Flight: Spain, Andorra, France: Bagneres de Luchon, Pyrenees

Flight path taken. Pause below for a word salad before the rest of the photos.
Bagneres de Luchon Flight Path

My autistic fixation with linear blogging is now totally ruined. Infrared images, daily flying for most of the summer, and now this damn independence movement have ruined any semblance of compulsive order that I previously enjoyed while posting my venomous rants. I suppose I will create some grand fusion of all prior methods and bastardize subject, theme, and imagery.

The independence thing drags on and on and on. I should have known that Spanish and Catalan culture avoids commitments and binary outcomes, favoring nagging, pressure, manipulation, false presentation of facts, drama, finger pointing, taking offense….. I am tired writing about it. Yes, we have our lovely little apocalyptic revolution backup plan, and I have suddenly hit an emotional wall about the whole thing. I couldn’t really give a hoot what happens. Show me some tanks, guns, and civil unrest and I might start caring again.

Yes, tomorrow the central government proclaims it will invoke Article 155, though the latest plan is to use a more surgical implementation of powers, calling a regional snap election in January instead of a Francoist smack down (again), where they rollout martial law and try to scare everyone with a show of force. Here is my free political consulting wisdom about this snap election idea: it will likely irritate the Catalans, creating a larger representation in Catalan Parliament that wants independence. One would think members of the same nation could understand how not to get the worst possible outcome with their fellow citizens, though wait a minute….American politics….never mind.

As for the flight on this post, it has nothing to do with the referendum or any current events. I took it in June, a rather monumentally long jaunt across the Pyrenees, with my first landing in France since the flight down from Germany. Bagneres-de-Luchon is not an easy field to fly into as the circuit is extremely tight, and there is the fact that nobody told me there would be 15 gliders, airplanes, and paragliders swirling around like gnats. Nobody spoke English, of course, so I just wedged in and landed the plane and that was that. After a bunch of mutually unintelligible grunting, and after finishing with refueling, I discovered many of them spoke Spanish. Go figure.

I would label all of these….but does anyone really care? This is the French side of the Pyrenees.
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Infrared camera.
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White peak on the center horizon is in Spain, highest peak in the Pyrenees: Aneto.
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Same mountain, different camera.
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I came uncomfortably close to a paraglider here at 10,000 feet!
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Heading toward Monte Perdido, Spain.
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I should have some trepidation about engine failure, and I don’t care. Its very calming up there, despite not-so-calm wind.
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Wedged in a tiny spot between the Monte Perdido restricted area and the French national park restricted area. 
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Monte Perdido. Local lore has it that Guardia Civil sit in there with cameras waiting for airplanes to break the rules so they can send them tickets.
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Back in the land of Emmanuel Macron.
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That is pretty badass, and I just flew most of it!
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Regular camera battery quit and I am not in the mood to reach for the bag as I have to urinate like a racehorse.
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Back in the air again. Pico Aneto on the horizon.
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Catalonia, Spain, and France visible in this image.
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Now back in Spain. This little section of Catalonia did NOT vote heavily for independence.
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Same mountains, different camera. East side of Aigüestortes. For anyone that wishes to tattle on me, I was outside this restricted zone.
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“Mountains. See one, seen them all.” So says some of my beloved and encouraging family.
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Vall d’Aran
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La Seu d’Urgell
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Flight: Spain or Catalonia: Faking Independence

This is getting fatiguing.

After the referendum, the police smackdown, the vote count, and posturing from both sides, the Catalan President said he would speak Tuesday 10/10 at 6PM. I didn’t think much of it, until rumors in the press indicated he planned to declare independence. At 5:15PM, I suddenly decided that “if he does declare, I want to be in the air during a change of sovereignty,” so I raced over to the airport, preflighted, took off, and commenced flying in circles. I went to Ara.cat on my phone, a Catalan news site (in Catalan, mind you, which I do not speak fluently), and kept checking the minute-by-minute feed. “Meeting is delayed one hour.” What the heck is this? Announce a historic speech, for which TV networks are cocked and ready, the world is watching….and then delay? A couple of pilots were sitting in lawn chairs by the runway, downing Catalan beer, so I landed, parked the plane, and sat next to them. They offered a cold one, and in a moment of temptation, contemplating that an independence declaration technically would create a regulatory void, it might be legal….and I didn’t.

The Catalan pilots told me nothing will happen at 7PM, wait til 7:30. Their battery ran out at 6:50, so they left and I hopped in the plane, flying in circles some more, hitting refresh repeatedly while trying to fly and muddle through Catalan news.

“Legislator’s shaking hands and moving towards seats.”
“Everyone in their place.”
“Carles Puigdemont sitting holding a pen.”

Jesus Christ! Get it over with already! Coitus interruptus!!!

“Puigdemont begins speaking.”
“ ‘Back in 2005…..’ “ (Really? Just declare already!)
“ ‘We have repeatedly attempted dialogue with the Spanish government….’ “

On and on it went, until the sun went down and it started to get too dark. I so badly wanted to be in the air for the moment, but discretion said it was time to land. I pulled up to hangar, hit “Live feed” on the iPhone, blasted the volume, and listened to the speech as I put the plane away. Finally, the gifted orator that he is built up to the crescendo where he declared independence, the crowd roared and…….the connection shut off.

Two minutes later, I got it back up and running, and heard this babble about dialogue with Spain, mediation, resolution, working together. “What the hell is this now?” I headed back to Ara.cat, only to find he both declared independence, and in a strategic device, suspended it right after.

An Irish friend of mine called it “Puigdemont’s fake orgasm.”

That is exactly what it feels like around here. Today, the Prime Minister of Spain (yes, I have to specify which nation we’re dealing with in this incestuous cesspool of confusion) publicly asked “did you declare independence or not?” That is admittedly an amusing reality, forcing the head of state to clarify if his wayward teenage breakaway region sinned or not….before he sends the tanks in.

What does the future hold? Don’t ask me! The thing I am learning these days is that Spain’s fascist history lies just beneath the surface. There were no truth commissions, war crimes trials, or other steps typical of such a transition. Commander Fascist simply became Assistant Deputy Undersecretary of Bureaucracy in the post-fascist parliamentary democracy, while mass graves literally remained buried and nobody tried to make too much sense of a very dark period. Catalonia resisted Franco heavily, got smacked rather heavily by Franco, and these lightly scarred wounds seem to have been torn open again. I doubt there will be a binary or conclusive outcome for some time. Any action either side takes to further their cause, while being effective in one aspect, will be offset by the rebellion or force of the other side. It may make sense for both parties to just turn to European institutions to solve it for them, otherwise the risk of violence is going to be uncomfortably high.

Until then, I will keep flying…..until I get shot down.

Down the valley in Cerdanya. I actually like this photo.
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So will this be a new nation or what?
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Camp de golf.
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I am ready to lose my mind and I am still creating pretty pictures!
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This guy clearly has better things to do than worry about independence.
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Landed, because the “major speech” is delayed. 
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Ugh. If independence is declared, my photos will be no good!
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Literal sunset….and the sunset of my idea to keep flying during this nonsense.
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The Referendum

The weeks building up to referendum on October 1 featured some downright amusing games of cat and mouse, a veritable soap opera that foreigners mostly would ignore as a domestic matter. As October 1 came, shocking events transpired in Catalunya that will not be forgotten in this country.

As previously mentioned, the referendum did not have legal standing under Spanish law. That meant that Spain had no obligation to respect it, and any anticipation that Catalunya would somehow become a separate nation would hinge upon separate events: a declaration of independence, action to eject Spanish rule, coupled with Spain somehow allowing it to happen without resisting. The mere presence of a referendum really is empty without further action.

I must point out that counties in Colorado voted to secede from the State of Colorado and form the State of Northern Colorado a few years ago. A few months ago, Puerto Rico voted for statehood. In both instances, it would require Congressional and Presidential approval to be binding, so nothing happened. A “valid” referendum, properly and duly counted, had no legal teeth to create the underlying circumstances for which the people voted for.

That leaves me wondering why the government of Spain elected to attack its own citizens. The videos I have watched literally make me sick: defenseless people, women, the elderly– shot with rubber bullets, smashed with police batons, hurled down the stairs, kicked repeatedly, thrown (quite violently, actually). In some videos, people writing in pain are kicked again, just for good measure by riot police. The crime? Lining up to vote in a referendum that the Constitutional Court said is meaningless. Who are the perpetrators here? I would contend it is not the citizenry. By taking out national anger on the innocent (who are not the criminals as far as I can understand from the court order), the government has made a grave political mistake. I also see some tinges of pathology here: how can an officer sworn to protect and serve repeatedly harm old people?

Catalans made it clear for months leading up to this day that “the world is watching.” My advice to them was that the world watched millions of Jews get slaughtered before we chose to act. As I write this, the Rohingya in Myanmar are fleeing for their lives. Do we care enough to act? No. My opinion was that 10,000 dead would convene European institutions to meet. 50,000 would create incredible outcry. It would take at least 100,000 dead, in my view, inside the framework of the European Union, before the EU would use force to interfere with a Member State’s internal affairs. Curiously, only one European head of state has denounced the violence against peaceful citizenry: Belgium. France, Germany, the UK, and Scotland have had minority political leaders denounce the violence, but not their heads of state. I can only wonder why action that in a court of law would be deemed in violation of national and European human rights is meeting such silence.

I decided to take a walk this afternoon, driving to a nearby village, and wandering around the countryside for a bit. I saw some people lined up at a town building, so I went over to investigate. Clearly it was an election line, so like a moth to a flame, I walked over hoping to photograph some of the event to share. Then I saw some police and continued along, getting scowled at viciously by the people hanging around the town square. Emerging on the other side, I saw an innocent looking person sitting behind the building, and asked him if people were voting. Our conversation switched to English quickly, as he turns out to be American, and we had quite a lively discussion. Apparently, I look just like some of the Guardia Civil officers that showed up with attack dogs and tried to steal the “urns” (voting boxes, as they call them). Apparently, the Spanish police figured out they could steal full urns (instead of the empty ones they were so hell bent on confiscating), and the Catalans in turn figured out they could sneak out the back door with the full urns as the police arrived and bring them back when they leave (you must admit, it’s kind of amusing). This apparently went down here in La Cerdanya. Voter turnout in this neck of the woods was apparently sky high. I am told that the news of police violence out of Barcelona this morning was incredibly motivating.

So what happens now? The voting is finishing up, despite news sites being blocked, and despite blocking the Catalan sites used to tally the vote. Facebook traffic tells me they had to use VPNs routing through other countries to get it done. When the numbers come in, I predict a vote to leave, with turn out being high given the circumstances though not necessarily that high compared to an election without disruption.

All indications then point to Tuesday. The Catalan government previously indicated they would declare independence based on a yes vote within 48 hours. We shall see what happens, though I am quite certain that today was only a preview of a level of unrest that everyone told me wouldn’t happen.

I did also go flying today. If history is being made (or everything is simply going to hell), I might as well go up in the Cub.

Autumn is beginning.

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Cadí-Moixeró. These rocks have seen the Romans, Visigoths, Moors, the slaughter of the Cathars, Holy Roman Empire, Napoleon’s armies, Franco’s dictatorship, and the recent idea of basic human rights and nonviolence. If they could speak, we would think they are wise, yet humanity seems continuously ignorant of history which can tell us the same things.
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Mountain waves over La Seu. 
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For the most part, everyone agrees on aviation. It was eerily quiet for a Sunday morning.
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Visca la Revolució?

Catalan independence flag, laid out with rocks above timberline at 8,000 feet in Cadí-Moixeró….
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There is no shortage of drama while living the expat life in a separatist border region! For those that read the news, Catalonia is caught in the throes of struggle in its attempt to hold a referendum tomorrow on the matter of independence from Spain. Yes, we live in Catalonia.

The referendum itself violates Spanish law and its constitution. The Catalans, on the other hand, do not care. What has resulted is a very interesting game of cat and mouse. Catalonia’s Parliament passed a law to hold a referendum and included provisions that, if the referendum does not happen, the Republic of Catalonia is formed automatically. Spain’s Constitutional Court (and ironically Catalonia’s High Court) ruled the referendum illegal. Catalonia’s President proceeded ahead anyway, so Spain took over the region’s finances, arrested 14 politicians, blocked access to voting apps, databases for electronic voting, and various pro-voting websites. Printeries were raided, ballots seized, and thousands of paramilitary police shipped in on a cruise ship literally decorated with enormous Looney Tunes character artwork. There is nothing like hordes of purportedly hyper-masculine riot officers stepping off a cartoon ship in a party town. Well, there is: it was when a friend of mine got interrogated by a Mexican federale holding a machine gun and a Hello Kitty pad for taking notes. But I digress.

So, tomorrow, the Catalans go the polls, well, sort of. Police have shut down a third of the stations, and families with children have started squatting in schools to keep the police out so the stations can be used. Catalan farmers drove into Barcelona (among other places) with hordes of tractors to keep the police out of polling stations. A Spanish judge ordered Google to remove an app that leads people to voting stations, and Spanish law enforcement blew the doors down on the region’s telecom nerve center to control access to the internet.

Spain has been compared to North Korea, Turkey, the Franco dictatorship, and Nazis and called undemocratic. The Catalans have been called Nazis, undemocratic, and a coup d’etat. The UN High Commissioner of Human Rights denounced stamping out freedom of the press. The European Union said it’s “an internal matter.” Everyone doesn’t like the Prime Minister of Spain: Catalans and Spaniards alike.

The reality is, only separatists will go to the polls. I have spoken to non-Catalans, and they cannot be bothered. So, inevitably, if all hell doesn’t break any further loose, and the Spanish cartoon police do not seize all of the ballots and start smacking people with batons while it is being counted, the vote will be for independence. More than likely, an independence declaration will be made. What happens then? Anyone’s guess. There are a few options: Spain promptly and unceremoniously throws Carles Puidgemont, the region’s President, in jail, nobody cares, or the people go freaking apeshit and actually achieve independence. In any case, I hope the euro drops because I would like to buy some hockey skates, and that would make them cheaper.

People ask: “what are you going to do?” Nothing. Literally, a herd of cows kept us up last night. They brought them down from the mountains after summer grazing, and they were bitching and mooing up a storm. That is all that happens in our rural little enclave. Well, that and someone smacked a “Vote to be free” sticker on our garbage can, not realizing we are not citizens and cannot vote, and there are no other permanent residents in our village.

If society collapses, we are 12km from France by car. If the French decide to close the border (they have a phrase: “Africa begins at the Pyrenees”), then we’ll pile in the airplane and fly to the other side, declaring an aeronautical emergency and requesting asylum. I’m glad I kept our German visas.

As they say, “Spain is different.”

Catalan independence flag on a hill near Massis del Montseny.

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Catalan independence flag on a rock near Cercs…
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Book: Yellowstone’s Hot Springs, An Aviator’s Perspective

For some inexplicable reason, I do not like blogging about books that I have written, even though there is that thing called book sales, and I mercilessly blog about the process to get the photos for said book. Nonetheless, I am making myself do it. This is number 11, published in June (yes, that much procrastination!): Yellowstone’s Hot Springs: An Aviator’s Perspective. It is my first book where I am pretty much pointing straight down with a zoom lens, trying my best to capture the otherworldly colors of the hot springs of Wyoming.

I was going to do one Yellowstone book in general, and there are too many hot springs, so I’d have to leave too many of them out. Thus, I decided to do two: this one about the hot springs, and another about everything else in Yellowstone. It is the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined, so there is enough to look at. The second Yellowstone work is forthcoming.

As always, there is an element of surprise and development, as I set off to Wyoming to photograph Yellowstone for one reason, and kind of ended up with something else, and a refined sense of the American West.

3d cover - Hot Springs


Flight: Spain, Andorra: September Snow

I am told that snow can happen all 12 months of the year in the Pyrenees. That is not an unreasonable assumption, as up until this particular event, I had actually seen it in 11 out of 12 months, even if it was a shred of a snowfall, on the north side of Puigmal, at 9,500 feet in July. Nonetheless, September remained the elusive number 12….until the mountains got slammed.

I am not sure how much fell in total at the peaks, though a week later, there is still some snow. With strong September sun and higher temperatures, coupled with my visual inspection from the airplane, I would estimate at least 10”/25cm above timberline. Snow levels did make their way down briefly to 6000’/1800m, enough to drive up to the ski parking lot and enjoy some lingering snow….while it rested on green leaves. As of this event last week, there was no fall color, though it is beginning to show.

Comparing this to last year, there was no snow at all in September 2016, much less any real fall color. According to my photograph archives, October 23rd was the autumn color peak at 1100m/3871’; it will be interesting to see how this year pans out.

As for the flight in question, I went up as soon as the steady rain abated, going straight to 10,000 feet, right into a mountain wave. Headwinds were extremely strong, and snow was blowing around on the summit (yes, I did a similar routine with our April snowfall), though this time it was kind of a non-event, as I have been playing in the waves more lately and nothing bad seems to happen.

After the waves, I headed toward Cadí-Moixeró, descending to skirt a cloud layer that was stuck in the foothills. As the rain came through from west to east, the ambient winds changed to the north, which means that they arc out of the east as they drain out of La Cerdanya. These clouds struggled to clear out initially, which afforded quite a mix of photography with a retreating front as a backdrop, September snow, fog below, and dramatic terrain in between.

La Masella….on September 15?
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Pic Carlit (France), covered in snow, on the horizon.
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Penyes Altes de Moixeró – snow level well below timberline.
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Above timberline, infrared.
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Above timberline, visible. What is this, December?
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Visible again.
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Infrared again. Its interesting to probe how IR shows up with snow.
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Cadí-Moixeró, infrared, with fog layer.
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Penyes Altes, infrared (in B&W only), now with clouds that blew over to this side.
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Moixeró, hiding in the clouds. Cumulo-granite, my favorite kind of cloud.
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Penyes Altes again. Yawn. I wish this guy would actually put some decent quality photos on his ridiculous blog. Maybe a selfie by the airplane?
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Not sure of the name of this peak, and I am putting more effort into publishing excuses than looking it up. The main point of the image is the cloud formation.
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Flight: France, Andorra: Le Massif de Tabe

It is a bit of a puzzle why I didn’t fly to this mountain earlier, though I think it has something to do with Google Maps satellite view having a clouded image, where I can’t quite make out what is there. If I don’t know what is there, why would one want to spend time and money to fly and look at what could be nothing?

After various flights on the northeast side of Cerdanya, over Pic Carlit and points north, I recall seeing this mountainous object in the distance, oddly detached from the Pyrenees, though it was always shadowed by the fact that the Pyrenees themselves are much bigger, and almost always have something more titillating to go and chase.

On this flight, I did not intend to fly to Le Massif de Tabe. My intention was to head down toward Pamiers to photograph some French farm country. It had been a strong Tramontane the day before, which meant everything should be blown to kingdom come, clean as a whistle. Well, upon cruising outbound from the Val du Capcir, with my flight plan properly activated and on the frequency with French Information, I saw a gross haze layer at 5,000. Well, forget Pamiers.

Now imagine the heavens opening, light shining beneath onto Le Massif de Tabe, and angels singing (even though my noise cancelling headset blocks out the angels). With skank air below, Le Massif was now a jewel in the sky. It helped that it was spring, and everything was surprisingly green on that side of the border.

This is my first flight of any distance after getting the IR camera, so you’ll now get to see those interspersed into the mix, as I now shoot with three cameras on each flight.

La Cerdanya, infrared.
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Val du Capcir, France.
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Les Angles
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Puyvalador Ski Area
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Sarrat de l’Embinade
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Skank layer, infrared. Wait – IR sees through haze.
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Skank layer, visible spectrum! Very gross down below.
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Crête d’Embeyre – whatever that means – it was on Google Maps.
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Same thing, not in IR. And there is Le Massif de Tabe in the background. Cue up a choir singing in a French cathedral.
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Pic de Soularac (2.368m / 7,767′) – Highest point on Le Massif.
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Note a little bit of above timberline going on, though the real badass Pyrenees are peeking from behind.
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Other side of Pic de Soularac. I just want push pins for my blog map now.
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Wandering back.
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Orlu, again. These are where our mountain waves come from. When the wind blows from the north (behind me in this image), they hit this terrain and head up to 40,000 feet, ruining my flying.
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Diving in to the very terrain that makes the waves. Perhaps this is why I haven’t come over here yet – the association with mountain waves makes for some fear.
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Blue sky is a channel swap from sepia sky that comes off the camera.
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Valley from Ax-les-Thermes to Andorra. The white is foliage from trees reflecting IR.
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Looking north into the Pyrenees. One can see why Le Massif de Tabe didn’t amount to much compared to this. Still glad I went, though.
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Pass heading into Val du Carol. Cerdanya is off in the distance.
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Heading into Andorra instead.
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Back in Spain.
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Flight: Spain, France, Andorra: Pyrenees, Snow & Clouds

I suppose a diversion from the weightier matters of pissy mathematical philosophy is in order. This flight was taken the day after the one in the prior blog post, in late May, after the Pyrenees got dusted with a coating of high altitude snow, even though some of the snow pack remained. Even better, there were some clouds forming off the spine of the Pyrenees, blowing slowly eastward into France. Despite the seeming stationary element, there were some interesting winds and clouds all around, making the flight technically complex yet absolutely beautiful.

France and Andorra. Logic implies turning around.

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Puigpedrós in the left corner. Spain, France, and Andorra in this image.
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Puigpedrós in the center. Apparently there was a glacier beneath it 50 years ago. I find it hard to believe it snows after how hot this summer has been….
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Conventional pilot wisdom says this is stupid.
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Andorra left, France right.
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France left, Andorra right.
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Mostly Andorra here.
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Andorra is most of the image. Spain in the right and horizon.
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Andorra this side, Spain the other.
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Descending into La Cerdanya, cold and happy.
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Flight: Spain: Coscojuelas, Among Other Things

Chronicles of Existential Dread, Volume IV: Moral Culpability of Chance

Before I dive into the latest manifesto, I shall note that I got the ingenious idea to ask a Catalonian what the difference between “serrat” and “serra” is. “Serra” is a hill; “serrat” is a smaller hill.

Secondly, I will note that I labeled my Chronicles incorrectly in installment III. It is Existential Dread, not despair. I personally attract to despair, though in keeping with a modicum of literary integrity, I am modeling this ongoing fusillade after bleak German philosophy, so I will use their Angst-fueled sentiments (You may note the capital A in Angst. German nouns are always capitalized, including midsentence. The German word for angst – Angst – is a far more powerful, guttural, melancholic, and existentially bleak concept than English angst, hence I use the uppercase A, even though I am probably the only one that would understand what I am doing).

Before diving into the philosophy of apparent and illusory moral culpability, I must draw a line in the sand between Chance and Risk. Conceptually, they appear to be interchangeable, though emotional and cultural complexities are powerful. Risk is a more mathematical term, which is indeed correct, as all actions or inactions in life carry an anthropologically agnostic mathematical probability. Insurance companies know this fact, hiring super nerds (which I envy greatly) to create actuarial tables clearly denoting risks and probabilities, making them an engine of profit at the behest of society’s illnesses, accidents, catastrophe, and best of all, mortality (don’t get me started on my fetish for janitor life insurance pools, or firms that specialize in buying out existing life insurance policies on prospective, soon-to-be-dead sellers). Culturally, we identify with this mathematical meat grinder by referring to the acceptance of risk as a deliberate act: skydiving, driving fast, thrill sports, general aviation (hey, imagine that!), and a host of other things that we choose to do and generally do not need to do, though need can muddy the waters.

Chance. Chance, my fickle mathematical mistress. How we all caress her in our minds, hoping the good lady of Chance won’t bend us over the barrel and ruin everything about our lives at some unpredictable, vulnerable, emotionally weak moment. Chance is raw emotion – it is our perspective as to why we think things happen along with the vain need to create meaning when the shit hits the fan. For millenniums, Chance was either a literal god itself, or the concept of chance was spread into a pantheon of them, taking on seemingly specific and intentional roles in the lives of humanity. Oh, if only your cherished relative that got eaten by a bear was for the good of the Universe – mathematical risk unfortunately says that he was bruin cuisine and now is fertilizing the soil in the forest. Risk sucks. Chance at least holds futile if not pseudo-spiritual hope.

Chance reflects items we tend not to hold people to account for, either. The “freak accident,” “act of God,” “wrong place at the wrong time,” “accident prone,” or, best of all, “bad luck.” As I write these sentences, I am brimming with feelings that chance has a cultural identity – it is as though it is a living, breathing, thinking force that gives or takes in a whimsical, yet superstitiously purposeful way, acting enough like a leaf in the breeze to behave like risk, yet leaving us wanting just enough to find out who or what lies behind the curtain and is pulling the strings. Luck, superstition, hope, delusion are all relatives in the same family, part of our deep need to identify meaning behind what happens in our existences which, truth be told, end in death. There is no risk, chance, or luck operating in this spectrum, with the exception of timing and method, for which in a moment of macabre glee, I must confess that most of my friends and family think it is inevitable that I will smash into the side of a mountain someday. While I don’t have this as a goal, it would be a far more efficient way to turn my biological mass into plant food. I have always imagined a catastrophic self-pancaking to be more enjoyable than an orderly and traditional funeral after a stupid period of geriatricism.

The attempt to personify Chance as a purposeful entity does one thing that ensures our lives are more likely to be a product of chance: deflects attention away from multiplicitous cumulative micro decisions in our lives. The theory of a “butterfly in the Amazon” flapping its wings which sends a chain reaction in motion which results in you being late for work has some popularity to it – and makes the butterfly responsible. What about our own butterflies? When do we make a “puff of wind” in the ripple of our personal space-time continuum, for which it is part of a brutally complex yet ideologically simple concept called decision-making and personal responsibility? If we accept that we made the puff of wind and not the Brazilian butterfly, then we can flap our butterfly wings in another direction.

How utterly freaking novel.

Wait! Stop thinking too hard. Go back and blame whatever group of people you hate, tell me I am lucky to live how I do, and try to catch that Amazonian butterfly if you have the chance.

Back to book marketing (I’m not passive aggressive. Nope.). I got slapped with more nice weather in short order, so it was time to head southwest into the western-style sections of Catalunya, then off into Aragón, only to land in a really cool place in Coscojuelas, before returning back to Cerdanya where the weather went to pot with high wind, clouds, and rain, and the audacity of a giant vulture to try to smash into my airplane in flight. Shall I call the close encounter of the vulture kind chance and shift the blame? Or is it risk because I am a “crazy” that flies a “death trap?” Or should I just blame the bird? Or was it fate and it was supposed to happen (really? I had to bring up fate, didn’t I?)?

A reminder that the northward creep of the Sahara pauses during the winter.
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Riu Segre and Pre-Pyrenees.
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Semi-arid highlands. 
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Shit happens.
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Tremp. (Not Trump)
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Iberian maintenance practices.
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I am tempted to fly through this every time I see it.
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Another perspective. On the Aragón side now. Will these be two separate countries on Oct 1 after the referendum?
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East of Benabarre. They have a nice airport but forgot about the technicality called “fuel.”
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Getting into the open plains, and it is very windy here.
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Couldn’t land at destination due to screaming wind – divert to Coscojuelas instead.
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Egregious lack of suitable emergency landing locations.
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Yes, that is an airport. Note the church at the foreground end.
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Same said church.
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Departing toward home.
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Retracing my steps – basically 20 miles north.
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The ravine I am tempted to fly through is on the horizon.
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Mysterious agricultural basin where Tremp is.
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I am disinclined to figure out where this village is.
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La Seu d’Urgell airport, with worsening weather.
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Cadí-Moixeró, not with a blue sky anymore.
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Foul weather with wind, La Cerdanya. Just a few hours before, it was bright sun.
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Flight: Spain: Calaf

Chronicles of Existential Despair, Volume III: Luck

An oft-heard phrase I hear is “You’re lucky to be able to do what you do.” At first glance, I tend to agree, on a social if not American class/culture level, and after careful and contemplative consideration, I continue to drift from agreeing with that disposition.

One has to ask: what is luck? According to a dictionary definition, it is “success of failure brought about by chance as opposed to one’s actions.” I would amend the definition to restrict it to positive chance events, as people do not tend to refer to a “lucky” person as one who has the shit hit the fan on a regular basis. So, in effect, I am being told that what I am doing is a result of a semi-divine gift, and that what choices I make has nothing to do with it.

Of course, somebody would say, “no, I don’t mean you have nothing to do with it, just that you’re lucky you get to do it.” ??? That brings up deeper principles: namely privilege and achievement. Privilege is not earned; achievement is earned. To receive a pleasant life as a result of privilege falls under the purview of luck; to receive a pleasant life as a result of achievement has nothing statistically to do with luck. Political discourse implies that those who have earned achievement are still lucky, and drives complex discussions about how society should be shaped.

To me, all things are probabilistic distributions of outcomes. Every decision has a bell curve of potential realities with multiple standard deviations to either side of the center. Most see a binary reality, when life is really a continuing progression of probability based on controllable and uncontrollable inputs to the decision matrix. Throw in the occasional asteroid impact, lottery ticket, commercial airline crash, and so forth, and people begin to believe that either a supernatural being with personality or conspiratorial global forces under specific control are puppet-mastering their daily life. This has to do with the inverse magnitude of probability and impact overlaid on the same bell curve, and here we go, I have stooped in the muck of “The Human Theory of Everything,” my first book, clearly a product entirely of chance, as it wrote itself without my involvement.

Now that anyone who actually read this drivel is totally lost (and has probably scrolled down to the pretty pictures by now), my point is this: if you want something, get off your ass and go get it – don’t complain to me about it. Life is a continuing progression of small decisions, with powerful cumulative effects seemingly so distant from prior activities that it is hard for people to see the correlation between the cause and effect of the lives they have chosen. I have many experiences and skills that others do not, and others have many life aspects that I do not. Time and time again, wealthy, independent, and capable people have looked at my lifestyle with jealousy, telling me that they “can’t” do what I do. Oh, they can. The reality is, there is fear, or they won’t prioritize it. Why am I getting sucked into this emotional horse crap?

My grandfather taught me when I was very young that “you can do anything as long as you set your mind to it.” Well, here we are, and I continue to live by those words to this day. Luck has very little to do with it, with exception of events completely and unequivocally beyond my control, for which I am still in control of my response to them. Luck, as a social construct, to me is a transference of internal fears, restrictions, and priorities in a seemingly socially-acceptable way to faceless outside forces, creating value out of not achieving something that a person wants while retaining the right to whine to an audience about it.

I might add, in the name of intellectual honesty, that we do have a poor track record of public information regarding the true cost and true lack of compensation that public figures receive. Many Olympians pay for their own training and trips to the Olympics, needing to find sponsors to win the gold, then getting handed an income tax bill by Uncle Sam for the value of the medal, curiously lacking any cash compensation. Conversely, a select few get massive endorsements. The road is filled with dead bodies of artists, authors, musicians, sports figures, actors, business leaders, and politicians who scraped by with a miserable existence until redeemed by explosive success. Marketing strategies prefer to hide the shame, so we come to believe that the road is paved with gold for many, and just not us – we must be doing something wrong. These are flatly incorrect, biased, and nuanced feeds of data, and drive the belief that a select chosen few are in the proper club to be blessed, and life for the rest sucks, hence the deduction that luck must be the driver. In my case, I will not stoop to competing as to who has more negatives, though rest assured that I do not spend all of my waking hours in a plane taking pictures of the best sites on only perfect weather days. Wait, never mind, please believe that I do and then buy some of my books!

Now that my little bout of socio-actuarial bitchiness is over, this flight was another “Down There” (refer to post by the same name), wandering around the non-homogenous indescript middle sections of Catalunya, which defy my every attempt at some element of geographical and political taxonomy. For the masses: it was a pretty day and I wanted to fly to a spot I saw on the map.

Cadí-Moixeró – unplanned diversion up into the wind and cold.
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Serra del Verd – looking “down there” into the uncategorizable never-never land of central Catalunya.
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Pantà de la Llosa del Cavall
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Serra Llarga
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There is generally something anomalous going on in the Iberian Peninsula.
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This road says a lot about culture. Spain categorically makes short-term decisions to go around obstacles. America would level this whole thing, put a straight road in, and ask questions later.
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I am tempted to call this “quintessential Catalunya,” but by who’s definition? This looks more like Upstate New York, where I was born, than any stereotypical picture of a Mediterranean nation. 
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Wealth next to a collapsed building. The haves and have-nots.
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I came to see this feature, though I am ultimately too close to it. The details are obscuring the patterns as seen by a satellite.
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This is Calaf “airport,” literally. The cowling is open to cool the engine during the pit stop.
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Montserrat in the distance.
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Is there a straight line anywhere in this country?
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Definitely not.
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Some sort of mining activity.
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Berga. Apparently “berga” means “penis” in Argentina, but not in Catalunya.
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Serrat Negre. I haven’t figured out why some hills are “Serra” in Catalunya and others “Serrat.” 
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