After one short flight in Fiesch and a continued blurry forecast we hit the road in the Niviuk mobile for the only place in Europe that held any promise- Bassano, Italy. Many people are saying this is the wettest (ie worst) spring in history. Whatever the case may be, it has been dismal. But the flying forecast was for two good, maybe even great cross country days. Bassano lies just to the south of the crazy beautiful Dolomites, which I’ve never seen but have been high on my list. With a cranking north Foehn the Dolomites were a zero chance, but maybe if this weather gets any better…
It is my opinion that if Switzerland didn’t have such amazing mountains, and Ok- pretty awesome transportation very few people would visit. Yeah yeah, it’s clean and tidy and all that, but criminy the food sucks and the prices are absurd. But it does have those beautiful mountains, so I am rather excited to return. But it was quite refreshing to cross the border into the relative chaos of Italy, drive for a few hours, park the mobile in a campground next to a famous restaurant called L’Antica Abbazia (the Abby) in the little town of Semonzo (about 60 kilometers north of Venice) and wander into a gastric Italian wonderhouse. Pizza- totally insane, easily the best I’ve ever eaten. Pasta- mouthwatering (try the homemade ravioli with spinach and ricotta and you’ll never be the same). Espresso at the end of the night- OH MY GOD! We’ve now eaten there three nights in a row and have no desire to change plans in the immediate future. With the rain thumping down and no where to go, the Abby is the only thing keeping us sane.
Wednesday was supposed to deliver, so Bruce and I prepped the night before (charged instruments, packed and repacked all the gear, double checking everything was ready) and started early. Shuttle runs on the hour from the flight park, we grabbed the 0900 and were ready to go in short order. The day looked far from promising. It had rained all night, and if the sun did come out we thought it would OD and rain again. To help us slow down (patience is not our forte) we bought Bruce some new Niviuk brake toggles and acro handles, a trick I’d learned from Nate Scales and had already installed on my Icepeak. One of the things that always concerns me about spring (ie cold) flying is using big gloves. If you end up in an unrecoverable situation and have to throw your reserve and you’re let’s say, all wrapped up in a major riser twist- it can be nearly impossible to get your hands clear. Install acro toggles and suddenly things get a LOT easier- and thus a lot safer.
Once we got all this done we saw some birds climbing and a few wind dummies staying up and wanted to get our chocolate (XContest.org runs a yearly contest for the most 100KM flights flown) so we pinged off. Whoever wins gets a substantial amount of Swiss Chocolate, which is something I forgot to commend the Swiss on above- it is SUPERB!). Bruce is currently in the number one spot in the chocolate bar right now with 16 (you can only get two from each launch, so he has traveled in his quest!). But alas, and as usual lately- we were too early. But the day never really happened. I was on the ground after 10 km’s down the ridge. Rather than relaunching I opted to get my 7 year old mac fixed after spilling some water on the keyboard. Bruce went back up twice for two nice…but short flights.
Thursday was meant to be worse, but after a dry night things were looking better. Thankfully the shuttle was late, which forced us to launch a little later. Again there was a lot of cloud, but things were much better than the day before. Strong but nice climbs of 3-4 meters per second right off launch and base at 1700 meant we could get somewhere. It was totally clouded to the west so we ran down the ridge to the east, in the lee of the north foern but the air was very manageable.
Our first tricky bit was crossing the gorge and big river before Valdobbladene. The local guru Andreas Breuer, who developed Bassano as a flying destination and runs the “Airpark Monte Grappa” had told us that we shouldn’t attempt this crossing with the day we had as we probably wouldn’t make it, but we didn’t really have any other options. The flats weren’t working yet, and behind us was all dark. We found a nice climb before the crossing and went on glide. The town was in sun and thankfully the ridge was hoovering and in no time, barring Bruce’s impressive low save we were off again running north east. I was starting to think we might get our chocolate after all! Given the shocking weather we’ve had for the last few weeks, this would be quite an achievement.