Paragliding Days 54 And 55

Yesterday was kind of a non-event. I picked up my repaired wing from SuperFly in the morning then got to FPS fairly late on the thought that I could at least kite for a bit and be setup for later flying. The wind proved so strong, however, that I was reticent to inflate even well back in the bottom parking lot, showing as much as 22G24 at peak. I waited for a calm moment, inflated, said “looks like a wing”, then packed up.

Yesterday evening would also prove a frustrating tease, as first I headed to FPS only to have the wind go north (and watch someone side-hill butt-strike without getting their legs out of their pod), then I went over to FPN only to have it die before I got going, so I packed up and went home pretty bummed. The more interesting parts of the day had nothing directly to do with flying: the cable stay on one of my brakes had a chip in it that Chris indicated had likely been what sawed open my brake’s sheathe; I took the opportunity of being at SuperFly to buy a hook knife as a bit of emergency kit I hope never to use much like my reserve chute.

This morning I got a bit of a late start owing to falling asleep before setting an alarm and then getting entangled with some work stuff before I could get out of the door. Over at FPS initially the wind felt excessive and so I took my time inflating. It dipped so precipitously, however, that when I did launch I found myself on a short sledder to be followed by a long hike. I did, at least, have the satisfaction of nailing my spot landing with my feet touching down squarely on the tarp.

And then the wind turned on so on my return hike I watched everyone else having the lion’s share of the fun…

Back at the top the wind continued inexorably to amp up. I hung around for a while hoping it would mellow out but that never happened. When I saw a tandem pilot attempt a top landing and get dragged messily across the field I gave up waiting and went home for consolation lunch.

Observing the wind post-lunch I noted that FPS showed numbers deceptively enticing like yesterday with the folly being evident if you called up the regional wind map. Instead of heading there I delayed for a while then trekked over to FPN. When I arrived the lower wind sock looked tantalizingly promising. And then it proved a total disappointment. I watched conditions alternate between no-wind and light-north. Having lost hope in having a proper flight, and seeing that Ariel was about to hike to the upper bench, I shouted over to him with a request for a spotter for a forward inflation. It all seemed to be going well right up until it didn’t…

I suspect that I was launching into light wind that turned into low wind at the worst possible moment and my minimal brush clearance turned into no brush clearance. As I recall it, my foot hit one bush to cause an initial disruption to my flight path, my harness snagged in a subsequent bush, and then with my body thus entangled the wing got ahead of me and I had an awkward tumble down the hill that felt like a medium-bad skiing crash with extra complexities. Miraculously my wing landed exactly on the switchback and I was entangled in brush that was unpleasant but not supremely nasty like what lay just slightly below. With a slightly different wind I might have found both my body and my wing entangled in brush that approximated razor wire.

I’ve always thought that people who mountain bike or ski in the trees without eyewear to protect from ocular twig thwacks were dumbasses. In this moment I was grateful that I had recently switched from sunglasses to ski goggles for paragliding owing to the cold. I can only imagine the nasty business that might have befallen my eyes without the benefit of full shielding. I try when possible not to show my aqueous humor.

“Are you OK?” I eventually heard Ariel shout. “Yes,” I replied. “I can’t see you!”, he added. I raised a fist then heard a “there you are”. Eventually he made his way down the trail and was about to start helping with my wing before I suggested he capture some evidence of my folly for posterity.

(it would be a dick move to film a crashed pilot except that I requested it)

After a few minutes we had gotten me disentangled…

… and remarkably by the time we had hiked back to the top only twenty minutes had elapsed since my ill-fated launch.

Initial point of impact?

Ariel noted that on another occasion when helping a downed pilot that ninety minutes had elapsed between crash and getting carted away in an ambulance. File another misadventure away in the “cheap lesson” drawer. Back at the top we turned my wing over then had me walk the trailing edge to dump junk downward while Ariel cleared it from the openings of the cells. We inspected the surfaces during this process and then scanned all the lines for compromise. Remarkably no damage was in evidence.

Not a great week of flying from an enjoyment standpoint but I guess lots of valuable lessons… Along the timeline a few possibilities emerge: I could have chosen not to fly; I could have swung rightward to launch into the gulley where there is more commitment but less obstruction; I could have said “don’t love this!” at the last second and aborted my launch. About the only thing I did unambiguously right was to ask for Ariel to be a forward-launch spotter. The intended purpose was to ensure that my wing looked clean before launch but the main benefit proved to be having a witness/rescuer for my botched launch.

I was grateful to have a saint of a fellow pilot have my back but when he consoled me at the end that I had come out of it with a damage-free(-ish) body and wing I noted that I did not believe in “no harm, no foul”. I screwed up and it only wasn’t much worse because I got lucky. With circumstances not all that different it could have been a trip to the hospital and a destroyed $5K wing. I felt badly to have made him sprint down the hill wondering if he was going to find me unconscious or worse. No amount of backyard cookouts can adequately compensate him for the positive karma points he has been accruing.

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