Monday, 5 November 2012

Damn, but I've had a lot of fun!

There is nothing like staring down a life threatening disease to cause one to reminisce about the things you've done. Over this past year, I've been doing a lot of that, and I recently came to this conclusion... Damn, but I've had a lot of fun! Now, I'm not claiming to have sailed through my life problem free, oh no. I have always believed that we all have our crosses to bear, we just don't get to choose them. And Lord knows, anyone who is familiar with my family knows about our crosses, which one might argue have been more than our fair share. But there have been some extraordinarily good times, and while laying in bed the other night I was thinking it might make for an interesting series of blog posts.

Where to begin... well, the sport of hang gliding is probably as good a place as any. After all, it has in such a large part defined my adult life, and to this day my circle of friends is largely made up of current and former hang gliding pilots. I began my hang gliding lessons with Terry (Birdman) Jones  in the spring of 1981. As of the last entry in my logbook (September 2011) I have accumulated 930 hours of airtime from 1877 flights. With my current battle against prostate cancer, I am fearful that these numbers may represent the final tally, however I will be quite pleased to continue my flying career with my butt parked in the seat of a sailplane.

My brother Les training with Terry (Birdman) Jones in 1980. Les is the reason I got into hang gliding. He is flying a Birdman Falcon.
As long as I have a memory, I will always look back fondly at the first time my feet left the ground in a hang glider. Like most students, I probably jumped into the air rather than flew into it, but nevertheless it is a thrill I will never forget. I started flying because my brother Les was taking lessons, and needed a driver as he did not have his licence. The first time I saw someone go up instead of down, I knew this was something I had to do. My first mountain launch came on a trip to Vernon with Mike Sadowinsky. On our second flights we were very uncomfortable with the turbulence, only to see the local pilots racing up the hill to launch into the thermals we were so obviously struggling with.
My first weekend of mountain flying at King Eddy near Vernon B.C. The glider is a Birdman MJ-5.
I soon learnt how to soar, and spent many a day south of Camrose at the east end of Driedmeat Lake in the Battle River Valley waiting for the south winds to blow. It is a turbulent site to fly, but provided me with endless hours of enjoyment, both in the air and on the ground. It is still one of my favourite places to visit, and you can see why in this picture.

An early soaring flight at Driedmeat Lake with my UP Comet 185.

Soon I was a mountain thermaling pilot, and began to get longer and longer flights. There were many trips to Athabasca Tower at Hinton, the big hill at Cochrane, as well as B.C. sites like Golden, Invermere, and Creston. A highlight was always the water landing contest held at Invermere every August, where you would intentionally land in Windermere Lake (something you should never really do in a hang glider). There were huge crowds of spectators, and some of the most interesting approaches you will ever see with any aircraft. Now I have to say, that was a lot of fun!
Landing in Windermere Lake with my Airwave Magic III 177, on purpose no less.
The Creston trips were a highlight of almost every summer, and not just for the flying. Jeff and Patty Marler would accompany us most summers. We spent a lot of time at our favourite swimming hole in the Goat River, and as our families grew, the kids wanted to spend more and more time there. Often the trip home included a stop at the White Swan hot springs (a natural non commercial hot spring), sometimes involving nudity, depending on the time of day and who all was along! There may have been some fun involved there too. 
Launching my Wills Wing Ultrasport 166 from Thompson Mountain at Creston, B.C.

At the top of the photo is our favourite swimming hole on the Goat River at Creston, B.C.
No synopsis of my hang gliding career would be complete without telling of the annual fall trips to Salt Lake City. We went down the first time in 1983, and discovered a magical spot for foot launched flight at the Point of the Mountain just south of SLC. A surprisingly high percentage of my total airtime was achieved in Utah, a testament to the consistent conditions which are prevalent, especially in the fall. Some years, there would be as many as 15 pilots from Alberta on the hill at the same time. We even became so brazen as to replace the windsock with a Canadian flag a few times. Needless to say, this did not always endear us to our American counterparts. One memorable trip had 7 of us staying in a fleabag motel for $20 a night (for all of us)! In the middle of one night the police came banging on the door, and were quite intent on arresting me, as some underage kids drinking next door had told them we had sold them the beer. Ward Clapham, then a RCMP officer, remained silent as they prepared to haul me away. He later told me he was prepared to flash his gold card, but only as a last resort. Thankfully, it never quite came to that. Speaking of Ward, he once arrested me in his sleep while we shared a tent on a Creston trip. Oh, the nightmares police personnel must have! 
Flying the WW Ultrasport 166 at Bauer Ridge, near Stockton, Utah.
Utah was also the location for two of my personal best flights. My longest duration flight was at the north ridge on the Point of the Mountain, 7 hours and 28 minutes. My friends kept coming on the radio pouring water from one cup to another, obviously making me want to pee, and I was suffering from a definite shortage of toilets in the hang glider. Eventually I just turned the radio off. My personal best altitude gain took place at Heber, Utah east of Salt Lake City. I achieved 15,500 feet. Please don't tell anyone, but I was not wearing oxygen. It was a blue sky day, with no clouds to tell you where the lift was going to top out. I admit it, I bailed out, as I was still going up several hundred feet per minute. The furthest distance I ever flew in a hang glider is 141 miles (225 km), from a truck tow at Tofield, landing at a place called Altario, just short of the Saskatchewan border. The records were always nice, but for sure the most fun I ever had in a hang glider was flying with my kids. I did a total of 25 flights with Christopher, and although only one with Kimberly, it might have been the most special of them all. We were truck towing at Tofield, and from the moment we lifted off the truck, Kim was hooting and hollering. From 2000 feet, those on the ground could still hear her. She literally bubbled for hours afterwards, easily the best passenger I ever had.

Soaring my Pacific Airwave Formula 154 on the South Side at the Point of the Mountain. I put more airtime on this glider than any other in my fleet, and she was my favourite for sure.
Without any question, my hang gliding career would have ended years ago were it not for truck towing, otherwise known as platform launching. When you live on the prairies, it's a long drive to the mountains, and there is never any guarantee that you will fly when you get there. When we began truck towing in 1987, it was suddenly like having a portable mountain in our own backyard. Now you could tell just by looking out the window what your chances were to fly before you ever left the house. Mine was certainly not the only flying career to benefit from this revolution in launching hang gliders. It soon became common to meet pilots who had not done a foot launch for many years.
A stock photo of a hang glider truck towing. Inexplicably I cannot find any photos in my collection of this launch method, despite doing it for 25 years.
Well, that's 30 years of hang gliding condensed into several hundred words and a few pictures. It has absolutely been a ton of fun, and I am going to miss it terribly. However, the amazing people I have met and the truly incredulous experiences I have had will live with me forever.

Monday, 31 October 2011

October Update

Dr. Raj Sherman and his Chief of Staff
October is history, and I am continually reminded that my last posting was September 8th. I guess it's time for an update. So much has happened, I am not sure I can capture it all, but I will touch on a few highlights. Perhaps the biggest single change in my life has been at the office, with the election of Dr. Raj Sherman as the Leader of the new Alberta Liberals. Raj is an absolute dynamo, and he has kept me and my staff hopping since day 1. This is a new and welcome change, but I will be the first to admit that it has taken some getting used to. However, I am certainly enjoying the new energy around our organization, and the many challenges we are being presented with.

There was another election two weeks after ours, and those of you who read my blog regularly (and really folks, who doesn't?) will know that I got that one dead wrong. I had picked Gary Mar to win, and I am still a little surprised, but you could really feel the momentum shifting in the last week of the PC leadership campaign. I just didn't think Premier Redford could get past the big lead Mar had after the first round of voting.

The front lawn, big enough to land my remote control plane.
In family news, Chris and Jordyn were asked to vacate the condo they were renting, as the owners wanted to move back in. After a frantic search hampered by the fact that they have a dog and a cat, Jordyn's mom Corrie found on Kijiji a nice mobile home on a couple of acres just outside of Beaumont. Thanksgiving weekend, Corrie and Darrin came down from Fort St. John, and we all helped them move in and set up the place. Saturday night found us at Lois' brother Ben's house for the first of three Thanksgiving dinners. Ben's wife Claire, their daughter Katherine and her friend Martin, Lois' mom Clara and her husband Bob, Lois' brother Ivan, and Kim rounded out the crowd. Sunday we christened the new home with a nice dinner involving Lois, Kim, and I, Chris and Jordyn, and her mom and dad. And on Monday, Chris and Jordyn came to our house for more pumpkin pie. And, I never gained a pound that week!

Standing in the living room looking into the kitchen.
Mr. Miller looking a little too comfortable.

My flying season is over for the year. I did make it out to Chipman International for a couple of flights in October, but nothing really to get too excited about. I have offered to organize the club's Awards Night & Dinner, so that is another little project on my plate. Last weekend, I did go for a drive out to Chipman, and wandered through Elk Island Park on my way home. Look what I found, and only 30 minutes from Edmonton! It was a beautiful Sunday, and there were an awful lot of visitors in the park.

Here is hoping you all enjoyed a safe and happy Halloween.
My pumpkins this year: for the young ones Bert from Sesame Street, and Count Dracula.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

My Views on the Progressive Conservative Leadership Race

Obviously readers of this blog did not read my disclaimers when I wrote about the Liberal leadership race, as so many of you have responded by asking me to give my opinions on the PC race. So, by popular demand, in alphabetic order, let's take a look at the various candidates:

Doug Griffiths
Doug is the youngest candidate in the race, and the only one without cabinet experience. He is a pragmatic thinker, and I know I often agreed with the things he had to say when we served together in the Legislature. He is a bit of a long shot in this race, and I doubt he will make it into the top three, which is required to move on to the second vote on October 1st. I would put money on him to make cabinet under the new Premier, and I'm pretty sure he'll be a candidate for the leadership again somewhere down the road.

Doug Horner

Doug is certainly the "establishment" candidate in this race. His family has deep political roots in this province, and he has inherited most of Ed Stelmach's political machinery. Of particular note in my mind is the rural component, comprised of many northern MLAs as well as a number of members of the AUMA and the AAMD&C. It was this machinery that put both Ralph Klein and Ed Stelmach over the top. It will be interesting to see how powerful it remains, and in my mind will say a lot about the current state of the PC party. My prediction is that it will be either Horner or Redford who finishes 3rd on the first ballot, positioning one of them to come up the middle on the second ballot in October.

Gary Mar
Gary is the undeniable favourite in this race. He is positioned to play the role of Jim Dinning this time around, and it will be his biggest challenge to make sure that the same fate does not befall him. He is the consummate politician; that is to say he remembers names and faces, has the gift of gab, can answer a question without really saying anything. In other words he is about as smooth and polished as a politician can be. This will serve him well in some circles, but there is a bit of "Anybody but Mar" sentiment out there. I never the less think he will ultimately prevail, but not on the first ballot as some are predicting.

Ted Morton
Ted is playing the same role he did in 2006, although has made an effort to moderate his image somewhat. Having said that, he is almost always a straight shooter, very self assured, and what you see with Ted is what you get. He has run a low key campaign by his own admission, preferring to work small groups and individuals, and staying out of the limelight for the most part. Still, he has already raised more than a million dollars, which puts him in the game once again. I predict he'll finish 2nd again on the first ballot, but has bled too much support to the Wildrose, and as happened in 2006 has little opportunity for growth on the 2nd ballot.

Rick Orman
Of all the candidates, I know the least about Rick Orman. That despite having appeared many times with him on CKUA's Sunday Magazine political panel. What I can say is that he has never been hesitant to criticize the current regime, either before or after entering the leadership race. He has been particularly vocal on the health care and energy files, and is happy to play the role of the "anti-establishment" candidate this time around. His intentions might be the best, but I'll be surprised if he finishes anywhere but 5th or 6th on the first ballot.

Alison Redford
Although I never served with Alison, I have observed her closely over the past two and a half years. Despite her tough on crime demeanor as the Justice minister, I actually believe she is more Liberal than I am. She has a very impressive record of both domestic and international service. We all know that MLA endorsements by themselves do not mean much, but it is curious to see that she doesn't have any.** She too has raised a ton of money, and as mentioned earlier, I believe it is between her and Doug Horner so far as who makes it to the second ballot.

**My mistake; Calgary-Hays MLA Art Johnston has endorsed Alison's campaign for leader.

Well, there you have it. My thoughts are my own, and in no way reflect those of the Alberta Liberal Caucus. Lord knows I have been wrong before, and could well be again, but as of today I am predicting Premier Gary Mar on October 1st. And after this coming weekend, we will know who the Leader of the Official Opposition will be, and on whose shoulder will fall the job of trying to defeat a new Premier and a 40 year dynasty. One thing for sure, this has been a most interesting year in Alberta politics. And, it ain't over yet!

*All photos were pulled from the candidates' official websites or their Facebook pages.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Baby Goes to University

It's been a very busy couple of weeks around the Miller household, but the highlight has to be that Kim had her first day of university studies today, hence the subject line of this post, as Kimberly is our baby. She is at the University of Alberta majoring in Japanese, with a minor in East Asian studies.  Kim is very excited about her new adventure, and did so well on her Japanese proficiency exam that she will go directly into a 2nd year course right away. Lois and I are incredibly proud of her.

In other news, in late August I took and passed my flight exam for my glider pilot licence. This was an exciting day for me, as I have worked hard this year to achieve this goal. Last week I wrote and passed (74%) my Transport Canada exam. It was quite difficult, with some tricky questions. However, I was informed that my mark will allow me to someday qualify for my instructor's rating. I also jumped through one last hoop with Transport Canada, by passing my language comprehension proficiency exam. This was a weird one, where you did not have to get the answer correct, only prove that you comprehended the question. I am now officially excellently proficient in the official language of international aviation! The above picture is taken with Guy Blood, our Chief Flight Instructor at the Edmonton Soaring Club, on the occasion of my passing the flight exam on August 21st. Photo credit: Arel Welgan.

The Labour Day long weekend found us camped out at Gregg Lake in William A. Switzer provincial park 25 km north of Hinton. This was the unofficial "meet the in-laws" weekend. Jordyn's mom and dad live in Fort St. John, and Chris and Jordyn had decided it was time for us to meet, since they have been together for well over a year now. We had a wonderful weekend with Darrin and Corrie, including a lot of visiting, sitting around the campfire, some ladder golf, and a trip to Miette Hot Springs. Chris and Jordyn were present to referee if necessary, but it never was. They seem like really nice people, but we already knew by having known Jordyn for a year that she came from fine stock.

Lois is continuing to enjoy her employment at RBW Industrial Supply. She is particularly happy that she has been able to move to a night shift, which is what she had so much enjoyed in her previous job.

And last but certainly not least, I have been busy at work preparing things for a new incoming leader of our caucus and our party. There is much work that can and has been done prior to our vote results being announced on Saturday. My communications and research departments have been busily preparing for that transition, ably supported by our administration and leader's office staff. It will be an exciting weekend, and if you are registered to vote in our race, please do so! Make sure you check back in a day or two, as I will be giving my analysis of the Progressive Conservative leadership race.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Sunday Magazine Agust 28, 2011

For a sneak preview of this Sunday's CKUA Sunday Magazine, and my take on Jack Layton's death, Ken Kowalski's running again, and the latest on the PC and ALP leadership races, click the link below...

Friday, 12 August 2011

My Take on the Alberta Liberal Leadership Race

In my role as Chief of Staff for the Alberta Liberal Caucus, I am always being asked for my thoughts on our leadership race currently underway. With the following qualifications, here is my take on what has transpired so far. Firstly, I need you all to know that I have chosen to remain neutral in this contest, as I did not want to be seen to be influencing my staff, and after all one of the five candidates will ultimately be my boss (at least for a short while). Secondly, please understand that I am no expert on these matters. I thought I knew a fair amount about Alberta politics until March 03, 2008 when I lost my re-election bid by 58 votes, and discovered that I really did not know much about Alberta politics at all. Here we go... (in alphabetical order)

Laurie Blakeman

Laurie's campaign has been, somewhat surprising to me, very low key and under the radar to this point. She is actively raising money and signing up members and supporters, but I had expected a more visible campaign than I have seen so far. Having said that, she has been a very strong force at the debates which have been held to date. She is a formidable opponent one on one, and many observers have declared her the winner in the debates to this point. Don't count her out.

Bill Harvey

I must confess to not knowing much about Bill Harvey. He seems like a fine gentleman, and has been a part of the ALP family for many years. Bill is definitely the most "right wing" of the candidates, with some calling him the Ted Morton of our leadership race. He has some very strongly held views which might not fit with conventional Liberalism, but as he has said himself, once you hear him speak you will know where he stands. And, like him or not, you will probably be talking about him afterwards.

Hugh MacDonald

Hugh MacDonald has been the biggest surprise for me in this campaign so far. He is doing all of the things you would want to see from someone who is serious about being the leader. He is meeting with groups large and small all across the province. He has a strong social media presence. He is in the media regularly. And he is a staunch defender of the Liberal brand. My sense is Hugh will have a lot of support from traditional supporters and hard core Liberals. I probably should not be surprised at his efforts, having worked closely with him for seven years now.

Bruce Payne

Bruce Payne started off this campaign with a bang, but my sense is that things have slowed for him in recent weeks. There was talk of a lot of support from both the labour and faith communities, but we will have to wait until election day to see whether that materializes. Bruce looks a little green in his public speaking, but shows great potential for growth. He is the nominated candidate in Calgary Varsity, and I hope he gets elected, as I believe he would make a great MLA and I would love to serve in the Legislature with him.

Raj Sherman

Most observers consider Raj to be the candidate to beat, and I would concur. He has developed a certain amount of star power (read notoriety) and my sense is he is likely attracting a lot of newcomers to the party. His biggest single challenge will be to engage those new folks, and make sure that they actually vote. It is clear that Raj is well spoken and well versed on the health care file. He will have to find a way to show voters that he is more than a one trick pony. And of course, there are some traditionalists who will question his loyalty. Still, many consider it his race to lose.

Overall, I have been quite pleased with the amount of attention our race has been receiving. We have 5 distinct candidates who all bring different positions and perspectives to the contest. I think it is fair to say that the Alberta Liberal Party would look substantially different under the leadership of each candidate, and is almost certain to look different after September 10th than it does now. If you would like to participate, it does not cost you anything, and you do not have to be a member of the party. Simply go to before August 19th to register as a supporter, and you will be eligible to vote in the contest from the comfort of your computer.

*all photos courtesy of the candidates' websites, with the exception of Bruce Payne, which is credited to Leah Hennel at the Calgary Herald

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Quick Trip to Manitoba

The August long weekend found Lois, Kim, and I in the Interlake an hour and a half north of Winnipeg for a 40th wedding anniversary and a family reunion.Cousins of Lois' Mom, Ted and Linda Watson, were celebrating 40 years of marriage. In conjunction, their family planned a mini Watson reunion. Lois also has a lot of family in the area on her Dad's side, so it was a hectic trip. We left Edmonton Thursday night, staying near the half way point in Lanigan, Saskatchewan. Friday we completed the trip to Oakview, Manitoba and spent the night with Thor and Gudney Jonsson, Lois' first cousin. We visited their cabin on Lake Manitoba, and had our first real good look at the flooding that has affected the area as a result of water being diverted away from Winnipeg. This past weekend was the first in two months that the locals were not building dikes or sandbagging their properties. Here is a picture of the campsite on the north side of the highway at The Narrows of Lake Manitoba.

And another one at The Narrows of the resort on the south side of the highway.

Saturday we visited with Lois' Aunt Georgina (Watson) and Uncle Raymond and their family. They have lost more than 2000 round hay bales on their farm alone. Then it was off to Eriksdale for the 40th wedding anniversary. We saw many aunts, uncles, and cousins we had not seen for many years, and met several relatives we had never encountered before. The highlight of the evening was when Kim had a chance to don her Great Grandpa Will's first world war jacket. Here she poses while wearing the jacket and holding his helmet underneath a picture of Will Watson which hangs on the wall of the Eriksdale Recreation Centre.

Sunday we were back to Eriksdale for more visiting, a barbeque, and some serious softball. Then it was back to Oakview for a beer can chicken barbeque with the Jonsson family. Here is a picture of Lois with her Uncle Gummi. Behind him is his wife Aunt Shirley, and beside her is Aunt Florence.

Sunday evening Thor took us on a tour of his farming operation, and showed us the dike he built himself to protect the farm, his house, and his parent's house.

It is hard to believe that the water beyond the dike is actually a pasture.

Another highlight for Kim was a quick bareback ride on Luke, which brought back memories of her first visit to Manitoba 16 years ago, when she was introduced to Outlaw.

Monday morning we headed for home, making the 12 hour drive home without incident. I sure am glad I am not a politician in Manitoba right now. They are all especially unpopular around Lake Manitoba!