Once upon a time in Greece

Tell about your first XC,“ is a thread on the paragliding forum. Here’s my story.

Greece, Olymp, 4th of October 2001. Early afternoon on a warm and sunny day. It’s the 16th flight since I got my licence. After two hours in the air on my Paratech P25 full of joy spiraling, wingovering and climbing the house thermals again and again, I’m getting a little bit bored, I confess. There must be something more demanding? The hour of truth has come.

What made you go?
Since my first flight with a paraglider I dream of going cross country. I feel: either now or never. If I want to be an xc pilot, I simply have to make a decision now and go. Leaving towards the beach in the east, I will fly over unknown territory. On some parts, landing zones are rare. But it’s a classic route around here, many have managed. I’ve talked to some of them, and I’ve had a close look on the map.

Did you go alone? How high were you?
I’m at cloud base again, approximately 1000 m above takeoff. Winds are light. The other pilots around me still enjoy their ups and downs. Decision time… Yes, I want to be an xc pilot! I leave.

How many more times did you find lift?
Following the high ridge on the mountain for the first part is obvious and easy. I enjoy relying on myself. Then I have to leave the high grounds. I’m getting lower and lower. A smooth thermal offers some lift, but the climb is weak and ends low. I have to cross a little valley.

How long did you stay up, and how far did you go?
Before I can figure out, how the local wind system works, I’m loosing altitude rapidly. Cropped fields are numerous. Two paragliders have already landed there, close to the road. After one hour of xc, around 14 km away from takeoff, I join them.

With a big smile on my face I’m packing my beloved glider. Nothing that I’ve done in the past years has made me feel so proud. I’m happy. While I’m waiting at the road for a lift, every five minutes or so my happy heart makes me dance a little crazy dance on the empty road.

On the next day, I made it to the beach at Neos Panteleimonas, a flight of ~27 km. And then – nothing. For more than a year, I was too shy to leave the house thermals. Conditions never looked as promising as back in Greece.
In 2003, my xc career received a boost. The Online Contest OLC was introduced that season, I had bought a GPS, and was more than eager to go. On a chilly, windy day in March I made my first cross country flight from the Ebenalp. Quite foolishly I let the westerly wind blow me into a narrow valley. After a turbulent final glide I landed on an icy, slippery slope, took a 50 m fast sledgeride down with my whole gear, until a barbed wire fence stopped us all abruptly. My hands were numb, the smile frozen. Six months later, I finished the first >100 km flight.