Friday, February 16, 2007

The Great Dividing Range

It’s now less than two weeks before I leave Australia. I’m looking forward to my departure with mixed emotions. As I reflect on the two and a half months I’ve been here I’m amazed at how fast it has gone by and at how much I have seen and done. At the same time I realize that I have only scratched the surface and there is much more for me to see and do here and much more for me to learn.

The hang gliding competitions are all done. Looking back I am sure that I am capable of far more than the results reflect. Just the same, I met many of my objectives: I made goal three times, and when I was flying at my capability I was flying fast and efficiently. I found myself succumbing to the psychological pressure of the competitions on several occasions, but I also have started to become familiar with and comfortable in the competition environment. I am now seriously considering going to the Flytec meet in April. It will be a great opportunity to see what I have learned and apply it in the familiar environment of Central Florida.

I have also met many new and interesting friends, and I have had many fun and memorable flights. And I’ve had a chance to reconnect with some old friends. Bob and Jill have returned to Manilla, and Cookie, Bri-Dog, and Kari are here now too. It’s the same crew from the Owens last fall, and it is fun to spend time with them here; sharing, laughing, and enjoying each others company.

Though lulled by the now familiar surroundings of Manilla and the presence of my friends I was also feeling an odd disquiet. Comfort and familiarity are not what I am looking for here. There is still more exploring to do, and time is getting short. Propelled by this thought, I set out this morning from Manilla through Bendemeer and Armidale, then across the Great Dividing Range to the coast at Coffs Harbour via “Waterfall Way”. I’m staying tonight at the beach at Evans Head, and tomorrow I will continue north towards the Gold Coast and Canungra.

Canungra is the Durand’s home, and the site of one of Australia’s more active hang gliding clubs. It’s where Jonny Durand set the Australia Record of 500km this past November. Right now the weather doesn’t look promising for flying; we’re in a pattern of strong afternoon thunderstorms which have broken the drought in many areas, but which also puts a damper on the flying for all but the most foolhardy. The foolhardy are flying, however. Yesterday was the first day of the Manilla Paragliding XC Open. One woman flew into a thunderstorm and was unable to get out. She lost consciousness but survived with frostbite and lightning burns; her instruments recorded that she was lifted to over 30,000ft. Two other paraglider pilots had to deploy their reserve parachutes after flying into clouds, and one Chinese pilot was still unaccounted for when I left town this morning.

This afternoon as I was driving I was thinking about the name “The Great Dividing Range”. It is in fact a mountain chain very reminiscent of the Appalachian Mountains of the Eastern United States, but the name gives it a power which transcends its modest elevations. It makes one wonder: “What is it that is being divided?” That is, of course, a question that can only be answered after having seen both sides. Metaphorically I see this trip as my own “Great Dividing Range”. It is a rich and exciting transition that divides the past from the future. I can’t wait to see what’s on the other side.

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