Going Places

Tuesdays menu brings us another east wind day, so…

A Costalunga we go, we go…
A Costalunga we go.

Upon arrival it is quickly obvious that the aggregate thermic and meteo winds are not for the faint in heart nor the low in experience (for the folk back home, think mid-summer on the Mt.Woodside launch between 1:30 and 2:00 PM).

Kelly informs Tim and Jim that it is best that they sit this one out, the gusting conditions are very different from the laminar wind found at the coastal soaring sites that they are accustomed to.

A quick briefing from Kelly for Olle, Magnus, and I indicates Kelly will launch first and mark the first climb. We are expected to follow him out quickly, thermal up, and begin moving S/E – more or less with the wind, but also away from the ridge which is expected to bring rather sporty flying conditions as the day progresses.

As we finish setting up, two vans stop in the sliver of a parking lot above launch.

The Belgians.

Aside from the hotel patio at breakfast and dinner, we rarely run into this group. The only times I have seen them in the air have been in the early morning or just before sunset. I think it safe to assume that they are in the early stages of a Novice/EP/P-2 -esque course of instruction.

You can imagine my surprise when they showed up at this launch, at this time of day. Trebucheting beginners with the active flying skills of a brick off of Costalunga near midday. <insert Guinness ‘Brilliant!’/> Paraglider manufactures have done quite a remarkable job technology wise in denying Darwin his due over the years and I start to wonder how quickly the first rung of the ‘insurance’ overdraft flow (passive safety) will be reached by this group.

Through all of this, Kelly has finished clipping in and is awaiting a lull in the gusts. Keeping my wing in check with a firm grip on the C risers, I alternate between watching him, the wind sock and the trees to my left (which are outside the launch ‘bubble’).

A lull.

Kelly launches, calmly and smoothly. There is little movement in his wing as he heads out, searching for the first thermal.

The lull continues.

Never look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth.

I pull up, keeping reign on the C’s in anticipation of a renewed gust.

The lull surprisingly continues.

I turn, pausing ever so briefly to ensure the wing is settled overhead, take a pair of steps, and lift off.

Taking up a position approximately seventy meters to the right and behind Kelly, the search for the first climb of the day begins.

Pushing further and further out, both Kelly and I search for the first thermal that will allow us to climb out and begin the planned westward open distance run parallel to the ridge line.

In the midst of this initial hunt, I failed to realize that the distance between us was ever so gradually decreasing, until I was almost within 30 meters of Kelly. It is when he begins a right hand turn, in what I suspect is the beginnings of lift, that I notice we are too close and veer off aggressively to the right as well.

A chiding on the radio quickly follows. Flying in formation, hunting for lift is something I never did before this course, so my understanding of gaggle etiquette was somewhat lacking, to say the least. Mental note is made to follow up on proper positioning and distance under these circumstances.

My movement to avoid a conflict with Kelly drives me directly into the lift that he was moving towards. I lean in and progressively apply inside brake. As the wing begins to dive into the turn, a light amount of outside brake is applied to plane the wing out.

And so begins the thermal dance.

Working progressively into the core of the thermal, I climb up to join two other wings that had launched previously. Kelly is not far behind, climbing in a much more efficient and organized manner than I can manage at this point. Behind him is Olle, who has launched in the midst of the search by Kelly and I. Rounding out our XC quartet is Magnus.

Kelly quickly passes me in the climb while I am being hounded by a red Nova that can’t seem to make neither heads nor tails of the thermal layout. On two occasions I manage to cut inside the Nova and climb five meters above, only to fall out on the other side. The fact that I am even attempting this is a very good sign, as it means Kelly’s focus on efficiency in the climb are beginning to take root with my flying style.

I continue my climb towards a newly forming cloud when I hear mention from Kelly to Olle on the radio to look at continuing to the next ridge. I continue for another few turns, feeling the air go cold as I work through the inversion.

A few extra turns and I begin moving westward along the ridge. Something strikes me as odd that Kelly would continue in this direction as the conditions can only strengthen and become increasingly spicy on the ridge. Maybe he meant a different ridge, I wonder.

The radio chirps, “Mark, I am on you left, on your left.”

A quick turn left, followed by

“Mark, I am on your right, on your right.”

I can envision both Kelly and Olle right above me, having a good laugh at my expense. Then I spot them to the south, attempting to climb above a factory over Romano.

I begin my drive towards them.

Southward, applying the speed bar ever so cautiously. By the time I reach the pair of Kelly and Olle, I am two hundred meters below them and back under the inversion.

The factory complex below is generating a reasonable thermal, but not enough to push me through and up to them. My altitude log takes a sawtooth pattern as I climb and fall across a five meter span, while the wing is continually trying to reorient itself within the churning mass of trapped turbulent air.

The pair above decide to push back north, to try for better lift along the foothills. I remain, drifting westward, continually searching for a gap in my invisible ceiling that would allow an escape.

Further to the south and west I spot a town that may have what I need, a tall church tower. The large thermal mass of pavement and buildings surrounding this trigger could give just the rocket I need. A plethora of fields surround the town, allowing for multiple landing options if my gambit fails.

Crossing the river, and down through yet another inversion at 600 meters, I reach the town. The air mass turns violent, sending the wing and I in sharp climbs and drops. Just in time for…

“Mark, what’s your status?”

Hands plenty occupied, the query goes unanswered.

Again, the query.

Again, unanswered.

The air becomes increasingly angered.

Relenting, I single hand the toggles and reply with location, altitude, and sportiness of the air.

A single reply,

“DON’T. GIVE. UP.”

“Understood.”

30 minutes pass.

Then the wing does something I have never seen before. It levels out and slides diagonally forward and right. At first I fight it, then recall comments from Kelly regarding the esoteric technique of following a thermal as it slides around under an inversion. I allow the wing to guide me out of the churn and into a climb.

Break through

…and fall back in.

Fatigue quickly sets in. I get word that Olle has landed. Picking a path that will follow a two lane highway westward, I drift with wind over the expanse of farmland.

Twenty minutes later.

I land, pack up and text coordinates for retrieve.

Another notch in the XC belt.

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