Monday, July 14, 2014

Task 7: Starburst!

After the last six grueling days, I have to admit I was ready for a break. And it seemed like we might get one. This final task day started overcast and still, and it looked like things might not even heat up enough to get us up over the butte. Wind techs were sledding to the LZ, and there were no dust devils to be seen over the flats, and none were forming up on launch. Nevertheless a task was called. I’d never seen one quite like it: a starburst pattern originating from a central point over the flats, with petals in each direction, like a flower, returning to the center each time. How beautiful and horrible! Apparently they chose the central area because it's known locally as a sink zone. Just to make things interesting. The launch time was moved back after a while, to give things more time to heat up.

Then, the sky opened up just a bit, some sun shone through, and the air started to stir. We got a few half-hearted dust swirls on the butte. And then Doug Hoffman’s former student Daniel, our favorite wind tech, launched and got up perfectly. Suddenly everyone started getting into their gear and lining up. Many top pilots launched after that, looking for lift but finding none, as the air started to get sleepy again. But finally a few more cycles blew in, and more people launched, circling slowly and carefully and just barely staying up in very light thermals right in front of launch. I joined them soon after, and I was lucky enough to find something to get me out of that slow launch carousel and high above. I saw Thom and Jorge below working hard to get out as well.

Finally a big group started to head across the river, and I was just where I wanted to be, slightly above and a bit behind, to watch for the best lines. I came in to a solid gaggle over the power lines and climbed agreeably with everyone, switching to a different gaggle a few times when I found good ones that I could join. I climbed high outside the start cylinder until the time rolled over, and then dashed into the center of the starburst for the first turn point. As I pulled in, I looked at my flight instrument to watch it turn green to show me I had made the point. But it stayed red.

In a split second of horror I realized the programming was not designed to handle multiple instances of the same turn point. It would probably not turn green until the fourth and final time it appeared in the task, just before heading to goal. That meant I would have to visually confirm that I tagged the point each time. Well, it’s always something. So I carefully danced all around the center of the circle, and then headed out to the first petal of the flower. It was pretty easy going, and I got to 12,500 feet or so a few times on the way.

I headed back to the central point, tagging it carefully by visual means, and then headed out to the long petal at the top. They gave us a very wide cylinder here for more tagging options, but I just went straight to it. I found Thom below me on the way, and we joined up low at the end of that petal for quite a while, thermaling together over some amazing boulder formations below us in the vast farm fields. I couldn’t tell how big the boulders were until I noticed a tiny shape next to one boulder - I squinted down and realized it was a house, dwarfed by the boulder. Maybe megalith would be a better word! Wow. What crazy terrain we’ve been flying over this week.

Thom thought we had enough height to leave after tagging the top petal, and headed back to the center. I stayed behind a while, because I was curious to figure out how the little specked out gliders above us had got there. Surely I could find that magic elevator if I cruised around here a bit. But after a little time I realized I wasn’t going to find it. And now I was quite a bit lower. I limped back to the center, tagging it a third time, and then headed downwind to the last petal over the town of Mansfield. Thom must be way ahead of me by now. I saw Jorge returning very low from that last petal as I was headed out. But by now I knew better than to count him out.

I came in to the last turn point very low, just as I saw Thom even lower and already leaving. I pushed all the way and tagged it, hoping to find the magic elevator that the pilots specked out above me had found. But I couldn’t. And it was getting late. We had started this task late and the goal close was coming soon. If I was in the air I’d be scored wherever I was at that time. I gave up looking for a climb and headed back toward the center. I saw Thom climbing way ahead of me, but I don't know how he was doing it. I was only finding weak bubbles at this point, and there was a solid headwind pushing me down.

I crept forward and knew I was landing soon. I concentrated on getting past the Bump in the Road waypoint, and just made it, before joining a couple other pilots in a field. I had lost track of Thom, and I was sincerely hoping he’d climbed high enough to zoom in for his first goal! But I knew it would have been close. But then I heard Derek the retrieve driver calling to find pilot 178 on the radio, and I knew that Thom had also landed short. But he made it a couple clicks farther than me. Amazing flying! Jorge made it a bit farther still, but we were all a bit late and a bit low to get to goal on this day.

Thom and I got into headquarters super late, and we headed in to be scored. Somehow my track log didn’t register anything but minimum distance. After examining it here at home, it seems fine to me, but it’s probably too late to get my score changed. I e-mailed the scorekeepers to see if there’s any chance of that. But either way it was a sick flight, and it was super fun to share it with Thom and Jorge.


  1. Just a couple of other notes of this last day, I pimped off Alex heading for the point near the North end of the river. He had strayed off course to a farm house that was a saviour for me. On the way out of this way point I was going down, hard and Alex was behind me but higher. Finally, I hit a bubble right above a retrieve van full of tasty beverages. I yelled to Alex a bubble you get it and go. I thought I was done but I pulled a Badger and dug my way out with my Jack Brown move I circled a hard thermal so many loops that my arm got tired. I then found that your can pin it under the carabiner to relieve some of the tension. Alex got high and left me to go back toward the lake I was not sure why he went there but I headed for the farm house we had used before. I benched up enough and headed for Mansfield the last turn point. Time was running out so I did not excpect to make it. I hit a few bubbles on the way and made it. I knew my time was short so I only took what I thought I could use to glide out for the max distance. Hit a few skippers along the way and touched down just as my stop alarm rang. Alex also mentioned the 'Halos' that ring around your glider we get sometimes when we are above the clouds. There is so much silt swirling in the air that is becomes reflective. I never saw one cause every time I looked at the ground it was a magnet, so I stopped looking.

    This was a great trip but grueling, I think Alex dubbed it Adult Summer Camp. As tired and beat up as I am, I can't wait to do it again and again.

  2. Oh another thing we forgot was the Dust Boogers, kinda grodey but became a fact of life digging boulders out.

  3. I still have dust boogers from chasing you guys...! Welcome to the worlds most successful longest distance to goal comp ever... You guys did amazing flying. I was tracking all the Hawaii pilots all week on Spot.
    Bummer it doesnt show altitudes.