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What is Vol bivouac?

Vol bivouac stands for independent travelling, using nothing but your feet, your paraglider, and your perseverance. You do not rely on others to carry you or your equipment. You either have what you need with you, or you find it.

Is vol bivouac dangerous?

The answer to this question should be obvious from the entrance page of the website. Have a look in case you missed it.

Yes I understood that, but is vol bivouac really dangerous?

You are the persistent pilot type, aren't you? You would probably make an excellent vol bivouac pilot. Persevering in even the most discouraging conditions. You probably enjoy being drowned by rain for a full week, while the howling wind repeatedly blows away your makeshift shelter. May I suggest that you form your own opinion about this issue by reading the risk and why sections? In case that is too much effort, you could try an educated guess: the website has a disclaimer. There is usually a good reason why websites have one, and why it is mentioned on the entrance page.

You still don't get it? Well, I am beginning to suspect that you are not really interested in the answer. You don't want to hear it, do you? If your mother hears about it, she will forbid you to fly! So, forgive me for being blunt, but I have to. The answer for dummies (with or without hearing problems), is simple. Yes, it definitely is! Since this explicit answer usually hurts too much, most pilots prefer the more positively formulated and politically correct answer stating that it is as dangerous as you make it. Better stick to the dummy answer if you do not want to run into trouble.

What is the best place to do vol bivouac?

As long as I am not in the service of (and paid by!) the local tourist information office, I will refrain from mentioning the ... (Oops! Almost did it!) as the best region to do vol bivouac. So, for the moment there is no best place, only an impressive amount of good places to choose from. Some are more suited than others though. Mountains are a great help in taking off. I haven't heard of a full-blown flatland bivouac yet. Probably because using a winch conflicts with the definition of vol bivouac given above. You could use dunes or levees to soar your way through flatland. It is easier than flying in the mountains, but your options are exhausted sooner.

Why don't you tell me routes to fly or hike?

I find it hard to understand why hundreds of pilots are flying the same area, clearly hindering and possibly even annoying each other, while just a few kilometres away there are no pilots at all. Well, may be one or two pilots.

Thermal map derived from cross-country flights.The image on the right originates from the thermal map on the xcontest website. It is a great example of how technology can make thing happen that were undreamed of not so long ago. The idea is simple: a single flight track doesn't tell you that much, but combining a lot of them gives you insight. The image shows collective knowledge at work in a part of the southern French Alps. Or is it collective dullness? Notice something peculiar? Indeed, most pilots are flying as if on their daily commute to work. Baring a few exceptions, you can fly anywhere. Yet most pilots prefer to fly similar routes. The 'La Blanche highway' is clearly visible at the bottom. There are far less pilots in Queyras (right part of the image), and virtually none in Écrins (upper part of the image). Lots of pilots commute on the highway. None crosses Écrins, let alone does an out and return. With the above information, you now must be able to guess in which of these regions I prefer to fly. And probably you will also be able to imagine what would happen to my not so crowded routes if I told you where exactly they are.

There are a lot of sheep in the southern Alps. They seem to be everywhere: in the mountains, in the village, on the camp site, in the river (usually dead by then), on the landing field, on take-off, in front of you car (especially when being in a hurry to drive to take-off), and even in the sky! The latter occurs especially during summer holidays. And for a good reason! Herding might avoid an early landing. The highways on the thermal map show routes that can be done. And if you are lucky, you can even do them when you lack the required piloting skills. The route has been prepared for you by other pilots, so need to think. Right? At least that is what some pilots thought before they got hurt or worse. Better think twice, before following another pilot.

Comfort comes at a price. The (relative) safety of known (established) routes has the drawback of missing beautiful flights that are (just) off the beaten track. The drawback of missed opportunities to learn and enjoy. The price might even be getting bored with something as beautiful as going cross-country. I have met pilots complaining about being bored with having done St. André-Dormillouse three days in a row. When I ask them why they didn't fly another route, I usually get a blank stare and/or incomprehensible excuses. As if there is nothing else to do in the St. André region...

Safety is another reason why pilots stick to usual, proven routes. The route and its dangers are well-known, thus generally mitigating risk. The challenging character of Écrins is one of the main reasons why pilots prefer to go around it rather than through it. And they are probably right.

So, after a long intro (I like taking detours, especially when flying), we have now arrived at the major reason why I will not tell you routes to fly or hike. If you need me to explain the way, you are probably not ready for vol bivouac, or even cross-country flying (yet). No pain, no gain. Do your homework. Prepare your flight and then ask pilots for their feedback. You will learn more this way, and better as well. And your (ad hoc) mentors will appreciate it that you are not the eleventh pilot that day, begging them to show the way for a flight that might hurt or kill you because you are not ready for it (yet). They will know you are not ready for it, because you are asking the wrong questions or searching for the wrong answers.

<<< Added on 2011-08-15 >>>

I haven't changed my mind about the above, but I felt something was missing while trying to convey the beauty of vol bivouac. As a result, I put up a section with images of my trips in order to sketch it. The images show what a trip might look like and what I experience, supplemented by a few words for the finishing touch. The images could become yours, since nothing keeps you from connecting the dots and do the same trip. Still, you will have lots of thinking and preparation ahead before setting out. In this way I hope to appease the armchair pilot who just wants to travel virtually, as well as the pilot who really wants to have a go at vol bivouac but does not want to have everything prepared by me like an instant meal. As for the ones who do, please read the last paragraph of the original answer above.

<<< Addition end>>>

Why are there no GPS track logs?

I do not use a GPS. It adds weight and gives me hardly more information than I already know and care fore. And perhaps you missed the answer to the question above?

You must be kidding with all this vol bivouac stuff, right!? Where is the proof?

My experiences described on the website are based on 'Déclaration, sur l'honneur'. If you do not (want to) believe me, that is fine with me. Pfffff, why am I even bothering to write this? Come and fly with me, if you have the time. Actions speak louder than GPS tracks.

What wing and harness should I fly?

Fly the equipment you feel comfortable with. Better fly a 'slow' wing fast, than a 'fast' wing slow. Be sure to be able to handle your wing in all kinds of conditions, especially the conditions you are afraid of. The same goes for your harness. Try and find lightweight equipment that suits you. It will save you lots of energy when hiking.

What is your secret weapon?

It is (pea)nuts!

Why is the website so dull?

The website focusses on the essentials, on the bare content. It has therefore no fancy layout, gimmicks, commercials, animations, videos, and other bandwidth or attention consuming noise. If you belong to the zap-generation that needs a flashy design with eye grabbing 'content', you have totally missed the point of vol bivouac. If you can not stand this site, then you are likely to hate vol bivouac even more. The simple set-up of the website also allows me to maintain it, and everyone else to visit it, using low bandwidth connections and derelict equipment (or those expensive fancy high tech mobile phones that can do the same thing as the old, derelict equipment from years ago).

Why are there so few images on the website?

What? You are still complaining! Well, how many images do you need? Shall I turn the website into a comic strip? No, I am not angry. Just slightly disappointed that you don't seem to appreciate my efforts. Next to my internal camera (almost unlimited storage capacity, but no interface to the outside world other than the capacity to express myself), I took a digital camera along every day for the whole season (2010). I think the result shows, with one third of the content having images now. Or do you really want me to use images as well on pages such as those about GPS, clothing, brain-dead, pissing and shitting, or sex? You're kidding, right?

Why has the website's layout gone bonkers?

It is probably your browser that is broken, not the website. As far as I know, the website is html strict and css compliant. Let me spare you the gory (programming) details here and just state that it adheres to the standards agreed upon by the web development community. In other words, the website is perfect from a technical point of view. Unfortunately, some software developers have chosen not to fully comply with these standards. I will spare you the gory (political) details here as well, but not their consequences. It means that your current browser (partly) neglects the rules for correctly displaying a website that does adhere to the rules.

Of course, I could have changed the site's code in such a manner that it looks pretty on your non-compliant browser. But it was about time to take a stand. In a Darwinian gambling mood I have chosen to adhere to the community rules, rather than program my way around your browser's faults. Either I will lose visitors to the site, or browser developers lose customers when the latter switch to compliant browsers, or the browser developers change their browsers to compliant ones. Let's see what happens.

If more websites would have taken the same stand a long time ago, thousands of programmers and developers would not have to scratch their head each day on how to make a site look good on every available browser, without having nervous breakdowns in the process and seeing their colleagues being carried off to mental institutions.

Waai dzees webziet ies fooluf erreurs spoilling ant grammatical ?

I am not a native English speaker. I would love to one be though. Just as I much I would love to fluently speak German, Spanish, Russian, Polish, Portuguese, ancient Greek, Latin, Canadian, American, Texan, Italian, Turkish, Persian, Urdu, Mandarin, Japanese, Martian (currently spoken in China!), Dutch, Flemish, Finnish, or even French for that matter. Sadly, this is beyond my reach. All I can do is try not to write in Franglais, Denglisch, or even Euringlish. Any help in making pilots understand this website better, is greatly appreciated. Suggestions, corrections, improvements, complete translations, as well as other feedback are always welcome.

Why are there no commercials on the website?

I hate the war that Madison Avenue wages on intelligent thinking and decision making. I hate the way they treat you like a six year old, even though you are nearing retirement. I hate the way that commercials ruin your favourite music by using it as their tune. I hate the way that commercials blast at you from everywhere, any time. I hate the hypocritical government that forbids you to do anything else in you car except looking at the traffic around you, but nonetheless rents out large billboards next to busy highways in order to display distracting commercials.

Commercials attract by distracting you from what you are currently doing. Usually by trying to scream louder than the commercials next to it. I don't mind being disturbed (how else could one do something as lunatic as vol bivouac?), but I don't like to be distracted. I hate commercials, advertisements, and anything related to it. I hate... Sorry, I got carried away a bit. What was your question?

Why is that bird on the front page blue? Is it sick?

No worries! It is not sick, only blue. There are several reasons why, all of which I won't tell you. All right, just one then: it fits in nicely with the website's design.

What bird is that on the front page?

It is a blue bird.

I can see that! But what kind of bird is it?

It is a vautour fauve, also know as gyps fulvus or griffon vulture. You are likely to meet one when flying in the Pyrenees or (southern) French Alps. They are a delight to fly with and have often joined me in thermals. You might occasionally beat them in thermalling (when they are young and still learning), but they will beat you on speed and glide any time. Having a wingspan up to nearly 3 m and a weight up to 12,5 kg, they are really impressive to fly with. Just do not count on them to adhere to the right of way rules which you learned in paragliding school.

Why are you using difficult French words?

My hiking and flying mainly involves the French Alps. In my opinion a few French words here and there might come in handy for those people who would like to fly there as well, but have a (very) limited knowledge of the French language. By using words like déchetterie (to get rid of your garbage) and téléphérique (to get up a mountain effortlessly), local people will be more able to understand you when you are looking for these. And, let's face it, I am probably too lazy to look up their English equivalent.

Who are you?

I am a hopeless junk, refusing any help or rehabilitation programme to kick my addiction.

What makes you think you know it all?

I do not. If you read the site well, you will notice that there are lots of word like 'usually', 'often', 'in general', 'mostly', 'if', 'when', 'discouraged', 'limit', 'anticipate', 'mitigate', and not a lot of words like 'always', 'never', 'certainly', 'forbidden', 'perfect', 'totally wrong', 'absolutely right', or 'surely'.

Nature knows few rules. And those that are there might even change during the game. I am showing you how (not) to play the game, but I could be wrong. Years of mountain and paragliding experience have shown me that I am right more often than wrong. If it would have been the other way round, I would not be here to tell you about it. Even though I do not know it all, I think you could profit from my experience. Read the why section if your question has not been answered by the above.

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2011-08-15