Monday, October 24, 2005


I laugh now when I read a definition of addiction: “Strong emotional and /or psychological dependence on a substance or behavior that has progressed beyond voluntary control”. I guess I might have one.

Winter was muscling its way into our neighborhood like a roguish thug, I spent one too many days hibernating in the pale light of the computer screen, and I couldn’t remember my glider’s colors anymore. I needed to fly! Oh, but I needed to drive to Rochester NY later. It really didn’t make sense to drive 5 hours for a sled ride just so I could get a late night start on the 6 hours of driving to Rochester. Well, it didn’t make sense unless you are addicted!

Pete J also wanted airtime, so us junkies loaded up on my truck and started the drive north to Ascutney. We both realized that just getting airborne in late October is a “good day”, but the BLIPMAPs hinted there might be enough wind to ridge soar and maybe, just maybe, some very weak thermals. The crystal blue sky provided a nice backdrop to the hillsides’ fading colors. That is until we entered the Keene valley. Dropping into the valley was like dropping into a witch’s misty brew. Moist, gray, no sun and frost covering everything. We were disappointed when it was still foggy on the other side of the valley. We remained in the fog right to the base of the mountain. Since the sun this time of the year produces about as much heat as a butane lighter, we wrote off encountering any thermals. However, the sun started to peek through and soon the fog was disappearing and we could see some wispy clouds forming over the mountain. Yes!

Jeff B showed up with some interesting reading that helped pass the time while we waited for Greg who was about 30 minutes behind the rest of the crew. Jake and Marshall rolled in after leaving a vehicle in the LZ out front. Once Greg arrived, we loaded up his monster van and drove to the top.

For some reason the hike into launch was very enjoyable. That doesn’t happen often, but just being outside with the smell of the leaves, the blue sky, and enthusiastic friends was enough to mask the usual chore of getting to launch. There was some wind blowing in when we got to launch but probably not enough to ridge soar. There were no birds in the air and the insects were long gone. Just as we finished rigging a couple ravens cruised by launch and then climbed out over the north side of the mountain. Time to fly!

Jake, who usually launches first, offered to launch last in order to help Marshall and the rest of us launch. (As someone who also likes to launch early I appreciate what he did.) Jeff went first and almost immediately started a slow climb. I launched next and slowly sank below launch. I wasn’t worried until I had trouble swiveling my neck looking back up to launch. I finally found a mellow little climb in the gorge below launch. As soon as I broke launch level Pete ran off and joined me. Greg was next but didn’t connect with the fading climb we snagged. I used my meager altitude to see if life was better on the sunny lee side of the mountain. Nope. I cruised back to the upwind side of the mountain and found little bits of lift almost everywhere. Jeff took a run to the west towards Little Ascutney and lost very little altitude. I followed and soon we were climbing at a respectable rate in a nice thermal. Pete and Greg soon joined us in the same climb while Marshall and Jake launched and got established on the mountain.

We were like kids that found a secret stash of hidden candy. Not only did we avoid sled rides and soar, we were actually climbing in thermals. As I approached 5000 feet instincts took over and I started looking downwind. Since I had a long drive home and then a longer drive to Rochester I announced on the radio that I was going to Morningside where I could probably get a ride back to my truck. I remembered all the fog in the valley so I stayed over the high ground in Vermont instead of heading directly to the valley and Morningside on the New Hampshire side of the Connecticut River. Pete and Greg were a little lower and decided to work a climb on the lee side of the mountain. Unlike the initial climb, the climbs away from the mountain were weak and broken. Still there was enough to climb and do some sightseeing at the same time. I headed towards a developing cloud over the ox bow in the river. I found scattered light lift and played there with Jeff while Greg and Pete caught up. We reached cloud base under the only cloud in the sky and were within an easy glide of Morningside. Jeff and I played around with tiny flowing wisps of clouds that formed below us. The White Mountains to the northwest were true to their name, capped with a blanket of white snow. Dang, where is that camera? Greg was having a good time too. He got on the radio and announced “Ridge lift? We don’t need no steenking ridge lift!”

We flew all over the valley, a valley that was earlier filled with thermal smothering fog. We didn’t quite understand how there could be thermals here, but we didn’t spend too much time looking this gift horse in the mouth. We flew until it was time to go home. I made a few high-speed runs over Morningside and landed after Pete, Jeff, and Greg. As I turned around after flaring, I saw another glider on approach. After spending some time flying with Marshall and soaking up the scenery at the mountain Jake decided to join us.

Mark V stopped by for some company after taking photographs of the fall foliage in the area. Marshall drove up and offered body rides back to the mountain. Pete was kind enough to get my truck while I watched pilots flying and chatted with friends. Pete returned, we headed south, and I eventually headed west.

Today was a nice fix and it will help calm my addiction for a few days.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Columbus Day Flood

Everyone was looking forward to see how Rob and Sandy could possibly top the transformation of Camp Rob into a pirate ship for last year’s Halloween party. Pilots and their families made customs, the Vermont Hang Gliding Association scheduled a fall meeting for the same evening, Rob K from Wills Wing flew into town with several demo gliders, our regional USHGA director Gary was holding a CPR clinic, and Rhett stayed around to tow everyone into the sky. Too bad someone forgot to arrange the weather. I am one of the last people to turn away from a party and chance to fly, but I wanted to stay home after looking at the weather forecast. It wasn’t just going to rain; it was going to pour; not just Saturday and Saturday night, but the entire 3 day Columbus Day holiday weekend. However, once people commit to a plan, momentum soon takes over.

A dozen or so pilots and friends braved the drenching downpours and huddled around the campfire laughing at all the OTHER stupid people who showed up. The food was good, the fire warm, the company entertaining, the mud deep, and the rain relentless. I left the party with a witch and headed to the Claremont Motor Lodge to warm up and dry out.

The sound of a truck backing down the small road the room along side the motel interrupted my sleep. I looked out the tiny back wind and saw it was a fire truck with its lights flashing. The crew was not rushing so I assumed it wasn’t significant and went back to sleep. My sleep was interrupted again a few hours later by the hurried owner on the telephone telling me that we must leave immediately. What? She insisted that we must leave. I asked why. She said the river was flooding. Oh. I thanked her, looked out the window and immediately told Amy it was time to scram. I guess the fire truck I saw earlier was evacuating residents in the lower areas behind the model.

The Sugar River runs in a deep channel in front of the Claremont Motor Lodge. Normally the river is only a foot or two deep and far below road level. I was shocked to actually see the rushing water out our window. I have never seen the river that high even during spring melt. The water wasn’t just oozing along like it does in the flatlands; this water was crushing down the hillside dragging trees and other debris along for the ride. We tossed our stuff in the truck and zipped across the bridge wondering if it was still safe. Looking back across the bridge we could see water pouring into the parking lot.

We stopped at the bridge going into town and then drove around to the mill dam. I got a short video clip with my digital camera. You can easily see the water flowing over the dam and across the fenced-in walkway next to the building. After that we stopped by Dusty’s for breakfast and listened to everyone’s stories of flooding. Many parts of Claremont were already under water. Someone said that Newport was under several feet of water. Dams were breaching. People were being evacuated all over southern New Hampshire. After breakfast we listened to the weather radio and discovered that most of the routes home were already flooded, washed out, or closed due to impending dam failures.

We hopped across the river to check out the Black River in Vermont before heading home via Bellows Falls. There was barely a trickle running through the gorge on Saturday morning, but by Sunday morning the Connecticut River was thundering through the falls. Route 12, and the way home, was blocked by the raging Cold River in Walpole. We went south on Route 5 in Vermont and hoped the last bridge back over the river before Keene was still open. We were lucky and got back on Route 12 and headed south. Once in the Keene valley we faced more typical flood scenes with people towing cars out of flooded parking lots with whatever was available. We made a couple detours but were soon on our way home.

We finally started getting the whole picture by Sunday evening. It was tough seeing the damage to so many of the towns that I routinely fly over or land in. The hardest hit areas received 11 inches of rain in a single day and night. The governor of New Hampshire said this was the worst natural disaster in 25 years. After learning people died and many lost homes and property, it was easy to ignore the party weekend that was washed out.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Floating through the Sky

I felt like I was floating through the sky when I went kayaking on a glassy smooth lake this morning. The cirrus above met the cirrus "below" as I silently drifted through the liquid sky. Today could have been the textbook example of "stable". I was on this lake until after noon and didn't see a single wind induced ripple on the water or a single leaf flutter along the shore.

Saturday, October 01, 2005


I didn't get to fly today but I did get to watch a couple sailplane pilots fly around the observation deck on the top of Canon Mountain. It was fun seeing the other people on the deck get all excited and explain how the gliders "seek out downdrafts to keep in the air". However, I did hear one person comment that one glider was close to stall and I had to agree.