Monday, September 24, 2007

Birthday Paragliding

Long story.

It goes all the way back to early September when C and I had a big fat party at our condo to celebrate us turning "old" (30). We'd actually decided way back in March to do some paragliding when we got home to Issaquah because we didn't have enough time to do it in Queenstown, NZ. So, we decided we'd go for our birthdays, but specifically, on her birthday. So I made the arrangements.

The instructions were to show up at the landing zone a few minutes before the shuttle left for the top of the hill. So we did. We each had a pilot and they were nice guys. The ride up the hill was shocking. We rode in a nice enough van to a house a few miles up the road. Then everyone got out and hiked a few hundred yards through the woods. Then we piled into a bigger truck with an open bed that where we were to stand, and were surrounded by a frame of well-padded bars. The rest of the road was not maintained at all. It took a few impacts with the frame before I realized why they padded it. We quickly learned to surf with the truck like the pros. As we finally made it to the top of the hill the rain started. Everyone ran under the trees and a few minutes later it let up for a few minutes. The next thing I knew I was flying through the air! It was almost that fast actually. As fast as I could keep up, my instructor strapped me in and shared the bare minimum of information that I would need to get us off the ground. I swear he said we were going to practice before we actually jumped, but my only practice round turned into the real thing. He said "run" and I did. The ride was super sweet. He took me on one really tight turn that had me plastered to my seat. We sank like a fat rock and before I knew it we were landing. The landing was smooth, we came in fast along the ground and all I did was keep up with it. Then I looked up and waited for C to fly through the air behind me. But a half hour later I over heard that her pilot didn't like the conditions and was giving up for the day. The birthday girl wasn't happy. After another false start 5 days later, she finally ran off the mountain on a bright sunny day and had a great flight with a spectacular landing. The final flare didn't quite work and they came down more than across the field. C tried to run but the instructor didn't.

I sat on the landing zone and shot pictures of the whole thing.

A few minutes before she came down some beginner overshot the huge field and landed in blackberry bushes. Sorry I didn't get pictures of that. I did get some other interesting shots. One of a crazy dude practically collapsing his wing high above the ground and still recovering. The wing is all out of shape and the lines are mostly slack. I think he's even higher than the wing when I shot him. There was also some guy on the ground trying to throw a big bag of trash at his buddy as he was trying to land. Total weirdos.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Victoria, BC

C and I have lived around Seattle for about 7 years and have been wanting to visit Victoria, BC the whole time. We finally made it there over Labor Day weekend, 2007. We took the Victoria Clipper in the morning, experienced the Butchart Gardens and the fireworks. The Gatsby mansion is a really convenient and confusing place to stay. The Titanic exhibit and movie at the museum were pretty good. Getting home on the clipper that broke down was a disaster that we kept saying could have been worse.

Victoria is a tourist town, we saw and did all we needed to in 2 days and 1 night. It was nice, but we have no urge to go back anytime soon. We think we spent half our time waiting in lines. But we did pick the busiest weekend of the year.

The Gatsby Mansion is across the street from the ferry terminal. And we managed to check in as early as our boat arrived, which was great. It took us awhile to find where to check in though. There are at least 4 buildings that make up the mansion and they all look like the wrong one, because two of them have restaurants in the way. Several times a day we'd walk past the inside tables, then the bar, and then the outside tables to get to the street. I know a king sized bed is equivalent to two doubles side by side, but it's kind of lame when your king bed is literally just that. I also thought it was funny that our room had a full kitchen but no dishes or equipment to make it even slightly useful.

The Gatsby recommends a fish 'n chips place around the corner so we went there because we were in the mood and starving. The propaganda also mentioned a friendly harbor seal, but I didn't think we'd be that lucky. After sitting in a line to order for a half hour, and then another half hour line to pick it up, we did get to see the chubby seal with a blue eye.

Butchart is brilliant and absolutely disappointing at the same time. The flowers are so unusual and lovely I could shoot them for years. The gardens as a whole are awesome too. But there are always so many people around it's impossible to get a decent picture of any larger area without hordes of people in it. And everything but the solid pathways are roped off. So only the close up shots of flowers look good. The fireworks were strange. They had a wide area along the ground to work with so they used it all. Things were lighting up, and launching from, all over the place. That was the cool part. The very not-cool part was the whole thing choreographed to some Disney movie soundtrack, Aladdin I think. Had I not been occupied with shooting the fireworks, I would have left and been annoyed.

The brunch at the Gatsby was ok. The brunch sign that was draped across the main building looked really ghetto and made me laugh.

Next we were off to the museum to see the Titanic exhibit. I love how the IMAX film used a fisheye lens on the Russian scientist most of the time. For a film about a real tragedy, it was quite funny. The movie was good and so was the exhibit, but by the end I was falling apart like I'd been shopping for a whole hour! My back was killing me, my neck was tired, and my feet hurt. I didn't even have a camera bag!

Then we strolled through Beacon Hill park. It started out trashy, then turned into a lovely Butchart-like garden, but with a petting zoo. I didn't go in, but I admit I wanted to. We got some great pictures of each other amongst the flowers there.

We then walked around the city to find the shopping mall areas. We rode the escalator to the top of a nice one and talked ourselves out of buying anything because the exchange rate is about 1:1 right now, which is not very encouraging. So we strolled along the water front and found some greek food and gave up waiting on a mini donut machine that had broken down while the owner chatted away with some friends.

We checked into the clipper an hour and a half early because we got relatively bad seats on the way up because we were only an hour early. We found out later our boarding group for the trip back had already been determined back in Seattle when we checked in the first time. At about the time everyone on the boat realizes we're late leaving the dock, they announced that one of the engines won't start. And it never did. They sent another boat up from Seattle to get us. We eventually got home around 3:30AM the next day. But they did give us free sodas, so I had quite a few dr. peppers to comfort me in my misery. :)

Click here to see a ton of pictures from our trip!