Well, here is another day of fun - this one is mostly in pictures - so check out the slide show below or click to see the mapped gallery - a google map will actually show you were the pictures were taken to get an even better sense of where and when!
We started by with an early flight around 1130 am with conditions still developing and after 30 minutes of hard work landed in the landing zone at the foot of the mountain in Krushevo. After taking a short ride back to the top we were ready for the goal of the day - Bitola 40 km away.
The flight started simple enough with Smiley being a sacrificial lamb on his Omega6. He managed to make it a few kilometers away putting him down in the valley to have a perfect, albeit a ground, view of things to come. Next up was Marko on his brand new Omega7. I followed close behind. But after only a few turns it looked like Marko's flight is not going to be much longer then the first one. He continued down and down as I tried hard to stick to the hill near launch in slightly turbulent air. Little by little I was able to climb to about the height of the launch itself - about 1450 m ASL (above sea level) or around 800 m AGL (above ground level). Then Dima on a Titan II, Bobo on a Jazz and Alek on his Jalpa joined the fray. As they came out to see what's going on where I was my luck began to run out and I headed down the ridge.
Only about half a click down my glide I hit gold. A solid thermal pillar that took me to 2555 m ASL (nope, you don't need oxygen there :-)) Smiley from his ground control position advised me that I am in a perfect spot to get ready for the valley crossing. This was consistent with what Marko was telling me about the lay of the land. The mountains and hills were starting to look like the "foot prints" in Marko's schematic in the dirt... and I was definitely getting high enough when the mountains that would take hours to scale are looking like "foot prints!" At that point in time I could still see Marko scrounging for lift in the valley and Bobo, Diman and Alek were starting to catch up from their position at the start. I got on my speed bar and went forward. Soon after there was another thermal to carry me back to a respectable altitude to make the big leap over the sinky valley. Alek hung back building altitude, Marko and Dima finally found something good in the valley East of my position over the mountains but Bobo decided to plow ahead. This, proved to be a miscalculation. Very soon Smiley was busy trying to "air traffic control" Bobo back to the pack... but it was too late. He was the first to drop out from what was becoming a very exciting flight.
Meanwhile, I was across the valley with thousands of meters of altitude to spare but getting a bit worried about a massive cloud building up ahead. With big clouds come big lifts, big shadows and big winds. I checked in with Smiley and he reassured me that the cloud did not look scary and all was clear but I was still a bit tentative... which cost me my place in the mini-race. Though I was still gaining height and doing well when a suggestion to come out to join Marko and Dima came over the radio I did not think twice and ran... despite a big shadow and breaking a cardinal rule of cross country flying - never leave a good lift - unless assured of something better. In the corner I saw Alek fly just to the position I left a moment ago... and my flight was irreversible lost.
Next things happened fast. Marko radioed that he is sinking and may be landing soon, Alek proceeding to go higher and higher easily riding the winds from the cloud sitting above the mountain and Dima rode his last glide to the valley ahead. I tried to turn back to the hill and even considered flying back to launch which would have been a great fun too, that just to maintain position until the cloud moves along and then... Well, let's just say they don't make easily accessible facilities in the sky for paraglider pilots. This overriding need sealed my decision. I found an absolutely perfect landing zone with short green grass and huge "topol" trees indicating the wind direction. My landing was perfect and easy - but the local farmers may still wonder why a paraglider pilot would run so hard right after the landing to the nearest trees.
All this was just half the tale - Marko did not land after all! He found a massive thermal that took him to over 2000 m in minutes, and rode those unruly thermals past the goal as far as 42 km on a straight line. Alek landed in Bitola itself after his successful decision just couple of kilometers short of Marko.
Joka guided the retrieval. Yep, his conversation with his Omega7 left him somewhat unhappy. Always a better day ahead!
After the pick up we all gathered at a good local eater and partied to our heart's content. Then a short ride back to Krushevo to pick up a tandem passenger and we were off for the third flight of the day.
Yeah, you read it right! Third flight! At this point we all felt the need to relax a bit. Marko borrowed Alek's Jalpa and with my Sigma6 our wings were closely matched in speed and performance. This allowed for a bit of wing walking by Marko, well, more like a wing kicking but who cares, and an entire flight where we flew so close that talking in the normal voice was completely within reason. In conclusion, while Marko was circling and getting for the landing I was carefully counting the number of turns it took him to get down. Then, it was SAT time in perfectly smooth evening air and in a few moments I was joining Marko on the ground.
Alek enjoyed a fine tandem time for the first time... with the minor matter of an acro turn. Smiley and Joka did an unthinkable just a few years before gliding down a 2 km loop on pure glide capitalizing on the incredible leaps in technology of Omega7 and Bobo with Dima just free flew. Good day all in all!