I apparently zonked out the instant my head hit the pillow last night, failing to set an alarm. Waking at 0620 naturally, because habit, I looked at my phone, saw ~25G27 at FPS, thought “naaaahhhhh” and lounged for a while in a state of torpor though failed to fall back to sleep. I took a generally leisurely approach to the morning while keeping an eye on the wind. Seeing the intensity subsequently collapse I imagined the day a bust but then it rebounded so I suited up and headed to the park.
When I arrived the wind was rocking a promising looking 10G12. By the time I was ready to inflate it had already bumped up to 13G15. I inflated and found myself mostly under control yet gradually losing a war of attrition, getting slowly nudged backward in a way I could not quite counter. Uncomfortable with the trend I ran under the wing, snapped and held the brakes, ran askew of my deflated wing to prevent a surprise re-inflation, and began balling it up. The wind kept getting stronger and my wing really wanted to fly, going scary donut on me for a moment, but I kept tightening up a bear hug on it and once I got a knee on it I knew I was solidly in charge. I hung out for a moment to assess the trend, felt intuitively it was not going my way, glanced at my phone and saw 15G17, and gave up on the idea of a top launch. I thought about hiking down a bit for a side hill launch but felt like I had made enough of a mess of my wing that I did not feel enjoy doing that. Instead I packed it up and drove to the bottom to work my way up from there.
I hiked maybe 3/8ths up the hill before setting up my wing in anticipation of kiting my way up further, wanting to clean up my wing before getting into spicy conditions. I looked uphill and saw Richard about 7/8ths of the way up when he got violently yanked off the hill with a fair amount of rotational energy, appearing for a few seconds busier than the proverbial one legged man in an ass kicking contest trying to get ahold of useful lines and stabilize the situation. I decided that if someone with that much skill could find so much drama at that height I would be wise to take a conservative approach and kite my way up gradually. Before long I got tugged off my feet, though less dramatically, and with brake toggles already in hand, so I made a go of it and… sunk out. Bleh.
I hiked back up, this time all the way to the shelf initially, but found myself in a race with attenuating wind, it dying while I was hiking. Annoying. Eventually I was maybe ~7/8ths of the way up when the wind felt workable. I inflated and launched and… the wind plunged and I found myself sinking out worrisomely quickly after my first two turns. I had a fierce internal debate where, on the one hand, I really did not want to do a side hill landing with a partial tail wind, but on the other hand I really did not want to touch down mid-turn and end up in a tumbling mess that might culminate in a faceplant. I took my chances with the tail wind, sprinted hard on contact, and everything proved fine except that the wing deflated messily. Ugh. I re-inflated to clean up the wing, then packed it up, and finally hiked back down to my car, mildly annoyed with a morning mostly spent chasing opportunities that never quite materialized. First world problems.
Afterwards I spoke with Ariel about his observations regarding what I had done to set myself up for failure during my top-hill period. Specifically I had inflated my wing too far back from the lip of the hill. As he explained it, and which jived with my intuition with the benefit of hindsight, I had put myself in conditions where the wind was mostly parallel to the flat field and thus optimized to drag me backward versus lift me upward. If I had set up closer to the lip I likely could have fought my way to a launch before the wind got too strong and then had a nice bit of soaring. Alas. I gather there exists a power law driven reality for the gleaning of paragliding experience wherein the more you know the more you can create circumstances that let you get the practice you want. I just have to keep pushing to get off the current plateau. And to that end I am truly grateful for the many more experienced pilots who are incredibly generous with their time and wisdom.
I went home imagining that I was done with flying for the day but scarcely had I had time to eat lunch and poop did the wind turn on again for a southside afternoon. I thus suited up in some fresh clothes and headed out for an encore.
When I arrived the wind was running 10G13 but also seemingly cycling on and off. I kited for ~15 minutes waiting for my moment, both feeling out the wind and watching what other pilots were doing. I saw a couple of other other folks launch but also had the wind drop so quickly that my wing collapsed 2-3 times. Eventually I took my shot and… it wasn’t a bad flight, but also I could not get escape velocity, chaining together a goodly number of turns (8?) and yet slowly but surely sinking out. Perhaps the coolest facet of the flight was that another pilot, Jeremy, had brought his Red-Tailed Hawks to the park and they frolicking with the silly flying humans in the traffic pattern, at one point one of them buzzing over my wing with maybe just 10-20′ of clearance. How neat is that? But, oh the hike back up, for which I took a direct-ish return route versus the switchback. Quite the calf-burner.
My second flight showed a lot more promise. I timed my initial turn well, found myself returned to launch height without much effort, then entered my first 180, and… OOF, I hit a scary bubble in the air, sank precipitously, turned back square to the hill to protect myself, gave up a lot of altitude in the process, and thus set myself up for another gradual sink-out. Alas. Happily on my penultimate turn I saw Ariel’s orange Subaru peel into the lower parking and wait for me. I touched down gently and then kited the wing in a forward sprint over to this car, then spun around and collapsed it, and finally stuffed it into his hatch and tossed my harness atop it. We rolled down the windows to maintain a responsible amount of airflow and blazed back up to the top. Woo!
Back at the top I mused that probably I would just kite since the wind clearly only had a sledder in the offing. Ariel remarked that I could treat his ride as a bonus and do that sledder all the same because I had gotten a pass on the earlier hike. And so I did. If you’re going to do such a thing in low-wind conditions then it is the most fun from the eastward end of the hill as you often find yourself whizzing along the ground and then suddenly pass over a lower cliff where the ground drops dramatically out from under you. I opted for this and had one final nice flight for the evening. As I was balling up my wing in anticipation of a hike a white pick-up truck diverted from its departure, pulled alongside me, and Adun asked if I wanted a ride back up. WIN! Then as we were pulling out of the lower lot I recognized Ariel’s wing in the side mirror and asked “room for one more?”. “Gonna be tight”, Adun remarked as he braked, but we managed to fill the rear enclosure with three wings and one Ariel, the wings acting as crash pads for the bumpy return ride to the top.
Good times. What a fun place and wonderful community.