Monday, August 11, 2008


Like starving children from a Charles Dickens novel, scrounging for the tiniest morsel of food, we're off to the Trail today.

Rodger's post to the local forum captures our desperation after months of water-torture here in New England. Once again a relatively new pilot, Jeff, convinced me to attempt a day of flying. Although the predicted lift was weak, the wind on the ridge measly, the sky overdeveloped, the ground saturated, and we faced a chance of rain, the forecast was the best in the past week and probably in the next week as well. Rodger, Jeff, and I loaded up at my place and we stopped in Gardner to pick up Mark A on the way to the Mohawk Trail in North Adams, Massachusetts.

After we showed Mark the dry place to land in the bail-out LZ, we drove up to launch. We met Brooks in the parking lot and Cliff, Gary, and Mike at launch. The wind was blowing in nicely but some of the clouds were already starting their daily launch into the heavens. The weather forecasters claimed a sliver of high pressure would pass overhead during the afternoon and it would limit shower and thunderstorm development. After a few clouds exploded and sent debris all over the sky, development settled down and we did have a dry afternoon.

Gary stepped up to launch first. (I was acting as observer / mentor for Jeff and Mark so I had to launch after they did). It was blowing in nicely most of the time, but Gary wasn't convinced it was soarable. (Launch is only about 750 feet, 228 m, above the valley). After watching for a long time he backed off as the sky turned blue overhead. A while later Brooks launched and maintained at launch level for a few passes before slowly sinking out. Watching a very good local pilot sink out wasn't exactly encouraging the remaining pilots to launch. Cliff eventually launched next and, like Brooks, bounced around in front of launch before floating into the LZ for a nice landing. We returned to eating blueberries and watching the sky.

I started actively encouraging Mark and Jeff to launch so I could give it a try. Besides, the day was slipping away. Mark stepped up next, launched into a strong cycle, and immediately got above launch. As he made several passes overhead I suggested that Jeff suit up and move to launch. By the time Jeff got to launch the cycle was dying and Mark joined the others in the LZ with a nice approach and landing. Once again we waited. It was now approaching 4:30 pm and the day was dying. Mark L showed up with his glider even as some pilots were talking about breaking down and hiking out. Jeff took off in the next thermal that came through and worked his way above launch. As I started suiting up, Rodger borrowed my camera and took pictures of Jeff passing back and forth in front. By the time I got to launch Jeff was sinking on each pass and was soon in the LZ.

Gary held my nose wires as he, Mike, and I watched for signs of life in the tree leaves below as Rodger answered questions posed by two hikers and Mark L setup his glider. I finally saw some rustling in the leaves below around 5:30 pm did my best height-conserving launch. (Rodger said I should have run harder and lowered my nose some). Like the others I went back and forth in front of launch like a duck in a shooting gallery before I got high enough to start circling. Once I started circling I settled into a 250 fpm (1.3 m/s) climb to cloud base at 4600 feet (1400 m).

I played around at cloud base working upwind to wisps forming over the valley below. I watched Mark L launch and fight to maintain at ridge height. Meanwhile Gary, Mike, and Rodger were breaking down. I wanted to keep working upwind and fly the western "backside" of Mount Greylock.

However when I saw someone doing aerobatics over the airport, I thought I should stay in my own valley. I only got a picture of the white smoke, but the pilot also used red smoke that looked cool against the setting sun. (You can see a tiny loop of white smoke in the upper left center).

I flew back over the pilots in the LZ, the pilots hiking out from launch, and Mark L who was heading north along the ridge. I decided to turn south to play along the ridge there and eventually land at the golf range across the valley since they have ice cream. I took a lame video while I was flying along the ridge with one hand; there is really not much to see except for trees and a few rocks!

I chased a few birds around as the day faded away and watch the cars on the roads below as I crossed the valley in buttery smooth air. I was a bit shocked when I looked down at my LZ at The Range and saw a reflection of the sky broken by patches of green. Yuck. Water, water, everywhere. I would guess only 30% of the surface was green. I did my usual buzzing approach and had a sweet no-wind landing on a dry island. However, my shoes were soaked by the time I splashed my way to the high ground along the road.

After the gang helped me load the glider on the truck we stopped for dinner at the Freight Yard Pub before heading home.

Flights: 1, Time: 1:27, Distance: -, Rain: 0

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Will it ever stop?

It seems like it has been raining every day this summer.  I have flying buddies that can count the number of flights they've had this entire year on one hand.  The weather around here is more typical of Florida than Massachusetts.  In some years I've gone all summer without hearing thunder and this year it is almost a daily event.  A good day is one when I can get out early on the mountain bike before the sky explodes with enticing low cumulus followed by scary towering thunderstorms.

There are some good things about the weather this year.  I've had more wild berries (blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries) to eat than ever before. I'm beginning to feel like a bear as I stop and graze for my lunch!

Thank goodness I have been able to follow the pre-worlds, the women's worlds, and the Big Spring International (scores).  My daily phone call to my buds in Texas is definitely helping me through this tough time.

Oops, better shutdown the computer before another bolt of lightning strikes!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Cruising the Ridge

I was a bit depressed Thursday evening as I compared the stellar forecast for the upcoming meet at Big Spring Texas with the continual sunny-to-rainy bait-and-switch we've been putting up with here in New England.  By Friday morning the predicted sunny weekend was all wet and even Friday was questionable.  Luckily for me, JJ was eager to squeeze in a day of flying before leaving town for a week.  Although the forecast for Friday showed showers and thunderstorms to the north, the forecast to the west only mentioned isolated showers and therefore was a ray of hope.  Additionally, a patch of mid-level clouds were moving through western Massachusetts shortly after dawn so I hoped the delayed heating might further suppress shower development.  The winds were not predicted to be strong enough to ridge soar, but at least they were in the right direction for the Mohawk Trail in North Adams.  PK didn't like the forecast, but was getting desperate and would go if I did.  Desperation and JJ's enthusiasm was enough to tip the scale and so away we went.

I drove to JJ's place and piled onto his car for the trip.  We arrived at launch about 30 minutes ahead of PK so we hiked our gliders out, noticed the wind blowing straight in, grabbed some blueberries, and then headed to the LZ to meet PK.  We repaired the wind sock, set a couple streamers, and talked about potential approaches into the rolling field.  PK was a bit worried about the day since he had already driven through light rain on his way south.  However, we had come too far to back out; so we drove up, carried the rest of the equipment to launch, and began rigging.

I kept watching the clouds grow like weeds before us.  By the time we finished a large cell mushroomed over Mount Greylock and started showing mammatus clouds.  Obviously it was not a good time to launch so we snacked on blueberries while discussing the Hoosic Tunnel that exits the mountain nearby.  Although the cloud was impressive it never dumped any rain but the high altitude blow off shaded most of the valley and smothered the overactive development long after it drifted away.  Once the sky looked reasonable JJ suited up, waited until a few light thermals came through, and launched.  He picked a good launch cycle, but the thermal was just not big enough to soar.  3 minutes later he was waving back to us from the LZ below.

PK and I waited a bit longer, but I didn't think it would get much better so I got ready to launch.  Luckily for me PK had some radio issues that kept me off of launch when the next thermal came through.  Like the thermal JJ launched into, this one lasted only a minute.  I decided to sit on launch until a much stronger thermal came along.  I didn't have to wait long as the next thermal was strong enough to rustle tree leaves all along the ridge.  I ran off and climbed enough that my first turn was back over launch.  I continued circling and settled into a 300 fpm (1.5 m/s) climb.  I called to PK below and he quickly launched and got above the ridge.

After we briefly played around launch I followed PK south to the steeper portion of the ridge.  We found a couple small climbs but were soon dragging our wing tips through the leaves along the top of the ridge trying to stay up.  We kept getting lower and lower.  PK was a couple hundred feet below me when I decided to park at the bottom of a small cliff.  I bounced back and forth like a ping-pong ball climbing 10 feet (3m) on each pass and making each turn at the edge of the lift to maximize my climb.  I immensely enjoyed every minute!  I eventually jacked my way back up to the top where a couple was enjoying the view and hopefully my show.  I briefly chatted with them and apologized for blocking their view.  Meanwhile PK headed into the valley and landed at the far end of driving range.  PK wanted me to relay his position to JJ, but that wasn't necessary since JJ was just pulling into the range at that very moment.

The thermals slowly became more organized and I was finally able to climb a 1000 feet (300 m) above the ridge and start exploring.  The ridge line is about 12 miles (19 km) long and it was fun cruising along checking out the sights below.  I kept in touch with JJ and was thrilled when he decided to accept PK's offer to help him launch a second time.  I flew over launch and waited for them to arrive.  I kept myself busy trying to reach cloud base.  The lift was already light, but dropped to 50 fpm (0.25 m/s) near the top.  I finally reached 5200 feet (1500 m) as I saw PK and JJ driving around the switchback below launch.  I flew to the northern end of the ridge while JJ rigged and watched him launch while I was working my way back.  After JJ launched PK talked a couple that walked out to launch into driving JJ's car down to the bailout LZ.  Thanks PK.

I played over the valley watching life unfold below and then flew over JJ as he bounced back and forth over launch.  I didn't want to get in his way so I continued on to the south.  I played around with a hawk, did some speed runs, and made some excursions into the valley to see if anything interesting was happening there.  I eventually glided to the other side, didn't find anything, and decided to land at the driving range.  The people at The Range are very welcoming and are happy to watch us land.  They only request a call beforehand so they know to look up occasionally so they can pause the golfers as we "play through".  On Friday they had a tent setup for a company function where I normally land, so I decided to have some fun.  I made a fast low pass overhead so they would know I was coming, then swooped in over the stream between the tent and the trees, ground skimmed across the driving range in front of the golfers, and landed with a very sweet no-stepper in front of the mini golf course.

I could see JJ soaring above launch to the north so I took my time breaking down, thanked the people at The Range, and then went for a walk to the Hoosic River taking wildflower pictures with my new iPhone.  The day slowly died off and JJ landed in the bailout next to his car after almost 2.5 hours of soaring.  I met JJ back at the driving range and after a quick stop for some food at a local ice cream stop we headed home.

Flights: 1, Time: 3:19, Distance: (12 miles)