‘An incredible journey’
Powered paragliders fly length of Río Grande, reach Gulf of Mexico
“We made it to the gulf. It was an incredible journey,” wrote Colin Hubbard in an email Tuesday (Oct. 2).
Hubbard was one of two Taos residents who joined a dozen other powered paragliders to fly along the 1,700 mile Río Grande from its headwaters in Creede, Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico. The paragliders use small motors strapped to their backs to allow them to lift off from any terrain and cruise along from a dozen to several hundred feet above the ground.
The group started the trip Sept. 18 in Creede. They reached Taos and crossed the Río Grande Gorge Bridge Saturday, Sept. 22, a day later than planned due to strong headwinds, Hubbard said.
The trip, organized by Santa Fe paragliders Jean Francois Chabaud and Stuart Penny, has a three-fold purpose: raise awareness of the river’s plight, document the aerial journey for a feature-length film and purely for the adventure of it.
Brian Levine, a Taos firefighter and the other Taoseño on the flight, had to stop in Albuquerque and return to work.
But he kept tabs on the rest of they gliders, helping report on their progress. “The crew is in Texas and flying upwards of 130 miles a day,” he wrote in an email in late September. “Everyone is in good spirits but getting pretty worn out by the end of each day. The trip has been a real eye-opener of the importance of the Río Grande and how it supports the life, culture and agriculture of so many.”
Levine was valuable on the trip due to his medical rescue expertise and his skills with a camera. The entire trip was filmed, and the crew plans to make a full-length documentary of the adventure. “We were producing one terabyte of media material a day, pulling in info from everyone,” Levine said. “Post production is going to take awhile.”
The journey, Levine said, “was such an amazing opportunity.”
He said paragliders usually fly at dawn or at sunset when the wind currents are smoother and more predictable. But on this long-distance trip, the paramotorists were flying all day. “Once you start flying at midday, you experience different atmospheric conditions that aren’t as gentle,” Levine said. “It tests your piloting abilities.”
Levine said one or two injuries occurred along the way and the crew had to retrieve some damaged equipment out of rugged, remote areas. Ground support crews sometimes had to travel twice as far as the gliders along winding dirt roads just to reach their pilots each day.
People followed the paragliders’ trip online and one person even tagged along with the group in a vehicle from Taos to the Gulf. Levine and Hubbard hope the adventure stimulates others to try paragliding. “The sport is pretty small. We do what we can to raise awareness,” Levine said. “We all consider ourselves ambassadors to the sport.”
Hubbard dedicated his part in the journey to his father, Michael Thomas Hubbard, who passed away last week, a Taos resident for the past decade. “I also wanted to thank my local sponsors for helping make this possible – Río Grande Ace Hardware, Wolfgang’s Spas, Zap Marketing and AF Auto.”
Levine said he’s excited for the group’s next big flight adventure along another river as early as next year.
Scott Ritchie hovers during part of the paragliding trip along the Río Grande.
A two-stroke engine used to power a paraglider along the length of the Río Grande.
Powered paramotorists fly along the Río Grande along the U.S./Mexico border.
The powered paragliding team reaches the Gulf of Mexico.
Taoseño Brian Levine said one or two injuries occurred along the way and the crew had to retrieve some damaged equipment out of rugged, remote areas. Ground support crews sometimes had to travel twice as far as the gliders along winding dirt roads to reach their pilots each day.