Yesterday morning I arrived at FPS ~0830 just after some some wonderful 12MPH wind had passed through and left me choosing how to handle 14G16. I walked to the lip where I found Ariel engaged in what looked like swinging on an invisible swing set.
He suggested a side-hill launch but I opted to pull out my smaller wing and headed to the far end for some kiting practice. I would regret this. No sooner had I begun to deploy my kit did the wind surge to 17G19 and I thought better of it.
As I was stuffing my wing back into its sack, another pilot (Danny?) who had been struggling for the last ~10-15 minutes to penetrate the wind got plucked from a forward kiting position and dumped over hard backward, presumably from a regrettable application of brake at a key moment. With his wing behind him and his orientation still toward the lip he began getting dragged scarily backward until Janica ran over and started reeling in his rear lines. Despite this the wing looked on the cusp of an explosive relaunch and so I ran over and began sucking in and bearhugging his wing until I was sure there was no chance of that.
From what I gather watching other pilots, the thing to do in this situation of getting plucked is to just say “oh, I guess I’m flying now, just a little sooner than I thought”, and act accordingly. Easier said than done, of course, and doubtless if I found myself in that situation I reckon there is a pretty good chance I would have suffered the same fate as this other pilot. Thus the decision to abort. The pilot seemed uninjured but a bit shaken by the experience. I have been in similar circumstances and found it quite sobering. One can easily forget the staggering amount of lift a little bit of fabric can generate until one gets a violent reminder. It’s worth remembering that my 37m is perfectly happy to haul a 300lb man into the air like it ain’t no thang in the right wind conditions. I know what it is like to deadlift 300lbs and the idea of my wing effortlessly hauling that loaded bar upward is a good way to visualize the matter.
Having loaded up my car I thought about pivoting to the bottom of the hill to practice in that shelter with my 37m wing but bailed on that idea as well. I was feeling biologically out of sorts, my head fuzzy from lackluster sleep and my guts churning from god knows what, so I went home and pooped. Not a morning for the record books but I do always feel good when I can help another pilot out of a scary situation. I have been thus rescued many times and hopefully what goes around comes around.
Joe talked me into an afternoon return to FPS even though I was suspicious there would be wind worth having and it also would make my dinner plans a bit late. Arriving at 1530 conditions where as meh as I had imagined. There was enough strength for some worthwhile low-wind handling practice but eventually I got bored, charged over the lip, and went for a sled ride. I was just about to stick my spot landing by satisfyingly stomping on the small green tarp at the bottom but with my feet just slightly above it the wind gusted and I found myself with other priorities. Oh well. At least the hike back to the top was invigorating and less treacherous now that the snow had been scoured away.
Arriving at the top shortly before 1700 I found wind that promised nothing more than another sled ride and so imagined calling it a day and getting dinner prep underway. A few moments, later, however, it showed potential, and I chose to strap in. I had a brief fright as the wind seemed likely to cause an inflation when I had only gotten one leg strap attached so I ran over, pinned the wing do the ground with my knee, undid the leg strap, then worked at more thoroughly ensuring the wing would stay depowered. A few moments later I had gotten fully setup and was about to inflate but Joe, struggling against the wind, forward kited over to me, remarked that his speed system was unhooked on one side, and asked me to hook him in. I obliged, doing so with great care not to have my wing make an explosive launch while doing so, and off he went for what he would later describe as his best southside session ever. I would not be so lucky.
Firstly, I built a wall with my wing do allow for line inspection, which perhaps was wise from a safety standpoint, but problematic from a gradual power-up standpoint. Secondly, I was on terrain that was a little bit muddy and had a slightly backward cant to it. Thirdly, I was doubtless overly focused on hand technique to the detriment of body posture and footwork. Fourthly, wind got a lot stronger very quickly, and probably I caught the gust component (note what happens @ 1710 in the following table). My reward was that when I tugged on the center As the wing exploded upward and yanked me several feet off the ground. I did not panic and stuff the brakes which would have manifested in an awful dragging affair into a car-filled parking lot. Rather, I was too late on the brakes altogether, and as I was dangling in the air facing the wrong direction the wing surged over my head, deflated, and unceremoniously dropped me on my posterior. As fast as I could I returned to my feet, removed a line that had tangled with my helmet, sprinted askew to the wing while reeling in brake, and then ran to the wing and kneeled on its center cells from behind while I collected myself. Oof.
After disentangling the wing I returned to the front of it with enough brake to ensure that the wing remained tipped over backward and thus fully depowered. I thought about making another go of things but then thought better of it. Some part of my brain was saying with increasing urgency that I was trying to force something that was not meant to be. My head was foggy from suboptimal sleep, I was slightly injured from the drop (my back obvious in the moment and my left knee now today), the wind was leaving the range I could handle reliably, my guts had been churning all day in a way that was probably leaving me improperly nourished, I was feeling a bit angry at myself for not clipping into my kit before the wind started amping up, and I was fretting about executing on my dinner plans. I packed up and went home fairly miserable.
I relayed my experience to Ben and he remarked that as people get more competent with their hands they often begin to neglect their feet and body posture. That rings true to this experience. When inflating in higher wind conditions I need to be highly efficient in using my own mass in bleeding off the wing’s energy to put it in equilibrium. Leaning backward provides at least two key benefits. Firstly it turns my body into a lever arm to which the wing must apply substantial torque as it fights to stand me upright, during which time it has less energy to surge past me. Secondly it enables me either to slide or at least take long striding steps, during which time my body’s horizontal distance from the wing decreases in a way that partially depowers it. In doing those things I buy myself more time to switch from As to brakes and thus park the wing directly overhead while remaining more thoroughly in control.
I continued to reflect on all this as I prepared dinner. Ariel showed up shortly after 2100 and we had a really nice shared meal in the backyard as I mulled over the day’s experiences and he offered insights. One of the biggest takeaways was that I should probably focus my short-term investments on getting highly comfortable and proficient with high-wind side-hill launches as that will yield exponential returns by capturing airtime in lots of situations where currently I’m stuck either sitting it out or kiting on a small wing. We talked through a variety of ways I can make that happen and I’m thinking about how to act on them.
The other big thing on my mind is how much Fortune Favors The Prepared. One of the awesome and unexpected outcomes of my burst of training toward my P2 with Ben was the sleep hygiene it forced me to develop. I was up every morning at 0600, which felt great in and of itself, but also meant I was reliably catching the edge of sunrise around which conditions can quickly progress from meh/yikes, to perfect, and back to meh/yikes again, which makes timing critical. I was more motivated to do that back in October when the weather was epic and I had a reliable accountability buddy, subsequently fell out of the habit, and have been paying the price since then in trips to the hill where I just barely miss an excellent opportunity. Similarly it was regrettable that I did not immediately hook into my harness after my hike back up toward the end of yesterday as if I had I would have been fully deployed and ready to launch just as the wind turned soarable. Instead I was racing to setup reactively and then missed what turned out to be an extremely narrow launch window, my punishment being that I got to stand on the ground nursing a mild injury while watching a dozen other pilots have a great time. Ugh.
Pain + Reflection = Progress