After spending 5 weeks in Southern China working to set up BD’s new ski factory, I flew to SLC completely exhausted and drained. The Rocky mountains welcomed me back in to her beautiful arms, and after so much time in the land of industry the first night under the stars at the cabin in the Wasatch was a deeply therapeutic experience. I spent two days in SLC, boxing up my life at the cabin, paragliding at the ‘South Side’ in the mornings, and doing a big synch-up at the BD headquarters. Then I loaded my car and headed west to meet up with my girl just as she was getting out of work in the field. Having spent less than two months together in the last year, our time together is extremely valuable. We were to have 8 days before she was off to new adventures, so I drove through the night so as to not waste an hour of our time. All of this transition and travel left me completely fried.
After arriving in Bend, OR, we spent a few days around town recuperating and working on media projects, as well as spending QT together with our little mongrel Odie. Then we loaded the boats and headed down to the North Umpqua River for a few days on the water with new friends. The river was a perfect level of challenge for Caroline, enough to to flip her a few times but not so much as to overwhelm. For me, the N. Umpqua offered some good surf and a chance to warm up and get my blades in the water. The highlights, however, were the awesome hot springs, the excellent camping with the dog, and the awesome communal vibes from our welcoming new friends.
Returning to Bend, the weather finally cleared so we headed out to fly Pine with Portland buddy Matt Henzi. We were a bit late to catch the best XC potential of the day, so Matt brought his tandem wing so that he could take Caroline for a flight in the rowdy desert air. Our flights were not long nor very successful, but it is always good to put the wing in the air especially at a new sight. After landing and retrieving, we drove around to the lower launch to wait for the evening glass off. As the energy from a hot day dissipates, the flowing air mass tends to unify and turn in to a clean, laminar flow of air – glass off. Pine faces perfectly to the North-West, the prominent direction of flow, so that the glass-off forms a beautiful standing wave of air up the face of the mountain. The Desert Air Riders – the eclectic local fly crew that ranges from radical acro and xc pilots, to long-timers who have survived more years of free-flight than I have years on earth – were out in force. Together they form a tight-knit community, and they have taken Caroline under their collective wing to help her grow strong in the air. The warmth of the welcome that I received there was outstanding. We had a great evening flight and then watched as the sunset sky danced with color over the distant Cascade peaks.
As quickly as it had started, the time with my girl drew to an end. I dropped her off at the airport to send her off on her next adventure sailing in the Bahamas. Then I headed back to Pine to kick it with her crew. We had another good evening glass-off for some more soaring and acro sessions.
The next day, the weather was lining up just right to offer good XC potential. Again Matt drove down from Portland, and together with Desert Air Riders Tim and John, we headed back up to the top launch at Pine for another go at an XC flight.
Whereas soaring glass-off as I described above involves ‘surfing’ a big standing wave in a ‘river’ of laminar flowing air, XC (cross country) or ‘thermal’ flying involves circling in rising bubbles of air (thermals) created by the heat from the sun so as to climb or gain altitude. Once high, the intention is to head down wind on ‘glide’ to search for another thermal in which to climb again. The pilot typically flies with an electronic instrument known as a vario, which helps the pilot to locate and center in on the lift of a rising thermal using a tonal spectrum of beeps (higher faster beeps for stronger lift, lower beeps for sink).
At the upper Pine launch, I tied little mongrel Odie up in the shade with his sleeping bag. We launched early as the thermal cycles were just beginning to come through. Tim quickly found a climb and disappeared. John and Matt stayed high over launch, waiting for me to scratch around and find some lift. Eventually I found a decent climb, and joined those two roughly a thousand feet over launch. After a short and unsuccessful glide I sank to only a couple hundred feet off the ground, so that I was primarily focused on my immediate landing options. Suddenly a cycle came through, so I sunk a wingtip in and started climbing. I hung on and the cycle stayed strong, and eventually I climbed back out to nearly 2000 feet off the dirt! Heading down wind to the east I could just see Matt as a tiny speck in the distance, dancing with a big cumulus cloud.
After a few more cycles of gliding downwind to find lift and then climbing until it was topped, I eventually sank out and smashed in to the sagebrush about 17 miles to the east of launch – meager by many standards but my longest flight yet in the United States. Matt, however, continued to head east and eventually North in to tiger country, to achieve his personal best flight of ~85 miles. We followed him in Tim’s truck, using occasional sightings and GPS updates to track him through the relative no-mans land north of highway 20. When he finally ran out of options and was forced to land, we were waiting in the meadow below goading him on the radio to throw down some acro moves on his Icepeak 6 racing glider to speed up the descent. For the record, the Icepeak 6 can SAT..
The return trip to our cars at Pine degraded in to a pseudo-epic as we followed forgotten back-roads over the mountains, but Tim’s military driving skills pulled us through in quick time. Soon enough I was back on launch watching mongrel Odie throw down a huge pair of party-pants as I released him from a 7-hour tether. Somehow, the poor beast forgets every time that I was the one who tied him up in the first place, and simply appreciates his release and my return..