This morning’s wind bore an encouraging resemblance to yesterday’s and so I eagerly anticipated more flying off the southside. Conditions would not disappoint though I certainly had to work for my air time.
“What are you goals today?”, Ben asked at the outset. I said I would like to be confident in my ability to transition from a launch posture to a seated-for-flying posture and back again both to avoid senselessly fatiguing myself in-flight and to avoid unduly risking a messy landing. Ben suggested a session in the simulator might be in order and I concurred. There we realized some tuning of my shoulder straps and mid-back straps would provide the tension I needed for easy transitions between postures.
After getting my equipment in order I set about performing a rear-facing inflation. If we’re being honest I struggled a bit this morning, perhaps owing to a confluence of factors to include unfamiliar harness tensions, aggressive wind, accumulated fatigue, and overuse injuries in my knees. I found myself acting protectively of my knees to avoid over-loading them which left me reticent to sit back and dig in my heels as I ought upon inflation. During my penultimate attempted inflation I somehow managed to step into the lines which made for a mess of unwelcome excitement. Eventually, however, I got my act together, began reverse-kiting toward the edge, and after the traffic pattern opened up made my launch.
This time after launching I was able to wiggle a good deal into my harness seat without hand involvement and once I had banked leftward to a hill-perpendicular track I freed my left hand from brake handle duty to finish the job. Having the confidence to let go of the handles briefly, knowing they can be reacquired easily, is a wonderful thing.
This off-the-top flight offered a wind more lifty than my first one but less so than yesterday’s. Consequently I had to apply an intermediate amount of effort to maintain the turning tracks I wanted and the total turn count was likewise in the middle. All of the turns felt good for the most part but some were definitely better than others, specifically the ones where I transitioned fluidly from looking, to leaning, to pulling.
Perhaps what most distinguished this flight was how the gustiness repeatedly caused my hillside wing tip to dip unnervingly. Every time, however, I calmly responded by looking and leaning away from the hill, and this always did the trick. As long as you neither overreact nor fixate things will generally prove uneventful. I also appreciated the need for a modest increase in traffic management during this flight, a welcome escalation in effort without being overwhelming.
I took a wrap on the brakes much earlier this flight which gave me a lot of time to get more familiar with this configuration. This plus the harness adjustments made for a really satisfying landing. I was able effortlessly to plank into an appropriately erect landing posture, the flare felt smooth and natural, some lateral shoves by a couple of gusts proved no issue, I touched down in a gentle trot, and I had both the presence of mind and momentum to forward kite for a few steps to stabilize my inflation before spinning around and collapsing the wing. A very satisfying landing indeed.
Back at the top the wind was picking up a bit but not seemingly crazily so and thus I began preparing for another flight. That would change quickly, however, and at a moment when I intended only to fluff the wing to unfurl it instead it inflated unexpectedly and violently. I found myself knocked off my feet and on my right hip getting dragged toward the cars in the parking lot, apparently at the same moment a pilot to my right was having a similar misadventure. Thankfully I had been training for such a moment on many earlier occasions and had the presence of mind to grab the C’s on one side which half-collapsed the wing, spun it 180 degrees, and left it nose down though still somewhat inflated, gift-wrapping the hoods of the Ford truck and Subaru sedan at the edge of the lot as I struggled back to my feet. Ergh. Ben and another seasoned pilot ran over to help remedy the situation.
My fall was not hard, and I did not subsequently collide with anything, but this was as good a sign as any to call it a day, and perhaps plan on a few days’ recuperation as well, as not only was my right knee getting really aggravated by this treatment, but I suspect also to a degree causing it, creating a feedback loop of joint abuse. This served as solid reminder that reduced musculoskeletal function can escalate from mere nuisance around performance and efficiency into a safety issue, especially as a beginner making a litany of mistakes all the time.
Overall today offered some really valuable learnings and joyful experiences but also some stark reminders of how I will need to pace myself. I keep having to remind myself that I live here now and that affords me the luxury of a more gentle and sustainable pace than that of a Utah vacationer.