Paragliding Day 30

Yesterday the weather offered no opportunity to fly, my tech wrangling tasks ran long, and my upper back and facial tension amped up accordingly. I decided that a 5×5 of deadlifts would provide optimal relief. On rep five of set four something said “NOPE!” and I dropped the bar. This reminded me that deadlifts give you the opportunity to push yourself as far as you can while including an easy offramp that you merely need be smart enough to take. This is quite different from squats, and very different from paragliding, both involving a level of commitment in the moment where you had better be ready for a hard fight without much warning. After a catch-up call with a former co-worker I lay down in bed, blacked out so quickly I failed to set an alarm, and rocked a solid night’s sleep until 0800. Deadlifts are magical like that.

“Oops”, I messaged Ben, relaying as much and noting that the wind seemed to suggest a northside morning but that I would be running behind. He declared than an ~0900 go at things was on the table and I spooled up as fast as I could but tempered expectations, vectoring myself for an 0920 arrival and ultimately hitting 0930. Unlike my last northside flight I took the time to soak up the terrain below, visualize how I wanted to land, and configured my initiation point to be a good deal closer to the ledge. Preparation, preparation, preparation… I noted a mostly northerly wind and chose my landing spot accordingly, intending to land slightly short of the fork of the road and game trail.

Steve got off the ledge before me for a quick run to the bottom and shortly thereafter I performed a reverse inflation, spun around, and began running forward. The wing, however, dumped to the left and over my head in a way I failed to recover. I reset my kit, waited for Steve to land, and then went again, this time launching without event. I hung a left, let things play for a while, then swung right to begin my return leg, and then… whoah, I ballooned way up, enough I thought that maybe I should be going for some soaring instead of spot-landing practice, but I went with original plan. “Pump the brakes!”, I heard Ben admonish me, and I corrected a situation where the wing was getting inappropriately ahead of me. Then the wing lofted me even more and I found myself giving up on my original landing target and heading out toward the game trail. I identified a segment of trail that aligned with the wind and re-vectored myself toward that. My approach required another zig-zag to bleed off my glut of altitude but eventually I found myself on a pretty reasonable trajectory. Moments before touchdown, however, I found my groin aimed right at a nasty looking bush, but a quick input of brakes caused me to loft the tiniest bit and just clear it. After that I hit the ground gently and kept running until I reached the road for a delightfully tangle-free deflation. Upon returning to the top the wind had started pumping hard and we decided to be one-and-done.

After some lunch and a bit of battle with digital dragons I headed over to northside for a reprise of the morning’s experience. I quickly strapped into my kit, reverse inflated, began running hard, dealt cleanly with the wing dumping left, and then I was off like it was no big deal. I banked left, flew a reasonable length of hill, then banked rightward ahead of the leading pilot but with no issue, and began my return segment. At the end of an eastward leg I found myself a little bit tense as I wanted to turn left but had crept up fairly close to the leading pilot. Eventually he initiated his turn and I continued to follow him but I found myself slightly unsure of how to handle the situation if I found myself critically short on altitude (Ben later suggest, upon my asking, that I just yell at the other pilot my intentions). On my subsequent westward run I picked my landing spot as the area just short of where the road and game trail diverge and started vectoring myself accordingly. After a rightward turn back toward it I found myself a bit high and swung out leftward again to perform an S-turn. I should have committed more fully to the leftward direction and failing to do so on my subsequent rightward turn I had to aim a bit more directly at the hill that optimal but it was no big deal. I then swung leftward away from the hill, then a bit rightward back toward it, and then adopted a final approach with a substantial leftward bank right up until the end. I had to flare a bit early and a bit hard to wrangle landing on slightly upward slope but touchdown was smooth as butter and I put down my wing clear of any nonsense.

I hiked back up, found Steve a little ahead of me and reticent to do another flight, agreed that the wind had become more marginal than would argue for another lap, and called it a night. I found myself feeling really good in a way that I did not fully process until I arrived home. I sent Ben a message that “that may have been my most ‘I just showed up and everything worked the way it is supposed to” outing ever which is kind of neat in its own right”, to which he replied “it’s a big but quiet milestone”. This was a momentous week for paragliding, with moments including the terrifying, the mind blowing, and the quietly competent. All in all it feels really good.

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