Wednesday, July 21, 2010

RIdge soaring '10

It's the fourth day of the clinic. I'm driving to the site with the windshield wipers going to fend off the mist. A big jet materialises out of the gloom overhead, flaps downs, contrails spinning off the edges. It's setting up a landing approach, east to west. That's not a good sign as I'm looking for west winds, soaring, west winds.

This is the trip of anomalies. There's never been a trip before that has had three days of no soaring. Now there is. Then again I've never had a trip where most of the people's names start with "J". (Jeff, Joan, John, Jon, Johannes, Janel.) Or where twenty percent of the pilots are women. Or where so many people lose their phones.

I've gotten a bit despondent. The beach is where you go to escape flakey weather. Hot land, cold water, these are big powerful weather influencers. Even as I drove that morning I could see the branches of the trees bent from the trunks to the east. This is the sculpting of the westerly sea breeze day after day. It's what happens most of the time, west wind, why can't it happen now?

It's not that we're not flying at all. There are short flights off the dunes. People are working on spot landings and kiting skills. The group has been hiking at point Lobos and up into the redwoods. But as the organizer of this I'm starting to twitch. All these people have taken off time for work, bought plane tickets and paid me to take them ridge soaring but the weather won't let me do my job.

Janel was the victim of the weather's rude humors. She just getting back into flying after a serious accident. She could only get time off for half the trip. And it was, to the minute, the bad half of the trip. After days of short flights and hikes back up the dunes, Janel's last day had come. She hung out till she had to pack up and leave. The winds were still light. Twenty minutes later the winds finally starts to pick up. It's a bit cross and it's already late in the day so we decide to scramble down to the far end of the dunes where the curve of the bay would hopefully make the winds straighter. Wind chasing in usually a goose chase but this time it works. The more experienced pilots are launched immediately upon their arrival. I start getting the newer pilots flying. And then the phone rings. It's Janel, she's driving down the highway seeing us all in the air. If only the wind would have held off five more minutes at least she wouldn't had to see everyone else getting the flights the weather wouldn't give her.

The winds are medium strong so everyone is getting plenty of height and there's lots of room as the lift band is fat. I'm playing air traffic control. The new guys need a some time to fly without traffic and get use to soaring the dunes. I give each new pilot a piece of dune to fly alone, then one of the other pilots flies the rules of the right of way with them. I then send them further down the dunes to fly with the rest of the group before launching the next pilot. Soon everyone is up. The group is now spread out over the entire five miles of dunes. I keep the newer folks closer to my end of the dunes to keep an eye on things. I find a good place to sit in the sand and feel an incredible sense of relief. If nothing else, everyone will go home with a great flight. I give some occasional input over the radio as the flights turn from minutes to hours.

With the sun getting lower in the sky the winds lighten a bit. With five miles of dunes to explore some of the pilots have landed out on the beach. The dunes are not a consistent wall, there are gaps that have to be crossed to get to the next section. With the lighter winds some of the crossings are getting harder to make. After a bit all the newer folks are on the beach. This my chance to get in the air. I launch and head south along the dunes. I soon find the whole group, either airborne, packing up or hiking back. Bob is down on the beach. I see his back pack was left behind on launch. Hmmm.. Could I....? I swoop onto launch, pause for an instant to grab the bag between my feet, kangaroo launch back into the air, fly down to Bob and drop the pack.

Now the day is giving up and everyone is landing. There will be a bit of the "who can stay up the longest" game but our day is not over. There is a picnic to be had in the redwoods. I land and call my sister Martha and tell her we are on the ground and packing up. They have the grill lit. We now have to collect everyone, pack gear, get in the cars, drive to the store for supplies and get to the picnic. This group had a tendency to come unraveled, but we finally get everyone in the cars with food bought and head down the Big Sur coast.

Right before the the Bixby bridge is the turn off, one dirt road to the locked gate, then down the narrow track carved into the hillside. The flowers have stayed in bloom late in the year. It's evening but still light, colors surrounded by shadow make up the hills, the bridge is a black silhouette with the ocean brilliant in the low evening sun. Our wagon train of cars poke slowly around the bends in the steep road. Then we enter the redwoods and it might as well be another world, tall trees, ferns, the stream.
The cars are parked, stuff unloaded. The dogs barks as we approach. I can smell the grill going.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


The sea of Nevada

Why in the world do we have so much Nevada? To be fair Nevada is no larger than any other of the states that I will pass through on this trip. But, where as Colorado does have the mind numbingly boring eastern plains, they are soon enough relieved by the stunning sceanery of the mountains. After that the high desert takes over into Utah. Then, cresting over Soilder pass, one drops into the Wasatch valley all lush with streams and fields before the buzzing activity of Salt Lake City consumes everything. Then there are the salt flats. And then Nevada. 
At first the grey teeth of rock thrusting up through gums of sage bush and biting the sky are yet another environment to absorb. But like a multi course dinner where every dish is mash potatoes, one soon aches for a change.
When I saw the sign pointing out that Reno was 511 miles away, I started working on a plan.
It occurred to me that there is a hell of a lot of coast south of Panama City that nobody is making much use of. What if couple of fifty miles long strips were brought up to surround a small inland sea. Then Nevada would become an attraction instead of a chore.  
I stopped by city hall in Elko to see if I could talk anyone into my idea. No one could find any fault in my plan. If Utah has a Great Salt Lake why couldn't Nevada have an inland sea. There was some concerns that Panama would miss it's coast line till I explained the sea would merely move inward to form a new coast. After a few days of the waves washing against the land no one would be able to tell the difference. Sure someone might think that the walk to the beach was way too short but that could be explained away as the product of poor memory.
As there is endless money available right now for these type of "shovel ready" projects, the city officials of Elko told me that they should have the new sea in place later that afternoon. I jumped back on my car egar to see my idea realized.
I soon entered the jungles of Humbolt county. The roads were poor as of yet as the soil needed time to settle before a real road was laid. I drove slowly on the dirt road listening to sound of holler moneys bellowing at the more adgile and teasing spider monkeys.  Here at the beginning of the jungle I saw Jack rabbits with swollen bellies napping in the shade. After spending their whole lives eating sage bush the rabbits had gorged themselves senseless. And speaking of pigging out, wild pigs were grunting about is a state of agitation. Perhaps the moving of the coast line beneithe there feet had been unsettling.
I drove with my head out the window looking up and all about. That is until a snake dropped off a tree on me. My flailing around only sucseeded in sending the snake flying into the car. At this point it was looped around the rearview mirror eyeing me with intent. That was the intent of where, exactly, to bite me. As I was paying  very little attention my driving, I bounced off a log by the side of the road. The car heaved to one side and the snake gave me one last glaring looking as it flew passed my face and out the window.

After that excitement I was thinking of taking a break when I saw a small bambo shelter with a palm frond roof. There were hand written signs, in Spanish, hanging from it that I could make no sense of. I pulled over.
I am always surprised at how much communication can go on between two people who speak different languages. I found out that Javier would like to sell me  a drink. I sat at his table drinking what I think was a banana mango smoothy. It was a buck. Obviously Javier was in need of some corporate branding like a nice logo and a uniform as then he could have easily charged four dollars for my drink. Toucans flew around looking for any fruit to job off. One actually got it's beak in my drink before I could pull it away.
Javier was surprised at how many Americanas He had seen today. While I was thinking, "Well, what else would you see in the middle of Nevada." it ocurred to me that maybe Javier had been scooped up when the sections of coast line had been removed from Panama. He may have no idea of where he was or what had happened. I decided that I would not be the one to explain his situation to him, especially when our form of communication depended on way too much arm waving.
I had finished my drink and grinned and waved my goodbyes.

Bumping along the road I came at last to the sea of Nevada. There was a fine sand beach with palm trees reaching out over it for the sun. At the water's edge there was hundreds of orange vested highway repair workers. As is well known, it is essential to the balance of the universe that these people are employed at all times. That is why they are seen all summer long dragging around orange cones placing them, seemingly at random, on the roads. Now, a hundred miles of interstate had been disturbed by the new sea. Sticking orange cones in the jungle would be pointless as would be floating them on the sea. Their new job was to ferry the cars across the sea on a large bambo raft. I drove my car up on to the raft. It sloshed back and forth violently.
A legion of orange vested people pushed the raft into the sea. Another legion picked up long bambo poles and started poling me across the water. I sat on the roof of the car. I was surprised to see seagulls had already found this new sea. They whirled overhead squawking. I sat there reflecting that my idea had been a great sucsess. This was way grander than endless miles of Nevada. I soon found out that not everyone had agreed with me. I was chatting one of the gals poling the raft. She informed me that all of Lovelock Nevada had been submerged. Houses flooded, lands lost. They were pissed. She went on about how some knuckle heads had come up with the plan in Elko and had forced it through without consulting anyone. I kept very quite as she told me about a how football rivalery was most likely behind it as Lovelock had always crushed Elko.
At the far side I waved goodbye to my orange vested friends. I crossed the beach and back into the jungle. In a few miles I saw a building going up. The sign on it said The Curved Banana Saloon. Well it was Nevada after all. The jungle ended aburuptly in a pile of mud and dirt. I drove down directly onto  the highway. It had been a long time since I had been over fifteen miles per hour. The speed felt exicting. In a few minutes I saw a sign, Reno 24 miles.


Day one

I headed up the Grizzly creek trail from the rest stop in Glenwood canyon. I had a large book of Jane Austen novels clutched in one hand. The path swung around like a slow motion roller coaster. There was the sound of the creek to my left, thousands of feet of orange red rock cliff over head. Purple flowers, like fuzzy antenna hovered over the tall grass over there. And over there yellow flowers huddled under the bushes. A tumbled stack of rock sloped upward to my right. But over there, some other rocks had muscled their way in amongst the soil and tree roots. Everwhere were trees and the green, angled light that was filtered through the leaves. Wasn't long before I had found a suitible place to lay down by the creek started to delve into Lizzy and Mr Darcy misrepresentation of their fellings to each other.

I have see a bunch of movies of Austen books but had yet to read any of them. Reading books of movies you've seen can have a mixed out come. On the up side the book can provide a wealth of depth of charactors you already like. On the other hand if you liked the movie but the movie butchered to book, then you wonder what the two ever had to do with each other and whether there is any point on continueing. So far I'm enjoying the book. Didn't expect the language to be as odd as it is though.

Some unknowable time later I awoke with the book laying on me. Getting up with the slouth that day time sleeping brings, I headed further up the trail. It occurred to me that, even though I had resently chain sawed my foot, that I was relatively uninjured and had no time pressures on this trip. Now was the opportunity to hike further up the trail then I had been before. Of course in Colorado, going as far as you can go and going as far as the trail goes, can be two very different things. For all I knew this trail could go on for days.

At some point it was time to turn around and start driving again. It's that time of year when we head out to Monterey to fly our paragliders. I've got nothing but hot weather and lots of desert to see the next few days.
I've got a newer car thanks to the CU police that crashed into my last one. The new one, alas does not have AC. So I built a fine evaporative cooler out of a fan, plastic storage bin and a humidifer wick. Ok, if doesn't blow freezing air at me but for $40 it's the difference between being baked alive and being reasonably comfortable. Plus the weird thing bungyed to my dash board pleases me to no end.

Got 41mpg on my first tank, full moon guitar playing in the desert, camp set, sleep comes.