Wednesday, December 25, 2013

How I make my decisions.

Sitting in a business class lounge with 30 mins before boarding a flight leaving Australia for Thailand and Pakistan, going to make a bit of a cathartic post because if I don't now I won't later.

Business class was a simple error of changing plans, waiting to long and having to use miles to book a ticket, but at the moment I'm enjoying my mistake.

Why Australia? Well a year ago a paragliding friend I met in Thailand asked me to be his supporter for the Red Bull X-Alps 2013, I didn't feel qualified but I agreed, and was flattered he would ask me. Health problems made him withdraw and then things got worse. He was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, by the summer it had spread to his bones. He took on an alternative diet program and following his posts on FB I could see his attitude was positive and full of hope, but I could also see he was struggling to maintain the program and balance all the daily chores of life. Often he would overexert himself and have a setback. I knew I had the time and could go and spend some time with him, help him maintain his program and improve his health.

But as always I had several options and the more appealing one was going to meet a woman I was in interested in. She was beautiful, independent, loved to travel and even spoke some hindi. Recently she'd gotten in bicycle touring. As I was finishing my work season on my Uncles farm in Minnesota she was doing a short bicycle tour in the desert of Australia, we planned to meet after in Taiwan and then travel together in India. I was shocked when I found out via FB that she had died in a road accident. It was hard to process too as we didn't have many mutual friends.. it all felt a bit unreal.

At that point it was easy to make the commitment to visit Lloyd, my paragliding friend living in Australia.

As I leave today it's been 40 days that I've been a full time carer for my friend and the first time I've done something like this. It's been incredibly rewarding. To really dedicate yourself to serving another person and to have such a visible impact on protecting them from unnecessary suffering and improve their quality of life. I think it's something I'm good at and will be open to future opportunities to act in this role.  It kind of balances my normal life where I just serve my own interests and desires. In the end what I've gotten out of it in terms of increasing my ability to feel compassion, work on patience and acceptance and develop my heart outweighs the stress I took on.

What I've learned from Lloyd is just to put yourself out there, post something and be honest rather than try to edit it, clean it up and think about how it will be received.

Great idea Lloyd Pennicuik had to get autographs for his Red Bull Xalps shirt and auction it off. So far it's got 2 signatures, when I see David Hanning I'll get his and then we'll send it on to Honza and Max Fanderl in north america and then on to Europe.. It'll be fun to see how many Athletes and supporters we can get to sign it!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Over It.

Here's a picture from a recent flight in Pakistan. Let me tell you something about it. First a too long preface: I delayed a trip to Pakistan spring of 2013 with my Bulgarian friend Veso because my schedule felt too rushed. I finally was able to come in September, just as I picked my dates I also found out a couple of Pakistani friends from Lahore were planning a trekking and flying trip to Shimshal, I do love the Shimshal region having flown over it once in 2009, a 2 day flight with my highest bivy at 5270 meters following Christian Rankle. I got to know the locals on a treking/climbing trip in 2012 where I was able to help with some filming for a documentary about female climbers of the area. This year having a group to go with and all the logistics arranged sounded great. The group was 8 clients, I the only american the other 7 Pakistani's from Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi. Basically middle class guys in their 20's to 40's craving a little time off work in their various industries (media, finance, telecomunications, sales) and looking forward to some outdoor time in the mountains.

Kamran and Ahsan are pilots I've known since 2007, they brought their paragliding wings with the intention of climbing the 6400 meter Sonia peak and flying from the top. Wajahat I've also know since 2007, he's one of the pilots that visited Bir in 2008 and has done numerous outdoor documentaries. Wajahat came on the spur of the moment as he'd been in the northern areas working on a project showcasing the mountain biking potential of Gilgit Baltistan.

It's a lovely group and I enjoy getting to know the guys and of course the Shimshal guides and porters are all stellar (lots more to say about the cool group dynamic but I'm trying to keep it short to cover a bit of ground with this post). I seem to be having some stomach pains on the demanding trek to the base of Sonia. That combined with seeing a nice 7000+ meter sky setting up made me make the decision to fly from lower down rather than summit and risk losing the good weather flying window. The the group starts in the morning and I wait for thermals to start from the hillside at 4400 meters. Everything looks good and I launch easily but from the first thermal I could tell I didn't like the day. Just a bit rough and not positive climbs lower down. The climbs get stronger higher up but there's still something that doesn't feel right and I'm not at all relaxed.

Back to the picture, it's taken looking north east and the snow covered peak below is Sonia (6400 meters) where my friends are climbing the ridge along the right which borders the Gujerab valley. I would guess I'm about 7000 meters but this day I wasn't flying with a GPS or Altimeter. Shortly after taking the picture and talking with Ahsan on the radio about how I didn't like the turbulence I lost my wing. Sometimes in these circumstances I can remember clearly what happened but this time it was a bit of a blur. I am sure my hands were on the controls and I was actively flying the wing. I think there was a large asymetric which led to a cravat, as the wing started to spiral the input needed to stop it led to a stall. I'm not entirely sure but this is what I think looking back on it.

What I am sure about was that as I was trying to get the wing from being stalled to flying again I wasn't having fun at all. I remember thinking, "Over it" "Done" "Going to get a mountain bike an find some mellow trails instead of this silly flying business" In fact I think in those few seconds I made a business plans for bringing groups to Pakistan but riding sturdy bikes on good roads with little traffic rather than flying collapsible wings in strong air. I was also aware of how unpleasant having a twist at this altitude would be, and that my reserve was no good over that glaciated high terrain below me.

The incident was over after a few seconds and I was flying again. I stayed in the air for another 45 mins and 25km to save landing at base camp and having a 2 day walk to the road. I didn't enjoy any of it, couldn't appreciate the views and couldn't wait for it to be over. 2 days later I was comfortably in Hunza watching a perfect 7000+ no wind flying day from the comfort of the ground. I was a bit conflicted as I've been the last year. Self doubt started as my passion to fly declined in August 2012. Having an accident last September didn't help much but the head games have been interesting to watch. Just as I thought I was recovering my spirit I received this very clear message. As I write now I'm totally ok with the idea that by big mountain flying days are behind me. Life is about transitions and the saddest thing is clinging to who we were yesterday, not living as who we are today.

So who am I now and what do I want to do?

Well I think that's a subject for another post. I can say I concluded my month long trip by spending a week with the local pilots of Chitral. I started my Pakistan travels there in May of 2007 and have always had a close bond with the people. Now that I wasn't focused on my personal flying I was able to totally dedicate myself to giving back what I've learned. During the day I would take someone up on an instructional tandem flight and in the evening we would have an official training session complete with a dry erase board, syllabus and videos. For me being a part of developing the local pilots is now a bigger priority than flying on my own. As for future Pakistan trips I'd like to travel around by motorcycle, explore some easy mountain biking routes, and even do some fishing...    

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Finally Back.

It seems like I've been gone forever, it seems like I never left. Everything has changed, exactly nothings changed.

This heart in my chest beats, I can feel the blood pulsing through my veins, I've returned to the skies of Pakistan.

Actually there was some pain on coming back. My friend Oriol Fernandez arrived 6 hours after me in Islamabad, mostly unplanned which are the best plans for friends to meet. The next day after a too brief visit to friends at PAFF who've provided immeasurable support over the years we boarded a bus to the mountains. A mere 26 hours later after a bumpy ride in the back seat and little sleep we reached our destination.

I knew about the landslide, destruction and lake created above Hunza in January 2010 but to meet a friend and hear how 10 of his family were killed and all their land lost really hit me. Also the downturn in tourism for Karimabad due to sectarian violence in April this year is depressing.

But then Oriol's insight was this, "Look at the spirit, no tourists but what do they do? Get a bank loan and expand their hotel in the hopes things will improve" And it's true, the determination and spirit of Pakistani's is amazing, here are people not to be pitied but to be admired.

I was worried before coming back, worried I might not feel that same, might not have the heart to fly here, not enjoy the travel. But it's all the same, I'm continually inspired; by the mountains, the people, the history, this is truly a land of giants.

So I hope I have the energy and inspiration to write more and share more of my experience.

Upon returning I met with Olivier Laugero a French pilot and photographer from Chamonix. For me this is really cool because when I met Olivier in El Bolson Argentina in 2006 it was his stories and pictures that convinced me I had to visit Pakistan. Now we are traveling and flying together and when not flying I'm developing an interest in bird watching. Yesterday we saw a Himalayan dipper, yellow-bellied warbler and some others I hadn't known.

My first flight back was awesome, I tried to circumnavigate Rakaposhi but was not able to, for the pilots you can see my tracklog and understand how interesting it was... in fact I almost could have done it but at the top of the thermal I was distracted by watching an avalanche and maybe lost a few meters in the climb which I needed to get over the ridge between Rakaposhi and Diran.

Now we're on our way to Hushe for a few days. Really I will try to update more, but as always this words on this screen fall so short of what I feel when I'm here.

And a big thanks to David Wheeler for putting all the foreign pilots spot's on one page, you can track us here

Friday, April 8, 2011

an update from Sikkim and a request for Ghana

Dear Friends and Family,
I think it's been a long time since you've received an actual email update
from me. In this strange age of communication most of my updates are through
my blog <> the himalayan odyssey
webpage<>or facebook.You are receiving
this message because I have a request for your
help. Let me give you some background.

- Leonardo da Vinci said:

"When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your
eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long
to return."

What I mean is I haven't found anything more interesting or engaging to do
with my life than fly! I've been paragliding for 8 years now and I am
continually blown away but what is possible. Whatever my expectations were
when I started I can say they were naive and insignificant compared to the
reality of my experiences as I've progressed... How to explain what it's
like to cross the greatest mountain ranges in the world with the simplest of
aircraft? mmm difficult, but I do occasionally try. Whenever I tell stories
of flying they are inextricably linked to the experiences I have with people
in the places I travel through. The hospitality, the warmth and the interest
shown is touching. I continually want to do something more meaningful to
show my appreciation for the peoples I've met.

Currently I'm in Sikkim India. It's a small state between Nepal and Bhutan.
For 3 years every spring I've been flying long distances from west to east
across the Himalayas. This year on March 1rst I started from Pokhara Nepal
with my friend Eric Reed. We were attempting to complete the epic trip from
last year that lasted 48 days and covered almost 1200km but fell short of
our goal to reach Sikkim. The flying conditions were difficult and dangerous
in mid April 2010 and so we had to quit. This year weather conditions were
more favorable and though it wasn't easy we crossed into Sikkim on the 14th
of March. I can't go into all the details of our arrest as our court case is
pending. We have all reason to believe we were in compliance with the law
and were not being reckless or naive. I expect it to be cleared up soon and
it's actually not what I'm writing about but just to give you background of
where I am.

For years I've wanted to do more than just pass through, I'd like to get
involved a give a bit back to the communities who I've gotten to know. Over
the years my interest in vulture conservation efforts have made good
progress in Nepal and specifically in Pokhara where I've spent a lot of
time, but that isn't what this is about. It's about Africa and something
called the Cloudbase Foundation. I've been invited for a paragliding
festival in Ghana during the 22nd-25th of April. There I will donate my time
providing tandem flights for domestic and international tourists. The
festival has successfully run for 6 years and I'm excited to be a part as
well as combining it with a family trip to meet with my sister who works in
Cameroon and my father who's coming from Denver.

The pilots involved with the Ghana festival have been thinking along the
same lines as me but have actually done something productive. They have
partnered with the Cloudbase Foundation, which aims to help children around
the world. It is an American based not for profit, registered as a 501(c)3.
The Cloudbase Foundation was started by a group of hang glider and
paraglider pilots, who want to help disadvantaged children. The Foundation
gathers money; and then any hang-gliding or paragliding pilot, from any
county, can apply for a grant to develop some kind of project that helps
children. Please check out the Cloudbase Foundation website for more
information about the projects they have developed and helped to support:

So you can help me by donating to the foundation. I see this as just a
start, if I can generate some funds for this years project in Ghana then in
the future I can apply for grants for projects here in the Himalayas and
Pakistan. Either donate online via paypal or by check. click here to go to
the link

Make checks or money orders payable to: "The Cloudbase Foundation" and mail

The Cloudbase Foundation
4066 Willow Lane
Madisonville, LA 70447

All donations can be tracked and since it's an established 501(c)3 it's a
tax deductible donation for Americans.

But label your online or check donations for me, using the following tag
"Ghana - Brad Sander" and if possible send me an email with the amount
and time you donated.

So even if it's just $5 I appreciate your time to help out! And don't worry
about me, this time being arrested in India isn't what you would expect.

Thanks for your interest and time,

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Nothing to say?

7 months since an update? do I have nothing to say? Well no actually it's so intimidating to try and write something because so much happens, I have too much to say to get it out coherently. If I don't get into details and try to get the basics it's simple and it's nothing I haven't said before.

Life is amazing.

I am really really lucky to be who I am and have the opportunities I do. This comes from being born in the right place with certain characteristics; middle class, of good health in a prosperous free country to loving parents with an incredible extended family. I've made good use of these gifts but every day I realize where I could be without them.

Somehow I have an ability to draw amazing people in my life, these people the experiences I have with them are the most important thing in my life .

People are overwhelming good everywhere. The love their children, they work hard, they smile easily, they help strangers. Turn off your TV, stop watching the news because it distorts reality. Go and experience the world and you'll see as I do.

That is really the basics. As I travel a lot and don't do much "work" I think the most important thing we can do is witness the world, just to see so many places and so many ways of living. I'm good at doing that, I'm not however that good at sharing my experiences because that requires a different set of skills.

For now I'm in Nepal and starting the flying season of my life once again. I am updating on the Himalayan Odyssey webpage and on our facebook page if you have time to take a look.

Himalayan Odyssey 2010 was an epic trip but it was not the first or the final, I was surprised when a friend commented they thought it was over... well it's springtime in the Himalayas and it's far from over!

As for the past and future very condensed what I've missed blogging about and hope to blog in the future is this-

Last summer monsoon spent in Nepal.

Awesome short trip to Bhutan in September as flying guide, would like to do another trip this fall but need to advertise to get more pilots to come.

November to January in Thailand Laos Vietnam. Bicycle touring and kitesurfing and eating good food.

NOW- flying in himalayas, hope to reach Sikkim.

Future- Going to Africa to visit Dad and Sister end of April. Paragliding festival in Ghana, sister lives in Cameroon.

May- China
June July - Pakistan

Great now I've finally updated my blog!

Monday, June 21, 2010

PRK at TRSC Internation Lasik Center

Recently I had an interesting experience with what I suppose could be called medical tourism, I hesitate to say that because I didn't specifically come for that reason, I'm just waiting for my Pakistan visa to come through. Anyway I underwent Laser Eye Surgery in Thailand to correct my vision. I'll try to explain how it all worked. Keep in mind reading this that I spend most of my time in countries where things don't work that smoothly so for me spending time in Thailand is like therapy, everything works, the Thai's are courteous, concientious, and totally "switched on" I'm not going to complain about other countries here I'm just going to say I'm baised because in general I'm really impressed with Thailand. This also isn't a comprehensive explanation of the surgery/benifits/complications, just a brief description of my experience.

I picked the center TRSC by browsing the internet and reading a random account of someones experience here. Maybe you'll do the same. Keep in mind if you do and if you mention my name you'll get a 4,000 bhat discount. I did and I just grabbed a name from the internet! It's one of largest centers and that meant I could call, schedule an appointment for 2 days later and surgery same day of consultation- easy, impulsive.. I like easy and impulsive.

I set up my appointment by email, the responses were fast and clear explaining what I needed to do to prepare, basics of Lasik and FAQ's including a map of their location, just opposite Lumpini Park which I'm familar with.

When I got out of the elevator on the 6th floor this man greeted me. Every day after that I came back he was the same, friendly genuine and interested in how I was doing. After the surgery he and my personal counselor escorted me into a taxi below and explained to the driver where I needed to go. His name is Opass tell him I say hello if you come.

Next is the reception, for the entire time I was really "handled" always a clear explanation with a super friendly person showing me what was to happen next. A brief bit of paperwork and then I met my patient counselor who was to insure my well being for the rest of the process.

Patty, shown on the right then walked me through the rest of the process, going into several rooms for testing my vision, cornea thickness, ocular pressure, blah blah blah. Anyway it went really smooth, some of the staft didn't speak perfect english but all spoke enough to inform me of what was happening which was reassuring, "put your chin here" "I going to put a strap on the back of your head" "hold still one moment" ect ect. No surprises just clear reassuring explanations and efficient professional treatment. There were a couple questions to decide- 1 Lasik or PRK and 2 Which laser- 3 choices of different prices.

I went with PRK- it's what my sister did when she researched it years ago and my sister is really smart so that was an easy one. I chose the most expensive laser because they said my night vision would be better, again pretty easy decision. Total cost was 77,000 bhat with consulation fee of 1,500 and discount of 4,000.

There was a consultation with the doctor doing my surgery and I was impressed by her unhurried nature and taking time to answer all my questions. Sukanda Swasdibutra has been working at TRSC for 12 years and done somethign like 10,000 surgery's. Reassuring. AFter PRK I've come in every day since the surgery for a brief checkup to make sure there is no infection. Again all questions have been answered and every effort made to make me comfortable. Patty gave me here card and stressed that I should call her mobile number 24hrs a day should I have a problem or question.

Oh another cool thing during the consultation they dialate your pupils with some eye drops and it takes 20 minutes to take effect, during that time yet another kind, well dressed staff puts you in a massage chair and covers you with a blanket.. Damn I like the way Thai's do things!

Ok so what about the surgery? Well I came in at the scheduled time and found something odd, I was getting nervous! A valium is given which I thought wasn't necessary but in fact it really helped. I had this moment where I was really sympathetic to all my tandem passengers. You've decided your going to do something, it's been explained what's going to happen and you've agreed to do it, but still nervousness and fear comes in because you don't know exactly how it's going to go. Now I'd say I'm pretty good at dealing with fear when it comes to facing bodily harm and having to make fast decisions while flying or climbing but surgery, especially an elective surgery that doesn't actually need to be performed is a very different kind of fear. I could see myself trying to deny what I was feeling and really had to make an effort to be honest with myself about how nervous I was feeling.

I was put in a gown and hair net over my street clothes, instructed to wash my face, sat in a reclining chair while numbing eye drops were repeatedly applied over 20 minutes. Then all I had to do was walk to the OR lie down under the laser and told to look straight ahead.. well there was a little cleaning/scraping of the cornea, and a metal ring put on the eye... but then the laser about to start and you're told it's important not to move your eye, damn if I wasn't super focused on not moving my eye for the 16 seconds the laser is active! It's funny, a crazy laser show with flashing red lights, no pain but the peculiar smell of burning cornea tissue and then its over. By the second eye I was more relaxed and even looking forward to the weird visual effect of the laser reshaping my cornea. In minutes it's over. "Sit up", says the doctor, "Now you can see" I look at her, and the wall behind her and damn if it's not all clearly in focus! what a trip.

Because of this particular surgery I've had to rest a lot the first 3 days and had some discomfort and distortion of vision as the surface of my cornea heals but nothing I would describe as pain. Now it's all feeling quite normal and it's starting to sink in that I've really done it and I won't need to wear glasses again. I'm still a little hesitant because it can take months for the vision to totally stabilize but as it seems now I'll have 20/20 or better corrected vision. Wow, cool. Thanks to all the staff at TRSC they do a phenomenal job!

Oh, as I write this I'm in the waiting area on my laptop using the free wifi and enjoying a hot chocolate while chilled by the AC. My beverage choices were: pineapple or roselle juice, the assortment of cappucinos and coffee from a machine, hot peach or chrysanthemum tea with some really tasty biscuits... what next?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Most Basic Update

I can't believe I haven't updated in 6 months! Ok let me think here, what are the essentials?

I had a recent thought, I thought, "I'm so damn lucky to be spending the prime of my life doing exactly what I want to." I'm not limited by health, money or time or commitments. That's really cool.

The other thought is that you can totally live your dreams and still be unhappy. Why is finding inner peace so elusive? Ok well let's not try to address that here.

Recently myself and some friends completed the greatest Bivouac flight of all time. I can say this because that's an emotional opinion so it can't be wrong. Also since I haven't been on other flights that may claim to be the greatest I can't really compare.

So if somehow you missed, possibly because I didn't post anything here.. then have a look at our website and blog entry's about the trip.

And for now I'm Thailand and on my way to Pakistan..