I debated yesterday whether I ought fly or ski. These are the difficult decisions of Utah life. I had some sleep disruption that precluded morning flying but the afternoon forecast looked promising and the subsequent days not so much so I opted to fly. I arrived at FPS ~1530 and met Joe at the bottom where we staged a return vehicle in anticipation of sinking out. At the top that became evident as having been a good idea as we engaged in some para-waiting…
Eventually we felt a puff of wind, Joe shouted over “wanna fly?”, I shouted back “sure!”, spun forward into the light wind, and ran over the lip. There was enough wind to feel some bite immediately, but not much and as soon as my feet came off the ground I was hyper-vigilant about maintaining the brake pressure to avoid a deflation and find the lift I needed to get away from the hill. All things considered, the take-off felt pretty good for what it was.
I quickly banked right and felt a tad hopeful about the thermals I encountered, just enough to cross the protrusion at the west end of the hill where conditions felt very thermic, but not so much that I did not immediately turn back versus continuing into the bowl, partly in hopes of re-exploiting a thermal, partly not wanting to maroon myself far out if the lift proved inadequate.
On my eastward return track I found myself sinking very quickly, noted a dead wind flag at the bottom, wanted to get as east as possible both to avoid weeds and a long walk, and so simply opted for a loooooooong final. The ground where my feet touched down, however, made for some awkward stumbling, owing to being soft, crumbly, and downward inclined, so I could not run as hard as I hoped, which meant in the dead wind my wing came down messily. Bleh. Oh well. One more facet to consider about landing zones. Joe and I hopped in his jeep and we made the return drive.
Back at the top I began setting up for another flight only to realize that my reserve parachute’s handle had caught on something and one side had been tugged out, probably when stuffing my un-stowed harness and wing expeditiously in the back of Joe’s jeep. If both sides had been pulled out then I would have called it a day and swung by Super Fly for some professional help, but with one side of the handle still in position I both knew that nothing had been meaningfully discombobulated internally and also I had a visual reference implementation to follow in remedying the bad side. With some patience and care, and borrowing a bit of cord from Joe, I set about re-rigging things.
Out of an abundance of caution I sent Ben this panel of photos for his inspection and he assured me that everything looked sensible.
With this task out of the way I set up for some more para-waiting. At the first hint of wind I reverse inflated, held that position just long enough to visually scan all of my lines, then spun forward for what I knew would be a very minimal wind launch. My wing had a mind to both fall rightward and collapse backward but I corrected by taking off all brake pressure and sprinting hard toward the lip and rightward to get back under the wing. As I crested the lip I felt just enough bite of the wing to commit and began a hard run downhill followed by carefully adding brake knowing I had to pounce on that small moment when the risk of excess drag began transforming into a risk of deflation. I found that moment, it felt really satisfying, and I was off for a quick sledder followed by a slog of a hike that I made deliberately hard by hiking straight up versus following the switchback.
I had imagined that Joe would be hot on my heels but by the time I had packed up and begun my hike he still had not launched. Toward the end of my hike he messaged me that he had missed the window to reverse-inflate and was now having a frustrating experience with multiple failed attempts at a forward launch, noting that the wing was refusing to come up evenly. I said I would come over and help him figure out what was up.
I started helping by spreading out his wing, which is a bit hard to do nicely when hooked into your harness, owing to the opposite tip getting tugged inward by the line when you’re far enough over to lay out the other one. After this he turned to face forward, began setting up his hands, and… we noticed that that As and Bs were twisted on one side. At first Joe was convinced that this was just a forward-facing setup screw-up. I had him turn back around to face the wing. Lo and behold, however, the As and Bs were still twisted. Mystery solved, though somewhat unsettlingly… “I’m not sure whether to feel better or worse about this,” Joe remarked. “Both”, I replied, acknowledging that a posited technique issue had actually been a safety issue that he had been attempting to power through on half a dozen failed forward inflations.
Joe unhooked his harness, took the twist out of the lines, re-hooked, and began his safety checklist, reciting “One, two, three…”. “What did you start with?”, I asked Joe. “One, as in ‘one helmet’,” Joe replied. “Uh, you’re skipping ‘R’? You know, that step that just failed for me for the first time ever and that you just watched me spend fifteen minutes in the dirt fixing?”, I rejoined. He replied that he does not always do the ‘R’ (reserve) step beyond initial harness hook-in. I suggested that by making some steps optional he was both creating additional cognitive load and furthermore making the treatment of other steps as optional more acceptable and that this might not be unrelated to the line-twist issue he had just had. I sensed a touch of defensiveness in the moment but later he would message me out of the blue to express gratitude for my having his back and suggesting that both of us need to do more of that going forward.
Eventually Joe was off with a forward inflation that came up cleanly…
I shared the video with Joe afterward and offered the feedback that although the inflation looked good he had immediately switched to a very upright posture with a leisurely trot as opposed to a continual hard forward lean with aggressive sprinting steps to keep the wing pressurized. Later still we would discuss how much no/low-wind launches are a game of confidence. Once you reach the crux you need to be either 100% committed to launching or 0%. Everything else in the middle is more dangerous, especially if your wavering leads to a launch with an underpowered wing. Lord knows I learned this the hard way, though thankfully with minimal injury and no equipment damage, when several weeks ago I clipped a bush on a Northside launch, got irrevocably tangled before getting away from the ground, and came down in a tumbling mess.
Waiting for Joe to return to the top after his flight I took a moment to enjoy the various dogs at the park. One of them, after playing hard to get, decided she wanted to be my best friend when I went to my car for a snack and she smelled the jerky I keep there as one of my goto-noms. I gave her some in exchange for showing me the high-five trick she had learned.
The day’s actual flying was unremarkable but there was lots of other gold to be had if you took a comprehensive view of the collection of experiences.