I have been pretty good about journaling shortly after the day’s activities but not this time. I am presently writing on a Saturday evening about what transpired Wednesday morning. I offer no single reason for this, but rather note that I have been feeling a bit overloaded and burned out lately, a matter I will attempt to put to page elsewhere. For now I will power through on sustaining a worthy project despite the momentary fatigue.
I woke up at ~0430 on Wednesday, about 1.5 hours before I would have liked, but after accumulating a respectable six hours of sleep, so I resolved to stay awake for an early arrival at FPS, filling time with assorted mindless tasks and getting to the flight park moments after 0800, not long after dawn in our recently initiated daylight savings regime.
The wind sustained an intensity just short of soarable and a character messy enough to offer a fairly technical experience. I imagine I was geared up and inflating by ~0820 for what would prove a long initial kiting session. Like my last session I surprised myself with my ability to keep the wing in the air through a variety of struggles initiated variously by turbulent weather, students impatient to go on sledders, experienced pilots doing short loops with high-up side-hill landings, and the occasional tandem wing. I focused particularly on managing the disruption of a passing wing’s wake with rapid response braking followed sometimes by a let-off of the brakes coupled with a sprint forward to re-power a wing threatening to collapse, occasionally requiring a spin-around but often not and even then finding I could recover things.
Eventually I saw the trailer doing a lap and… I declined to do a sledder. I imagined sinking out just in time for the wind to strengthen and my return to come as it became too strong for a top-hill launch. I patiently continued with my kiting and… another trailer lap induced me to go for a sledder in the persistently slightly-short-of-soarable wind.
Just after launch something felt off. There was no way I was going to be able to ooch backward into a seated position. My leg straps had been too loose on launch, leaving me dangling strictly by the straps, with my tail bone below the seat-board such that no leverage could be found. Ugh. Not directly a safety issue, per se, as the straps should be able to hold my weight, and I am exceedingly diligent in pre-flighting them, but still I would much rather have my weight supported by the seat and in turn by the beefy carabiners, and furthermore I found this arrangement restricting my breathing at moment when I would have liked to have been catching my breath.
At first my approach was to aim directly away from the hill, thus building a margin for error to focus on the harness, but this proved futile and so I resolved to end the flight as expeditiously as possible. During what I hoped to be my penultimate track along the hill, heading east, I saw Joe slightly ahead of me and of a similar altitude looking back at me with what I took to be a concern that I was constraining his options. I deemed that he was carrying enough altitude that at worst I was imposing a convenience/enjoyment issue, not a safety issue, so I continued my track just slightly longer, my goal being to minimize the complexity of my flight while dealing with a compromised situation. I swung a 180 back to a westward track and aimed to land in the farther end of the parking lot, both to give Joe more breathing room to land and myself a longer final. I got down without incident but after several minutes aloft in a sufficiently uncomfortable configuration as to have being on the ground offering a huge relief. Oof.
Back at the top I re-geared and cinched in my leg straps with a mind to prevent that from recurring. And probably I slightly overdid it. Not too much later conditions amped up enough that reaching the ledge provided a modest struggle and once I got airborne attaining a properly seated position in the harness offered more of a challenge than it ought have, probably now because with snugger leg straps my shoulder straps were too constraining. Bleh. I got in a nice thirty minutes of soaring for my troubles, noting a launch of 0925 and a landing of 0950, but also other harness strap issues diminished the enjoyment. As the flight played out I felt an increasing burning in my neck and abs, indication that I was not getting the back support I need out of the harness. Presumably resolving this will entail better configuration of the lateral and seat straps. Guh. I gotz 99 problems and my straps are one. So many small details, so many nuances, so many micro-challenges to iron out…
At my next opportunity I need to spend some time suspended from the simulator playing around with my harness. I also clearly need to make a comprehensive assessment of my strap situation an integral component of my pre-flight and adopt a much more dynamic approach to them. I gather the widely varying amount of clothing I am wearing from one flight to the next makes this critical.
Also the hill is starting to get uncomfortably busy as we roll into spring, requiring much more active decision making about flight paths. I eventually sunk out on this flight as the result of getting repeatedly boxed out of the track I would have preferred to take. I would rather stay safe than risk getting pinned but landing much earlier than would have been necessary with an emptier hill or more thoughtful pilots is a bit frustrating. When there are ~25 wings in the air in such a confined space a combination of diligence and courtesy make for a much better community experience.
On my return hike I saw a pilot with his wing laid out in these nasty looking bushes in preparation for a launch. I was perplexed and alarmed that he would not have laid his wing out just a few feet lower in a location that offered no such obstructions. I had a mind to shout up to him as much, worrying that he would launch with lines impinged by ensnared twigs, but was distracted with trying to understand if the person standing not too far away was his instructor. In fact it was his instructor which makes the whole affair all the more upsetting. This sport offers adequate risk without taking pointless ones. This student reverse-inflated and with two ugly looking twigs pinching his lines together in different locations went for a flight anyway. Ugh. This offers a brutal reminder that at all experience levels it is you who are hooked to the wing, you who is responsible for all aspects of safety, and you who will have your body mangled as consequence for mistakes. Always be building safety margins to blunt the effects of bad luck. Adopt an attitude of “this will _probably_ be fine” at your own peril. And, when you see someone else doing something senselessly risky, don’t hesitate to tell them. It will be easier to live with a standoff-ish response from an ungrateful pilot than to see someone get hurt knowing that you might have prevented it.
On my way back to the top I took a moment to appreciate Brian’s finesse in taking someone for a tandem flight. I can barely do a high-wind side-hill launch by myself so watching tandem pilots do it with a whole other human complicating the situation is certainly a sight to behold.
Arriving at the top I ran into Chad and asked him if he had been flying. He remarked that he had just been on a quick sledder and decided to shut it down, noting that he felt he was in a mental fog, likely owing to the stressful experience of being in the final days of closing on a house sale. We spoke of the high consequences of this sport, the value of extreme conservatism in deciding to fly on any given day, and how the best thing you can do for the safety of other pilots is to scrupulously avoid providing _any_ pressure at all to fly. Everyone needs to be making that decision for themselves every day with great awareness not only of their general skill and current conditions but also based on whether their head is in the game. To the extent that one ever pressures another pilot about a decision it had better be to _not_ fly. Far better to be wrong in that direction than the other.
And now, possibly because I have of late been watching BoJack Horseman, I am imagining this dog trying to talk his human out of flying.