Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Trail's End

Whelp, I've gone and done it. 2186 miles later, I can say I've hiked the Appalachian Trail, an experience that has changed my life forever. All I want is to go back and do it again. It would be a different experience and that is why it is so exciting! Below is a rather long video of my hike:

Admittedly, it has taken me some time to return to this blog after the trail. As I said, I never said the posting would be consistent, but I have not given up flying.

After being back not even a full 48 hours from the trail, I got a message that some of my Washington, DC buddies were flying a site known as Fisher's Road. I joined them then and I have also flown several other sites since I hung up my destroyed pair of hiking boots. I will post more on sky-related thing later. For now, enjoy the video. Next time, we talk flying!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Appalachian Flights

After hiking for over two months, I finally reached the lands of Maryland where I grew up. Maryland also happens to be the center of where I learned to fly. Taking a week off trail gave me the chance to fly three old sites - Daniels, Woodstock, and the Pulpit. I was also introduced to a new (for me) training hill, Klischers.

The flight at Daniels, a favorite site among DC pilots, was very short under light conditions. Woodstock, where I flew two days later, had stronger winds. The trouble at Woodstock is its sketchy launch. In fact, Woodstock may be the single most difficult launch I have ever encountered. A steep slope, a narrow tree chute, rocky terrain, and high trees at the bottom of launch all contribute to the tedious nature of Woodstock's launch. To further complicate matters on the day I was there, the wind was coming in a bit cross. A similar cross wind had given me trouble at Daniels only two days prior and I was not too eager to put my wing in bushes again.

View of Woodstock launch

Walking to launch, I saw Hugh, an early paragliding mentor of mine, and another pilot, Jim - a professional paragliding/hang gliding pilot from New Zealand. Jim elected to launch first. The launch looked a bit tricky even with his skill set.

Jim flying Hugh's old wing
If I remember correctly, Woodstock had been the last site I had flown on the East Coast. After you clear the launch, the ground drops away extremely quickly and you find yourself surrounded by steep mountain ridges covered with trees. The transition to treed chute to breathtaking ridge is rather rapid and unexpected to first time pilots there. At this point, I was just eager to have such a view again.

Checking winds immediately before launching

I took some time waiting for a thermal to come mostly straight up launch rather than at some cross angle. Eventually, I found what I was waiting for and, with a strong inflation, ran down the rocky slope to propel myself airborne. With the slight north cross, I could not maintain altitude in front of launch and sunk to a north facing slope of a minor ridge and maintained altitude for nearly a half hour. As I enjoyed the extremely mellow thermals and light ridge lift, Hugh joined me in the air.

Hugh in foreground, me in background

Hugh did not choose to stay aloft with me and quickly landed. The clouds around and above me were dark and were making me nervous. I started to question why Hugh landed and, following Hugh's lead, I elected to land as well.

View of Woodstock Valley

Several days later, northwest winds drew me to Pennsylvania to fly the Pulpit. Upon reaching the Pulpit and finding winds too strong, Mathew and Karen introduced me to Klichers, a nearby training hill. I performed one quick flight there to find the winds too light and returned to the Pulpit.

View of Klischers launch from LZ

Back at the Pulpit, the winds were becoming ideal in terms of speed, but bad in terms of direction with a strong cross from the north - yet again. Mathew launched his new Delta 2. A few minutes later, my Ellus 2 was also in the air too. The strong north component to the wind on the westward facing ridge greatly reduced the magnitude of the lift. I found the highest I could achieve was only 10s of feet above the trees. Mathew, too, was not getting any higher. With the high probability of rotor of from the significant cross, I determined soaring to be unsafe and pointed my wing to the LZ.

Minimal lift along the ridge

The majority of the landing zone was now a corn field. Not wanting to damage the crop, I was forced to land in a narrow strip of grass running between two fields. However, given my experiences in Hawaii, the narrow landing zone was not a concern and thus ended my flying for a while.

Below is a video comprised of flights from the week.

Now, I turn trailward once again and the sky will have to wait.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Winter Flying Video from Oregon

I have reached the halfway point on the trail and am taking a week off from hiking for rest, relaxation, and visiting my family. I have had enough time to throw together this video from the Oregon flights during my two week visit last winter.

Ryan too created a video with his footage from the same period. Enjoy the two perspectives. Both videos are now in the archive.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Trail Time

The East Coast flying didn't pan out. The winds remained too high and the skies too wet. Tomorrow, I start the first day of many on a very long hike. I intend to complete the entirety of the Appalachian Trail.

I've got a video from the most recent Oregon flights in the works, but it will wait until I return to Maryland around the mid-point of my hike in ~3 months.

Until then, farewell.

Return to Oregon (part II)

With my glider freshly treed, retrieved, and visually inspected to fly again, I headed out the next day for my first flight at Yaquina Head since I had left for Hawaii. As I stood on launch in gentle 6 mph winds from the south, I couldn't stop thinking about whether my glider was good for flight or not. The treeing event of yesterday lived fresh in my mind. I was unreasonably and unusually nervous.

Ryan getting ready to launch
Ryan launched first into a sledder. I waited until conditions strengthened. As they did, the wind became more westerly, which was bad for the site. After I felt the base winds were strong enough, I launched. I had to kite the wing for a few minutes before I was confident enough to turn and commit, but airborne I became. The lift band was narrow and small, really small, but that didn't stop me from reveling in the coastal air. I turned and played with break control until Ryan returned to the air. With two gliders in such a small lift volume, we were nearly flying on top each other as we struggled to both stay airborne. Then a sudden bout of turbulence accompanied an abrupt change in wind direction from more south to more west. The lift band shifted toward the west face of Yaquina Head. The lift band also widened and grew.

Ryan thought the very westerly winds meant he could soar the smaller, west facing ridge toward the south. He tried to go cross country along the ridge, but sunk out a half mile down the coast. I stayed over Yaquina Head trying to take in as much as the flight as I could. A red-tailed hawk flew beside me a bit. He was more interested in looking toward the ground for his next meal than me and I had to squawk at him to grab his attention before an eventual near miss.

I eventually headed toward the beach to land. I, however, found the wind had grown a bit stronger and the ridge was now soarable. For over twenty minutes, I worked the twenty foot berm and was delightfully surprised that such a small feature could be giving me lift. After over an hour and a half of airtime, my legs were becoming stiff with cold and other bodily functions needed to be addressed. I landed to Colin and Ryan working on their ground handling.

The flight left me tired and cold, but my nerves had healed. My fear of flying would not cripple me that day. I'm under the firm belief that one needs to get back in the air as soon as possible after a significant incident. The potential for that fear to grow into something prohibitive is too strong and the appeal of safety too great. Standing on the Yaquina launch, I felt as many emotions telling me to not launch as I had saying to launch. Despite the fear and fresh memories of yesterday, I was still left with only one simple decision - to launch or not to launch. The answer that resounded as my feet left the earth was one filled with pride.

The next days brought about several flights at Peterson Butte. Some days only held sledders, others had soaring conditions. The hike to the summit provided me with an excuse to train for the Appalachian trail with a 50 lbs. pack. Peterson Butte, I quickly discovered, has a high density of bald eagles. Every visit brought a few eagle sightings with it. Flying often meant a bald eagle sortie coming to check the wing out for just a few minutes. I was also amazed with the sheer beauty of the site once in the air and above the butte. From the ground, the farm fields of the Willamette lowlands, a view that reminded me of where I grew up around the farmlands of Frederick, were visible. From the air, the Cascades skyline's prominent snow covered peaks stood out against the blue skies. Over those days of flying, I found myself realizing that flying Peterson Butte was strikingly familiar to the Appalachian flying that got me started with paragliding. It was relaxing and a little nostalgic.

Northerly view from Cape Kiwanda
A new friend in flight, Levi, and I headed to Cape Kiwanda for a day of kiting. Conditions strengthened from nearly a dead wind on the saddle until the cape was barely soarable. I was only a few feet above the ground, but I took advantage of these prolonged Kiwanda flights to practice landing approaches, tight turns in rotor, and, in general, benign crashing. The term sheer play best describes how I felt each time I ate sand into the side of Kiwanda.

Levi also offered to swap wings for a bit, which I was more than happy to do. For the first time in over a year, I took control of something other than my Ellus 2. The Rush 2 from Levi was a pleasure to kite. It was lighter, wanted to inflate itself, and rose effortlessly over my head, where it waited for some direction. I was reluctant to return his wing, but I was pleased with its performance and grateful to have had the opportunity. I am that much more excited to be buying a new wing in the fall.
Sunset at Cape Kiwanda
As the sun was setting, the winds died. We packed up and headed back home. Cape Kiwanda again lived up its reputation as a flying playground, where mistakes, though sometimes serious, are often forgiven.

My final flight in Oregon came a bit unexpectedly. Per usual, I brought my wing with me as I left the valley on a ski weekend to Mt. Bachelor, but flying Mt. Bachelor, especially this time of year, is highly improbable. High winds and low cloud cover on the summit usually preclude the possibility of flight. Nevertheless, Steve R. let me know that conditions looked favorable for flight that Saturday. I told him I would be ready and made sure I was prepared in every capacity for a flight I may never have again.

For the uniformed, Mt. Bachelor is a 9000' peak in the Oregon Cascades. The composite shield volcano has relatively steep slopes and stands out as one of the prominent peaks of the Cascades skyline. The mountain has operated as a ski resorted for decades now, giving us easy access to the top of the mountain.

I met Steve and others at the LZ the next day. Conditions were still favorable. Rick, another pilot I met that day, talked and walked me through getting my glider on and off the ski lift. Walking the lift lines with my glider made me feel like the prettiest girl at prom. Everyone, skiers, boarders, lift attendants, even ski patrol, was eager to chat briefly as we passed. After departing the summit lift, we began our hike.

Summit lift after walking a few minutes

We climbed higher nearing the summit

As we crested the summit of Bachelor, I knew we would be flying that day. The wind was ideal, not too light, not too strong. Still, I waited for Steve, the site guide, to arrive to the top. I wanted his OK, not for my own safety, but more as a sign of respect. I could tell that he was a little uncertain if letting me join was a wise decision. Steve and I had corresponded by email since the previous summer. We had even been in the air together, but had never spoken face to face until that day at Bachelor. Mt. Bachelor is a P3 site because of its high elevation and restricted LZ. Even more so, Mt. Bachelor isn't a Cascade Paragliding Club site. The Desert Air Riders are in charge of Mt. Bachelor flying. I was a visiting pilot and, as a guest, I didn't want to overstep my welcome. Therefore, waiting for Steve's approval was a sign of respect. When he gave me the green light, I immediately began launch prep.

That feeling when you know the wind is perfect
I had many concerns. I had never launched on snow. I had never launched at 9000' nor had I ever landed at 6000'. My hands fought the cold as I unfolded the glider, checked my reserves, cleared my lines, and inadvertently deposited some Cape Kiwanda sand on Mt. Bachelor's summit. I buckled, clipped, and snapped everything in to place. Checked my fittings and then rechecked them again. Our launch area was wide. Rick had already launched. Everyone else was still grounded. I kited toward the edge, brought the wing to rest, and then with a single pull, brought the glider above me, turned and ran.

My launch
Rick was landing as I was launching. I knew this was going to be a sledder. The other pilots told me Mt. Bachelor flights were, more often than not, sledders. After launching, I found no lift. I scratched the side of Mt. Bachelor before setting a glide toward the LZ, which seemed too far away. While there was no lift, the air was extremely smooth and the surrounding mountains were beautiful. I played with the speed bar, trying to maximize my glide ratio in the head wind. I arrived over the LZ with an extra 1000'. I couldn't resist the prospect of a few 360s before setting up to land. The landing itself was perfect. I gently glided to the center of the LZ where my feet touched down as soft as a feather. It was fast, but the well timed flair did its job.

I packed as a college buddy, who had seen me land, skied up to me. An hour later, I skiing with him and my girlfriend on the mountain. I took one more picture of Mt. Bachelor from the top of one of the ski lifts and gave it a new name.
The one that was
Looking to the south, I saw the Three Sisters and decided at least one of the peaks had a new name as well.

The one that will be

The next Tuesday, I boarded a plane for the East Coast, and headed to the land that taught me to fly.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Return to Oregon (part I)

Returning to Oregon was a weird feeling. Everything was familiar and, while it felt like I had been gone a considerable length of time, not much had changed. The first few days after my arrival drew to snow shoeing around Mt. Bachelor.

On the way back into the valley Sunday, I glanced toward Peterson Butte and, sure enough, no less than five gliders were in the air. As I approached, the five turned into ten. I was hiking up to launch less than twenty minutes later. A local hang glider pilot on the ground gave me the short-wave frequency, which I had forgotten and I was soon on the horn. Ryan was in the host (the collective term for paragliders in the air) above, as was Matt Henzi. The steep hike of Peterson quickly winded me, but looking up to the soaring wings above pushed me forward. Ryan landed at mid where we exchanged pleasantries along the lines of "Hey." "Hey." "The air's good. Let's catch up later." and then Ryan went airborne again. I ran launch prep at mid and was soon airborne too. I benched up and returned to my friends in the air. It was a great feeling. The thick wet air of Peterson Butte was cool to fly through, but the sun was warm and shined off the wet grass in the field below. A few pilots radioed in "Welcome back."

A pilot on glide from Peterson Butte
The thermals rolling up the butte were gently but noticable. The air was calm as it could be and still be thermic. Kealakekua had done well to prepare me. I know Peterson Butte's thermals are not the strongest or sharpest I'll find in this world, but after wrestling with tigers over Captain Cook, I found kittens in the Williamette Valley. The relaxing flight gave me time to practice my spirals. I flew with three bald eagles and the snowy foothills and Cascades peaks stood out clearly along the eastern horizon. I flew for 90 minutes that day. Eventually, I decided to land, though conditions were still soarable.

Back on the ground, Collin arrived. He, I, and Ryan chatted. I was once against faced with the same paradigm that has followed me most of my adult life. For Ryan and Collin, five months had passed. For Ryan in particular, the flying in those five months had been pretty bad. I, on the other hand, had just experienced an epic five month journey in flight. On that journey, I experienced new conditions and shared flights with many, many new pilots. It was difficult to relate. That's not to say Ryan had grown rusty. He had put several hours of kiting in and rocked his Gradient Aspen on the ground and in the air. Collin to was finishing his P1 training with Matt and had considerable kiting skills to boot. This contrasted strongly with me and my wing. Kealakekua had been great for baptism by fire thermal training, but the short cycles rolling through launch were never long enough or strong enough to kite my canvas-like glider. Without running forward there, it was nearly impossible to keep my glider inflated. I hadn't kited in over five months and it showed in my ground handling confidence.

The next day, Ryan and I traversed the coast from Cape Kiwanda to Cape Lookout trying to find a site to fly, but the wind was strong everywhere. Eventually, we met up with Steve S., a hang pilot, a site not often used by paraglider pilots - Tierra del Mar. I kited the beach for a bit before Ryan climbed the hill and launched into the exceptionally strong winds on the hill. I should have stayed on the beach. Ryan showed little penetration as he flew. I should have stayed on the beach. I had already written the launch as too strong to safely launch. I should have stayed on the beach. I climbed on the hill and tried twice with failure to launch. Each time, the wing would drag me back into the brush and I had to pick my way out. Did I mention I should have stayed on the beach? Around 5:00pm, I tried to launch a third time and was picked up backwards into a flight that was no longer than three seconds. In that time, my wing never gained positive ground speed. I tried to steer my glider toward the only opening toward the beach behind launch, but the wind was just too strong. I found myself in a tree. I was fine. Physically unhurt. Mentally, I was frustrated as I faced my wing in a tree for the second time in my life. I should have stayed on the beach. I had known better.

Ryan flying over Kiwanda before the site turned off
I radioed that I needed assistance but that I was physically unharmed. I looked around and saw I was somewhere between 20-30 feet above the ground. My harness and I hung on one side of the tree's canopy. My wing hung on the other. Extraction was going to be terrible. I unbuckled and lowered myself gently to a large branch below and walked below the mess to the center to figure out just what I had to do. There was no way of knowing how damaged the wing was, but I intended to treat it as though it was unscathed. Despite all the short-comings of this wing, it had survived a treeing event before without damage. I thought I might be lucky a second time.

View from the beach before trying to fly. Why would I leave this?
My plan was simple. Detach the harness from the wing. Finagle the risers from the far side of the tree to the wing-ward side. Starting stuff the closest side of the wing and lines into the stuff sack and work along the canopy until I had recovered the whole wing. I detached the nearest risers from the harness and got to work. Ryan appeared and helped. Progress was slow and exhausting. It was hard to stay in the tree and hang onto the bag at the same time. I returned to the dangling harness and, with much effort, detached the other set of risers to send the harness plummeting to the seacliff floor before. I was higher than I had originally realized. Ryan, thinking this was an emergency until he had arrived, left to go pack his gear - a decision I supported. His stuff was on the beach easy able to be stolen. There was no reason to risk two gliders to try to save one. A feeling of hopelessness rose within me. The sun was setting and I didn't even have 15% of my glider in the stuff sack. After the sun set, I wouldn't be able to do anything and wings do not fare well in trees on the coast. The evening winds would likely shred the glider, or worse, send it out to sea.

The problem, was that I had to work above the trees' canopies while balancing on branches I couldn't see below. To add to the difficulty, I couldn't use my hands to balance as they had to work the wing and untangle lines while holding the stuff sack. Furthermore, one set of risers was firmly snagged on the far side of the tree from the wing with no supporting sub-canopy branches to allow me access to the snag. With the current system failing, I began to wonder if the canopy alone could support my weight. I applied more and more weight and discovered that pine canopy could support my 135 lbs so long as I laid out like I was doing a back stroke. If I tried to put a hand or foot down, however, that hand or foot would easily punch through to the dark hollows below. Using a weird backstroke-esq motion, I moved toward the risers, worked the lines until the set was free and returned with them to the wing. Laying on top the canopy, I was able to move more quickly devoting most of my attention to untangling lines. I could even rest the stuff sack on the canopy surface. The sun was mostly gone now, but I had over half the wing. This was working. The stuff sack was filling. Soon I only had a few cells of my wing left. Then those were gone too. The mess was all in the bag, which I tied firmly closed. Ryan returned exactly at this time and I passed the bag to him.

It was the darker side of twilight now. Ryan carried glider in its bag through the thick underbrush back toward launch. I carried the harness and was surprised at what I had flown over in my short flight. The bushes were well over my head and I had to fight to keep forward momentum, but after the hour long ordeal of rescuing the wing, it was nothing. Ryan took the wing to the beach and I went to the car to grab some beers. The sun was below the horizon now. Back on the beach, we made short work of clearing the lines. I inflated the glider. It felt normal. Ryan inflated the glider while I inspected it. To my mild amazement and relief, I found no apparent damage. I packed everything away. On the way back to the car, Steve appeared with some gardening tools, but I was happy to inform him they were no longer needed. The three of us chatted well past dark before we seperated. I was exhausted and glad to be heading home ending my second day of "flying" back in Oregon.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Aloha Hawaii

My time in Hawaii has officially drawn to its end. From cliff jumping to lava to swimming with dolphins and cloud hopping in the trusty old wing, I consider myself very fortunate to have been permitted the entire experience. Being able to live there for five months gave me the opportunity to take my time and take in all that was happening that much better. I never felt rushed or like squandering my Hawaiian time, even when I was doing something as lazy as sitting on the edge of the Halemaumau overlook reading a book.

The Big Island, as any new part of life, was everything but what I had expected it to be. I tried to imagine what life in Hawaii would be like and it's weird to think that I am leaving.

Now, I am headed back to Oregon. It's time to fly.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Flying Kealakekua and Kahana

I couldn't resist the clouded beauty of my last Kealakekua flights when I was trying to put something together from Kahana, so the video starts with some of my favoriate Kealakekua footage of cloud hopping before the breathtaking views of Kahana.

This was one of those videos that pretty much threw itself together requiring little editing. It's easy when working with scenery so beautiful.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Mary's Peak, OR

It looks like Ryan got a nice little flight in last weekend at Mary's Peak in Oregon. I have yet to fly over snow and it looks like he beat me to it. I'd say I am and jealous, but I wasn't exactly watching the Superbowl either. Enjoy another Rogue Duck flick. It's always good to see footage from the white wing.

And to Ryan, until we fly again buddy.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Kahana Indeed

Until recently I had been under great trial and tribulation. I sold my car last week and that left me with three weekends in Hawaii with no means to fly. However, Oahu, a sort-of kind-of really famous flying Mecca was only an hour's plane ride away. The thing about Oahu, especially in the winter, is that the weather can be unpredictable, at least when the wind is concerned. Dropping $350 on a weekend of potentially no flying is a dangerous thing to someone my age.

Last week, I checked the weather everyday through Thursday. I asked the Oahu pilots what they thought of the coming weekend's conditions. Late Thursday night, I took the plunge, bought the tickets, reserved the car, and didn't ask or think about the weather again until Saturday morning.

Saturday, I awoke on Oahu at my buddy Gary's. He was kind of enough to let me use his pad as a home base. The wind looked bad, really bad. A SE with 20-30 mph was hammering the island. It was unlikely that the wind would ever clock the 7-10 mph NE I so desperately wanted. One pilot, Woody, brought his speed wings, and several of us hung out on a grass beach kiting the little wings. It was my first time with such a small wing and I found them easy to control even in the high winds. Seven or eight stayed till sunset talking and enjoying the kiting practice.

Oahu had recently made national paragliding headlines as one of the best clubs in the county and I soon saw why. Even though flying was out of the question that afternoon, they chose to just hang out together and they enjoyed it. They acted like one family enjoying the sunny Saturday. I admit I felt like an outsider, but that's because I was.
Kiting speedwings Saturday
Early on Sunday Gary and I headed toward Makapuu a cross country ridge soaring site. Yes, cross country ridge soaring. There were already two pilots in the air, but it was coming in strong - too strong for me and my half powered wing. Understand that I am flying a beginner's wing that sacrifices speed for stability. To make matters worse, Oahu flying is known for strong winds, 15-17 mph base. I am certain my glider tops out around 17 mph, so standing there with Gary at Makapuu, watching gliders faster than mine parked in the air, barely able to penetrate forward, made my heart sink. The winds were supposed to be howling Monday, my last day on the island. Sunday was my only chance. Then Gary got a call from some folks headed toward another site, farther north - Kahana. It wasn't flyable there, but the winds were expected to change there in a good way. In the Hawaiian language, Kahana means wondrous or amazing. I would find the site lived up to its name.

We jumped drove the hour to find two pilots sitting on the landing zone beach with a gentle breeze coming directly in. I tried to contain my excitement as some other pilots began to arrive. Then the first of us began the steep climb to launch.

I laid out and watched some pilots launch. Some sunk out. Some scratched and climbed out. Conditions were light. It looked like those who were able to climb out found delightfully stronger winds aloft. With much anticipation, I pulled my glider above me and was surprised when I was plucked backwards. I steered clear of the ridge, turned myself around, leaned back in the harness, took a wrap of the controls, and prepared to scratch until my wing bled. For twenty minutes I struggled to maintain altitude at launch. Then I started catching the occasional thermal. I did all I could to linger in them and gain 10 - 20 feet here and there. I would gain a little and scratch to stay there, gain a little more and scratch again. It was slow, but I was working my way higher. At one point, I was high enough to clear the first ridge and was met with breath taking cliffs. They generated really good lift too. I eventually crested entire ridge line with a feeling of victory. Of the ten or so that had launched, I was one of four to make it up at that point. I have a slow glider, but it is buoyant for DHV 1-2.

I was rewarded with this view
Gary was one of the lucky few above me. He invited me to go cross country with him. I knew any thermal cross country trips would be over in an hour. I gambled that conditions would improve where we were and decided to stay. The others departed.

And there I was, back in the coastal ridge lift I had learned in all the way back in Oregon. I turned off my vario several times that day. There was just no need for it. Then there were times I grew too curious of my altitude and I turned it on and the beeping would quickly become annoying, so I'd turn it off again. I eventually settled on keeping the toy muted.

The thermals were nothing like Kealakekua. Instead, they were light with extremely mellow edges. At one point, I found one large enough to climb to 2600 feet before sinking down to the top of the ridge's lift band. I flew the ridge for over an hour until another glider came to meet me. Jim, another local, flew around me for a half hour before he took off towards the north in hopes of finding the others. He heard the earlier talk on the radio and knew I was content where I was as he never asked if I was interested. I enjoyed my first mid-air paragliding snack, a granola bar, and kept on flying.

A little stretch 2 hours into flight
The only unsettling aspect of the day was the abundance of helicopters that would fly by. They'd be higher than us, lower than us, and at the same altitude as us. Too often, I would see them before I would hear them and usually whirly-birds were already too close. At one point, a helicopter flew about quarter a mile upwind from me, crossed my path. I began to wonder if the rotor would reach my wing and tried not to think about how my wing would react. Another glider immediately began making spirals to lose altitude and, what appeared to me, get away from being downwind of the coming rotor. I didn't ask. I did the same thing and climbed up several hundreds feet a few minutes later after what I imagined to be enough time to let everything smooth out.

Woody enjoying the setting sun
As the hours passed, I worked my way back toward the ocean. The wind was shifting from more east to more north and I wanted to make sure I was out in front of everything while that was happening. I worked the sea cliffs over the ocean until Woody and Rodney, a Maui instructor, joined me. The three of us flew together for over an hour until Woody decided to land. Rodney and I tried to cross the bay, but even on full speed-bar, I found my ground speed sinking to .6 mph with no lift over the water. He and I were forced to turn around and return to our ridge. The sun had already started to set. I had been in the air over four hours and the wind was starting to pick up. It was becoming much harder to move forward. I swung out one last time over the bay and completed two series of spirals before beginning my landing routine on a beautifully wide and long beach. I landed more or less cross wind due to some beach goers blocking a final turn into the wind, but I touched down softly nonetheless and packed everything away.

Me  and my wing off in the valley: photo by Jim
That night, the club president, Alex, hosted a BBQ at his place. Most who flew that day found their way to his place, where everyone welcomed me and I greatly enjoyed talking story and eating. It was the sort of group in which you just feel you belong, like everybody there would be easy to befriend given time. I no longer felt like an outsider. Goodbyes involved hugs and laughing. I said farewell and headed toward my host's abode recapping the events of the day.

Monday saw a return to winds 20+ mph and my return to the Big Island. I had only one day of Oahu flying under my belt, but I knew I was lucky. To have a light wind but flyable day on Oahu is rare. I definitely felt grateful to have had such an experience to call my own. After returning to the Big Island, I am still trying to process everything about the mellow flight. I can't help but keep thinking how different Kahana is from Kealakekua. I also realize that this will be my last Hawaiian flight. I am OK with this given that everything was EPIC!

PS. The photos in the gallery of my blue Ellus 2 are compliments of Jim when we were flying together.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Final flights over Kealakekua

Tandem glider in the air on my way back to launch
Whenever I'm driving to a site, it's usually pretty far (2+ hours) away. I always end up wondering "Is this day going to be the one? Is this day going to be epic?" I never really know if I am going to be up for hours or if I am going to be stuck with 7 minute sledders all weekend. As I wound my old '91 Explorer through the snaking roads of Naalehu and South Kona, I again found myself lost in these thoughts. Given that this was to be my weekend flying on the island, I wanted to end it with something big. Saturday started with the usual morning sledder. A couple of other guys always took advantage of the stable but smooth morning air for short flights. I'd catch a ride with them as they went back to launch. That morning the air didn't seem exceptional or even note worthy. Sitting in the back of the pickup on the way back to launch gave me a beautiful view over the bay. I couldn't help but take in the moment knowing this was to be my final weekend in Kealakekua.

The launches always grows crowded by noon
I returned to launch to find no one really eager to get into the air. A couple guys would launch and sink out. A few more would launch and repeat the process. I decided to join the third volley into the valley. I was met with little to no lift, so I set course toward the main LZ. Half way there, I encountered only the weakest bit of a thermal. It was weak, but I soon discovered it was wide enough to make shallow turns in. After a few 360s and a hundred feet gain, the thermal grew stronger. The other guys from my group had already landed at this point. I continued to climb. The 4th volley launch and sunk out. I had scratched from 100 ft above the LZ to now 1000 ft above launch and was still climbing. I eventually found a ceiling of sorts around 3200 ft. Following the track of the thermal, I was nearly a mile south of launch. After playing there and realizing I wouldn't be getting any higher, I headed toward launch to watch yet another group of pilots take off. By this point, conditions had improved. They stayed airborne.

I watched as one pilot, Neal, hit a strong thermal edge and stalled half his wing into a helicopter spin. He recovered, but not before giving himself a 180 degree riser twist and sending his glider downwind towards the hill. With a skill I only hope to one day have, he turned himself around beneath his glider and then turned his glider around. I thought he was going to try to crash land. To my amazement, Neal cleared the trees of the ridge, went out over the valley, and climbed to greet me. I could only congratulate him.

The lift improved as clouds continued to build. The 3200 ft ceiling disappeared. I reached 3900 ft, a previous record for me at Kealakekua, and encountered the base of the scattered clouds. Clouds are still a new and foreign feature to me. I am trying to figure out what their lift and sink patterns are. I may have entered a cloud or two that day to see what they are all about and discovered, as I had been told, that the latent heat of condensation produces fair lift. The lift was consistent, widespread, and mellow on the edges. I played by jumping in and out of the cloud margins seeing how quickly visibility disappeared and practicing using only a GPS to fly a bearing. Once, I cored up to 4600 feet at one point and used my GPS to set a course due W for the beach, where I knew I would meet blue skies. As fantastic as this experience was, I began to grow nervous as I stayed in this soup for several minutes. I thought for sure that I should have left the cloud by this point. According to the GPS, I continued to gain altitude and had positive ground speed. As terrain slowly faded into view and the sun warmed my face I released a sigh of relief. I played with clouds for a long time and then noticed most pilots were headed toward the bay landing site, the church. I flew out over the bay, where the air was smooth and enjoyed being on glide from 4000 ft to nearly 100 ft all the while observing the marine life and coral. I kept thinking how lucky I was to being experiencing that moment. As I dropped lower and lower, I noticed the onshore wind increasing in strength. I found my glider bucking into a 12+mph headwind as I set up for the church landing. Depending on what combination of brakes and speedbar I used, I could sit almost motionless above the ground. I parked my wing for a few minutes while another pilot landed and then followed his landing pattern in. In effect, I just hung above the LZ and waited until I gently descended straight down to terrafirma.
Last pilot landing Saturday

I spent over 2 hours and 20 minutes in the air on that one flight. The LZ crowd held a celebratory mood. I too marveled in the experience I just had and packed my glider with shaky hands. As much as I liked being in the air, I had been ready to land. I relaxed in the balmy heat of being at sea level in the tropics and enjoyed laughs with my soon to be old friends.

That night I was invited to dinner by a neighbor of the launch. Several other pilots were there. Everyone else was in their 60s or 70s. The conversations varied from flying to former lives to how everyone ended up in Hawaii. As the groups split and rejoined, I eventually found myself at the balcony starring into the evening sky and wondering just how I started hanging out with a group of people that were all at least twice my age. The funny thing is, before that moment I had never viewed them as being that old. They all flew in strong conditions and landed like spry 20-somethings. I began to understand how odd paragliding is, to bring such an unusual group of people together - Scotty, a sky bum and contractor; Gene, a retired commercial fisherman from Alaska; Charlie, a retired teacher and construction worker; and then me, a volcanologist. Last October, I was only a random person that materialized on their launch one Saturday morning and they treated me like family from the get-go. Returning to my tent on launch, I realized this would be my last night in Kealakekua. The moonshine was surprisingly bright, but sleeping wasn't difficult.

Sunday didn't return the same air time. I enjoyed a half hour of flying, but conditions over developed early and I ended up saying goodbye to the closest thing to a family I have had on the Big Island with handshakes and hugs.

Again I find myself saying goodbye. That's something that most other pilots don't really talk about. You meet so many unique and interesting people. Some you get to know well for an extended period of time, but you eventually say farewell to all of them. Flying is a bittersweet thing.
View S from launch with my glider before the final flight

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Last Time at Kealakekua

I arrived at launch last Saturday before 9am. The wind was reported to be a strong 35 N. Given that we were on the lee side of the island, it seemed unlikely the SSW launch would work. I decided to head out and try flying anyway. I found Scotty and Moku already on launch observing conditions. The flags were blowing directly up launch (SSW). They said it was rotor. Being a lowly P3 and knowing the wind forecast, I did not dispute their conclusions. I waited until other P4s, Sammy and Gene, arrived. Sammy and Gene are both retired. You wouldn't know it, but Gene is the oldest pilot in the area at 76. He launched first without showing much concern. Gene said they would report conditions once air borne, but he never got the chance. The air was rough, really rough. Collapses were happening every few seconds, but it wasn't unflyable. Sammy launched. Their gliders would shimmer and shudder in the air, but they were gaining altitude. I looked at Scotty. He looked at me. We both knew what was to happen.

Sammy and Gene were not in trouble, but they weren't having relaxing flights either. As part of my self  duty, I wanted to launch into that circus of air currents. I unpacked my wing and launched.

The air was the toughest stuff I have been in to date. I was getting knocked around hard. Later, Sammy would say it was P4 air. I fought to stay in a thermal only to take a major collapse, recover, find lift, and take a collapse again. I was cursing and laughing, terrified and exhilarated  Eventually, I began to lose altitude and began to think about landing. I made sure I kept the an LZ within an easy glide. I felt like my glider kept getting swatted by some invisible giant.

When the time came, I began the standard approach that involved killing as much altitude as possible before flying between two mango trees and then swinging some really aggressive S-turns to bring me down on that down hill slope. As usual, I found almost flyable lift right as I passed the two trees and had that half-second inspiration of "I can fly out of here" but soon came to my senses that it would be better to just land than to try to be a hero in marginal air. I fought through the thermic turbulence until I could engage my short final and stuck it perfectly. I turned around, quickly killed the glider, radioed in my safe landing (a requirement in Kealakekua) and reveled in the excitement I had just been through. I felt like a king.

This coming weekend will be my final weekend at Kealakekua. Next Friday, I sell my car. So all coming flights will be bittersweet as I say good bye to all I have just begun to meet.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Hawaii: The Big Island and how I learned to love the bump

During my last months in Oregon, I was offered a temporary position in the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. As a young aspiring geologist, I was and still am stoked; however, I was concerned because contacting the flying group on the Big Island was proving to be especially difficult. Oahu's flying group was alive and active online, but the most I could get about the Big Island was three phone numbers. No one answered on those numbers when I called before leaving.

After arriving on the island, I tried again. I spoke with a local instructor, Scotty, who said the only flying was in Kealakekua Bay. That was a problem for me. Kealakekua Bay was two hours away by car. I had no car. I really didn't want to buy a car because my time in Hawaii was to be a brief five months. I search for junkers, but finding a vehicle on the Island was difficult. That is, until a co-worker gave me a number of his friend. In the end I bought a 1991 Ford Explorer 4x4 for $900. It ran fine. Mostly.

On my 4th weekend on the Big Island, I was Kealakekua bound for the first time. I met Scotty face-to-face and he gave me site intro. All the landing zones were classified as restricted. Restricted, really, was a euphemism. Even at the most forgiving LZ you only got one chance to land once you committed and you had to commit well before you final leg of approach. This gave the air lots of opportunities to raise or drop before landing. Landing too early or too late meant power lines, trees, or bees. The area to land sloped down in the direction of the prominent wind direction at a gradient steeper than any modern glider's glide ratio. For these reasons, any flying on the Big Island was P3 or higher only. I was intimidated, but I knew that it was either fly here or not fly on the island. I told Scott I could do it. I had doubts. As bad as the LZs in Kealakekua are, the launch is good. It's wide, grassy, gently sloping, and without too much rotor producing objects. I knew launching would be no problem.

So I launched early in the morning to avoid any thermic activity. I knew I was in for a 7 minute sledder. I spent half that time following the procedure for the main LZ approach. I came down almost too early and dropped the glider in a bunch of coffee plants. Moku, another local pilot, watched my landing. He wasn't impressed, but it wasn't bad enough to get me kicked out.

I've flown just about every weekend I could have in Kealakekua since and am still counting. In doing so, I have more flights and hours flown over Kealakekua than at another site. More importantly, I have learned to thermal. Kealakekua is only thermic. There's no ridge lift. That's right. Remember my great enemy at Pine Mountain and Woodrat? It's been a learning process, but I've had a flew flights over an hour now, which I consider an accomplishment. Even though most flights are somewhere between 20-30 minutes, I still have a blast. Just writing that puts it all into perspective. Less than a year ago, a 20-30 minute flight would have been akin to a miracle. Now it's average.

Learning to thermal was surprisingly easier than I thought it would be, grant it sometimes you don't find anything and you just sink out. Figuring out efficient turning and what good lift feels like is easy. The hard part was just increasing my tolerance to turbulence - being OK with getting knocked around in the air. When you are hundreds or thousands of feet in the sky and your glider is getting thrashed around, taking deflations, and generally just misbehaving, it's pretty damn unsettling. Even with SIV training, I found myself (unnecessarily) scared at many points. However, I made it a point to keep launching into stronger and stronger air. Somewhere between last September and now, I started flying mid-day. I have learned to embrace "the bump" as it's called. I learned that high pressure days meant smaller, stronger thermals than low pressure days. Thermals I once thought too small to use, I learned to core into. The complicated landing zone has become almost routine. Almost because the LZ also happens to be one of the most thermically active surfaces in the area. You can ALWAYS expect a good 50-100 foot kick, if not more coming in. That said, sometimes the kick doesn't happen, but you need to be ready for anything. That means coming in on a final that will put you where you will want to be without lift but also a final that will let you bleed out an extra 200-300 feet if things go crazy and things do go crazy. Here is video is from my first four weeks of Kealakekua flying.
One day I found myself in 1400+ foot per minute lift with comparable sink. My poor wing was taking collapses all over the place. One collapse was 70-80% of my wing. Given that it was my third week at Kealakekua, my brain was in crisis mode (not to be confused with panic). I used spirals to get down, but it still took me a long time because every time I would exit the spiral, the lift would suck me back up several hundred feet. It was a day I kissed the ground after landing. In hindsight, I should have stayed airborne and just rode things out another hour or two until the lift calmed down with the setting sun.

Did I improve those landings? Did I become a thermal pilot? I can answer unequivocally 'yes' to both these questions, but I was still a P2, a subject I discussed with Scotty when I met him, but I told him I was an advanced P2. This was true. I had over 25 hours, 100 flights, and experience in wide range of mellow conditions. Kealakekua was the place to grow. If Oregon had been my cradle for flying, Kealakekua is my playground. After observing my good landings, honestly my landings have become something I am proud of, my budding thermaling skills, and giving me a little exam, Scotty and Chris, another instructor, gave me my P3 license. Ellis had commented once long before that if I could just stay alive long enough, I would turn into a decent pilot. I think that's true now.

Fall turned to winter in Hawaii and flying conditions improved as they usually do in Kealakekua. The days became sunnier and nights cooler - a recipe for good flying. Here is a video of the early winter flying there.

That's it. That's a quick summary of everything to the present. From here on out it's current.

Farewell Oregon

The summer of 2012 saw my presentation to and submission of my thesis to the University of Oregon. My time there was at an end. With a position in the US Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory on the horizon, I found myself headed to the Big Island of Hawaii. I would be living on Kilauea and working on Mauna Loa. I didn't know when I would fly again.

In Oregon I had rediscovered flight among countless other things of which I am grateful to have been a part. From snowshoeing and skiing to running, playing dodgeball, and paintball. I had crashed my motorcycle and resurrected it. My new home had been more than just the cradle Maryland had been. In Oregon, I had thrived as a person.

Leaving behind a place I had finally begun to call home stung. It was nearly as the difficult as the time I moved west from the East Coast. After leaving my apartment and saying good bye to my friends, I threw my glider on my back and departed. The flight was twelve hours with two layovers. I landed in the dark. Even in an age of modern maps, GPS, radar, and transponders, I still tried to wrap my brain around the idea that our plane was going to land on a very small dot in a very large ocean without enough fuel to turn around should we miss our mark or any other improbable circumstance occur. I arrived in the land of perpetual summer and sat alone at the airport until my ride showed.

This video is a farewell tribute. Oregon, I shall return.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Learning to fly (part III)

View from Peterson Butte Launch
Over the course of that spring and early summer, Ryan and I, together and separately, few Cape Lookout and Sollie Smith, all the while practicing our kiting skills at Cape Kiwanda. Matt Hensley even spent a day with us at Astoria teaching us how to kite with As and Cs. If nothing else, the spring was a time of learning. The coastal air was clean and smooth. The wind was predictable even when the pilots weren't. Bill also spent time with me a site closer to Eugene - a place called Peterson Butte. He worked on the As and Cs with me there. Despite him being twice my age, he treated me like a peer. Through these combined efforts, I began to fill in all the holes of P2 training that my first instructor had left behind.

It was Ryan who had the idea Cape Perpetua. Cape Perpetua was and remains an old site not often used. I am fairly certain that the story you are about to depicts its most recent use. Having never flown the site before, we arrived early to find the wind, as far as we could tell, coming in perfectly. We scoped conditions for two hours, checked potential landing zones, and observed conditions longer still. Finally, Ryan had had enough. He reversed and found superb, smooth lift. As I prepared to follow him into the air, the wind died and clouds blanketed the cape. I was fogged in - except Ryan reported that the fog only veneered the cape. He was a few hundred feet out in lift and could still see the beach. I forward launched. My plan was to go straight out until I cleared the clouds. I told him my plan on the radio before launching so he would stay clear as I emerged from the cloud bank. Then I went for it. It was a dumb thing to do, especially without a GPS. I felt lost in the fog and did my best to keep my bearings.  I was lucky. It worked. A minute after launch, the clouds began to part and I could see the coast. The rest of the flight went well, until I went in to land. I had chosen a small beach. It was the tightest landing zone I had ever attempted. In the end, I felt too confined and low to turn. Forced into a gully,  I landed downwind and in a stream. My glider filled with water and I struggled for over an hour until Ryan landed, packed, and came to help. I broke a few rules to make this flight happen and I know it was stupid. Was it worth it? I don't know. I got away unharmed, but, as I said, I was lucky. Everything else aside, I survived and learned from this day. There is something to be said for that.
As April rolled to May and May to June, the coastal winds began to take up their summer regime, a non-flyable regime. Rather than wind going up and over capes, wind goes around them instead in the summer - in other words, no lift.

With the coast dying, Ryan and I took the sage advice from a man by the name of Blizzard and threw money down for an SIV course. It wasn't cheap, but it was worth it. SIV stands for some French shortening of a French term for an emergency maneuvers paragliding course. I experienced being towed by a boat for the first time, something I do not remember fondly. A paraglider feels sluggish under tow. The wing never feels like it is in the correct position overhead. The vibrations coming through the mile long cable are not reassuring. I was always eager to hear the "NOW" over the radio, telling me to cut the tow and be free of the whole thing. Then, I would find myself over a half mile high with a guy on the radio telling me to foul my wing in various ways. It started with collapsing the wing, and moved on to flying backwards, stalling the wing, wing overs, cravats, spirals and, for some, reserve tosses. If I told you I was anything but terrified each flight, I'd be lying to you, but I learned more about my glider in those two days than the 10 hours of air time I had had since I started flying. Check out the video for what I'm talking about. The next day I presented my thesis to the geology department. I did so with a grin and sore neck.
I left the SIV course with a better understanding of my wing and a better understanding of what to do should things go wrong. It was an excellent experience and well worth the cost. Since then, I have saved myself from at least one incident that probably would have destroyed me or my wing.

With a dead coast, I headed east, to the high desert, for a different sort of flying - the fabled glass off.
Glass off is the term given to air that rises from the ground after the sun heats the surface of the earth all day long. All the warm air releases skyward and creates a very smooth but strong lift event. If you catch glass off early enough, you can fly for hours. Pine Mountain is world renown for its glass offs. As a member of the Cascade Paragliding Club, I was a little surprised by how welcoming the Desert Air Riders were. Despite my affiliation, they treated me as one of their own.

A toward the setting sun and other pilots
Somewhere above Pine Mountain
On my first flight at Pine, I was warned about the venturi effect, an increase in wind speed due to topography, near a saddle in the ridge. I noted the advice along with everything else thrown at me during the site intro. After launching, I stayed out in front of the ridge for some time and then slowly worked my way back toward the saddle and summit. At the point of my path closest to the saddle, I turned to fly away from the ridge. To my horror, I found myself making no positive gain on the ground. The speed of the wind coming at my glider exceeded my gliders maximum air speed. I was moving backwards. I fully engaged my speed bar to steepen my wing's angle of attack and leaned back in my harness to reduce drag. Nothing was working. Going over the back of a ridge is a very bad thing. The wind ward side contains stable rising air. The lee side is an area of sink and turbulence. I had already been warned that more than one pilot had broken their back after being pushed through the saddle. After fighting the wind for more than 10 minutes, I looked behind me. My horizontal position had not changed, but I had gained over 1,000' since the ordeal began. I added a slight angle to my yaw to try to slowly work away from the saddle. After another 5 minutes of sweating pure fear, I broke free. I stayed well out in front of Pine Mountain the rest of the night - not venturing near the saddle again.

I would end up riding 3.5 hours to Pine Mountain every Friday that summer. Launch elevation was around 5,000' ASL. It was not uncommon to exceed 7,000' ASL. I would spend the night in my tent near launch, fly the next morning, fly glass off again Saturday night and head home Sunday morning. The flights were great. I eventually overcame my fear of the saddle on the calmer days and checked it out from a safe perspective. I also flew mornings before the thermals started acting up and it was at Pine Mountain that I finally exceeded my first 20 hours of flight time.

The glass offs were noticeably more turbulent than the coastal flying. Even during glass, there were thermals that would produce stronger lift. It was unsettling at first. I eventually grew accustomed to it increased turbulence, but never really acquired the taste for textured air. At the end of summer, I rode the 3 hours down to Woodrat and participated in Star Thistle. Kevin Lee, a well known instructor the Rogue Valley Hang Gliding & Paragliding Association, gave me a well developed site intro and made sure I was able to handle big air of Woodrat.

On my first flight from Woodrat, I saw my first reserve toss (not including the SIV clinic). The pilot fell behind the ridge, an easy feat at Woodrat. The turbulence turned his wing into a ball and 5 seconds later he lost nearly 700'. His reserve toss was almost too late to matter, but he walked away unhurt. I never flew midday at Woodrat, being too weak in my thermaling skills. I did, however, fly the glass off there. It was even more turbulent than at Pine Mountain. I couldn't become comfortable in the stronger air. After an hour, I chose to land. Learning to thermal would come later.

As August turned into September, Pine Mountain glass offs became colder and weaker; however, the end of summer meant a return to coastal flying. The Cascade Paragliding Club had just finished its revitalization of the Yaquina Head site. I arrived around noon on a mid-September day to find the wind coming straight up launch at 9-10 mph. I called Ryan. Given that he only lived 10 minutes away, he showed up promptly. It was blissful to return to the smooth coastal ridge lift that I had spread my figurative wings in so long ago. The conditions were perfect. I was also surprised to see my flying had improved since my last coastal flight in June. Yaquina flight felt like a summarization of all I had learned since I first unpacked the wing the February before. My wing had a character I was learning to understand. I could read the wind. I knew how to react. Yaquina Head was the first time I felt like a pilot who completely understood the science and mechanics of flight.
Sadly, the day would also be my last day flying with Ryan. We had basically learned to fly together and from each other, but it was time to go. I said farewell to my partner in crime and rode home thinking of what the futures may lay in store. I was moving to Hawaii at the end of the month.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Learning to fly (part II)

When I moved to Oregon, I did not fly for nearly a year. Grad school was time consuming. Furthermore, I had no car, only a small motorcycle. One day I threw the glider in the back of my girlfriends jeep before we went off camping in the desert. Coincidentally, there were gliding pilots at the same campground (Pine Mountain) that night. They invited me to fly with them. The next morning, I did an early desert flight before the thermals began to build. It was just a sledder and it was also the roughest flight I had had to that date. Once we separated, I lacked, among other things, the transport to really put an effort in continuing to fly.

Then my buddy, Ryan, gave me a call one day in September. After college back east, he moved to lake Tahoe and became a ski bum, but he now had a position starting at the Rogue Brewery in Newport, Oregon. Newport was only two hours away from my school in Eugene. Nothing really happened at first. Then one day in February I figured out how to carry my glider on my motorcycle. The next day Ryan and I started kiting on the beach near his house. It was a little random, but fun. It was nice to have a familiar face in flight. Two weeks later we talked each other into going to a training hill of sorts, the Cape Kiwanda Dunes. It was early March, and I will remember that day for the rest of my life.

When I had launched at Pine Mountain, the August prior, I was terrified. It had been over a year since I had even pulled the wing out. I was even having trouble hooking up my speed system with confidence. I did a forward because a reverse was out of the question. Cape Kiwanda changed that. I screwed up a few times. But the dunes were broad and barren. The sand was soft - relatively. I ate sand. I intentionally stalled my glider a few feet above the ground. I landed cross wind. I landed down wind. Ryan was as rusty as I was. Together, we re-learned what we had learned. I walked up that training hill no less than 12 times that day. I can only describe that time as pure joy. I was exhausted by the end, but I could reverse launch again. The day was magic. It was also my first time flying with a camera. I had too much fun making this video, though I am ashamed to say I stole the song from another paragliding film - a sin I will never repeat again.
Ryan kept telling me we needed to get in with the local paragliding group. I don't know why I was so reluctant to do so before the suggestion. I left an email with on the listserv, and was soon called by a guy named Bill (P3). He said the flying was going to be good that weekend at some place called Cape Lookout. The next Saturday, I rode to his abode, threw my stuff in the back of his 4x4 and we were off. I sat in the back, listening to Bill chat with another pilot, Mike (P4), in the front passenger seat. I didn't really care where we were going or how long it would take to get there. I had felt like I already had success. I was breaking the barrier. Even if today was blown out, it would be fine. A sledder would make me happy. I would learn the site - a real soaring site, not just some low dunes.

After a couple hours we arrived at Cape Lookout. I didn't really know the geography. I could see the beach from the meager roadside launch. The wind was dead, but Bill didn't seem too concerned. We ate lunch and waited. Around 2 pm, the wind began to pick up a little. More pilots began arriving. Eventually, there were over 20 pilots gathered around the small launch. Some were taking off into sledders directly toward the beach. I got in line telling myself a decent launch and a solid landing would make the day a success. The wind steadily built...

When I launched, I was nervous. I pulled the wing up twice trying to do a reverse launch. Both times, it fell flat, with not enough wind. I fly a small Ellus 2. The wing is known to be a tank in that it's heavy as far as wings go and needs a bit more wind that most to launch. After more effort, I finally got the wing up! I was running forward! My feet left the ground!! I cleared the launch and made a gradual left, staying in the lift band of the cape out over the water. I turned away from the hill and then back toward launch. Unlike any other flight I had ever had, I maintained altitude. I didn't know what to do other than to keep doing what I was doing. So I just worked my way back and forth along the lift band. The other pilots, seeing my success, began launching one after the other to take advantage of the soaring conditions.

Only after I managed a couple hundred feet over launch, did I see the majesty of Cape Lookout. It extended a mile out into the ocean, covered by beautiful towering pine trees. Clouds blocked some of the higher parts of the cape. We were only flying a small part of it that day because the lift was light and ravines in the cape reduced the lift windward of their presence making a crossing of the ravines too risky.

Conditions remained light all day. Many launched and, during the lighter periods, many sunk out. I came close a few times to doing just that, but I always managed to hang in there. I had worn my summer motorcycle riding gloves - a mistake in the Oregon winter on the coast. My hands felt like they had frozen to my controls and I was just applying weight to my arms to turn. I also had a pee terribly after over two hours of being airborne, but I did not want to land. This was it. This was what I had been chasing whether I had realized it or not. Everything, at that moment, was perfect. Life was good. Tomorrow was not now and yesterday wasn't real. All the above rang true - until the urge to pee overwhelmed me and I went to land anyway. I CHOSE to land. I left the lift band, set up my approach and brought the glider down on the wide long sandy beach and was welcomed to a balmy 49 F. I took care of business and packed up. Fifteen minutes after landing, the wind died and dumped all other pilots from the air. I hurried to finish packing my glider as 20+ gliders rained down around me. I did my best to be courteous and stay clear as they had no choice about coming down.
No one really got high or left the immediate ridge, but it was amazing
I sat in the back as I rode home in pure ecstasy. At Bills, I loaded the packed glider onto my back and rode an hour in the dark through the farmlands until I reached the comfort of my dorm. I dropped everything as soon as the lock clicked behind me. I passed out on by bed in my riding gear. Waking the next day, most of my muscles were soar. Everything was tired. I had never thought about the muscles flying would need. I tried to explain to my friends in the geology department what I had experienced. The elation I wanted to share went mostly unheard. There was curiosity from most, but they just didn't know. They couldn't understand without having done it themselves. I was alone - at least until I called up Ryan, who had had to work that Saturday, and gave him the details. Ryan understood. He was jealous. I was still learning to make videos at the time, so please forgive the over dramatization from that day.
A couple weeks later was the Oceanside fly-in. I could only make it Sunday. I rode the bike the whole three hours to Cape Lookout from Eugene. I arrived at 10 am to already see pilots in the air. I called Ryan, told him it was on, and ran my pre-flight. I was in the air 15 minutes later. The cloud base was lower, but the lift was stronger. As I flew, more pilots arrived and launched. The sky was filling with more than 30+ gliders. Over two hours passed before I saw Ryan's wing below mine. I worked around and pulled along side him. We chatted a bit and then he took lead. I followed. We crossed the ravine nearest launch, a feat I had never dared before. Together, we worked further down the cape. I followed him into the clouds. We played a cloud base. I know it was unsafe, especially with all the other pilots in the air, but it was worth it to me then. It was all surreal. It wasn't real. I never felt safe, but I didn't feel unsafe either. The video below captures among the things already mentioned, a close call I had when trying to report another glider that had crashed. I escaped narrowly as my wing was brushed by pine needles.
After 3 hours of flying, I had had enough and Ryan landed too. I didn't realize it until I was on the ground, but I was shaking. I didn't stop shaking for many minutes. I don't know if it was the cold, adrenaline, or exhaustion. Again, the wind died shortly after I landed and the pilots were forced to break away from the cape to land.

We talked to some other pilots, who said they were headed to a nearby site, Sollie Smith, where the light thermals would be fun to play in. We followed them in Ryan's car. It was a sledder. I'll just leave this video here to describe the flight. The date on the video doesn't match the story. Either my logs are wrong or my memory is. It doesn't matter though. The flights happened either way.