‘An in­cred­i­ble jour­ney’

Pow­ered paraglid­ers fly length of Río Grande, reach Gulf of Mex­ico

The Taos News - - VECINOS - By Staci Mat­lock edi­tor@taos­news.com

“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.

Brian Levine

Scott Ritchie hov­ers dur­ing part of the paraglid­ing trip along the Río Grande.

Brian Levine

A two-stroke en­gine used to power a paraglider along the length of the Río Grande.

Cour­tesy of Rio Grande Ad­ven­ture Paramo­tor­ing

Pow­ered paramo­torists fly along the Río Grande along the U.S./Mex­ico bor­der.

Colin Hubbard

The pow­ered paraglid­ing team reaches the Gulf of Mex­ico.

Cour­tesy photo Rio Grande Ad­ven­ture Paramo­tor­ing

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.

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