The Plane

Adventure number 5 (assuming you don’t count everything I did on the 4th of July) has been tackled: a biplane ride over Napa and Sonoma Valleys with acrobatic maneuvers with The Vintage Aircraft Company and my pilot Tom Morris.

The Plane

The Plane

Ready to Fly

Ready to Fly

The plane is a 1942 Boeing Stearman BiPlane (N56749). We take off heading west from the Sonoma Airport, but immediately make a wide U-Turn and head over the Mayacamas Mountain over to The Napa Valley. We fly over the northern edge of the city of Napa and then head north following Highway 29. It is beautiful to see Napa from the sky! I can make out familiar landmarks in the city, even pinpoint my townhouse!

Napa from the air

Napa from the air

The flight up-valley is calm and beautiful. We cruise all the way up to Calistoga, then head east back over the Mayacamas. Another turn and we are heading south-west over the Sonoma Valley just this side of the Petaluma river. This is where the fun really starts!

Napa Valley

Napa Valley

Its acrobatics time! Big ariel loops, inversions, corkscrews, dives and sharp climbs are the order of the day. Although I am locked into my parachute and seat harness, I brace my legs under the restraining bars in the cockpit. I want to lock myself in without encumbering my hands so I can film the maneuvers. Up, around, over, under we go! What a ride. Better than a roller coaster!

Eventually the acrobatics are done and we head east again towards the landing strip. Of course, the landing is perfect and another adventure comes to an end.

The Glider

The fourth installment of Adventure Week is under way! Today we experience hang gliding!

The Glider

The Glider

Its a long ride out to Brentwood to meet up with Zac Majors, my gliding instructor and 2008 US National Hang Gliding Champion. I arrive at the location, a large field with an “airstrip” (i.e. mowed area) and I help  Zac set up the tandem glider. Its a very large device, probably 25′ across. Zac’s buddy, John shows up in a “grasshopper”, a small plane designed to tow gliders to height. We attach the glider to the tow cable, place it on the tow trailer and mount up. As the plane takes off, we are right behind. Within a few minutes, we are at 3000′ and we release the tow line.

The Grasshopper

The Grasshopper

What an AMAZING experience. We are in controlled flight soaring like the birds. Zac explains how simple it is to control the glider: its all about weight shifting. Within a few minutes, I am flying it myself. Climbs, dives and turns, all happen easily and naturally. Do nothing, and the glider flies itself.

Zac explains how he looks out for circling birds. This indicates some kind of thermal which we may be able to ride up to gain altitude and extend our flight. He spots a hawk circling ahead and takes us into the thermal. We ride it up a bit, although its not strong enough to give us too much more glide time.

It is simply breath taking out here. You can relax and just go wherever you want. You hang suspended from the glider and just shift your body forward, back, left and right to rise, dive or turn. Peaceful. I can see that it would be easy to get addicted to this activity.

Time to land. Zac brings the glider in on the airstrip and as we get close, I start “running” in the air. Eventually my feet touch terra firm and we come to an easy stop. WOW. What an amazing flight!

The Trees

The third day of Adventure Week begins with a long, leisurely motorcycle ride into northern Sonoma County. Situated on the Bohemian Highway (yes, as in the Bohemian club) and nestled in the redwoods, is Sonoma Canopy Tours, my destination for the morning.

Zip line

Zip line

The tour includes 7 zip lines (one almost 800 ft in length), two rope bridges, a rappel and beautiful panoramic views.

Our group leaders, Alexis and Clair, are quite knowledgeable about the local flora and are very good at their jobs. While their sense of humor borders on the very corny, they are quite pleasant and warm.

The first couple of zip lines are “bunny” lines; short and designed to get us comfortable with the process of

The intrepid adventurer

The intrepid adventurer

mounting up, zipping, braking and dismounting. Then we are ready for some longer zips, including an 800′ zip that takes your breath away.

Towards the send of the zip experience, we encounter 2 rope bridges which lead to a spiral staircase that climbs 50+ feet around a redwood. This leads us to our final zip and then to a free fall rappel.

Rope Bridge

Rope Bridge

As I have done zip lines before, this is not that “thrilling” but like the white water rafting of yesterday, its quite pleasant, fun and its always great meeting new and interesting people.

The River

Day 2 of Adventure Week consists of an all day raft ride down the Middle Fork of the American River. Our guides today are Sam and Courtney, two wonderful young people whose knowledge of the river and history of the area is as rich as the canyon we are in.

The middle fork of the American River runs class III and IV rapids with a portage past a class VI. The section of the river that we raft down is about 18 miles and starts out with a “Good Morning” rapid that splashes you with icy water first thing in the morning. Soon after, we encounter the “Tunnel Chute.” Blasted out by gold miners back in the 1800s to divert the river away from the famous Horse Shoe Bend, the river is squeezed into a 12-foot cascading spillway that continues for 100 feet. Then the river flows underground through a raftable tunnel.

The Tunnel Chute

The Tunnel Chute

Once it has emerged from the tunnel, the Middle Fork races over five miles of rapids, climaxing in “Kanaka Falls,” a class IV maelstrom that tests each of us to the fullest.

The river then mellows and enters a quiet side where we have a chance to relax and enjoy the scenic side of the Middle Fork. These are a series of easy class II rapids and we even get to take our helmets off. We stop for a wonderful lunch and relax and take in the natural beauty of the canyon.

Near the end of the quiet side, the silence is interrupted by a deafening roar. The final stretch of river begins with a sharp 5-foot drop and an intricate portage of an unrunnable Class VI waterfall. We end in a long succession of exciting Class III-IV rapids.

The river run is full of exciting rapids at the beginning and the end, but the middle is quite mellow. Its a nice addition to Adventure Week, but not up to the thrill level of bungee jumping, although it was quite fun and I met a number of wonderful people.