A wonky night’s sleep had me rising late and booting slowly. A southerly wind dialing in to 16G18 also failed to spur me. I arrived at FPS ~1030 for what proved a lackluster experience with my wing. I setup low on the side of the hill and despite this struggled to maintain control of my wing which whipped around with a mind of its own before I had even hooked into my harness. Eventually I built a wall and gave things a hard stare as I was concerned I may have tangled the lines. I performed a modicum of uphill kiting work but by the time I had my act together the wind had gone fully cross so I spun around and took a baby flight to the bottom and then kited my way back to the car. At the least I had the opportunity to re-engage my muscle memory after ~10 days since my last “flight” which was really just a terrifying tumble into the bushes on NS.
I also had a fun and valuable chat with Chris as I packed up my car during which he offered some observations about my aforementioned mess of a launch as well as empathized by sharing a similar story from years ago when a tandem passenger of his had panicked during a no-wind launch. We also ruminated on the psychology, statistics, and luck around mishaps, the precautions we can take to reduce the likelihood of bad outcomes, and the inevitability that sometimes no amount of shrewdness is good enough.
After returning home for some lunch I got myself back to FPS for a reprise ~1415. I was anticipating some sledders and vigorous hikes but the wind had a completely different idea. At first there was a low base speed and a huge gust factor. Eventually that gap closed but the overall strength grew. I kept seeing sensor reading like 16G19 and hearing the wind whistling over my helmet’s ear flaps. I got strung along for ages, thinking that things would attenuate, but they never adequately did. Joe at least had the opportunity to kite on a very small wing while we waited out the wildness. I could not quite convince myself that even my smaller wing offered a good gambit.
Somewhere in the midst of this interminable wait Alex and a tandem passenger hiked substantially downhill to set up for a launch. I turned my back for a moment to fetch my sack to bring it closer to where I was loitering at the lip and upon returning spied what appeared to be a somewhat desperate situation. I gathered that their launch had gone awry as their wing was fairly bunched up and flopping about wildly. I jogged about half the distance toward them and tried to make sense of the situation, partly wanting to help, partly worrying about barging in and making things worse. I could see that they were working their way downhill and thought maybe they had things under control but eventually heard Alex shout “come on down!” so I picked my way down the hill to them as quickly as I could manage. Upon arrival I was careful to get explicit instructions for assistance from Alex so as not to make the situation worse. Ultimately I ended up pulling one end of their wing over, then sat on the center cells to keep it depowered while they turned under the lines to undo an extra twist, then undid a cravat on one end, and finally sent them on their way for what looked like a really nice soaring flight. It felt really good to have an opportunity to pay some favors forward, especially given that my last day out was an awful experience made substantially less terrible by the extreme concern and generosity of Ariel.
Having returned to the top I continued to wait for the wind to attenuate. Briefly it seemed like it would, and perhaps it did somewhat, but it still remained uncomfortably strong. By 1645 Joe had returned from a sledder on his mini wing, now carrying his full-size, and suggested that we hike downhill for a sidehill launch. By this point I was cold and miserable and unsure of whether I was up for this but figured I would at least help him get a clean and safe side-hill inflation. Janica trotted over and made the descent with us to assist. On the hike down I heard Alex shout down from his soaring flight that he would come help as well. Karma points in the bank. “Maybe here?”, Joe asked at one point. “Eh, I think this is where we trick ourselves into thinking it is far enough and make a mess of things”, I replied. We hiked a little farther down and found a location that felt good. As we started to set up, though, I remarked that maybe the wind had subsequently dropped a bit too much. “Hike back up?”, Janica asked. “Bah”, was all I could manage to reply.
Janica sat on Joe’s wing while he got setup. He quickly got going and then it was my turn. By this point Alex had made it downhill and he offered counsel while Janica sat on my wing and I strapped into my harness. Alex noted the criticality of getting ahold of my brake toggles as soon as I clipped my leg straps lest I get popped off the hill unexpectedly without control authority, advice I gladly followed. He further counseled that I be ready to throw away the toggles and grab the raw brake lines if I found myself with twists upon launch. Hooked in, brake toggles in hand, my turn direction observed and voiced, and A’s in hand, I carefully observed the traffic pattern and waited for my moment. “This looks like my time to go” I shouted to Janica, she released the wing, I tugged the A’s then quickly added brake as the wing surged upward, and finally I spun around and got going.
I felt the wind suck me encouragingly upward but after my initial turn to the west had the sense I was likely going to sink out. On my second westward pass, however, I found myself cresting the top of the hill and full of hope. I used this altitude to travel all the way to the westward end of the hill and was rewarded with a wonderful amount of altitude from which I ultimately squeezed a thirty minute flight before landing at the bottom just in time to catch a trailer ride back to the top. I caught a couple of semi-scary wakes during the flight but was sufficiently ahead of the game that I got in adequate brakes to avoid issue. After touchdown the forward kiting sprint over to the trailer was joyous. This was just the day I needed after such a terrible preceding day.