Paragliding Day 51

The forecast promised a banana pants morning and a weak sauce evening so I imagined a day spent working to protect Freedom, Justice, The American Way, and my Bank Account. By mid-afternoon, however, as I closed out a logical block of work the wind began behaving just enough to create the possibility of some Northside flying so I wound things down and got there shortly after 1600. When I arrived the windsock looked generally erect and substantially variable, promising a fairly challenging but not untenable affair, but also arguing for taking my time getting going to allow it to attenuate a bit.

After setting up I watched the sock and listened to the wind for a bit, identified a promising lull, built a wall, then inflated. I felt the wing come up, dug my heels in hard, and “YIIIIIIKES!”. I got yanked off my feet a few feet into the air, twisted forward in the process, plopped back down, spun back around, took great care not to over-apply the brakes, and nonetheless had the wing collapse sloppily with lines wrapped around my head. “Would you mind sitting on my wing?” I asked Chad who was nearby, not yet clipped in (arguably because he is smarter than me), and watching my misfortune. Once he did I unclipped, knowing that between the uncontrolled inflation and strong wind the highest probability outcome was finding that wind my lines were a hot mess and getting taken for a ride for which I was unprepared. And a hot mess they were, requiring a good several minutes to sort out, vindicating my conservative approach to preparing for another attempt. Happily Ariel’s instruction on line detangling approaches a few days ago provided great assistance in muddling through the situation.

Having sorted things out I once again set up for inflation, again on the right side of the finger, accounting for an easterly crosswind that would likely drag me across it. I recognized that the last time I had failed to account for the rigidity of the ground and resolved to run toward the wing proactively to depower it as it rose as opposed to expecting the ground to allow me to slide. This helped somewhat, though not enough, and I again got yanked off my feet, though this time less dramatically, and I regained control fast enough to spin to a forward kiting position and start working myself up the finger for a launch. The wind was not so strong I could not make steady-ish progress. It did, however, offer a great deal of variability, and before I could get going I suffered an asymmetrical frontal collapse, my left side giving out and my wing pulling me hard to the left. I applied right brake and ran leftward to get under the wing, but too little too late, especially since my surprise pop-up on inflation had caused me to surrender maybe half the width of the finger. Finding myself at risk of getting dragged into the gully I focused my attention on aggressively reeling in brake and rear lines on one side then the other and then sprinted alongside my wing and pinned down the right tip. “Fuck this”, I said to myself, realizing I was in over my head, and I began sucking in and hugging my wing to further prevent a surprise re-inflation.

I was ready to head out when Ariel came over and asked if I could be his anchor for a high-wind tandem launch. I said I could. He asked if I was leaving imminently and I said I was but asked if there was a compelling reason I ought hang around. He suggested that it would be helpful if someone could assist in his subsequent landing. I said I could. After his launch I tracked his trajectory and jogged around the field to intercept his landing and upon touchdown grabbed the brake lines from his hands and then backpedaled hard to aggressively collapse his wing. All worked out well and I enjoyed the novel experience as a consolation prize after two failed attempts to go flying myself.

Takeaways for the evening were that during high-wind launches I need to be more adaptive to the soil conditions, ledge position, and wind angle. I’m glad that I reined in the stubbornness enough to abort after two attempts but maybe I ought have made one or zero. I got banged up just enough to get a little bit of reinforcement learning, but not so much that the pain is unfamiliar territory, the intensity being roughly equivalent to countless occasions serving as an indoor soccer goalie on an outmatched team.

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