Monday, July 14, 2014

Task 4: Eleventh Hour Reprieves

The forecast called for a passing cold front to bring strong wind today. No one had high hopes for a good day. In fact some seemed interested in taking a break! The event was on hold for an hour this morning, but then the organization made the call to head up the mountain and try to run a task, the 4th one in a row. They said the forecast for afternoon wind speed was 20-30 mph. Anything over that and it would be a safety concern! They called a downwind run of about 64km. The big brushfire in Entiat was still burning from yesterday, with over 5,000 acres burned so far. A huge wall of smoke was parked out over the flats, and would probably get blown over the course line at some point as the wind direction shifted.

I was uncharacteristically slow to get organized, so I launched near the end of the line, and Thom followed soon after. We benched up and were climbing well over the butte. The air was rougher than the last few days. I followed some hot dogs way out over the lake, but got low on the way and had to come limping back to launch. From there the flight turned into a nightmare where I was constantly sinking out in some kind of leeside sink that followed me wherever I went. I would start to climb out from launch and then fall out back below it, over and over. Meanwhile people were circling above me but no one seemed to be getting super high.

During this horrible sink period Thom got too low, downwind of the butte, and had to bail out to the soccer field. Doh! I felt like I would surely follow any minute. But finally I started to get a good climb out from below launch. I concentrated like a madman on staying in that thermal. And then I noticed guys diving in to join me from all around. Including some serious pros. I guess I had a good one! What a huge relief. An 11th hour reprieve! I followed it up super high, eventually to the very top of the stack, somewhere above seven grand. Then everyone turned to go. I couldn’t have asked for a better setup: everyone streaming over the river, slightly in front of me and below. Well, I’m sure there were a few folks above me, but I wasn’t watching them!

We spread out and I saw Jorge very nearby, as well as Brian Webb. I couldn’t ask for better wingmen. I wish I had taken a picture at that point, but I was still too shaken up from surviving the flush cycles at the butte. I was elated to have survived but I was trying not to let it disturb my focus. We arrived at the rim pretty high, but people were kind of sinking as they approached. I was too. We all aimed for different places above the power lines, and I tried to aim for the biggest group figuring it would be the best chance of finding lift. But it wasn’t working well there. Some people were circling in very weak disorganized stuff, and some were sinking out and landing. I saw Jorge super low a bit farther away, and I was worried he might not make it back up. I fought it out as best I could, trying to stick with the group that was turning in light stuff. I managed to climb with them for a while but eventually they lifted above me and left.

So now I was alone over the power lines and not really that high yet. But I was at least high enough to go out and search for a way up higher. I dove back deeper over the flats hoping to find something I could turn in. I got a lot of nice little bubbles but nothing that felt serious. I was sure this would be a day like yesterday, landing right at the power lines.

Finally a pilot shot into view below me. I couldn’t believe he was lower than me. I thought I was bad off but this guy was really desperate. He flew to the back corner of a field and started turning. I thought he should be landing but he was making a last ditch effort to avoid his fate. He actually had a little something, so I flew right over him, and at my height it actually felt like a nice thermal. I started turning, and climbing, and feeling very thankful for this pilot who showed me the way out of there. He climbed out a ways too, but not as high as me, and we both fell out and lost it earlier than we would have liked.

We continued on, turning in more bubbles, gaining height in occasional wind-shredded thermals, with a nice tailwind sending us toward the turn point at Mansfield. At some point while surfing the bubbles of lift I was startled to hear a loud screeching sound. I looked up to see a small hawk diving at my wing. I’d heard of people having their wings attacked and ripped by larger birds, but fortunately for me this little guy was just trying to scare me away. I was leaving as fast as I could! It was actually kind of cool bobbing around and not quite sinking out, turning in light lift but not quite climbing out. But I knew I could only last so long at that height.

Eventually I came in low over the little rocky formation called Bump in the Road. I thought I might get a nice save out of it, but it just seemed too windy for the thermals to be working well this low, and I ended up landing right behind the formation. It was windy at the surface but not the 20-30 they had warned us about, more like 10-20. The pilot who had saved me landed there as well, and we packed up to wait for retrieve. It was Toshi from Japan. He had a nifty device from Ricoh that takes 360 degree photos.

So not an epic day for me, but at least I made a little distance, 20 miles or so, on a day that seemed like it might be blown out. And it was super fun to get those low saves.

Later in the day I heard from Thom (who heard from Ike, our biggest groupie) that Jorge made goal! Somehow he must have climbed out from those power lines like a Phoenix! Now that's an 11th hour reprieve.

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