I woke this morning to some very promising wind and the anticipation of launching off the top of southside again. The conditions would not disappoint and I would once again be airborne after an eight day flight drought owing to a combination of uncooperative weather, overtaxed biological subsystems, and not quite being far enough along in my training to launch off northside. I had gotten really spoiled by a long stretch of amazing weather that was momentarily disrupted by the passing of a front but now we seem back to the earlier glorious conditions.
After prepping the wing I set about a kiting a bit to prime the brain and wait for the wind at the bottom of the hill to fill in. I had one failed but uneventful inflation where if my hands had not been so busy I would have slapped my forehead at the realization of the mistake I had made, dumping the A’s too soon and leaning back on the brakes. I grumbled that my two-weeks-ago self had made a guest appearance but consoled myself in the knowledge I at least inhabited the Conscious Incompetence quadrant in that moment. On another inflation I lost my balance and ended up on one hip but at least kept the wing in the air and got back to my feet before letting the wing down to collect myself. On the next attempt I got it into the air cleanly and kept it there for a few minutes’ reverse kiting while my brain dialed in the muscle memory.
Once I got within striking distance of the edge I spun around and began creeping forward against a solid wind. My progress was slow and the wind lofted me nicely almost immediately. I tried a torso wiggle to get deeper into the harness but it didn’t quite work. After turning rightward to acquire a track perpendicular to the hill I used my hillside hand to wiggle deeper into the harness, keeping my downhill hand ready to steer as we had discussed Tuesday evening while training in the simulator. I recall Ben’s voice in the radio saying “you could turn now but you don’t need to yet”. Instead of turning immediately I took a few seconds to savor the view in the distance, appreciating how in control I felt of the situation, this being the definingly different characteristic of the present flight. The previous flight had been entirely smooth, sure, but it nonetheless entailed a certain leap of faith that this flight did not. This new feeling was liberating and inspiring.
As I banked through my first 180 degree turn the wind buoyed me upward in a fashion that had not happened on my previous flight. “Your first time soaring!”, I heard Ben say over the radio, and I was in for quite a treat. I realized immediately that I would need to make a lot more turns than during my last flight to be able to land in the parking lot below. This had me repeatedly flying perpendicular and close to the hill with a bit of turbulence, an experience where on many occasions I found some primal part of my brain screaming “we’re going to fly into the hill!” but a much calmer yet louder voice was wrapped thoroughly around it saying “just look where you want to go and everything will be fine”. And it always was fine. Better than fine. Kind of serene, actually. At some point I heard Ben on the radio say “still here, buddy, just don’t have anything to tell you”.
Maybe half way through the flight I took a single wrap of the brake handles, wanting primarily to have that extra degree of control authority for my landing, but also wanting to play with it early enough that it would feel wholly familiar at the key moment. As I rounded out my turn to final approach I planked my body to acquire a more erect posture for landing. I felt like I couldn’t quite re-acquire my launch posture, as if I were stuck sitting backward a bit, though not unmanageably so. The final approach to landing was smooth until I got shoved rightward just as I started applying some initial flare but happily, unlike on some other occasions, I successfully split my attention between the ground and the horizon such that I maintained the perspective required to apply the appropriate corrective inputs. After applying a full flare my feet gently touched the ground, albeit with me somewhat inclined backward such that I skied to a stop versus trotted and then plopped gently onto one hip. The wrap of the brakes perhaps enabled my gentlest landing ever though I do need to figure out what may be causing me to be left leaning backward. Things might have been messier had I been carrying more ground speed.
On the ride back to the top I noted that my abs were burning. Ben remarked that for portions of the flight I had my legs stuck way out in front of me when they ought have been more tucked. This was a relatively minor detail in the context of this flight but important to get right for longer flights so I don’t gratuitously fatigue myself. I asked Ben how long I had been aloft and he replied “an honest ten minutes”. I could have believed half as long which speaks to how thoroughly my usual reference points melt away when I get into the zone of an experience like this.
Once we got back to the top it became clear that the wind was picking up quickly. We agreed it made sense to try for another flight but that if after 2-3 inflations I found myself struggling to make my way to the edge we would pack it in. By the time I was set up to go again, however, the wind had really picked up, and I noticed that substantially more experienced pilots seemed to be operating at the edge of what their wing would allow. No matter. The joy from the one flight I nabbed while the conditions allowed justified the morning’s investment many times over.
What an amazing backyard I have.