Memories – are made of these

I’d like to thank a man (presumably it’s a man) I wouldn’t like, with whom I wouldn’t have anything in common, and who, at the end of the day, I regard as a social zero. He appeared trolling on, as predictable this distance out from an election (Labour appeared too with a Willie Foo Foo – read: working for families, and a long bow would say Tat Loo) and equally predictably they’ll vanish the day after it.

As usual with spinmeisters, they give nothing away, don’t actually debate, and always accuse you of being what they are (religious-like believer, etc). I first noticed the style with Shipley (was she the first echelon to be spin-coached?). The only valid way to counter them is (a) to do so, and (b) to be honest, and to refer to facts.

The smarter folk will see through them, you weren’t going to get to the dumber, and your conscience is clear – to say nothing of the fact that you’re not vulnerable (they have to be so careful when they start down the slippery slope of obfuscation, tangled webs tend to emesh the weaver sooner or later.

Anyway, he suggested I may be a bit negative, not so happy. It triggered a memory, which stayed with me through our evening and as I drifted off to sleep:

It would have been ’98, summer of. We were camping at Lake Middleton, alongside Ohau. We had the International camper, and I was shuttling daily to Omarama on the Honda (CB400N – god they were an awful bike). I t was the week for the Omarama Classic – the Hang Gliding comp I’d revived and revamped into a week-long, best 3 flights to count, event.  (I’d done that to circumvent the blocking that went on on the runway in a set-window-of-time event).

This day dawned still, high wispy cirrus foretelling a front in the offing, but clearly a good day ahead. On the bike, into the 4WD, gliders on and up Magic Mountain (aka Birdwood).  I took off late – perhaps 2pm. Wound up on Rachel (a thermal named by an old pilot who had designs on a girl of the same name) and trucked off. Another over the Clay Cliffs, then a lot of ‘sink’ heading north. I looked for the kids in their boats down on the lake, but too far away – it looked still and beautiful though.

Approaching Ruataniwha, I thought it was all over. Between the pylons and the south side of the lake, I unzipped the harness, bent my knees, and prepared for a landing. Beep went the vario, Beep beep. beprrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.  I’d hit a thermal, impossibly low; dust-devil stuff really and usually impossible to get a full turn in. What the heck, feet in, zip up and turn. And turn – up over the pylons, faster and faster, until at about 7000ft the vario ‘pegs’. It’s an old analog Litec (out of the ark, perhaps 1979) but when it ‘pegs’ against the stop, you’re doing 2000 ft a minute up. That a mile vertically every 2.5 minutes. For free. It’s joy incarnate, winding up in one of those, banked over watching the ground recede. (Thermals are stronger at their core, and the aim is to centre yourself on that. If the vario indicates you’re going up faster, you flatten the angle of bank, if it slows, you tighten up. You can read it from the ground to a certain extent, and all thermals on the day will have a similar lean from the wind – like smoke from a fire).

On to Twizel, and a cracker thermal off the pub roof (always works – must be the fryers…not) which sort of corkscrewed back and across to the Twizel Airfield. That gave me a goodie all the way to maybe 9000 ft, then I lost it. On towards Irishmans Creek, and over the cutting a biggie – so wide that for a long time I couldn’t find the edge of it – or maybe it was part wave-induced. Hardly needed to turn, and it wasn’t as fast as the last two – perhaps 7-800 fpm up. It went on, and on. A big cloud appeared to the east. but it wasn’t mine. I went up past it, and topped out with the altimeter reading 11,300 ft.

Sure, it’s illegal and controlled airspace, sure, I should have had an Airband radio to contact them – but it was 1998, and traffic wasn’t what it is. There were only about two flights out of Queenstown, and we knew where and when to look for them – all the others were just vapor-trails – too high to be a worry.

I waffled around, then circled big, wide and flat, only doing 150 down, so no pressure on to do anything. Across from me, Mt Cook turned pink in lowering afternoon sun. Below, the NZED canals slashed aqua against a Martian-red landscape. Pukaki and Tekapo shimmered in their ice-colour translucence, Benmore darker blue and still. Away over Burkes Pass, the sea-breeze fog poured down like icing in the sun – no point in going that way. The far end of Benmore is starting to ruffle too, and I know flags at Omarama will be stirring shortly – 5 o’clock and the sea-breeze is in. It kills thermals, and thus kills cross-country flights.

I hung up there for perhaps 15 minutes, watching the colours and textures changing. Thinking to myself  “this is about as good as it gets, I’m so lucky to be here, and I wouldn’t trade places with anyone, anywhere”.  I dropped off towards Tekapo, waffled alongside the road and checked the GPS for wind direction (the sea-breeze can wedge in under you, and you end up going in fast downwind). Turned , and a long, long glide in alongside the fence. Skylarks chirruping, soft wind through the grass, mallow mellow mellow.

Thanks, troll whoever you are. It made me remember – hope I never forget. Along with the Percy Islands, and several thousand mental snapshots. We’re bloody lucky to be living now, on the cusp. It’s a good life, for sure.


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