkness. Eventually, around midnight I drifted off to sleep.
My watch beeped me awake at 3:30am. I dressed as much as I could from within the warmth of my sleeping bag, then I fired up the stove for a steaming cup of top ramen. Having spilt most of my water during the night, I re-upped my bottle from a nearby spring and popped in a few iodine tablets. Even though I felt this base camp to be safe place, I locked up whatever I could. (it takes a special breed of criminal to conduct an ardous 4wheel drive up to 13,000 feet to rob a few dirt bag climbers- does happen, but its rare.)
Just after 4am I was on the trail. I found myself wishing for my trekking poles and solid mountaineering boots as I trudged through the crumbling slag. After an hour the route transitioned to fairly easy mixed climbing through rock, snow and ice. I stopped every thirty minutes to force down some water and enter a waypoint into my gps. It was beautiful climbing,..alone… under a magnificent starlit sky. No clouds, no screaming wind, just the sound of axe clanking against the rock and snow. Without a bottle insulator my water was starting to freeze over, so I tied a string around it and hung it around my neck under my shirt to keep it warm. The sun was just creeping up as I topped out of the rock section and stepped onto the glacier. The warm rays brought the temperature above freezing. I could just make out a two man team making good progress towards the summit. I was certain it was the German team and I was happy to know they’d found their window.
It was an incredibly beautiful day. I was astounded. I’ve done a fair bit of mountaineering and I can only remember such perfect conditions above 14,000 feet on a few occasions. Realizing that the dream of flying off this volcano might actually be materializing, I immediately began evaluating the glacier for potential launch. I wanted a launch on the glacier that offered enough vertical to take off, but with out to much immediate vertical exposure( in case something went wrong during launch).
However, the winds were coming from the West. Knowing I had to launch into the wind, I traversed the glacier to a sort of saddle that sat between the summit glacier and the Sarcafago(a prominent secondary peak on the same mountain). The glacier was deeply scared by jagged sun cups which would eat my lines for breakfast. I stepped up off the glacier to a slag heap on the saddle. The pile of small loose volcanic stones provided an ideal spread for my wing.
Below the slag heap was one of the steepest, biggest faces on the entire mountain. The exposure was mind numbing. I dropped my pack and walked along the saddle peering over the edge. I was nervous to say the least. I debated over exact launch positions and wind directions and possible bail out zones. It was on me. There was no one else to reference. There was no local expert to rely on. The decisions I was making over how where and when to launch were extremely critical. The immediate drop off of thousands of feet was evidence of just what to expect if things went south. It was real, very real, that’s the only way to explain it.
The decision was to either back out and walk down or fly down. Who wouldn’t want to be in my place, standing on volcano at 16,000 feet with a paraglider and perfect flying conditions. The final choice was easy.
The clouds blowing directly up the face of the mountain confirmed that the time was right. I double wrapped my crampons and stuffed them in my harness bag, and attached Brian’s axe to the outside. I hooked in, checked my harness, double checked it, and triple checked, then took one last look over the edge. The situation was intimidating, but I was going for it. I saw the wind gently toy with the leading edge of my wing as it lay on the volcanic rocks. Using this as a sign, I pulled on the A risers and the wing rose up slowly. The wing struggle to rise in thin air and I pulled hard on it and backed up towards the edge. One wingtip jumped up under a gust and I pulled up the other side to level it out. All the years of practice in ground handling accumulating at this point. As soon as the wing was over head, I felt the reassuring tug on my harness as she let me know she was ready to fly. In a split second I turned and rushed with everything I had for the void of open space.
(sorry, no pics, had my handsfull at the moment) lets try the vid





Paragliding off Pico de Orizaba from christopher on Vimeo.


I shot out over the cliffs and away from the mountain rising up with the clouds as they rushed up the face. I stabilized the wing and then looked up to ensure there were no rips or broken lines from the volcanic rocks on launch. Everything was in order. My head throbbed from the altitude, but I didn’t care, I was the luckiest man in the world. I had pulled off the launch and was now soaring way up in the sky- the safest place for a paraglider pilot. I looked back at the volcano from my position in the sky and witnessed one of the most impressive views of any mountain I’d ever seen. The experience is beyond words, even beyond imagination, reserved only for those lucky enough be there.
There was some turbulence and lift near the mountain, but I never experienced even so much as a single partial collapse. However, each bump felt like big turbulence because I was so amped from the launch and overcome by the intense nature of the flight. I decided I’d had enough of an adrenaline rush for the day and I chose to fly with extreme caution, avoiding lift and turbulence whenever possible. I could have easily flown to Tlachichuca, and looking back I probably should have. But my kit and bike were at base camp so I kept a wide arc and worked my way around the mountain bearing for base camp. Lift was everywhere, there was huge potential for cross country flying. Even after circling the sarcophago, I arrived over base camp, looking down at it from 1,000 feet above it. Base camp sits on a plain of alpine tundra and grass that was producing substantial lift and turbulence. Looking back, it wasn’t that bad, and I could have landed there, but I was pretty psyched out and I went to lower altitudes in search of calmer air for a landing approach.
I located some soft air with a decent landing zone several miles from away from base camp. The landing approach took forever. I don’t really understand it. I had thought that I would sink out like a rock at this altitude, but I wasn’t. Some how the alpine grasses and forests were creating lift all over the place. Eventually I found the ground rising up to meet me. I wiggled forward in my harness and touched down softly in a grassy meadow.
Still hooked in to my glider, I stood there soaking in the moment. I basked in the warm air, breathing in the sweet smell of grass and trees, reveling in the safety of having both feet on the ground. I laughed out loud as an accumulation of emotion rushed through me. I’d safely pulled of a major personal feat.
My body reacted happily to the lower altitude as I packed up my glider. My head cleared up some, but I was hungry, tired, thirsty, out of water, miles from camp, and still above 13,000 feet. I walked back to camp too tired to truly enjoy the beauty of the volcanic alpine environment.
I met up with Jeff in camp, happily dropped my pack and rested against my front tire. I could seriously feel the altitude.


It had occurred to me that I had lost my camera between base camp and the glacier. Already worn out and wasted by the thin air, I wasn’t excited about going back up to look for the camera. It wasn’t the camera that concerned me, but the pictures. So decided to go back up, and I’d go as far as l could. Jeff joined me on the way up and our conversation distracted me from my throbbing head and empty stomach.
An hour up we saw the Germans descending. Weary from the climb, but content in having made the summit, they greeted us and told us about their climb. Then one of them looked at me and said, “I think I might have something you’ll want”, and to my enormous relief, he produced my camera out of his pack. Let it be known that I have a serious beer debt to fulfill to Dennis and Yaki. (thanks guys!)
Back in camp it was a mad dash to pack up and get down into thicker air. I knew I had nearly maxed my time limit at this altitude and a major storm was now bashing the summit. Dark ominous clouds were sinking down towards base camp. The lightening and thunder further motivated me to throw everything together and make a run for it. I was relieved when the trusty GS fired up. She was working hard at this altitude. I had thrown my leatherman deep into my cases, so I couldn’t adjust the idle. After stalling out once, I kept the throttle rocked even as I rolled down the trail in neutral.


It was tough managing a bike on a silt laden trail at high altitude after mentally and physically smoking myself all over a big mountain. But I had no idea what was in store for me on the way down. A mile down the trail, I was already beginning to feel better. The bike was running smooth as she warmed up. On one particularly rough section I dumped the bike, trying too top out in deep ashen silt.


I tried and tried again, but I was to weak to lift the bike from the position it was in. I swung the bike around on its side and began unpacking the luggage. At this point a dark ominous cloud opened up on me, it thundered, lightening…..and snowed.

All the while I’m trying to get my bike up out of the ashy silt and over the hill. Maybe it was the nearest lightening bolt that gave me enough adrenaline to get the bike. After all the abuse, she still fires up every time! I got the bike up to the top of the hill, reloaded her, and mounted up. The silty ash covering the trail was now covered in snow.

mud/snow pico de orizaba from christopher on Vimeo.


I wasn’t sure how I was going to get out. But I reasoned I should try my best before an inch of snow turned to a foot or two. And, I didn’t want to abuse Brian’s generosity by not returning his gear on time. It was slow, steady and a lot of low speed crashes.

I dropped the beast about 4 times in the snow and mud, but it was relatively easy to pick up on the more level terrain. As my body adjusted to the lower altitude a feeling of euphoria was aroused with me. I was enjoying the hell out of this ride! The mud, the hail, the lightening, the thunder, the day’s crazy experiences, I was seriously high on life. And at the end of the trail was warm bed and luke warm shower in Tlachichuca. And if I didn’t make it, at least I could camp in the thick air of the lower altitudes. As I descended, the snow turned to rain.


I happily touched onto tarmac, knowing I’d be staying in bed that night. I pulled into hotel Gerar covered in mud head to toe. I asked for a room as I apologized for my trail of mud. Gerar (hotel owner), a climber himself, just chuckled and showed me the way to my room. I used up the hotels entire supply of hot water thawing out in the shower. After cleaning up, I linked up with Brian and we went to the town square to scare up some chow. Misunderstanding the cook, I accidentally ordered an enormous quantity of food,….and polished it off to the last bite. As I slept that night in the comfort of Gerar’s hotel, the storm continued to rage on the mountain. On the upper slopes it continued to drop snow all night and into the next day.
My best wishes go to the German team and Brian who are still up there. (Guys! Tell me about it when you get out!)















I spotted a two man team nearing the summit, and I was happy that the Germans had found their window for the summit.





Everything considered the Sidi Setup Riding boots were proving to be a very capable boot.
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farfetch screwed with this post 04-23-2009 at 12:00 PM
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Old 04-18-2009, 02:01 PM   #2
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A 3 sport day. What a cool story!
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Old 04-18-2009, 06:39 PM   #3
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Wow! You've covered all the bases with this ride!! Thanks for the report and fantastic pics
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Old 04-18-2009, 08:36 PM   #4
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What a day man

What's up with turning up the idle on the efi? I've never had any problems with mine up to ~13k. Are you going on to South America? Neat report.
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Old 04-18-2009, 08:56 PM   #5
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That's absolutely amazing, and those photos are inspiring.
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Old 04-19-2009, 08:58 AM   #6
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what are you riding,? I'm on an 04 R1150 ADV, no cat,,.. maybe our computers are different. Also, I didnt notice much difference until I was closer to 14k and it was cold. I'm in Colombia right now, rolling south, but this place is hard to leave, another week or so, then off to Ecuador. I was rolling through Mexico in FEB, this blog was one of my favorites so I copied it over from my site(longestfriday.com) to this site. will push a few more reports over when I get the chance.
let me know if you'll be down this way
cheers
Quote:
Originally Posted by Throttlemeister
What a day man

What's up with turning up the idle on the efi? I've never had any problems with mine up to ~13k. Are you going on to South America? Neat report.
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Old 04-19-2009, 11:22 PM   #7
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Thanks Farfetch. Wonderful report. Don't know if you've climbed much in Ecuador, but there's some nice ones there. Cotopaxi is a relatively easy not-so-technical climb (snow & ice slogging route). Made it to within spitting distance of the summt back in early 90's. The wind was howling, and we were riming up with pounds of ice and the last bit was fairly exposed, so we turned around. A few weeks before, a Brit had been blown off the top and perished and that story was fresh in my mind. In any case the road up to the base hut goes through some beautiful alpine scenery and tops out at about 14,500' below the hut.

And I know what you mean about Colombia being hard to leave!

Have Fun!
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Old 04-20-2009, 05:04 AM   #8
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calrider,.. good intel on Cotopaxi, I'll have to check that out next time I'm there, good call on turning around, nothing cool about getting blown off a mountain. I was actually completely shocked to be up at 16k with no wind on Orizaba. What mountains do you recommend in Ecuador? should be there in 2 weeks

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Originally Posted by calrider
Thanks Farfetch. Wonderful report. Don't know if you've climbed much in Ecuador, but there's some nice ones there. Cotopaxi is a relatively easy not-so-technical climb (snow & ice slogging route). Made it to within spitting distance of the summt back in early 90's. The wind was howling, and we were riming up with pounds of ice and the last bit was fairly exposed, so we turned around. A few weeks before, a Brit had been blown off the top and perished and that story was fresh in my mind. In any case the road up to the base hut goes through some beautiful alpine scenery and tops out at about 14,500' below the hut.

And I know what you mean about Colombia being hard to leave!

Have Fun!
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Old 04-20-2009, 05:34 AM   #9
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Really enjoyed this tale, 'fetch

When I motored past this mount traveling from Puebla to Veracruz, I eyeballed the peak and admired its beauty, but the last thing I thought of was paragliding off the thing. That's some cojones right there!

Bob
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Old 04-20-2009, 03:31 PM   #10
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wow wonderful!

I did more or less the same, but not too big my cojones to paraglide , just ultralight (with motor, and as co-pilot).

After we crossed the Big Sierra Madre Mountains from Zacatecas to San Blas Nay (200 miles of pure heavy dirt roads), we met with our old friend OLE (aka pinche gringo as he calls himself), he is a certified fligh instructor for ultralights (http://stores.lulu.com/WildBlueYonder) - and he had his plane ready for us, so my cousing Pancho whom is already a certified pilot, took me for a ride to convince me to take lessons to learn to fly.

here is a video I took of Pancho and myself at bahia Matachen San Blas Mex. (check for my other crazy cousings racing on the beach while I'm flying)

http://s41.photobucket.com/albums/e2...nBlasPart3.flv

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Old 04-20-2009, 03:43 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by farfetch
what are you riding,? I'm on an 04 R1150 ADV, no cat,,.. maybe our computers are different. Also, I didnt notice much difference until I was closer to 14k and it was cold. I'm in Colombia right now, rolling south, but this place is hard to leave, another week or so, then off to Ecuador. I was rolling through Mexico in FEB, this blog was one of my favorites so I copied it over from my site(longestfriday.com) to this site. will push a few more reports over when I get the chance.
let me know if you'll be down this way
cheers
I was riding an 04 GSA as well with the factory CAT and muffler. The thin air up there doesn't help anything run better on a combustion engine even with efi, whatever works-adjust as needed. I was just curious.

I won't be leaving the states until late Septmeber but plan on being south as long as the money lasts or I can stand it, thinking it will be more related to money factor.
Careful, don't get married until you've finnished you ride if you can, lots of adventures to be had down south

I'll be looking for you if your still down that way.
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Old 04-22-2009, 07:50 AM   #12
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Bob, I'll be frank, I was scared shitless, something I talked myself into over the last few years, then things just came together. will agree it sure is an iconographic mountain, cant wait to go back. the town at the base Tlachichuca is great experience to, wonderfull country folk.
Quote:
Originally Posted by tricepilot
Really enjoyed this tale, 'fetch

When I motored past this mount traveling from Puebla to Veracruz, I eyeballed the peak and admired its beauty, but the last thing I thought of was paragliding off the thing. That's some cojones right there!

Bob
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Old 04-22-2009, 07:55 AM   #13
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"Careful, don't get married until you've finnished you ride if you can, lots of adventures to be had down south "
throttlemeister
words of wisdom! Central America was easy, but Colombia is a real challenge as far as not getting totally seduced by incredible women. DANGER! thats the beauty of being on a bike, ride fast enough and they cant catch up with you!

Would be cool to ride with you, you can track my location on thelongestfriday.com, if we are in the neighborhood, give me a shout out.
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farfetch screwed with this post 04-22-2009 at 08:17 AM
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Old 04-22-2009, 08:03 AM   #14
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Arte, loved the vid! great stuff, will have to check into that, a motor certainly opens up some more airspace. I'm going to embed that vid so others can enjoy it on this site.



too big my cojones to paraglide , just ultralight (with motor, and as co-pilot).

After we crossed the Big Sierra Madre Mountains from Zacatecas to San Blas Nay (200 miles of pure heavy dirt roads), we met with our old friend OLE (aka pinche gringo as he calls himself), he is a certified fligh instructor for ultralights (http://stores.lulu.com/WildBlueYonder) - and he had his plane ready for us, so my cousing Pancho whom is already a certified pilot, took me for a ride to convince me to take lessons to learn to fly.

here is a video I took of Pancho and myself at bahia Matachen San Blas Mex. (check for my other crazy cousings racing on the beach while I'm flying)

http://s41.photobucket.com/albums/e2...nBlasPart3.flv

Arte[/quote]
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Old 04-22-2009, 10:11 AM   #15
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YOU ARE MY HERO TODAY!!!

Seriously, you are living my alternate life. One day I will also paraglide, but for now, it has eluded me.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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