Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Tiger Pilot Wins North American Vol Bivy Championship

Submitted by an anonymous sports writer loosely affiliated with major sports magazine.

In spite of some pre-competition confusion regarding television coverage and an apparent boycott by the Canadian VB team, the North American Vol Bivy Championship (NAVBC) came off without a hitch over the three day Memorial Day weekend. The relatively new sport of Vol Bivy involves a combination of paragliding, hiking, and camping. The camping is generally done in a minimalist fashion that can involve as little as a bivouac sack (large nylon bag) and a couple of Power Bars. Scoring involves a complex formula that combines hiking times, distance flown, number of launch points attained, successful launches, safe landings, hitchhiking adventures, flying with animals, bivouac cooking, and bivouac story telling. The rumor of extra points being awarded for flying in loincloths proved to be unfounded.
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Saturday morning registration. Photo by Rich McManus.

Registration was held at the Mazama General Store with the support of local volunteers. An enthusiastic crowd of onlookers showed up to check out this new sport. However, when all was said and done only five competitors completed the lengthy release form, paid the insurance premium, and picked up the list of waypoints. The official registrants were Bob Rinker, Stefan Mitrovich, Mark Heckler, Rich McManus, and John Clifford.

The race started at Washington Pass and included launches from Early Winter Spires, Goat Peak, Bowen Peak, and two unnamed peaks in the Methow Valley. After the first leg of the competition, the hike up snow slopes to the crest of a glacial circ just north of the Early Winter Spires, Bob and Stefan were in the lead. But that quickly changed when Rich tossed out his wing and took to the sky ahead of the pack.

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Early NAVBC leaders. Photo by Rich McManus.

Rich picked up successful launch and safe landing points to cement his early lead, but that quickly changed when Stefan bagged extra points for a landing that attracted spectator attention. Stefan’s lead lasted only minutes when John caught a thermal and made a bold XC flight over remote and rugged terrain to Mazama. Bob closed on John’s lead by picking up hitchhiking adventure points. The race committee awarded points for his story about being picked up by the two midgets with the monkey, but openly discussed changing the rules for next year’s competition to require documentation of all hitchhiking stories.

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Looks safe to me… Photo by Stefan Mitrovich.

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Run! Run! Run! Photo by Stefan Mitrovich.

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High over the Cascades. Photo by Stefan Mitrovich.

The competition continued with a flight from Goat Peak. All competitors picked up safe launch and landing points. Bob and Stefan caught thermals and flew to the first bivy waypoint. Mark chose to employ an unusual paragliding competition strategy. He chose not to fly – deftly guaranteeing his survival to compete in the first night bivy and the second flying day.

Mark’s unusual strategy proved genius. Early into the evening of the first bivouac Mark’s cooking and stories moved him into a solid lead. His grilling skill and superior story telling abilities were too much for John, who packed it in and chose not to compete in days two and three. The field was down to four.

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Bivouac site. Photo by Stefan Mitrovich.

The second day of the competition started at 5:30 am. Bob, Stefan, and Mark hiked off toward an unnamed peak. Rich chose to pick up additional bivouac points and stayed in bed. Safe launch and landing points were picked up by the fliers. Mark picked up bonus points for flying animals – he flew with his dog, Toby.

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Landing with Toby. Photo by Rich McManus.

The afternoon flight on day two was winded-out and gave the competitors some time off. The action shifted to the evening bivouac. Mark, again, dominated the bivouac competition on day two. He picked up solid points for his stories about having attended the Winthrop Rodeo that afternoon, and bivouac cooking points for his famous barbeque chicken. After the day two bivy, Bob had the lead with Mark close behind.

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Bivy hardships. Photo by Rich McManus.

Day three again started at 5:30 am. The pilots employed their strategies from day two. Bob, Stefan, and Mark hiked off to another unnamed peak. Rich chose to pick up additional bivouac points and stayed in bed. Those who flew picked up safe launch and landing points. Mark’s canine flying abilities led to another lead change. He edged ahead of Bob in total points.

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Bob Rinker landing at goal after an early morning flight from an unnamed peak. Photo by Stefan Mitrovich.

The competition came down to the last flight; an afternoon launch from Bowen Peak. Mark’s lead held after all competitors completed their hike to the launch point. In less than ideal launch conditions Bob took off. In a flight reminiscent of Mark’s rodeo stories, Bob bounced XC in gusty winds toward the final waypoint. Not knowing the exact scoring algorithm and whether a safe landing was necessary to take the lead, and fearing for his life, Bob reportedly debated throwing his reserve over a small lake to bring the flight to an end. But chose instead to ride it out and bag those safe landing points if possible.

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Mark Heckler documenting the final flight of the competition. Photo by Rich McManus.

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Bob Rinker waiting for the right turbulent cross-wind conditions for launch. Photo by Rich McManus.

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Bob Rinker’s NABVC winning flight. Photo by Rich McManus.

Bob’s strategy worked. Mark could not find any animals willing to make a flight in the gusty conditions that prevailed. Rich and Stefan were out of the running. Bob Rinker was the first North American Vol Bivy Champion. Mark Heckler was a close second. Stefan Mitrovich third.

Planning has already begun for next year’s event.