Paragliding Days 81 + 82

Two Utah Biathlons on consecutive days… my brain feels tingly and my lungs feel scoured. Yesterday consisted of a morning’s flying at FPS and an afternoon’s biking at Corner Canyon. Today involved an afternoon’s crowd-free skiing in fresh powder at Alta and a return-drive stop-off at FPN for a similarly crowd-free evening flight. I am glowing from the physical exertion and mental intensity.

Yesterday morning I found myself with the constraint of needing to be on an 0900 call so I pushed myself to arrive at FPS @ 0730. The wind was hovering at the edge of launchable up top but had been gradually ticking upward so I parked at the bottom and hiked up to the shelf. Joe, meanwhile, running about 15 minutes behind me, opted to go to the top but then found himself momentarily stymied by 17G20 wind. I had made the right call based on my constraints but was experiencing moderate frustration at the margins I needed to build. I might have hiked a little farther up but, among other things… well, let’s be honest, I had made the foolish decision to put a whole jalapeno plus a large amount of Cholula on my nachos the previous evening, thus generating another sense of exigency. With my wing cleanly horseshoed and the wind somewhat weak at my location I tugged on the center As, began backpedaling, scanned the wing long enough to see a clean configuration, spun around, jogged hard and to the left to counter the wings forward and lateral dumping tendencies, and was off for an uneventful flight. I dashed home with adequate expedience to wrangle all of my constraints.

This evening I arrived at FPN @ 1800, found wind distastefully poppy, and took my time by swinging by the restroom and chatting with other pilots, eventually being fully strapped in by 1835. I have of late developed the habit of fully loosening my shoulder straps before clipping into my harness and then cinching them down as appropriate, this providing the necessary flexibility in the face of wearing a widely differing amount of clothing from day to day, one consequence being that I find I can more consistently snug back into my harness post-launch with ease. Once reverse-inflated I worked with the wind to gradually make my way rightward to one finger over whence I usually launch, wanting both to break out of the habit of doing what is familiar and to launch from a location where the brush entanglement risk seems much lower. Having reached the desired finger I began forward kiting to the edge but, having reached it, opted to hang out for several minutes to sample the wind for adequate smoothness. After what felt an adequate period of tasting and having selected a good looking runway I was off.

I sustained flight from ~1845-1930 and generally felt pretty good. The conditions proved moderately thermic, I think I was extra anxious about my wing getting ahead of me owing to a recent misadventure, and consequently I may have had a few undue puckering moments, but never an “oh fuck” experience. I managed to spend a fair amount of time moderately above launch height while ridge soaring, but never quite got high enough to feel comfortable top-landing, and definitely never had the opportunity to bench. Toward the end I had successive passes on a particular location that offered an updraft sufficiently burbly that it creeped me out a fair deal. Between that, plus a recent resolution not to be greedy, plus some exhausting skiing this afternoon, I made the decision that I ought proactively land. The approach to landing, however, proved unusually laborious, with a good deal of lift extant quite far out from the ridge. Eventually, however, I found myself on what appeared to be a perfect trajectory for the aiming point tarp at the bottom and… maybe 30′ short I found my horizontal speed disappear and my body adopt a hovering position quite unexpectedly. Then, maybe 15′ above the ground, circumstances quickly converted from hover to plummet, I punched my fists to my hips to immediately engage a full flare while uttering some manner of curse, and hit the ground hard enough to be like “DAFUQ?” but gently enough that I rolled forward onto and through my knees without injury on the blessedly soft sand.

Moments later I looked up from packing my wing to see another pilot, Alex, suffer a similarly janky landing. Presumably the bottom LZ was offering some unusual low-level wind shear, the bane of pilots everywhere. But, happily, he was also sufficiently non-injured from the mishap to have his priority be getting me to take a photo of him. He turned out to be an out-of-town student of Super Fly who had just had his first experience of ridge soaring at the northside. It is kind of magical so I understand the desire to record the moment.

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