Paragliding Day 34

0330 wakeup time. Yuck. Lie in bed for ~90 minutes, start ruminating on tech problems, then rise. Stim packs, breakfast, shower, and jack into cyberspace for a few hours’ programming. Eying wind forecast out of the corner of my eye, brief burst of FOMO, but a southerly wind quickly bleeds off disappointingly (relievingly?). Crank out a bunch of stuff until 1100 then crash for a three hour nap. Naps! What a wonderful thing to have relearned how to do.

I woke at 1400 to my Apple Watch buzzing, having set it for a multiple of 90 minute sleep cycles, and started clawing my way to wakefulness. The wind at northside looked promising. At ~1430 I messaged another pilot, Joey, and he replied that he had already benched up and top-landed twice. “WUT” was all I managed to reply, to which he rejoins with “not fucking with you man; it’s pretty fucking good”. Kind bar, cheese block, energy drink, caffeine pill, clothes, gear, car, GO…

I arrived at the northside at 1515 and prepped my kit as fast as I could. I quickly got the sense, however, that the remainder of the afternoon would merely provide good flying, not excellent, as I observed pilots sustaining altitude along the lower ridge but not finding the lift to soar up to the higher ridge. Timing and micro-weather, the story of paragliding…

I reverse-inflated but quickly collapsed as I did not act adequately aggressively for the now light and variable wind. I went again with more authority, spun forward quickly, started jogging immediately toward the ledge, corrected a couple of sideward slops of the wing, made a quick inspection of my wing tips and brake lines, spotted an opening in the traffic pattern, and I was off. I made several circuits along the lower ridge with the wind acting as a tease the whole time. I clearly would not be benching up but an opportunity to top-land remained tantalizingly within striking distance the whole flight. On my penultimate pass I had just about given up hope, but on the next pass I got lofted just enough to make it possible.

After banking 180 degrees to an eastward track I decided to go of it. I appeared to be on a tolerably good if slightly marginal track, got over one of the fingers, then found myself dropping much more aggressively than I would have preferred. I banked hard to the left maybe just ten feet above ground to establish wind alignment for touchdown, flared as hard as I ever have, touched down with a pretty OK vertical component, but stumbled to my knees owing to a residual lateral component and footing in soft sand, and hopped up quickly but not fast enough to avoid my wing dumping inelegantly to the right and front of me. Steve had been watching from nearby, ran up, and playfully ribbed me with “don’t worry, I think only I saw that” and remarked that he had been mildly concerned with how hot I had been coming in but that my last second maneuvers made touchdown look mostly reasonable. In hindsight I probably should have either cheated into the hill much sooner (accepting a longer hike) to give myself more time to re-vector or given up on the idea of top-landing altogether. As I write this I can feel just a tiny reminder in my left knee and mid-back of this “cheap lesson”. More margins, less problems, and additional soft tissue function for future adventures…

I packed up my wing, hiked eastward, and opted for one more launch. This one would prove an utterly unremarkable sled ride, the wind having sufficiently attenuated that a persistent and gradual sink proved inexorable. After a couple of circuits I performed a final S-turn to configure my altitude for a final approach and then touched down gently and deflated cleanly. A hike back up the lower ridge got my heart pounding and served as the day’s cardio. I don’t love this hike but I like how it makes me feel afterward.

Ben had been off skiing at Snowbird and so for a second day in a row I had enjoyed the freedom and responsibility of being my own autonomous entity in this aviation community. Upon arriving home I messaged him to the effect of what an awesome feeling it is to randomly say “oh, wind looks nice, so guess imma go fly” and how grateful I was to him for getting me here. He replied that he was glad to be a part of the journey and that the best is yet to come.

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