Junction, here I come!

Obviously, it’s been awhile since I last posted on this blog. Life has been far too stressful, for such an incredibly long period of time, that I’ve been too preoccupied to even do something as wonderful as flying or making kites. It’s been five months since I last posted here. Anyway, as the title of this entry reveals, I’m going to the Junction, Texas Kite Making Retreat again this year. While I certainly can’t afford it, things have been so awful that everyone who knows what I’ve gone through have all said “go for it” and they did so in no uncertain terms. I hope I remember how to use a sewing machine! (I’m sure I will.)

I made the decision to go just this evening (and it was, to be honest, almost an impulsive decision – although I generally don’t do that) after coming home from a couple of groups at church. I’m hoping (and praying very hard) that things will take a turn for the better this month but I’m not going to count my chickens before they hatch. Just the same, if you’re reading this and you pray, PLEASE pray for things to take a turn for the better.

As I noted last year on this blog, good ‘ole American Airlines LOST my luggage for FOUR LONG DAYS. They essentially put a HUGE dent in my experience of last year’s retreat (although I still had a great time, even if I did smell bad) and they sent me a voucher for a future trip. I made the decision to book a flight around 11 PM (it’s 2 AM now – yes, I have severe sleep problems, on top of everything else) and sent in my “reservation” to the retreat organizer. She’s about the only one I know that stays up as late as I do and I’ve already recieved a response! Apparently, there will be a couple of Asian kite builders flying in for some of the classes – is that cool or what?!

Obviously, it’s very late now and I had better try and get some sleep (again, I don’t know how successful I will be but I’ll try to think about how fun it’ll be to go back to Junction this year). In addition to all of the kite fun we had last year (even if we really didn’t have any real wind to speak of), I’m going to make it a point to try and catch a glimpse of an armadillo this time (in addition to all of the deer that populate the grounds). Can’t wait!

Junction Kite Makers Retreat 2007

As I’ve noted before, I’ve got a new addiction – kites. Yeah, it’s rather amazing to think that I’m hooked on this wonderful sport (my mother doesn’t quite know how to tell her friends that her son, a grown man, is now playing with kites) but I’m having a blast with them. As this wonderful hobby can get quite expensive, I took a challenge made of me on one of the Kite Aerial Photography forums and decided to try and make my own. Some of my earliest attempts are already outlined on this blog. Anyway, I lucked out and found a very cheap flight to San Antonio, Texas, so that I could attend this year’s Kite Makers Retreat held at the Texas Tech University Extention Center in Junction.

While I’ve already ranted about my lost luggage (so I’ll spare those details here), I’ve just finished looking at the (few) photos I was able to take – my cameras didn’t arrive until Sunday afternoon, along with the rest of my luggage. Some (most) of them are posted below. As I’ve already mentioned, I arrived very late (early) after driving approximately 120 miles to Junction. I was so tired (it was 4 AM) that I checked into a local motel for a few hours so that I could get a bit of sleep before driving the last few miles to the retreat. I arrived sometime around noon on Friday (May 25th). At that point, I only had one kite (my Rev 1.5), and a few other items. Fortunately, there were already several people around as they were sitting on the kite field watching a few fliers. It was at that time that I met Bob, one of the esteemed instructors, who introduced me to “fighter kites” for the first time – small, highly maneauverable single-line kites. While they are very small and rather delicate, they can do rather amazing things (in the hands of an experienced fighter, that is). Bob gave me a few lessons on fighters and I had a great time.

The kite retreat didn’t officially begin until dinner that night so I spent the time looking around at some of the fighters on display and chatting with various people as they arrived. I also got a chance to fly my Rev but the wind conditions weren’t too favorable – as always, the winds died down the moment I began to fly. (So, what else is new?) That; however, lead to another great moment, another guy, Sid, had also brought one of his Revs but it was different than mine – it was even lighter. As a result, he gave me a few lessons and I spent quite a bit of time flying his Rev (I just bought a set of lighter spars yesterday so that my kite will now be able to fly in similar low-wind conditions too).

360 Degree View of Junction Kite Field

Click to see 360° view of the kite field

Friday night was devoted to making drums with Bob (oh, what fun) and just hanging out. There were so many different courses to choose from, on Saturday, that it was difficult to pick which one I wanted to attend. I ended up going to the crap [sic] making class (we really made “carp” windsocks but, due to a typo prior to the retreat, the class was inadvertently renamed). I spent the entire day (eight hours) making my carp – I learned how to applique, along with other fun kite making techniques. Fortunately, I was able to use someone else’s equipment as I didn’t have mine with me (it was lost with my luggage).

Late Saturday night featured “bait night” – as a Junction tenderfoot, I hadn’t a clue as to what that meant but quickly learned it was an outdoor gathering where everyone sits around and eats gross stuff (i.e., “bait”) like smoked oysters (yum), eel (yum), and God only knows what else ! Of course, we had a great time!

Banners at Junction Kite Makers RetreatSunday afternoon offered another set of classes – this time I took the banner class with Eddie – my finished 15 foot banner (the solid blue one) is pictured at the left. Of course, there were others who were far more experienced and made rather elaborate ones too – Eddie’s is the black one with the sun and Janet (one of our “crap” instructors) put one of her “craps” on her banner. As I am still a beginner – I just made a solid colored one. I plan on adding stars to mine, along with two other banners – solid red and solid white. How patriotic!

After my luggage arrived (Sunday afternoon), I finally had my equipment. I immediately startedField of deer at Junction sewing my banner with my own machine and worked until dinner. One of the things I hadn’t yet experienced were the deer that were allegedly hiding just outside our view at all times. As I was whining about that, some of the kind folks at the retreat pointed out that a few million (or so) of them had decided to come out from the trees and had parked themselves on the kite field. As to be expected, I grabbed my camera and SLOWLY walked out onto the field (which is far bigger than it looks). The deer, of course, were extremely aware of me too and had no intention of letting me get too close. Just the same, I did manage to get a few pictures of them – if you look closely at the photo to the right (double click on it for a larger view), there appear to be about two dozen of them resting on the ground.

Junction Flying FieldThe time went by too quickly and Monday morning was our last class. I spent the time finishing my banner and puting it up on display (how fun). It actually turned out okay and I’m rather proud of it!

The retreat ended after lunch and we had to pack up. I returned to San Antonio that afternoon but was too tired to do much – I ended up taking a nap (until 8 PM, no less) and caught a late night movie. I knew I would have some free time the next day so I wasn’t rushed. One of the thingsFaçade of the Alamo I had planned to do while in San Antonio was to “remember the Alamo!” Obvioiusly, I remembered as attested by the following photo.

While the Alamo is rather small, it was quite scenic and I’m glad I went. The following is a photo of a veranda that I managed to get without any tourists walking through it (I was lucky).

Veranda at the Alamo

So, after all of the wonderful experiences I had (except for the lost luggage), will I go again? I sure hope so! I met all kinds of wonderful people and had a terrific time. Can’t wait until next year!

Fighter kites and a master fighter

Okay, so I’m posting things out of order – I haven’t written my post regarding the GREAT time I had at the Junction Kite Makers Retreat (I’ve already posted my American Airlines rant [they still have NOT responded to my complaint] and haven’t yet looked that the few photos I took – I’ve just been too worn out to do much since I got home). Even so, I’ve spent some time (while I wasn’t sleeping) looking up fighter kites on the Internet, which I was first introduced to at Junction. While we did not make them, I had a chance to fly one on my first day there. Fighters are very small (in fact, they’re surprisingly small) single line kites that are highly maneuverable. In addition to making more of the same of the goodies I created at Junction, I wanted to try and make my own fighters. Yesterday, I stopped by a few stores and purchased some Mylar, along with a few other supplies. Unfortunately, according the instructions I’ve found on the Internet, fighters are now usually made with carbon rods for durability.

What surprised me even more; however, is that I was just introduced (only a few weeks ago), to a man by the name of Vic who runs a well-known kite shop called “Kite Country” in San Diego. Little did I know at that time that Vic is considered to be quite famous in the fighter kite world as not only a champion fighter but also as a master fighter kite maker! His kite, “Vic’s Fighter” is still highly regarded by kiters (is that a real word?) around the world. So. . . I decided to take a quick jaunt down to his shop today (about 72 miles from home) to pick up some carbon rods and a few other goodies. Okay, I spent a bit too much (UGH)! Just the same, I got to pick Vic’s brain for quite a long time and learned a lot (the only problem is I probably won’t remember even half of what he told me).

Much of what Vic did have to say was quite fascinating! He told me stories about how he has chased everything from joggers to dogs on the beach (who hadn’t a clue that they were being followed by a kite) as well as having his kites “peer” into the windows of hotel visitors. While my experience with fighters is currently very limited (I got to fly one at Junction), these kites are, apparently, VERY maneuverable. Can’t wait to try some more!

In addition to four fighter kites (a Hoopty, a Fandango, and a Flick [all by esteemed kite maker, Jeff Howard], as well as an Indian made Mylar fighter with bamboo spars, I bought my son a Rev (so he will be able to fly his own, instead of mine)! I’ll have to post pictures of these kites later. I also purchased some carbon rods and other small hardware so I can try my hand at making my own – which is something that I would prefer to do, once I learn how, that is!

Travel day from Hell followed by bliss

I was able to take some much needed mental health time over the past week by attending the 2007 Junction Kite Makers Retreat and had a BLAST. Unfortunately, the trip didn’t start that way though – as indicated by the title of this post, I had the travel day from Hell. In fact, I can’t ever remember a trip that started out so badly (and I’ve traveled a lot over the years). Specifically, my flight was supposed to leave Orange County (on American Airlines) at 3 PM on Thursday. As I was anxious to leave, I almost tried to get an earlier flight on standby. Thank God that I did NOT do that! When I arrived at the airport (shortly after noon), I found that there was a HORRIBLE line at the American Airlines counter – it looked as if there must have been a thousand people in it! As it turned out, ALL of the American Airlines flights to Dallas/Fort Worth (were I was supposed to catch a connecting flight to San Antonio) had been canceled that morning due to bad weather  and everyone was scrambling to catch a later flight. Allegedly, my flight was the first that had not been canceled. I was able to check my luggage on the street (where American charged me an outlandish $5 per bag to avoid waiting in the huge line at their counter) and I entered the terminal with the hope that my flight would leave on time. That dream; however, soon dissipated as American started announcing as seemingly endless number of delays. At one point, they pushed the departure time to 8 PM (ugh)! After sitting at the terminal for what seemed to be a few years American announced that one plane was finally going to depart but they didn’t know which scheduled flight was supposed to get it – mine or one that was supposed to depart after mine. The confusion was the result of the fact that American had already sent some of their flight crews home – the flight was originally supposed to belong to the group after mine but, when the flight crew for my plane showed up first, American finally decided to let my group take it: we took off around 7 PM (four hours late).

After that miserable experience, I had hoped that everything would be okay for the rest of the journey – little did I know just how HORRIBLE things were to become. We managed to land in Dallas just as my connecting flight was boarding (it had also been delayed by the weather) – the only problem was, American hadn’t bothered to give my flight any updated information as to what was going on and we were instructed to find one of American’s idiot employees at our arrival gate in order to find out where our connections were. As it turned out, the moron from American was hidden off to the side of the gate (instead of standing right in front of it as other airlines normally do) and when I finally got my turn to find out my gate, it IDIOT told me the WRONG terminal and gate! (He told me that I was to depart from gate A39 which is at the FAR end of that terminal.) Not only did I confirm that information but others behind me also heard him provide that information (I learned of this later when they showed up at that same gate for a different flight). I bolted to that gate as fast as I could (because the flight was already boarding) only to find out at that time that American Airlines had LIED to me – the flight I was supposed to be on was located in a completely different terminal (I believe it was Gate C25). As a result, I had to make a mad dash to catch the train for the correct terminal and managed to catch my flight at the last possible moment.

End of problems? NOT! As it turned out, my flight appears to have been the only one to leave Dallas that day (I was told that seven previous flights had been canceled) for San Antonio. Upon our arrival (at San Antonio), we learned that three American flights had arrived within minutes of each other but, because American had already sent their airport crews home for the day, all three flights had to disembark at the same gate. Naturally, our flight was last. So. . . we sat forever on the tarmac while the other planes unloaded their passengers first.

Okay, so everything was now going to be just fine. . .right?! Hell NO! Not only did all three flights have to disembark at the same gate but American only had one baggage claim terminal operational AND they couldn’t give us any idea, at all, as to which flights baggage would arrive first (or if they were going to be mixed up with the others). By this time, a few million passengers were gathered around the one, very small, carousel, the few American Airlines employees were as confused (if not more so) than we were and, by this time, the bus loads of stranded passengers were beginning to arrive from Dallas. As American had canceled so many flights (seven) from Dallas, they put those poor folks on buses for the SEVEN HOUR trip to San Antonio. Obviously, they were not happy either. Finally, at 1:30 AM (yes, it was now getting very late), American told everyone to leave as no more luggage would be unloaded that night (morning). Okay, by now, I was starting to get REALLY ticked off but I can handle it, right? American promised to have our missing luggage sent out first thing later that day.

So. . .I tried to get information as to how to get to my rental car. Again, thank God that I had made a reservation (many folks had not). But. . .because it was so late, many of the car rental places had shut down for the night. Again, I lucked out (it was about time) – Avis was still open and I was able to get my car (after running to the rental car tram in the pouring rain) and took off for Junction, approximately 122 miles away. I finally arrived at Junction at 4 AM – it was a miserable drive as it poured the entire way. I was too tired to go on to the retreat site (and didn’t feel that I should wake everyone up at that time) so I found a hotel. I promptly checked in and passed out.

The next day turned out to be rather beautiful and I drove the five or so remaining miles to the retreat center. As I hadn’t heard anything from American Airlines, I made the first (of MANY) phone calls to their baggage claim morons. The first idiot I spoke with promised that my bags would be delivered later that day (around 6 PM). That, of course, was the first of MANY lies that American Airlines would tell me – over the next several DAYS. I called again, around 9:30 PM only to be told that my luggage had not been found but that a rush would be placed on them and delivered the next morning – another lie. On Saturday morning, I had to call several more times (because even American’s baggage morons couldn’t get through to the San Antonio airport) only to be given more of a run around. By this time, I was very RIPE as I had no clean clothes, toiletries – NOTHING. One of American’s morons finally agreed to give me a $50 allowance to pick up a few things. As Junction is a VERY small town, I wasn’t able to buy much. I also received more assurances that my bags would be delivered – another lie. Much later on Saturday afternoon – still no bags and more phone calls to American. This time, they claimed that my luggage was set to be picked up at the airport, around 8 PM) and delivered to me – again, another lie. So, hours later, I give up and go to bed.

Of course, my cell phone battery had died and, after purchasing a car charger in Junction (I had to go to more than one store to find that), was only able to call from the rental car. I would have to drive too far to get a decent charge on my phone. On Sunday morning, I called American AGAIN and told them that my phone had now died. Again, they assured me that my bags would be delivered. After lunch, still no bags and I went to the car to see if anyone had called – this time, the delivery person (gasp – there really was such a person!) had just left a message for me that he was 50 miles away and that if he didn’t hear from me soon, he would take my bags BACK to San Antonio. He’s lucky that I called when I did as I caught him just in time – my bags were delivered more than THREE DAYS after I had checked them – on the last full day of the retreat, no less – at 2 PM! Of course I did NOT give the delivery person a tip. Just the same, I was overjoyed to get some fresh clothes and take a shower – I finally felt human again.

According to all of the idiots I spoke with at American Airlines, the best (and allegedly fastest) way to make a complaint about the HORRIBLE service I had received was to visit their web site and file a complaint there. Naturally, I did that several days ago and have yet to hear anything from them (other than a form letter stating that they had received my complaint). Oh, one last rant – according to American Airline’s brochure on lost baggage, American promises to keep the owners of such luggage apprised of the situation – during the THREE DAYS that my baggage was lost, American did not call me a single time – not ONCE! So much for that.

Oh. . . I’ve now ranted so long about American Airlines that I’ve failed to mention the wonderful time I had at the Kite Making Retreat. In fact, it was FANTASTIC. I’ll post more on that later.

Okay, this is getting serious. . .

I’m so hooked on this new hobby that I think it would be best in order for me to learn how to make my own kites (which, obviously, is also very cost effective – and I can certainly benefit from that). I just learned about “Kite Making Retreats” (can you imagine that such things actually exist?) on a KAP forum. It appears as if a lot of the folks who enjoy KAPing also make their own kites – again for the obvious financial reasons, as well as the gratification that comes from using something that you have created yourself.

As usual, I was too late for all but one of the kite making retreats being offered this year (all of them in other states) except for one – the 2007 Junction Kite Makers Retreat. After learning of this event, being held at the end of May (over the Memorial Day weekend), I checked the cost and found it to be extremely reasonable. Sooo. . . I’ve now taken the plunge (I REALLY need some hard stress relief time) and have signed up. Of course, I’ll be a complete newbie but that shouldn’t matter.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this new form of stress relief, kite flying, is that it is relatively inexpensive and also is kind of a “purposeless” activity – after all, what point is there in putting a piece of fabric up in the air? Other than the shear enjoyment of kite flying, and watching as kites soar across the sky, there is no real purpose. That; however, is exactly what makes it so great. Sure, it’s tough (sometimes very tough) to get the real world buzz (which is more often a full-blown roar) out of one’s head, but flying a kite can sometimes dull the steady, incessant noise of life’s major problems. Another interesting element is that flying kites leads to meeting other people who have smiles on their faces which, of course, can be contagious. If for no other reason than that, flying is very gratifying. 

Junction, Texas, here I come! (BTW, I had no idea where Junction, TX is – it appears as if it’s in a rather isolated location with lots of quiet – sounds good to me.)