Paragliding Day 28

I got home this evening and sat in the driveway for several minutes feeling like my brain was rapidly rewiring itself. Some time after going inside I realized that the kitties were staring at me expectantly. “Dude. DUDE. DUUUUUUDE! You supposed to feed us now. Y U NO FEED?!?” I snapped out of it, cracked open a tin of meat for them, poured a glass of Epoch Rye for myself, set up the oven for a baked potato, and then sat down to write.

When my alarm went off at 0600 this morning I opened the Wind Alert app, checked out the local conditions, and remarked that it looked like someone had kicked the plug out of the wall resulting in the wind being turned off. I decided that the day’s architecture would be a leisurely start with some reading, the bulk of the day putting in some hours on contract, and if I were lucky getting in some northside flying in the evening.

After a session doing battle with computers that felt exasperating in the moment but that ultimately proved worthwhile, if not quite in the way I hoped, I had crept up on the time I imagined the wind might look good, confirmed as much, and headed over to the northside, arriving at 1545. When I got there I found wind that was, in Ben’s words, “crack-a-lackin”, something that did not surprise since I noted as much in my driveway a few miles away and in a more sheltered position. I took my sweet time setting up while waiting for the wind to attenuate.

Eventually the conditions seemed navigable and so I reverse-inflated, spun around, and started nosing my way forward. The going proved hard as the wind played strong and gusty. I might have spent 20-30 minutes getting my ass kicked, taking a break while the wind settled, trying again, and then getting manhandled once more. On multiple occasions the wind pulled me off my feet far sooner than I intended. On one such occasion it pulled me backward, I ended up on my ass, and I executed my turn-around from the ground. I set up one more time and declared to Ben “I’m going flying!”, as much an attestation to myself to power through the adversity as an announcement to him, and finally I arrived at the ledge. The wing started dumping to the left just as I was about to go and I decided to combine a run-under correction with a launch and got aloft a bit cross to the wind.

In many ways this first part of the flight offered an experience like previous northside flights except that the conditions were lofting me continually higher. After three of four figure eights in the pattern, to include playing out the speed system to deal with getting stuck on my easterly segments, I found myself high enough to see the radio tower atop the rearward hill. And so, upon reaching the houses at the east end of the hill, I embarked on a 225 degree leftward turn and began cheating back over the parking lot. As I approached the rearward hill I performed a 270 degree rightward turn that configured me to bench up to the very top. By then I was well on my way to something truly magical.

I faced a substantial headwind as I made my way to the eastern end of the hill and by the end had just about crested it. As I reached the houses abutting the parking lot I swung leftward to point at the gas stations in the distance and began slowly creeping away from the hill while sustaining my altitude.

After some time I passed the threshold of the lower hill, found myself with a glut of altitude, and heard Ben say over the radio “kick your legs if you are cold”, offering me the option to being winding things down if I so desired. I decidedly did NOT kick my legs and heard Ben laugh and call me a liar. And so we set about taking advantage of these wonderful conditions to play around with a few novel techniques while carrying a huge safety factor’s worth of altitude.

First we did “Big Ears” where you snap one pair of A’s to fold the wing tips inward and thus partially spoil the lift to attain a more aggressive descent. A snap of the brake lines returns one’s configuration to normal.

“Big Ears”, not me pictured

Then we did “Riser Twists” where you grab your risers, whip your feet around as if on a swing, and rotate yourself 360 degrees relative to your wing to simulate circumstances that might arise in fierce turbulence.

Lastly, to bleed off altitude, I got to do several 360 turns which were just mind-blowingly awesome, quite the treat as until now I had had neither the loft nor the hill distance to do this safely. It was like taking a full-scope at-altitude panoramic shot of my new home. I distinctly remember thinking at some point that if I died tomorrow it would have been a life well lived.

Eventually I found myself wondering if I might ever land. The wind conditions kept on delivering and toward the end only one other pilot remained aloft to share this experience with me. In time, however, and finding much practical use of the Big Ears technique, I began cheating my way back over the lower hill to prepare for a top landing. As I commenced my approach, though, I perceived that I was waaaaaay high and I heard Ben remark as much over the radio so I turned outward to burn off more altitude.

Finally I set myself up for an approach that seemed promising, deployed my “landing gear”, and began my final descent. My landing was fine, at least insofar as it was gentle and non-injurious, but certainly I won’t win any style points for this part of my flight, my brain having thoroughly melted from the overwhelming experience. Ironically I found myself headed for the very ditch I had so fastidiously avoided during the previous evening’s top landing. I consigned myself to my fate, made a point of flying as gracefully as I could into the said ditch, stumbled a bit, then hopped out and let my wing collapse.

Ben trotted over and asked how it was. All I could manage was “holy crap” in repetition a few times, unable to summon the inner poet, and then then I just started maniacally laughing. Ben has a pretty neat job as paragliding spiritual guide.

What a week of extremes it has been.

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