Thursday, August 26, 2010

Surprise Ending

While I was out-of-town tending to an ill relative, pilots were tearing up the sky.  The soaring gods needed a sacrifice and I was it.  Local pilots Jon, John B, and Randy know how torture a grounded pilot.  (Randy posted stories here and here.)  Meanwhile, Larry and Zak were duking it out for the national title in Big Spring TX.  Don't get me wrong, I'm glad they had great flights; I just wish I was with them!

I was ready for action when good weather returned.  We had the usual debate on where to fly.  Peter J would only fly at Morningside since he had to be home early.  PK used the same reasoning for West Rutland.  I would fly with anyone that had a driver.

I took off for Morningside later than usual after doing chores and trying to locate a driver.  Gorgeous cumulus filled the sky on the drive north but abruptly disappeared as a I got to Morningside.  A quick check of the visual satellite picture showed no clouds along either intended XC route.  PK called urging me to "come over".  Lee, who rode north with Peter, got wind of the conversation and mentioned he would like to fly there again after a 10 year absence and he would drive after he landed.  Although it was probably too late we loaded up for the additional hour drive west.

I tried to contain my regret as we drove across the hill tops to the north; it was totally blue ahead and cumulus were forming to the northeast, right along the XC route from Morningside.  Although I was driving away from good XC flying, I knew "the Rut" would serve up a great late afternoon soaring session.

It was soar-able when Lee, PK, and I arrived at launch.  We quickly rigged knowing the best part of the day was slipping by.  Several paragliding pilots showed up but decided to wait until conditions mellowed before launching.  PK was ready first and easily climbed up and away.  I launched second with help from Barry and Stephan.  Thanks!

It was easy to get above takeoff.


It was classic West Rutland flying; abundant ridge lift with well-behaved thermals blowing through.  Clouds started forming and, although late (4:00 PM), I thought about going XC. Also typical for "the Rut", the climbs topped out well below cloud base.  I spent an hour trying to bench up.

Carpet of trees that defines New England soaring

I watched a dark mass form over the Adironacks and start dumping rain on the other side of Lake George.  I warned Lee and the other pilots on launch to keep an eye on it but fully expected it to dry out before it got to us.  Lee launched and the three of us floated around in weakening but widespread lift.

I became more concerned when I noticed the mass of clouds had produced a gust front that was crossing Lake George and several smaller lakes.  Our LZ sits in a funnel-shaped valley downwind of a small hill and I definitely didn't want to land there in a gust front.  I considered just hanging out on the ridge, but noticed the rain hadn't completely dissipated.  I radio'ed down that I was going to "plop down over the back" about the same time I noticed Lee running over the back low.

Lee (upper left) going over the back low.

PK made the same decision a few moments later.  I had intended to fly downwind due east to Rutland on the far side of the valley to give me the best chance of outrunning the front.  However Lee and PK decided to fly perpendicular to the wind; north northeast.  It wasn't my first choice, but I didn't want to break up the group in case we managed to find a climb and eventually continue on.

We were soon rewarded with lee-side gust-front induced turbulence; nothing drastic but I knew the flying for the day was done.  I watched Lee pick out a nice field as PK and I tried in vain to climb in the mechanical turbulence.

PK and Lee much lower off his right wing.

I started shopping for a large field that wasn't filled with tall crops or slopping in an undesirable direction.    That quickly narrowed down my choice to an upwind uphill landing in a hayfield.

LZ is the hillside to the far left of the picture.

It was a bumpy and unpredictable ride in.  I watched huge gusts sweep through mature corn and a "swirl" pass through as I was rounding onto final approach.  At least there were pretty flowers to admire.  ;-)

Blowing corn and flowers

It was cushy once I dropped into ground effect on the hillside.  I slowly walked to a stop in the brisk wind.  Of course it was calm 5 minutes later although it did sprinkle.

Dying remnants

Once everyone was safely down, we turned our attention to getting PK's truck.  I called Barry, who was driving down the mountain at the time.  The wind really kicked up when the cell moved over and never really calmed down afterwards.  Stephan drove PK's truck to Lee, who then picked up PK and me.  Thanks once again guys for helping out.

Sunset over LZ

Peter and the pilots at Morningside had fun flights to cloud base, but no one attempted any XC.  Lee and I had plenty to chat about on our long drive back, especially the surprise ending.

Flights: 1, Duration: 1:10, Distance: 6.2 miles

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Trail Mix

Although I felt guilty, I joined Randy and JJ for a trip to the Mohawk Trail in North Adams late last month.  I had been helping care for a seriously ill relative but ironically hoped airtime would keep me grounded.  Amy, Keith, and Peter J planned to meet us there and unsurprisingly, Brooks and Matt also showed up.

JJ and Randy

I got carried away when JJ wondered aloud if there were any blueberries left on launch.  I started inhaling berries right and left.  I had already downed several handfuls when I noticed that not all the "little round blueish berries" were blueberries.  Oops.  No one knew what I had eaten.  Brooks thought they were not "good", but probably wouldn't kill me.  Great.  I wondered what the afternoon would bring as I began to feel nauseous while rigging the glider.

The pace on launch slowed after Keith took a short flight to the bailout LZ below.  While the other pilots chilled on launch, I spent the early afternoon walking around with a phone attached to my ear trying to help out with the problems back home.  Slowly pilots started running off the hill and soaring overhead.  I helped wire everyone off between phone calls until I was the last one on launch.



Between the nausea, phone calls, and self-launching into increasing winds I seriously considered packing up and hiking out.  However, the nausea passed, the phone calls finally ended for the day, and JJ and Keith settled down to launch height implying the winds were slacking off.  I quickly suited up, walked to launch, and ran off into the late afternoon air.

It was soar-able, but not mindlessly so.  I slowly worked my way above launch so I could move to the steeper part of the ridge to the south.

Looking at launch above the road.

The air was pleasant with a fun mix of ridge and thermal lift.  I noticed JJ and Keith climbing to the north so I zipped back to launch and climbed to base under a line of clouds.

I ran the line of clouds upwind across the valley to the northwest.  I cruised around the other side of the valley before returning to North Adams and then on to the ridge to share a climb with Randy.  We played at base hopping between clouds as the day slowly faded away.  We floated back into the valley and over town for one last sightseeing trip.


Ballfields and river

We landed at The Range along Route 8 south of town.  Carolyn, someone who just happened to be at the golf range, snapped a picture of me on final.  Thanks for the picture Carolyn!

We all enjoyed our flights.  Well almost all of us.  Amy took an unplanned scenic tour of western Massachusetts and arrived at launch after I took off and found winds too strong to self launch into.  Bummer.

Randy and Amy

JJ had a nice short XC flight to the south and then literally ran back up the ridge to fetch the car.  Where does he get the energy to do that?  ;-)

Most of us met for dinner and drinks at the Golden Eagle, a restaurant on the hairpin turn below launch.  We ate, told stories, and watched the sun set from the balcony.  I thought to myself as I watched glow fade from the horizon that I'm lucky to have friends, health, and an appetite for life.

Flights: 1, Duration: 1:51