Flight: Spain: Cerdanya Inversion

I suppose after the past few flights that the inversion is not unilaterally the end of the world. Generally speaking, La Cerdanya is exempt from it, enjoying tantalizingly clear air while most everyone else marinates in haze, diesel particulates, Saharan dust, humidity, smoke, pollen….you get the idea. Well, things changed a bit as mid-winter rolled around, creating an inversion inside La Cerdanya itself.

This sort of thing is not earth shattering. Really, the fact that La Cerdanya is so exempt from what is going on in the rest of the area is a bigger surprise. In the western US, inversions are quite regular in the winter, as extremely cold and dry air sinks down into valleys surrounded by contiguous and sizable mountain ranges. This cold air can end up having quite a temperature differential, as cold air is denser and heavier than warmer air. If it becomes significant enough, then the air pools, accumulates haze and other impurities, and remains stationary. Those who may have visited Phoenix or Denver in the winter and noted a pronounced brown smog layer are witnessing when pollution and an inversion mixes.

That finally happened here, as cold winter air settled into the valley and expressed no interest in leaving. Thus, I expressed my interest in flying around to see what it looked like.

The layer was pronounced at 5,500 feet, and was far hazier down where humans live than in the air. Once above it, it was not too terribly evident until late afternoon light started backlighting contaminants below.

Das. Note the tone of blue in the lower image. That is the inversion, despite my ironic attempts at taking photos that remove most of its effects.

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Tosa d’Alp
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Surfacing the Cadí ridge, noting an inversion present on the other side, though rather low. This is as expected, given high pressure and stable air.
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Snowpack on Cadí-Moixeró. Note the snowshoe path.
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Cadí-Moixeró with typical lowland inversion.
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And here is the inversion over La Cerdanya at 5,500 feet. As a lover of clean air, I do not particularly like descending into pre-combusted atmosphere.
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Flight: Spain: Zona Volcànica de la Garrotxa

Anytime the earth historically or in the present decides to belch liquid hot magma, it makes me happy. I wouldn’t have considered Catalonia to be a place where volcanic activity took place, though it was one of those obsessive Google Maps sessions that resulted in locating a ‘volcanic park,’ for which I had to investigate, and then found what appears to be a bunch of old cinder cones hiding out under deciduous trees. In no shortage of irony, Catalonians at one point decided to build a church inside one of them (can one not see the Freudian connection to hellfire at play here?).

In keeping with my “the hell with it” approach to weather and flight planning, I did another shot at the Pre-Pyrenees ridge line, cleared it, found the view to be at the very least acceptable, and headed to Olot, where the volcanoes are located. On this day, haze was worse, though manageable. I had to remind myself that it looks 50% worse while flying than the end result on camera, which is an irony given that most things degrade when photographed.

Ridge extending from La Molina. There is a name, and I can’t be bothered to look it up. Even though “La Molina” is spelled the same in Spanish and Catalán, it is pronounced Moe-lean-a and Mull-lean-a, respectively. I find that reality to be annoying.
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I shouldn’t be surprised….and I am, every time. Serra Cavallera.
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Serra Cavallera. Mediterranean on the distance left/center horizon.
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Looking back on Serra Cavallera.
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Gave the good old farm field thing a try. Not working out as I would like today.
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Olot. More virile and raging Catalonian independence brewing here.
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Olot with two cinder cones.
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A few sneaky cinder cones.
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A not-so-sneaky cinder cone. Yes, a church was built *inside* one of these (though not that one). 
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Appalachian-style foothills, Colorado style mountains.
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Looking back toward the Mediterranean, wondering why I haven’t gotten over myself and flown to it yet.
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Pyrenees / Pirineos / Pirineus / Pyrénées (English / Spanish / Catalán / French). Why can’t there just be *one* place name?
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Montserrat in the distance.
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La Cerdanya.
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On final, runway 07.
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Flight: Spain: Montserrat!

For anyone who actually reads my blog and happens to be in possession of decent cognition and a functioning hippocampus, it would be well known that I have wanted to go to Montserrat since moving to Spain, and every single time I have schemed to do so, that pesky inversion has thwarted any attempt to do so. As for the hippocampus/cognition part, I have been ranting about sunny days on this side of the ridge turning into sheer crap on the other side the entire time.

Well, I decided that weather forecasts can shove it, and I am just going to have to fly to the ridge, and if I can see Montserrat, I’m going. A few days after the last flight, I went up, climbed over La Molina, and there she was! Even better, the inversion was in full force, though smashed down near the ground, creating quite a bit of resplendent beauty. It did take some visiting Dutch folks who walked into the hangar to propose the idea that the inversion “can be beautiful,” as I spat my venomous rancor about it to them in conversation some weeks prior to this flight. It turns out they were correct….

Montserrat, from La Molina, with the inversion that “can be beautiful.”
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La Molina ski tracks.
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Grazing terraces.
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Puigllançada
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Pre-Pyrenees
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Pre-Pyrenees, with El Pedraforca, symbol of Catalonia.
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Bergueda – The name is a “comarca,” which is the Catalonian equivalent (though not equal) of a county. Don’t forget my Landkreis rant from last year in Germany on the subject of regional naming subdivisions and taxonomy.
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Avinyó. I can practically smell the desire for Catalonian independence…..
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And the inversion. I suppose there is some beauty….maybe….
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I count 4 parachutes.
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Manresa – There are some real assholes that do not understand the concept of merging lanes here.
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Hill north of Terrassa.
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Montserrat!
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Can you see the climbers?
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Inversion, smashed down near the ground. I find the thought of flying into a windmill, in Spain, quite quixotic.
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If a blog reader could explain the proliferation of abandoned and collapsing stone houses in Spain within reasonable range of expensive houses, jobs, infrastructure, and cities, I’d be grateful.
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This is what happens when it rains on tilled soil. 
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Foothills of the Pre-Pyrenees.
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Serra d’Ensija-els Rasos de Peguera. I am not that sophisticated…yet. I copied it from Google Maps.
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El Pedraforca
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Cadí-Moixeró
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La Cerdanya – another comarca, though the name shows up for centuries as its own political subdivision in the eternal blood-filled historical ebb and flow of European governance.
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Fields – had to do it.
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Flight: Spain: First Snow in La Cerdanya

A month hiatus went by before I thought of aviation again after the last flight, much less actually flew. For those that didn’t read prior blog posts, the gist of my pause was related to the fact that it seemed more people were noticing my flying because it was “dangerous” than the actual content produced (said “danger” having more to do with the fact most people think airplanes are “deathtraps” flown by “crazies”). After my meditative wandering in a mental wilderness, I decided everyone can go to hell and I am doing what I want.

So what did I do next? Naturally, I went up on a windy day with some mountain waves and flew near some ridge lines. It was remarkably like surfing, except the waves are bigger and, well, I am kind of afraid of large and unpredictable ocean waves, so this works out better.

It was the first snow down in the valley that lasted more than 5 minutes, and I must say, it was quite majestic. For those that give a crap, this flight was just before Christmas. I am doing too much flying-not enough time for blogging (what misery, I know).

Prats i Sansor
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Urús – Apparently the accent goes right for this one. I have no clue why.
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Hill behind the house, which has demonstrated an annoying propensity to block the sun at 4:10PM.
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Field
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I might as well cut and paste the Salt River Range of Wyoming for this scene. Its stunningly similar. Just swap Wyoming rednecks and snobs for a proportionate mix of Catalonian rednecks and elitists.
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Just over Talló, looking east.
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Talló. I walked about 8 miles in January here, arriving after dark. There is something liberating about acting like a hobo.
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Blowing snow on the Cadí ridge. This is a first in the airplane.
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And, as expected, that blowing snow made descending air here. Note the mountain wave with the clouds.
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Cumulogranite. A divine mix of rock, cloud, wind, and aviation.
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Cadí-Moixeró with laminar wave cloud.
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I would like to climb these, though once I got there, I would realize they are 400 feet tall and too much work.
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Mysteriously, central Cerdanya missed out on the snow.
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Aerodrom de la Cerdanya. It is very bueno. Le France in the background.
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Flight: Spain: Puigmal, Vall de Núria, Balandrau, Serra de Montgrony

For AOPA readers, these are some more photos for the “Why do we fly?” post (aka “What the hell am I doing up here?”). For non-AOPA blog readers, I suggest reading said post.

Puigmal (2.910m, 9,550′). Of course, there is a cross on it. Note the size of the people compared to the cross.
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Vall de Núria. For some reason, I highly like this place, even though it is ill suited for an emergency landing.
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Puigmal again.
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Balandrau (2.585m / 8,481′)
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El Freser
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My grandmother, upon viewing my photos, makes repeated reference to her lack of desire to “peel you off the side of a mountain.” If it ever did happen, I kind of envision scenery like this, though I think physics would take care of concerns over collecting remains.
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Serra Cavallera. The weather has the audacity to interfere with my photos. 
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Serra de Montgrony. I had a hard time, when standing here in a horse herd in September, imagining that this could be a wintry place. Well, here we are.
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Puigllançada
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Flight: Spain, Andorra, France: Pyrenees Snowstorm

I seem to keep filing the latest increase in the presence of winter as the first “real” snow. The problem is, I have been presenting multiple iterations of the “first” snow in the Pyrenees, dating back to the first one in mid-October. It’s time to give up the “first” bit, even though it feels like it every time.

This particular event involved higher elevations getting slammed with snow with mid elevations getting a good dose. The valley missed out, though the sheer quantity that was visible from the airplane, particularly along the Andorra-France border, was rather remarkable. I would estimate three feet at the peaks, with less as elevation descends, and also less depending on the particular configuration of terrain relative to lift and incoming moisture.

The first half of the flight (Masella, Cadí-Moixeró, Pedraforca) was fantastic. The second half (Andorra, hardcore Pyrenees) had me wondering if I was on crack, as the terrain seemed a bit extreme. Don’t worry, I flew there again a few days ago, in crazier terrain, with more wind, and a hell of a lot more snow, and it seemed fine. I guess tossing snowshoes in the back in the event of an emergency landing in the backcountry makes all perception of risk disappear.

La Masella ski area
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Snow drifts on Tosa d’Alp Mountain (same mountain that La Masella is on).
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Southwest ridge of Tosa d’Alp – mildly rugged.
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Cadí Tunnel. While the highway is pretty in this photograph, that bastard costs €11.64 each way.
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Winter and autumn.
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Pedraforca
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Pedraforca, again.
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Cadí-Moixeró
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Trees with snow on them.
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Andorra
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Andorra foreground (this side of ridge), France other side of ridge, Spain upper left on leftward sloping section of mountains. This is where I was wondering if I was on crack.
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Ski area in northern Andorra. I am too lazy to look up the name, not that anyone cares, because its an over-glorified and artistically intriguing parking lot in a smug tax haven micro-nation.
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Andorra, until stated otherwise.
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France is more or less on the other side of this ridgeline, not that anybody draws a line visible from the air.
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Back in Spain.
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Flight: Spain: Riding the Waves

Everyone says not to do it.

“It will break the airplane in half.”

“You’ll die.”

So, of course, I decided to do it. That is, flying on a day with clearly visible mountain waves.

Spanish culture has a tendency toward drama. I experienced this while living in Ecuador during a revolution quite some time ago, when locals would lay claim that, if I visited a certain monument or area, I would be shot by “thieves.” I didn’t find that the idea added up, that there would be this 100% certainty of my murder over the possession of a $200 camera, or a small amount of money in my wallet. So, I went to those places, and I lived. Though I wonder if the 3-foot machete I bought had anything to do with it, or the fact that I am twice the size of Iberians and their Latin American progeny.

So, fast forward from youthful religious insanity to early middle age hipsterdom, and here I am wandering in my noveau-retro-trendy airplane in the independence-minded breakaway region of Europe’s coolest country, and yet again, I am warned against some dramatically apocalyptic outcome if I do something.

Mountain waves aren’t that complicated. Wind hits terrain, goes up, crests, and comes down. Sometimes it’s nearly vertical; other times, it’s a gentle dome shaped affair. As with any wind, it can wreak havoc on an airplane if opposing forces are shearing in a tiny spot, enough to tear an airplane in half. As long as its not doing that, its either a few bumps, or a localized, unwanted descent, or absolutely nothing.

I decided to dip my toe in the water with some clear mountain waves, climbing all the way into them (of course, why not just observe from the sidelines? Never!). Nothing happened. Not a bump, just a slight downdraft on the lee side of one.

That is not to say that I have not encountered some nasty winds in future flights. But, for now, the Spaniards are drama queens and I know everything.


Ascending toward Masella
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This entire cloud is moving, though remaining in a similar shape. 
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I am technically supposed to be scared of this.
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Looking back the other way. Note the airport center left.
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Puigcerdà
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Clouds higher up are influenced by mountains.
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Classic mountain waves.
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Above the waves, with La Molina below. Air has a bizarre energy, though ostensibly tranquil. Clouds are moving and changing all around, and it was a bit strange.
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Mountain waves of a more vertical nature, looking toward the Cadí ridge. Terrain beneath is quite severe and nearly vertical, which is being copied thousands of feet above in the atmosphere.
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Looking below before descending.
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Flight: France: Wine Country, Perpignan, Mediterranean Sea

Typical of most things in the airplane, it was the worst moment to fly personally. I had started a new client, was slammed with a mountain of errands, and had just dropped my wife off for a trip of her own, which meant I had even more to do. Amidst aneurytic levels of task overload, I decided the most sensible thing was to conquer filing a flight plan, sign up for and figure out French aviation weather feeds, activate the silly flight plan while surrounded by mountains, and deal with nonstop French ATC while not having much of a plan.

I declared war on Wednesday and took the flight on Thursday. After trying a few frequencies, I finally raised Montpellier Approach at the pass to Perpignan. No issues activating a Spanish originated flight plan while in France!

As I flew past Pic d’Canigou, I was greeted with snow on the peak and illustrious autumn color on the mountainside. Recall my post a few weeks ago, ranting that autumn was over and it was no good. Well, here we are.

Coming around the bend, I was greeted with views of the Mediterranean Sea. Descending rapidly under ATC orders, autumnal bliss was extended to the Languedoc wine region. I surely expected the vineyards to be devoid of leaves. For that matter, I didn’t even know they turned color. A few minutes later, I was flying over palm trees. Literally, in a span of 20 minutes, I flew from snow to palm trees! There is no place that I know of in the United States where one can see mountain snow and palm trees so closely. Possibly in Southern California it is possible to see it somewhat close, though unlikely like this.

The rest of the flight consisted of lots of ATC radio traffic in French, for which I had to listen for English instructions for me at any random moment, while taking an extraordinary amount of photographs, flying (of course), navigating, and getting the frequent handover from one agency to the next. It was interesting to say the least, and one of my more memorable flights.

Over the pass to Perpignan. French side.
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Looking the other way.
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Pic d’Canigou….and illustrious autumn. Go figure.
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Coming around the bend and the Mediterranean on the horizon!
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More autumnal hues, Pyrenees foothills, NW of Perpignan.
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Fall in wine country. A total surprise.
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Vertical trees are to slow down raging Tramontane winds.
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In case I am missing suburbia, I’ll just drop in to France.
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Palm trees.
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A bit overdeveloped. 
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Boat.
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Mediterranean coast. I used to severely dislike being even this far from shore. I am still well within glide distance to the beach, and it doesn’t bother me after a winter on the Outer Banks.
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Boats. I wonder how many of these are paid for by drug money, organized crime, human trafficking, prostitution, bribery, political corruption, Russian oligarchs, and insolvent loans. I suppose I should create a category for “legitimately earned income,” though that is probably a small percentage.
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Coastal trees.
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Hideous French housing experiment.
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Navigation error. Wait. We’re in France. “Erreur de navigation.”
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I have driven this highway to and from Germany more times than I would like. I have also been fined for speeding on this highway by automated speed cameras more than I would like. France, in an act of racketeering, waits six months to send all sins in a giant pile, deluding Americans into thinking that doing 5mph over the speed limit is OK and allowing transgressions to profitably accumulate before indicating that its a poor idea to speed at all.
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I wonder if the engine of French feudalism is vanity.
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The foreground looks disturbingly like West Virginia from the air, if the vineyards are removed.
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Looking back on much of what I flew.
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Snow, entering the Val du Capcir on the way to La Cerdanya.
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Pic d’Canigou on the horizon.
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Puyvalador, France
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French people setting the place on fire.
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Flight: Spain: Mysterious Agricultural Basin & New Year’s Sardonicism

While I may get passive-aggressive around Christmas, I get cynical around New Year’s. First of all, who needs an excuse to get drunk? Just get drunk already if that is what is desired. Secondly, there is all of this whitewashing of graves: recasting the prior year in a bath of bulleted positives, and setting resolutions for the next year, heralding in an era where things will somehow be better because we passed an arbitrary point in the orbital path of the earth around the sun.

For me personally, I will only note that 2016 was the year I lived in three countries. Three. I did NOT see that coming.

For the rest of the world, there is the matter of the handwriting on the wall. We tend to look back on historical horrors such as the world wars, autocracy, and various human rights travesties and console ourselves by believing that, if we just knew beforehand, it would have been different (at least that is how world history was presented to me in grade school). The horrors of the 20th century weren’t mysteries beforehand to many; the specific trigger was. The handwriting is on the wall again about our future; there is not much reason to assert that things will be rosier when those of us who are alive review our 2017 in 365 days, when we are at the same point relative to the sun on a two (but not three) dimensional Cartesian grid. Let’s not even begin to talk about our solar system’s galactic orbit (much less our galaxy’s general motion, but I digress) and how that throws cold water on the logic behind our cultural suppositions.

That depressing, condescending, and sardonic reality aside, what about Catalonian New Year’s traditions? As literally just happened a few moments ago, the new year turned over in Catalonia and church bells rang 12 times, for which people traditionally eat one grape for each toll. Its fast, and I wonder if anyone tallies how many people die from choking? According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents in the UK, at least one emergency visit per year to the hospital is made in Great Britain due to someone trying to photocopy their ass in the office; I can only imagine the effects of a fast, collective, and mass grape eating orgy by an entire separatist region late at night. But hey, its Spain, and people are happy, everything else be damned.

As for the flight in question, it was the beginning of what has turned about to be the War Against the Inversion. That damn airmass is not a transitory condition dependent on weather systems; it is a nearly permanent fixture. The only question is: how high does it go? Is it confined to Lleida, or is it allowed to rise over the Pyrenees? Time and season determine that factor, though not the existence of the inversion itself.

I decided to go to a mysterious agricultural basin in the southernmost section of the foothills of the Pyrenees, betting that the inversion would be kept out of that area. You’ll have to see how things worked out.

Looking back on La Cerdanya – quite pretty.

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That damn inversion! Rrrghhh.
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The eternal question of if this clarity will be in the mysterious agricultural basin.
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Looking back where on historical flight path.
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This looked better on Google Maps than in reality.
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Entrance to the mysterious basin.
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Victory! No inversion here. Note green tarp – I believe that to be olive harvesting activities.
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It is due to this ridge that the inversion is kept out!
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This appears to be a sinkhole, nicely adorned with some autumn.
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Agricultural breasts.
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Autumn in a tree farm.
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This is me sneering at the inversion!
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Inversion left, no inversion right. And that is life in Catalonia with an old airplane and a camera.
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Looking down on the inversion. 
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Carsickness highway.
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Interesting rocks.
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Cadí-Moixeró
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Two bovines, of unknown gender. The ladies have horns here in Spain.
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Flight: Spain, Andorra, France: Mid-mountain Snow & Airing of Grievances

I’ll warn in advance: I get very passive-aggressive around Christmas. In honor of Festivus tradition, this is my Christmas “airing of grievances.” For those that don’t give a hoot about my philosophical sardonicism, there are pretty pictures taken from the airplane at the bottom like usual. If I am going to spew vitriol about misleading tradition, I shall at least keep my traditions going.

This year’s rampage started by watching some of our regular TV shows. Of course, the Styrofoam snowflakes fall as actors stroll down magic streets in media sets in Los Angeles, bathing in the romantic warmth of friends, family, generosity, good tidings, and hope portrayed as some location in the Northeast that looks exactly nothing like those places.

Really?

More than half of people that fall in love end up hating each other so much that they get divorced. For those that can stand the marital union, has anyone thought how many families actually like each other? Who thought mixing family with happiness was a good idea? Perhaps the ideal of Christmas only works because it is lubricated with massive amounts of alcohol.

Our lovely entertainment industry also fails to consider how many people spend Christmas alone while drinking and farting on the couch, forgotten by all of this pseudo love and bliss circulating around.

Then there was the matter of the fact that the entire world does not do Christmas like it is done in America. It has been eerily quiet here in La Cerdanya, and I was vaguely aware that we are about to embark on a massive orgy of merrymaking, though that starts after the 25th. I also recalled a friend of mine noting Muslim women in Malaysia, in a full black head covering, shopping with a Santa hat on. Of course, our lovely plastic snowflake movie set hides anything other than a scripted stereotype, so we had to go looking to find out how things are done here in Catalonia.

Literally, holy shit.

Catalonia has a tradition of the “caganer” in Nativity scenes. It is a peasant with a traditional regional hat, squatting, pulling his pants down, and taking a dump (the word translates “shitter”). It sits not too far from Jesus in a Nativity and depicts gifts and generosity and all that happy horse human shit (though I can’t find one even though I am looking). To quote an editorial in a Barcelona newspaper, “A nativity scene without a caganer is not a nativity scene.”

Add to that the caga tío, the “shitting log.” Yet another tradition of Catalonia, a wooden log is filled with candies, adorned in mild costume, and ordered to defecate them out. When it does not, it is beaten with sticks by everyone present at the gathering until the candies come out of the rear end. This is done while singing a song, for which I have pasted the lyrics below. Aside from the jaw-dropping oddity at play here, I can’t help but note the cultural ramifications of programming children to act like a pitchfork and torch brigade. We wonder why Latin America has regular explosive orgies with people shouting “Viva La Revolución!” at the slightest provocation? When compared to angrily beating a log for not shitting candy, I am not sure which is more rational.

“Caga tió,

caga torró,
avellanes i mató,
si no cagues bé
et daré un cop de bastó.
caga tió!”

shit, log,
shit nougats,
hazelnuts and mató cheese,
if you don’t shit well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
shit, log!

All of the above amusement leads me to another misleading bit of nonsense. What the hell is with a white Christmas? Has anyone ever looked at a weather map before dreaming up the plastic snowflake fantasy?

A shockingly small surface area of the globe regularly has snow on the ground in the winter. Even less has fresh, happy powder. Having grown up in the “Snow Capital of the US,” Buffalo NY, I was treated with more mud, slush, rain, and miserable weather that was anything other than the real version of plastic, fluffy snowflakes, even in the middle of winter. Of course, since family life is generally a pain in the ass for most of the world yet is packaged as brimming with romanticized bliss by the entertainment industry, it would be foolish to think that the weather would be left alone by the same purveyors of falsehood.

With that being said, we got our first mid-mountain snow some weeks back. Instead of being isolated to the summits, snow levels came halfway down to the house, creating some beautiful scenery, so I naturally took the plane up to check it all out.

Perhaps this is my passive-aggressiveness coming out again, showcasing the white Christmas most of the world doesn’t get.

On a side note, I am considering creating a ranking system for each post, depicting the probability that my wife will read it and proclaim: “You’re an asshole. I can’t believe you expect people to read your blog.” This is a 5 out of 5.

Cadí-Moixeró

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Some sort of deer equivalent, above timberline in Cadí-Moixeró.
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Crossing over clouds created by rotors, en route to Andorra. This is not the most well-thought out plan. 
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Note how rock textures are cleanly visible. This is associated with early season snow. Mid-winter, the depth of snow obscures subtle texture, and in spring, rocks start poking out with residual snowpack. I prefer early snows the most.
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Andorra left, Spain right.
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Someone snowshoeing with his dog.
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Looking toward Andorra. Got caught in a downdraft here.
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Spain, France on the horizon. Wind is going left to right, which means those clouds are a sign of “unexpected rough air.”
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France. It was quite windy over here, creating the requirement to figure out the easiest way to get back to the airport, as I would need to cross to the downwind side, which is no good.
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As the ridge line here is much steeper, and the clouds smaller, I fell back on my experience in the Tetons and Glacier National Park that, while severe terrain can have more vertical wind patterns, they also tend to be slower as the terrain itself disrupts them. Time to cross and see what happens!
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It was fine. Just a few bumps.
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Pass to Perpignan. The Mediterranean is visible on the left horizon.
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Was someone having a seizure when property lines were drawn? France.
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Really long final, runway 25, LECD. I had flown to the right of those clouds in the mountains. 
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