Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Final Task Cancelled

Today's last task of the comp seemed very reasonable, and I was hopeful that I might be lucky enough to finally make it into goal this year. But as we prepared for the day up on launch, we began to feel incredibly strong thermal cycles blasting through the launch area, enough to make the trees shake and whistle. We saw wind techs getting flushed hard in massive sink below launch, and at the same time wind tech Nicole was getting blasted into the sky above launch. She made it up above 11,000 feet at one point! About two thirds of the field launched and began to rocket up in the strong lift, with me at the tail end of that bunch. I felt kind of parked, and when I looked up I could see the other pilots specking out above me, but not turning circles in any kind of organized start gaggles like on previous days, just spread out and hanging there. Some pilots were reporting altitudes of over 13,000 feet, which sets a new altitude record for Woodrat, along with climbs of 2000 feet per minute. They were also reporting a fairly strong wind up there. The wind picked up and filled in on launch shortly after I got airborne, and the call was made to cancel the day, out of concern for newer comp pilots and those flying lower rated wings. I had actually already decided to call it for myself: when they announced the official decision, I was already halfway to the nice landing field at the Longsword Vineyard, chugging along into the wind on a slow and bumpy trajectory, anticipating a nice refreshing complimentary glass of sparking white wine. Which turned out to be a whole bottle, thanks to Bonnie and Pete!

Long Task, Short Flight

Today they expected the conditions to take us even higher than on the previous days, and they called a huge task with a long upwind section to start out. But the expected lifty conditions didn't quite materialize, so it was hard to get high enough to fly such a long starting leg into the wind, which also turned out to be a bit stronger than we'd expected. I got an okay start, tagging the start cylinder and thermalling well enough to get ready for the first leg, but when the guys I was with began to head towards the first turnpoint, I couldn't seem to float up and maintain my height the way they were able to, so I ended up following a lower line by myself. After a while I found myself low over the ridgeline, desperately shooting through a low gap between hilltops into a small gully to look for a last minute low save. After scratching there for a while with a few other unlucky pilots, I finally set down in a field near the Troon vineyard. I hadn't even reached the first turnpoint. Many pilots made it around a few of the turnpoints, but only one made goal: Seattle comp star Meredyth. At least I had some consolation for the early outlanding - I shared a nice bottle of cool and sweet white wine with Roger Marsh and Tom Moock while we waited for the retrieve.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Happy circles

Wow. The fifth day gave us even more smooth strong bounteous thermal lift, with big developing clouds over the surrounding valleys a welcome change from the clear blue skies of the previous days. Today pilots got higher than any previous day - I heard a few got to 12 grand. I got over nine grand and thought that was pretty stratospheric. I was thermalling well and sticking with good people for the first few turnpoints, but somehow I ended up alone as I tagged the second to last turnpoint after a long upwind leg. After that I got too low to hit the last turnpoint before goal, so I landed at the LZ under mammatus clouds. I think my main error today was not being patient enough to get as high as the little specks above me before tagging that upwind turnpoint. I think around half the field of pilots made it into goal today - usually that's my ticket, but I just couldn't quite put all the pieces together. Nick made it into goal again, his third goal in three days! He has to leave the next day so that will stand as his perfect record of making goal every day he flew. When I grow up I want to be like Nick. So now we have two task days remaining, with conditions predicted to be similar to this day - so I have two more chances to make it into goal. I'm very happy with all the thermal practice I'm getting, and I'm learning to make better strategic decisions to follow the courseline. Flying into goal would be a real bonus, but even without that distinction, I am turning many happy circles here and flying many difficult kilometers. I hope more people will join me here next year!

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Our fourth task day was another truly stellar day of textbook thermal conditions, maybe even nicer air than the previous day. I got my highest altitude yet, more than seven thousand, in the longest and strongest smooth thermal ride I've ever made. I topped it out with Hawaii state champion Nick and Seattle Chris, but after that thermal ride I was flooded with overconfidence and flew a different line to the next turnpoint than they took. There was no good reason to choose the line I took - and it put me over the next turnpoint alone, too far to catch up with the other guys. They joined up with the gaggle that made it to goal, while I struggled over the foothills in the Rogue valley and had to land in a big field. One of the guys I landed with was Tom Moock, and he helped me analyze my flight to identify the most significant mistake I made: leaving Chris and Nick to fly alone. Unless you're one of the top guys with good odds of pioneering the best line to a given spot, you should always try to take a line that puts you in the vicinity of other pilots. There is strength in numbers. As Tom reminded me, "If you don't have friends you don't have anything at all." I hope I can take that lesson to heart and stick with my buddies next time.

At least five people made it to goal for their first time. I made it to the final turnpoint but never got high after that, just like on the previous day, but I guess I made it a few valleys further along the course. Nick and Chris made goal, of course! I have the cleverest friends - I just need to wise up and appreciate them more.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Real Thermals

Today was an amazing day graced with perfect thermals, straight out of the textbook. They had promised another day like the last two, but thankfully the whimsical weather gods decided to throw us a bone. We didn't get a lot higher than the previous days but the thermals were working nicely all around the valley, and you could really crank it up smoothly and ride them up quite a while, staring across at whoever might be turning with you. I made all the turnpoints before goal today but I was really too low at the last one to get back up and shoot the last long leg to goal. Nick made it though - he flew the whole course even though he's not entered in the race. He is surely the real state champion. I guess I'll have to settle for vice champion. In the evening we went with local pilot Paul to see one of my favorite bands, Wilco, at a really nice outdoor venue.

A lot of Rat Race pilots here remember Bob fondly from the three competitions he was in over the last few years, and they all send their love and sympathy. He sure made a big impression on everyone that met him. I am focusing on the flying right now, but I can't keep all the great memories of my big friend from swirling around in my head at every spare moment.


The second task day was tougher than the first. It seemed okay at first, and lots of folks got high, but once again just before the start window opened, we got a massive flush cycle that I never quite recovered from. The air was not doing anything I recognized, it just felt trashy, and I ended up at the LZ without making the first turnpoint across the valley. I had lots of company down there, at least. I think only a small group of pilots really made something out of the day. Anyway, a few of us went to the winery to salve our bruised egos, including Don and Motorhead Paul, and we enjoyed a nice mellow afternoon in the cool indoor tasting house at Fiasco Winery. After that we enjoyed a nice mellow glass off flight, floating up high over the middle of the Ruch valley as the sun was setting.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

First Task

Me and Don are here at Paul's house, along with four Ozzie pilots and two Seattlites. Great weather and great task today, although I had a tough time with it. Made three turnpoints out of five. I flew for two and a half hours, and made three incredibly low saves down by the LZ between turnpoints. The leaders made goal in about 45 minutes. Hmmm. I definitely have a lot to learn. But it was nice to get tons of serious thermal flying in. Conditions were kind of ratty and rough but everyone else seemed to be handling it without complaint, so I forced myself to stay in the game as long as I could. Which was actually pretty long, although I wasn't making much progress along the course. Whew. Let's see what tomorrow brings. They say the weather is supposed to be good all week - I should pace myself better.