When a product is better than the description

When I was a kid I liked wrist watches from Casio. I had one with a calculator, one with an address database, one with an infrared remote control and one with an altimeter. But for the last 25 years I didn’t wear one. I don’t like to wrap anything around my wrist. And since I carry a phone, I have a way to find out what time it is.
When friends and neighbors started wearing fitness trackers, I thought I don’t need that. When I went running, I did it for my personal fitness, not to compare to somebody else. And I can care about my fitness without a device telling me to walk some more before going to bed. When my wive wanted to gift me a step counter for my birthday a couple of years ago, my response was: thanks, but no thanks. I have no use for a step counter.
Some times I brought my phone when I went running to record the GPS track just to try. Some co-workers upload all their activity to Strava, and claim “if it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen”. Not so for me.
Since I started carrying my ultra light paraglider for run and fly, I took the phone with me more often. In the backpack it disturbs less than in the shirt. The main reason for carrying the phone was to be able to call for help in an emergency. And when I brought the phone with me anyway, I could just as well run the tracker app on it. But unfortunately it didn’t work very reliably. When the screen was off, it stopped tracking, and when the screen was on, it often registered fingers that weren’t there. So it happened often that it stopped tracking after a while, or deleted the track entirely. Sometimes I had a ton of apps open after running and I didn’t know what else happened to my phone. But still, with the few tracks that recorded at least the uphill running part, I could see my progress on that segment. That turned out to be more interesting than I anticipated.
So when my wife recently wanted ideas for my birthday, I told her “a cheap wristwatch with GPS tracker, that works without a crappy lock-in smartphone app”. My absolute nightmare is to have a closed source device that tracks my every move, where I have no control over the data it collects. Worst of all, it would become useless when the manufacturer decided to stop maintaining the app. I don’t want devices with planned obsolescence. Of course I had to do the research myself. On the product page they only mentioned their iOS and Android apps, which are of no use to me. I noticed a while ago, that there are some packages in the debian repo for Garmin Forerunner devices. Further research brought me to quite complicated methods to get the data from these watches. But then I found a page that stated that when you plug in the watch with its USB cable to a computer, it mounts a filesystem and you can just copy the activity files. If it is really that easy, then I really don’t understand all the fuss. Everything seemed to indicate that all Forerunner watches come with a USB cable for charging the device that also acts as a data cable. It is beyond me why they don’t mention that explicitly on the product page. So, for my purposes a relatively cheap Forerunner 30 or 35 should be just fine.
And so I got one for my birthday from my wive. It even has a heart rate sensor that I wouldn’t need. And indeed, just plugging it in with the USB cable, I can grab the fit files and either upload it directly to Strava, or convert it to a more common format using gpsbabel.

Run and fly with the XXLite2

Before I participated in the rollibock trophy in Fiesch last October, I thought my paraglider equipment was fairly lightweight. The glider is a regular Mac Para Marvel, but the Advance Lightness 2 harness is optimized for weight as the name implies, as well as the accompanying backpack. With helmet, gloves, sun glasses, flight computer and clothes, the equipment is slightly less than 14.5kg. When I started paragliding in 2002, a normal equipment was about 20kg. For reference, My tandem equipment is around 30kg, and my competition equipment also was in that ballpark.
When I looked around the participants at the rollibock, I was astonished by the small and light backpacks they had. They were literally running up the mountain. When single skin gliders were first released, it didn’t spark my interest. They were a strange appearance, and the flight characteristics looked slightly frightening to me. But a lot has improved since then. Some models have tubes along the leading edge, others from front to back. They have a lot better characteristics and performance than the first models. I started my research in the internet. Some models weight only 1kg.
Best of all, I started thinking how cool it would be to combine hill running with paragliding. I try to run once a week from Brunnen to Morschach and back. Depending on my daily condition, I make it up to the cable car, or I turn around shortly before I reach Morschach. I always prefer running uphill. Especially since I started getting cramps in my forearms on the descent, sometimes even extending from there. It only happened on longer tours, and only on the descent. After a while I found out that it was caused by dehydration, and I took detours to water sources. I didn’t want to carry anything when I go running. But carrying an ultra light paraglider is something entirely different.
So I asked the loal flying school for an Ozone XXLite 2 glider for a test flight. November is the worst month for flying in Switzerland. The weather is mostly bad with lots of fog, and most cable cars are closed for revision. When the weather was finally flyable, somebody else grabbed the wing already a couple of times. In early December, I finally got to try it. I didn’t really know what to expect. Some people I talked to, praised single skin gliders as great and fun, while others dismissed them as falling out of the sky like a stone. I completed two flights from the Rothenflue. Take off was very nice both times. With the slightest blow of light wind, you can bring it above the head and maintain it there. Also without wind it was easy to get airborne. The handling was surprisingly similar to a regular paraglider. It doesn’t flare as well as a regular wing, but it does flare somewhat. I didn’t know beforehand, but most single skin gliders apparently don’t flare at all. Apart from the handling, I was mostly interested in the performance of the glider. Of course it was not made for performance, and is far from regular gliders in that respect. The teacher from the school providing the glider told me to expect something in the range of a school glider at the time I started flying. When I checked my XCTrainer in the air, I mostly saw glide ratios between 6.5 and 7 with speeds around 35km/h. For comparison, my regular glider has a glide ratio of around 9 and a current high end comp glider is slightly above 10. The trim speed again seems to be different from other single skin gliders that apparently mostly fly less than 30km/h.
My resume after the first two flights was that the flying characteristics are good enough, and the small and ultra light package is just astonishing. In short, I ordered one on the same day. Luckily the forecasted delivery time was was much shorter than I expected.
A week after ordering, I picked up the new wing including the super light harness that I didn’t see before. Of course I bought the glider at the flying school where I can pay with Bitcoin.At home, I installed the special lightweight carabiners and the speed system. But the weather really didn’t look good. We had occasional rain and very strong wind for days. I added a ribcap and gloves to the kit. With this addition, the backpack now weights 1.8kg.
As the first chance of getting good enough weather, I went to the Zugerberg. Instead of the usual walking to the takeoff, I ran. The light backpack really doesn’t bother at all. Even with light wind from behind, the glider took off flawlessly. The gliding ratio was enough to clear the trees halfway down. When I started paragliding, some school gliders had to land before the trees here because they didn’t glide good enough. Also the landing was smooth. The only thing that was strange was the cold wind flowing around my butt. Usually it is very comfy in my cocoon harness. The equipment is packed rather quickly into the backpack, and I was ready to run up to the train. From the train of course I ran again to the car. So my first flight with the new kit was not a pure “run and fly”, but I can say that it works as I envisioned. Now I’m ready for the real “run and fly” adventures.