Monday, July 6, 2009

Last man Standing,

Just got done cleaning out the little fridge in front of the guest house. (There are leftovers for days.) The clinic is over. Our woodstock nation of tents is gone. No one’s about. No more rustling of gliders having the sand poured out of them or the scattered conversations of the days flights and events. The dogs have a lot less to bark at. I slept ten hours last night and still feel like I could use another ten.

If I start with the first official day of the clinic, Sunday, we only had one down day where we didn’t fly. (Ok, some people got in early on Saturday and that day didn’t work.) After the last few years I was starting to wonder if the magic had worn off and Monterey would no long be the flawless flying site. After this trip however, I think I can write those other trips off as the fickleness that is always the weather’s purgative.

For those that haven’t been out yet, the beach here has an unbeatable set up for flying. The central valley of California gets very hot in the summer, that hot air rises and pulls the cooler air off the ocean to replace it. The greater the change in temperature the greater the effect. Under the bay there is a 9000 foot trench, which helps make that temperature difference even greater by circulating cold water up out of the depths. What happens then, is there is a cold, smooth wind that blows right into the dunes. This winds is deflected up over those dunes which make a band of lifting air that parallels all five miles of the dunes. If you stay in that band of air you can fly for miles and have flights hours long. That’s what we did. (The longest flight was six hours long.) The last thing that really helps make this place be so great is that the bay is very recessed. The depth of the bay helps to straighten any cross winds blowing along the shore. Those cross winds “fall” into the bay as the inland heating sucks air eastward.

Each morning the group would coleus from it’s various factions. There were the, sleep as long as you can, the go for a run, go find breakfast, groups. I set the leaving time at nine so that we would actually be under way by nine thirty. Next, we would drive out to the site. We are camped out in Carmel valley, the site is in the bay, between the two is the ridge that makes the Monterey peninsula. What ever weather you wake up in on one side has no barring on what is happening on the other. I never check weather reports here, I just go see. The first clue is from the top of the ridge, whether you can see down to the beach or whether the fog of the marine layer is obscuring everything. But the real “say so” of the weather is the flag of truth. The flag truth is right on the beach by the hotel. If it’s blowing it’s time to speed up and get your gear out to the beach, if not it’s down for a bagel in the shopping center.

On a typical day we parawait on the beach waiting for the winds to come up. Somewhere around eleven, if we’re lucky, or one if we are not the winds come up and we start to fly. Sometimes the first flight is too early and people sink out to the beach. Other times not, but once the first person is up then it’s a shark attack of pilots getting ready.

The training end of the dunes is maybe a half mile long. Everyone starts here. When they get a little altitude then people start crossing over the dune-less section of the beach to fly the other 4.5 miles of dunes. That leaves me with the newer pilots that are working on their beginner ridge soaring skills.

At some point the winds either, get too strong, cross, or too light and the day is over. Then it’s time to get as many as sixteen people all pointed in the same direction to get dinner.

This trip there were many adventures but to protect the guilty and the innocent, I can’t tell all. You can get the stories from you flying buddies.

There will be pictures going up on the yahoo group.
See you all for flying this weekend.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

As of Tuesday

The quick up date is...
Sunday, Monday were both great days. Flights as long as 3 hours were flown. Today was a bust for flying but we had a fantastic picnic and hike in the redwoods. Stupid football was played. (That's, throw the ball left handed with your eyes closed... Well you had to be there.)

See ya get some pictures up next time.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Day Two

As your poor paragliding Instructor, it was a little weird going to pick up PV after he flew his private plane into Monterey. The kind of thing that starts one of those, “What have I done with my life.” thing. Be kind of nice to have my own plane, you know. Little did I know...
PV said he had a friend that wanted to go on a tandem flight. We waited around at the parking spot for him. When he does come, it’s in a Ferrari. So I showed him my home made evaporative cooler and said, if he wanted, I could bungy it to the dash of his Ferrari, cause I could always make another. So Ferrari driving dude and his gal come out to the beach and we have a great day, flying the tandem with them. I was now thinking, “It would be kind of cool to have a Ferrari.” ( Or more accurately, It would be great to, 1. have the money to buy a Ferrari, or 2. Have so much money that I WOULD actually buy a Ferrari)

We wrapped up the day with a few hours of flying. The new folks were psyched to fly. But, at 4:30 the gal needed to go off to the airport. There we met another former Microsoft guy, (who lends God money). She got in his twin engine $600,000 plane and flew off. At this point I’m thinking... What the fuck! And to think that just yesterday I was a little envious of PV’s plane. (Which, now, as compared with the twin engine plane, was looking like my car as compared to the Ferrari.)

Anyway, If I did have too much money I probably won’t be hanging out with all my paragliding buddies this week, which would be my loss.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

PV and I flying

Just a quick note.
Picked up PV at the airport. (He flew his own plane there) Went to the beach and got an hour of flying in. Strong winds, fat lift band and sunshine. Perfect, if you can beach launch. There was at least another hours of flying to be had but we worked a lot of those beach launches. SO, we warmed up the site for all of you and it should be ready when you arrive.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Road Trip 09

If you drew a straight line from my house to Dad and Barb’s, (Where we will be camping out) the distance would be 927 miles. I will drive over thirteen hundred to get there. It’s funny to watch the GPS, which gives me that straight line distance, and the odometer count down the miles from their differing references.
In my first half hour I managed to drive twenty seven miles while getting five miles further away from my goal. A bit discouraging that. At other times the arrow on the GPS would point right down the road and they would click off miles together. At other times the arrow would point off way right or left and as the odometer tumbled along the GPS would stubbornly sit there.

It’s time for the annual fourth of July ridge soaring clinic. This will the ninth year in a row that it’s been held. That we’ve come back nine years running is proof enough that this is a great place and a great time to fly.

I’ve done this drive many times. I started out going balls out, trying to get the drive over with. But the flaming eyeball feeling of too many hours on the road changed me over time. I settle on a three day trip in the end. There is now a routine of sorts but a pleasant one. A sandwich in Vale, a bike or skate along the Colorado river in Glenwood canyon, skipping rocks at the secret rock skipping place. There is no point is blasting through all these amazing places. I’m now camped out in one of my dirt bag camping sites along the road. There is a stream and it’s running hard with the snow’s run off. The highway is far off, though a slight rumble of the trucks can still be heard.

Tomorrow with be Salt lake city, the salt flats and lots and lots of Nevada.

Day Two,
About half way through day two, somewhere around Elko, the road trip looses it’s sparkle. The big mountains are gone, salt flats were an interesting change as you leave Utah, then you hit Nevada. And for a while this olive green terrain, with it’s dusty black teeth of rock is interesting also. But there is four hundred miles of it. I run playlist after playlist of music on the Ipod, then switch to book on bytes.

The heat of the day slowly ramps up but, amazingly, my homemade evaporative cooler keeps the car to, just, the warm side of neutral. My new car has no air conditioning, So, out a plastic box, a fan and wick from a humidifier I built one. It is a god awful looking contraption that I’ve bungy corded to my dashboard. What still amazes me is that it works. At 70 degrees it’s cool. a little less cool at 80. By 90 degrees it’s warm but far from that, “ I’m a pizza in an oven” feeling that you get from no air conditioning at all.

The orange cone migration is in full swing. It’s a little late in coming this year (with all the last season snows) but, finally, the orange cones are starting to leave the lower winter grazing grounds and move to their high summer pastures.

These endothermic creatures love the heat of black asphalt. You can see them for miles lined up on the interstate. Sometimes they line the edges of the road, sometimes they come straight down the middle forcing the traffic down to one lane. Legions of federal wildlife workers help manage the migration. Dressed is camouflage orange vests they wield orange diamond shaped signs directing the cones along. There are the petite females, the classic cone shape, and the big bull barrel males. Sadly, I saw few conelings. (probably yet another effect of global climate change.) It’s hard sometimes to not become annoyed at the pitiful slow progress of the cone migration, and yet we need to learn to share this world of ours. Thankfully their social structure assures that they only travel in single file, if not the road would be impassable most of the year.

Tonight I’ve packed into Donner pass. (Never gone back packing with computer before.) The bugs are swarming. (and I’m a Wisconsin boy so I know swarming.) Never camped here before. Tomorrow is the last part of the big drive I could be soaring beach by 2:00 if all goes according to plan. Coyotes howl, time to sleep.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Training Sites

There is nothing more critical to this sport than training sites. If you learned to fly a long time ago you might think that there are other factors than are more important. But think of this, if no one learns to fly then, there are no pilots. This will be a fact if there is no where to train.

I hopped into Mark W’s truck this morning to head out to the western slope of Colorado. We are on a mission to find more places to train.

The front range of Colorado lost a half a dozen flying sites one day. One misguided person cut down some trees on Boulder Open space. As a community it was decided that it was better to tell the powers to be than to try to hide the fact. This was a huge mistake as the entire flying community was punished for the actions of one individual. To this day we have only be able to reopen one of the sites.

Over the years the weather has also become a lot less accommodating. I’ve seen the flying season go from close to nine months to as little as six months. I now question how viable a paragliding business really is here in Colorado. I love teaching flying too much, and the life style it affords me, to just walk away without trying everything I can to keep it. If I could find another reliable training site, I could teach more days and make up, at least somewhat, for the shorter season.

So this trip is about exploring for new sites, not for soaring or cross country, but for those small smooth hills where one can take the average person and reveal to them what it is like to leave the ground behind.

Good flying sites are not a fluke. There are very solid reasons why the best sites are so good. It starts with weather. The all essential factor is the wind must blow up the hill. The wind has to really want to blow up the hill, it has to be the easiest thing for the wind to do.

We’ve gone to the western slope because every night the air cools and gets heavy way up in the mountains. That heavy air makes it’s way down Vale pass along the Eagle river valley, passed Avon till Near Dotsero it joins up with the Colorado river. This mass of cold air drains through Glenwood canyon, then past Rifle and, at last, floods across the plains west of Grand Junction. I meet this air one morning flowing over a ridge in the desert and flew for hours. Now if there was a training site some where with that same smooth morning air flowing up it. That could be a perfect training site.


There is a mind numbing aspect to spending a day doing something which yields no results. And yet... Seven hours of exploring dirt roads in the desert plains, in and out of canyons, up cliff lines over looking the Colorado river, bumping along jarring roads, wild flowers blushing color into a landscape of rock, wind twisted junipers paused in a dance that takes years to perform... This is not hardship... and yet I would love to report that I found that perfect hill. I didn’t.

“Where’s that one go? I don’t know. Might as well try it as long as we’re here. Where the hell are we going to turn around. You know if there’s a place to land under that, that would be great, I can see a road over there, but I’ve no idea of how to get to it. Well that’s what the map said... ” That how the conversation went.

The wind roared all day long. I returned to find my tent, pulled free of it’s stakes, at the bottom of a three hundred foot cliff, ripped and torn after taking the only flight of the trip so far. I am a wind blown, sun dried, tired. My body stretched by the chips and chocolates that were too close at hand in the car. I saw so many things but not “The Hill”

I think we found the best place yesterday. This is an area I had check out before. But it took going soaring on another ridge, to understand that the wind could well blow up it, in a predictable matter day after day, to look again at it. First off there is a wide open landing zone. Next, a few launches of various heights. I would like there to be less rocks but it’s OK. If that perfect breeze blows up them, then great. I would like to have road up then but we have to hike everything else, so what the hell.

I have spent so many days looking for the perfect site. Rounding every bend hoping that I will find what I’m looking for. For all that effort I have found only a few sites and only one truly great training hill. There are few more roads to try tomorrow. Fingers and toes are crossed.

In the end, the place we went the first day was the best. A good training hill has to have all these factors, A nicely sloped, grassy launch, a landing zone that is an easy glide away and is open without obstacles. And most of all a consistent breeze most blowing up it. We found all of these factors but none all in one spot. None the less, though a a little rocky, there is a spot worth a trip and a try. And if the weather here stays SOOOOOO fickle we’ll have the opportunity.