Paragliding Day 26

Something woke me last night at 0345 and I opted to wear myself out instead of trying to force things, eventually falling asleep again at 0630 without an alarm set as the wind did not presently hold much promise. I woke up at 1000 to a message from Ben at 0720 saying that we might try the northside at 0900. DOH. So it goes. I consoled myself with the prospect of a northside evening and went about the rest of my day. Better to be refreshed and disappointed with your feet on the ground than tired and stupid with a wing strapped to your body.

At 1530 Ben fired the flare and I made my way to northside by 1600. I strapped into my kit as fast as I could, did a couple three reverse inflations as I made my way to the ledge, checked the traffic situation, and then was off for my second-ever northside flight. I made a right turn initially, got nicely lofted, briefly released my right brake toggle to wiggle into my harness, then rolled through a leftward 180 degree turn. A modest amount of traffic presented and I set myself up to follow another glider heading in the same direction. With some regularity a tailwind pulsed hard in a way that threatened to take my wing to The Department Of Bullshit but in timely fashion I applied the brake pressure required to prevent that.

I followed the hill until my spider sense began tingling, saying that I was overdue for a turn, and then banked rightward, swung 180 degrees, began the journey back to my origin point, and… I got stuck. I hovered in place for an unnerving minute or two and then I began sinking. I thought maybe I would contrive to exchange altitude for airspeed but then got stuck again and lower down. I thought I might engage my speed system to break out of this situation but I hesitated, leery of how off-script this flight was quickly going and not sure what messiness this reconfiguration might introduce in marginal circumstances. By then I had regrettably broken line-of-sight with Ben and thus found myself in trouble and alone.

For a moment it seemed like I might wend my way around the point but then the wind cut out and I found myself quickly descending on a ledge. My choices at this point were to attempt a landing on the ledge and abort the flight or to make a hard left and accept the risk of flying into rotor and/or descending into a bunch of unfriendly looking mining equipment, possibly after deploying my reserve chute and consigning my fate to the wind gods. Rightly or wrongly I chose the former.

“Ugh, this is happening”, I thought as I plunged toward the ledge, flared hard, managed a smooth landing, spun around to a reverse-kiting position, was just about to collapse the wing, and… “OOF!”. The wind surged hard and picked me off my feet, I spun to a forward facing position while dangling from my lines, and then… “OOF!”. The wind had cut out, dropped me back onto the ground, and started pulsing in a way where it became highly ambiguous whether I would either be able to put an end to this flight or get involuntarily launched off the cliff and have to make the best of it.

By this point I found myself on my ass and determinedly grabbing for rear lines, reeling them in as best I could to fully disable the wing, all while getting dragged closer to the cliff’s edge. Eventually I had the wing flipped over, albeit wrapped over the cliff’s edge, and I went all in on the “abort” option by unclipping my carabiners. I undid the left one first as this was the most accessible and slack one given my body position, breathed a sigh of relief knowing I had thus killed the aerodynamics of the wing, and then quickly followed up with the right one because I wasn’t taking any chances this close to the ledge.

I thus found myself hanging out at the cliff’s edge for a while, holding onto one tip of the wing so it would not go flying into the gully, and repeatedly saying to myself “don’t step in the lines” because it would have been ironic to go to all this trouble and then get senselessly dragged off the ledge by the wing anyway.

Ted of Wasatch Hang Gliding was nice enough to run down the hill, check in on me, and then hang out until Ben and Steve could figure out where I was. Getting the wing disentangled then proved a laborious and damaging affair. The tenuous nature of the ledge had everyone wisely keeping their distance and so ultimately extrication of the wing involved broken lines and torn fabric. Alas. The cost of those repairs, however, seem trivial compared to the fate I avoided.

I regret that I did not have easy access to a knife during the crux of that experience. Early in my training I was grateful to have practiced the Parachute Landing Fall literally the day before a violent landing made it hugely beneficial. Disaster preparedness is better done proactively than reactively.

The only thing I got unambiguously right during the whole experience was “don’t panic”. I find it weird that I carry so much anxiety navigating everyday/everyman experiences and yet somehow am icy and analytical in outlier situations like these. The former offers a mixed experience of being a tolerably good security engineer but a regularly annoying friend/colleague/partner. The latter means I have been able to navigate my way to a tolerably good outcome in situations where all the chips were on the table on more than one occasion. I wonder what it might be like to live a life where all that is reversed but that’s not the timeline I’m on in this path of the multiverse.

As Steve graciously packed up my wing as I stood around like a slack-jawed yokel processing the experience several rocks fell out of it and he asked if I wanted a souvenir of the occasion. I did. He also suggested that it was my privilege to name this landing site. After some rumination I settled on “Andy’s Trial”.

While luxuriating in armchair quarterbacking I find myself thinking that the optimal decision would have been to fly down into the mine with my reserve chute at the ready. I wonder if a stubborn attempt to assure the best possible outcome brought me to the precipice of the worst possible outcome, perhaps an uncontrolled tumble over a ledge followed by falling into my canopy and then plunging to my doom while hopelessly giftwrapped. Armchair quarterbacking is nonetheless a lot of bullshit as in the moment one has neither the omniscience nor the bandwidth. I came home uninjured and undeterred and I guess that will have to be enough. Tomorrow is another day and I am grateful that I will be ready to meet it. Once more unto the breach.

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