I did not have high hopes for flying today. The wind in the morning looked weak at the outset and then progressively wilder as the day unfolded. By 1500 conditions were still crack-a-lackin but I headed over to the northside anyway because I had grown sick of being in the house and figured the worst that could happen was that I got some sunlight and fresh air with my feet firmly planted on the ground.
I arrived ~1530 and observed conditions that did not bolster my hopes. The wind appeared strong, gusty, and directionally variable. A few hang gliders were aloft, and one very tiny wing was fooling around on the upper ledge… not a good sign. Initially just Jeremy was attempting to kite and having a rough go of it. After ~20 minutes I found myself wondering if my best chance of getting my brain to squirt happy chemicals was to go home and do some deadlifts in my garage. After 45 minutes, however, the wind suddenly appeared amenable to some flying, and I rushed to gear up.
After running my preflight I looked at my watch, noted 1625, performed a reverse inflation, spun forward, and began working my way up the finger. “Deeper steps!”, I heard Ben say, who happened to be at the park today with another student and had tossed me a radio so I could be part of the group. Eventually I got to the edge, found the wind a little bit light, trotted rightward so I could launch into the gully, and found myself lofted quite nicely as soon as I got off.
Conditions made for a nice flight but the sudden transition from unflyable to flyable compressed the window into which everyone else got going and made for a busy pattern. From the ground Ben captured a few nice shots. I observed a couple of “yikes” moments as other pilots came what seemed ill-advisedly close to one another. I also found myself fairly busy managing my own pattern to prevent undue risks, on several occasions finding myself in the blind spot of a lower pilot in thermal conditions and taking proactive measures to blunt that risk.
Toward the end there was a moment where I might have top-landed but I was carrying a lot of altitude and so thought to take one more pass to bleed off a bit. On the subsequent pass, however, I found myself boxing in another pilot and so stayed more outside than I would have preferred, sacrificing a fair amount of altitude. On the next pass I started to sink below launch and could not recover and so set myself up for one more pass and a landing at the bottom. As I turned to final I found a surprisingly strong headwind as well as a couple of people on the ground that were standing in what might have been my ideal path. I touched down with very little speed just slightly before the road that runs perpendicular to the hill’s fall line, trotted forward until I got slightly past the road, then spun around and tapped the brakes with the hope of dropping the wing in a tangle-free environment. Alas the wing dumped to my right and completely ensnared the two pilots that I had just made great efforts to avoid. Whoops.
On the return hike I jealously regarded a pilot who had found a better path and thus was on a trajectory for a nice top landing.
After returning to the top I spent some time talking technique with Mark while enjoying the gorgeous pastels of the setting sun.
I feel better now. Perhaps I had been going into skycrack withdrawal. Or maybe I just needed more vitamin D. Either way I am grateful for the way the day ended.