Today’s forecast seemed promising for a northside afternoon but southside’s sensor being out until early afternoon made gauging its approachability difficult from afar. Eventually it came back online and conditions seemed… debatable. A reading of 15G22 at southside’s sensor was in isolation promising for favorable northside conditions but other sensors north of the point were showing a low base and a huge gust factor which left me dubious. Arriving at 1445 and watching Ariel kite I noted a very poppy wind that was keeping him quite busy while approaching a launch. He powered through it successfully and ended up benching but I opted to strap into my smaller wing for some kiting practice first.
No sooner had I geared up did the wind mellow out to the point of seeming appropriate for my 37 m^2 wing. I stayed the course briefly to get some line-handling practice but then switched to my larger wing. And no sooner had I done that did the wind weaken further to the point of a guaranteed sink-out. So I inflated, kited for a bit, worked my way 1/3 up the finger, then deflated and waited for 5-10 minutes. Eventually conditions strengthened enough to give me hope so I made a go of it.
During the run-up to launch I saw a tandem pilot approaching quickly from the left so I jogged slightly rightward as I got going then quickly banked further that way to build distance. I struggled to sink into a seated position in my harness and then the air proved bubbly which forced me to focus on flying over comfort. I experienced a moment of atavistic fear as I saw bushes maybe 10-20 feet below me, recalling my last ill-fated northside launch, but I aimed squarely away from the hill and all was well.
The wind proved good enough to afford me several circuits but marginal enough that in concert with a difficult traffic pattern I was fighting a losing battle. Twice I found myself pinning another pilot and so turned around sooner and farther out than I would have liked. On another occasion a tandem pilot flying slightly ahead of me turned at a time that encouraged me to do the same to avoid getting pinned.
On my final pass I found myself slightly behind and above another pilot who to my estimation was taking excessive risk in an attempt to catch the lift band and scratch back up. I found myself imagining a scenario where he turned back toward me at an unfortunate time that forced me to risk either a ground-strike or a mid-air collision. Consequently I turned outward proactively and sunk toward the typical LZ at the bottom of the hill.
As I balled up my wing I observed another pilot packing up their wing after landing far west of where people typically land given the choice as well as uncomfortably close to a nasty looking fence.
On my subsequent return hike I observed both several pilots succeeding in soaring and several other pilots sink out far west. This latter group, to my estimation, especially in conjunction with my traffic pattern woes, seemed indicative not just of marginal wind but also overly eager pilots, tempted by the good fortune of other pilots to attempt things not in the grand scheme of things worth the risk.
By the time I reached the top the wind seemed amenable to another flight but I opted out. I felt biologically like garbage in the moment and recalled feeling like I had been “behind the aircraft” while flying. My total sleep last night was numerically adequate but chopped up into an unhappy number of pieces and my GI tract felt discombobulated. The return hike, which these days generally feels invigorating, left me feeling weak and stupid, not a good headspace for doing something as potentially high-consequence as flying.
One of the particularly risky things about flying as compared to, say, skiing, is the lack of a “pause” or “slow” button. There are, however, generally lots of “offramps” if you are paying attention and wise enough to take them. With skiing, I am continually finding myself entering situations where I am about to be out of my depth, but at nearly every point I have the opportunity to stop, catch my breath, calmly assess the circumstances, then proceed with a modified approach, perhaps slowly side-slipping down harrowing terrain, or in really gnarly situations choosing to hike out whence I came. With flying, however, the wing and the wind are continually conspiring to do their own thing, and will continue to do so until my feet are on the ground and the lift fully spoiled. Series of events can get on trajectories where my options quickly become extremely limited and I must take proactive measures to avoid getting thus boxed in. Far better to
air err on the side of conservative flying and drive myself back to my house in a state of frustration than to have an ambulance haul my mangled body to a hospital. There will be countless future days to enjoy as long as I make the right decisions today.