The long way round

42 day house move by bivouac flying

After four years at Salzburg in Austria Olga von Plate decided to move back to Freiburg in Germany in summer 2019. A thought came to her in the middle of the night; why not just cover the 700 km on foot with paraglider. After the many thousands and ten thousands of kilometers she has travelled for work and in flight over the last years, Olga has had enough of our speed-obsessed world. She wants to travel: as slowly as it takes to see the clouds drifting by. Timeless, so you can dawdle. Olga tells the impressive story of what she experienced in these 42 intensive days.

A couple of days to think about it and the idea became a plan. That felt really good: to move at a snail’s pace. A month and a half lay ahead in which nothing was planned, apart from arriving sometime, although, actually, not even that mattered: just to be on the road. It took a couple of days for the stress of recent weeks to subside, and I could calm down. The weather was not completely helpful. I had to patiently sit out 0.3 m thermals, circle in zeroes and only make slow progress so it was hard on my ambitions, but the weather and my bad situation left me no other choice.

„Sometimes I felt annoyed at the poor flying rewards, but then again I said to myself that I did not set out to get there as quickly as possible.“

Olga von Plate

Luxurious official takeoff site

After ten days I got to the Achensee to enjoy an official takeoff place for the first time: a mown even lawn without stones, limitless room for running, wind streamers everywhere, other pilots to watch …What a luxury! It now became clear what unpleasant or downright evil places I would otherwise have to use to take off. The weather doesn’t look so bad now, and I want to continue flying to the west. Today only a few pilots dare to make the jump across the Achensee, none get any further. It is very bumpy in the air, but I can get some good height under my belt. Unfortunately I don’t meet any thermals. I know that the weather for the next few days is miserable, and have to make an instant decision in the air where I want to end up. ‘Better hiking through the Karwendel than traipsing along the Inn valley’ I think, make an 180 and fly to the Achensee landing field. I am disappointed and angry with myself that I haven’t flown further today; so much so that I break my rule and go back up on the cablecar. Of course this achieves nothing and an hour later I am back on the landing field.

„You learn patience when bivouac flying, and to take what comes. You can plan very little. But once you accept this every day is a gift.“

Olga von Plate

Paragliding means freedom and tranquillity

The journey continues on foot to the Wetterstein mountains, and after carrying the glider for eight days I think it only fair that it carries me, for once. I quickly take off on the south side of the Zugspitze into the ‘New World’ and get as far as the Heiterwanger Lake by Reutte. How wonderful it is to be in the air again – to be flying. Those with more ambition than I, and are physically fitter, could get three times as far in the same time. But it takes the rest of the year to ‘be efficient’, and I am enjoying the self-accepted slowness. Risky top landing manoeuvres and hair-raising slope landings appeal to me less and less, and so I often land in the valley in the evening and prefer to get myself back up next morning in my own time. I often get into conversation with hikers and paragliders and the comparison with X-Alps is not long in coming up. Every day in the summer I follow the X-Alps Livetracker and marvel at the performance of athletes and supporters. At the same time this event seems daunting, even off-putting because it’s the opposite to what paragliding means to me: freedom and tranquillity.

„In the morning I set off without a plan; I never know where I will sleep that night. And exactly that is what makes it so attractive. The day evolves as the hours pass by, you just have to make a start... The remainder looks after itself.“

Olga von Plate

A bag of cloth

After three and a half weeks I can see the Bodensee on the horizon for the first time, from my harness at 1,800 metres above the Earth, and instantly decide to take a straight line route the rest of the way to Freiburg, instead of flying further into central Switzerland. I’m specially aware of this last stretch, and will walk it with a light pack. In the last flying area before Lake Constance, I allow myself three more days of cable car flying. Just for fun. I made my last flight from Andelsbuch above Dornbirn to the Swiss border, packed my wing, somewhat wistfully, and gave it to a friend. It is only a clever package of sewn-up material, but it has been a good friend to me: a faithful companion, a warm blanket, my wing to freedom. It has carried me many kilometers through the air on this journey, I could always rely on it.

„The Wutach Ravine marks the door to the Black Forest. By and by I came across more familiar place names – and needed the map less and less. My mother and friends accompanied me for the last days.“

Olga von Plate

42 days of detour to the new home

I’m slowly beginning to realise that I really have walked and flown the roughly 700 kms to here. You know the one place you live, and some others; even some areas in between, and you’ve driven past it countless times by car. But on foot, all these places and experiences line up like a string of pearls. The last morning had some special magic: today, for the first time, I know where I will be in the evening. Pack the rucksack for the last time and fill the water bottles. 42 days after the start in Berchtesgaden we stroll, almost casually, to the busy Münsterplatz in Freiburg. I take my shoes off and walk the last metres to the cathedral archway. We embrace, and have to laugh and cry at the same time.

„The return to residential life was surprisingly difficult for me. The speed with which the world is suddenly turning again has left me quite overwhelmed. The urgency and efficiency of our daily life seems immensely inhumane.“

Olga von Plate

„When I went back to Berchtesgaden some time later to collect my packing cases, I asked myself whether I couldn’t throw half of my stuff out. What do you need to be happy? With a pair of hiking boots, a paraglider and fresh mountain air you’ll get far enough!“

Olga von Plate

The Equipment

About Olga

Olga von Plate

Olga von Plate is a passionate mountain climber and paraglider pilot. She specially likes long bivouac adventures, with equipment reduced to a minimum. Everything you need goes in the rucksack. In real life, the Freiburg native is a camerawoman and photographer in mountain and extreme sports.