Still riding the high from the paragliding flight shared with Rob while on the Gin Explorer, I get word that today will more or less be a repeat => an out and return to/through Engenheiro Caldas. Expecting that Rob will likely be focusing attention on one of my counterparts today, I mentally walk the route in anticipation that I will be left to my own devices.
Launch and initial climb out prove to be a rinse and repeat affair – skirt the Cauldron, grab a climb off the lip, and then proceed to Salvation.
Era Nove proves to be a short hop as always, and as always, it is again where I top up before driving south towards Alpercata.
Were I to turn off the radio, I would be alone in my own universe today – located in the no mans land between the group led by Dean and the group working with Rob. This suits me perfectly well as I am rather accustomed to oft-time having the hill back home to myself. Now left to my own devices, I am presented with a wonderful opportunity to put everything I’ve learned over the last few months to work.
Knowing that speed is the key (the sun has passed its zenith and will eventually set), I cannot waste time on suboptimal climbs. This last handful of climbs have provided me with a sense of take or continue on decision altitudes vs. climb rate. Above 1500m, the climb needs to exceed 4 m/s for me to stop and take it, above 1200 m it has to exceed 2 m/s, and below 800 m I will take anything I can get. I will eventually fail to revisit these numbers as the sun gets closer to the horizon (to account for weakening thermal strength). But that is the core of a learning process => make a mistake, readjust, try anew.
The fact that I am accepting that some thermals can be skipped in exchange for a faster over all XC speed is a promising development. It is also an acknowledgment that I am more than capable of executing a low save or two when needed.
Approaching the last gas station before my turn around point (Engenheiro Caldas), I look ahead and plan out if I am to jump ridges and where I would do it.
The ridgeline to the east (opposite me, across the road) is higher ground and showing clear signs of thermal activity (clouds) but will be an into wind glide. The side I am on shows less activity but does not require the risk of a ‘valley crossing’.
Knowing how GV works, the decision is an easy one. The meteo wind is constant and will scour any windward face of heat well before a thermal can form. The best thermals always form in the lee of the hills here. The ridge to the east is sheltering a fair amount of the valley below, allowing thermals to form and crawl up the slope of said ridge. This is why I am seeing such healthy cumulus formation on that side of the road. The ridge to the west lacks such an expanse of fields in its lee, making for fewer and weaker climbs.
To east ridge I venture.
Across and established on the ridge, it should now be a straight shot to Engenheiro from here.
Running the ridge, I slide east and west searching for the strongest part of the lift band. During this transition I begin to catch up and pass some of the stragglers from Deans group, they being focused on circling upwards in climbs. I notice while passing them that they and I are climbing at effectively the same rate.
I reach of the north eastern edge of my goal and now have a decision to make – turn back right away or continue onwards?
I tell myself, just another km.
Just another km, I tell me myself again.
The radio all but ignored (with the help of my iPod Shuffle and iHome speaker blaring a collection of Podrunner tracks), I now distinctly hear Deans voice declare that it is time to turn back. Proceeding beyond this point means I am on my own for retrieve with the day coming to a close. It is difficult decision but the decay of clouds on the ridgelines aheads means it will be hard going with not much distance to be gained.
My run back along the ridge proves even faster than before. Riding the bubbles of lift barely 200 meters above its peaks, the ridge proves an effective highway for a quick return leg.
Right up until I run out of ridge, that is.
My failure to gear down as the sun nears the horizon and adjust my climb rate vs altitude decision values proves fatal. I make it as far as the gas station just south of Alpercata.
The Air-Conditioned retrieve van is waiting for me with Simon already onboard. I grab a cold drink from the store as we await for word of other pilots finishing their hikes out (I made sure to keep the hike under 10 minutes when picking my LZ this time).
Effectively on my own with no thermal markers or guidance, this proves to be my most successful XC flight to date. A personal best brings with it another paragliding satori.