A bluebird day for a skier is the morning after a new snowfall when the cloudless sky is an azure dome — sunshine sparkling off the untouched runs like acres of diamonds.
For a paraglider, a bluebird day is also one with beautiful blue skies and sunshine. However, the key to this sport is a day with little (no more than 5 mph) to no wind. Ten paragliders enjoyed such a day on July 20 in Mazama.
Down from Goat Peak floated the colorful “wings,” gliding quietly over the valley. When one appeared to be landing close to our home, I contacted a fearless neighbor who I suspected might be piloting the craft. She said, “No, but it’s a friend of mine.” Score! Someone I could ask about the sport.
Aaron Napoleon, who hails from Leavenworth, is a post-anesthesia care nurse at Confluence Health Central Washington Hospital. His passion is paragliding, a sport he just learned three years ago. He describes the feeling of flying as exhilarating, watching the sights below take on a whole different view as you glide from mountain peak to mountain peak.
Aaron described his most recent flight before this one off of Goat Peak as an eight-hour journey from takeoff at Chelan Bluff to Idaho. I had no idea these human-powered flying machines were capable of covering that many miles. There is a great deal of physicality in paragliding as the toggles held in each hand direct every move of the craft. He also explained that it is very cold way up there where they can reach heights of 23,000 feet. Speeds vary from 26 mph with no wind to 55 mph with a tailwind. Understanding wind flow is essential for the operator.
Sometimes the enthusiasts are shuttled to their takeoff point, which in Mazama was about three-quarters of the way up to Goat Peak. Other times, with a 45-pound backpack containing the “magic cloth,” they hike to the takeoff point. Oftentimes in Mazama, they land in the Chechaquo Meadow with permission. Other times, they land on public land or on private land where they know the property owners. If they land a ways from the pickup vehicle, they may find themselves hitchhiking with a sign reading “Pilot Needs Ride.” Before COVID-19, Aaron says it was fairly easy to get a ride, but more challenging now.
Next time I see the paragliders, I will have much more appreciation for this simplest form of human flight and the skill and athleticism of the pilots.
On another note, Mazama resident Louise Stevens was looking for a positive alternative to her COVID-19 canceled hiking trip to Italy. Her friend Barbara Norgaard-Reid, who owns a cabin in Pine Forest, is head of the Edmonds Arts Festival. Barbara described to Louise the Festival Board’s project of distributing art supplies to students at the sack lunch bus stops.
Impressed, Louise decided to implement and fund a program for the Methow Valley School District. Thus far, she has distributed 85 packets to students in grades K-6. Each packet contains crayons or colored pencils, a color/activity book, a sketchbook, a watercolor set, a visor and a box of play dough. Bravo to Louise for inspiring new artists!
With so many taking to the outdoors in the Methow, it occurred to me that a refresher on multi-use trail etiquette is in order. All users — cyclists and those on foot — yield to horses; cyclists, in addition, yield to walkers, hikers, and runners. Yielding to horses for a cyclist means stopping and dismounting and to those on foot, it means stopping and stepping off the trail, then asking for direction from the horseback riders. There are variables on the best way to proceed depending on the temperament of the horses and the terrain of the trail where the meet-up happens. Never ride up behind horses without warning or barrel past them without stopping.
Finally, my memoir “Petting Tigers,” is what originally brought me to writing this column when my predecessor Erika Kar interviewed me about my book last year. I was thrilled to learn that “Petting Tigers” was one of three finalists in the Religion-General category of the International Book Awards sponsored by the American Book Fest. Over 2,000 entrants from around the world included Pope Francis who was the winner in the Christian-Inspirational category for his book “On Faith.”