Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Big Spring - Day 0

The trip to Big Spring Texas started at 2:45am Saturday morning.  PK drove from Vermont and slept a few hours at my place before we loaded into Randy's car, picked up John, and sleepily found our way to the airport in Boston.  After a quick stop in Dallas and another short flight over Big Spring, we arrived in Midland.

Ryan, who drove John's car and our gliders half-way across the country, did his first retrieve of the meet at our high-end LZ.  We decided to eat lunch in Midland, before continuing onto Big Spring.  We stopped at an acceptable-sounding eatery only to find it was closed.  Lacking any alternatives we asked a gentleman walking to his SUV parked in front of us.  He recommended Michael's Charcoal Grill on the north side of town.  We talked about being here for a hang gliding competition before he returned to his vehicle.  He paused before getting in, walked back, and gave us a $100 bill telling us "lunch is on us".  We gratefully tried to return the money, but he graciously refused and told us to enjoy our time in Texas.  Needless to say we were impressed.

Our generous stranger sent us to the right place.  The restaurant was totally decked out with pictures and models of aircraft of all kinds.  We were immediately at home.

The food was good and, in Ryan's case, plentiful.  Ryan's double-decker hamburger was as big as the plate.  Massive would be a fair description!

PK and Ryan marveling at the size of the hamburger.
Photo by John Beckley

We dragged our full bellies to airfield at Big Spring, registered, setup our gliders in the hanger, and talked with other arriving pilots before cleaning up for a dinner sponsored by the town of Big Spring.  Various local officials, including the mayor, welcomed us (back).  I'm continually impressed by the friendliness of the people in this town and state.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Get in Your Bag and Go

Allen, Peter, Randy, and I had high hopes for Tuesday at the Mohawk Trail in western Massachusetts.  Although I joked about joining other pilots at Mount Ascutney to the north, we settled on a plan to fly back along Route 2 towards home.

It was blowing stronger than forecasted when we arrived at launch.  It wasn't a problem for launching or soaring, but would be for landing in the valley 700 feet (200m) below.  Since the forecast predicted diminishing winds, we rigged and waited.

Like Goldilocks' porridge that was either too hard hot or too cold, our wind was either too strong or too light.  Thermals blocking the wind produced non-soarable conditions only to be replaced by hang-on-to-your-hat blasts when those thermals passed through.  As the day wore on and thick cirrus strangled thermal development, the light non-soarable conditions started to dominate.  Conditions switched so quickly that Peter, the first pilot to launch, struggled to get above the ridge and warned the rest of us to "stay on the ground" before he settled into the "less than desirable" bailout LZ directly below us.

Unimpressed by Peter's performance, we decided to wait for the sun to warm launch and the western flanks of the valley before placing our bet.  We were unprepared when the last good blast of the day blew through and missed our ride out.  The wind became so light I could set my glider down facing into the wind on launch.  Sigh.

A hiker sat down next to us and got ready for some action.  My video camera timed out; repeatedly.  I waited.  I waited some more.  We scanned trees for any sign of thermal activity.  (I was waiting for a sign but realized that maybe I was getting that sign; don't fly!)  Our new impatient friend wanted to see a hang glider launch.  She told me to "Get in your bag and go!"  I just had to laugh.  A moment later Allen spotted a bird fly past, turn, and then climb a little.  That was the sign I was looking for.

There was something there, but it was small and weak.  I was well below launch before I found it and started wiggling back and forth in the buoyant air.  I slowly rose to launch height and finally high enough to complete a full circle.  Once I was clear, Randy ran off and started sipping the same stream of rising air.  We gingerly circled in the weak climb together.  I waved to Peter when he made it back to my car on top before moving south to the taller part of the ridge.  



I enjoyed the weak little climbs originating in the valley below once I escaped the unpleasant bail-out LZ.  It was odd thermaling under an overcast sky.



North Adams

Allen decided not to fly.  I saw him and Peter drive by on their way to The Range, where Randy, and then I, landed in perfectly calm conditions.

Allen and Peter

We stopped for ice cream before heading east to Greenfield for a late dinner.  The pilots at Ascutney were also greeted with stronger than expected wind, but had better conditions than we did later in the afternoon.  We also found out on the way home that Dustin Martin and Jonny Durand set a new distance world record that very afternoon.  Randy suggested we donated or sacrificed our flight karma for them.  Whatever, it is humbling to think we flew 3 miles when they flew 475 in Texas.

Flights: 1, Duration: 1:32