Archives for July 2013

Leaving the Nest

Despite having well over 500 flights under my wing, I’ve never really gone cross-country, unless you consider landing at the Issaquah high-school, which hardly counts.  Many are the times when I’ve launched in close proximity to the “big boys” (or Merydeth), only to be left in the dust, sometimes not even making it over to the North ridge.

Today was different.  After a hike up through the heat and launching before the next wave of pilots from the shuttle got there, I managed to climb well above those hovering over the King Dome, and found my way over to the North Ridge without too much difficulty.  There were two other pilots over there, and even as I climbed up through 4,000’, they were still well above me and already over I-90 towards the Sammamish Plateau.  I thought about joining them for the company (and guidance), except that I didn’t see how they were going to get back to the LZ.  Then I looked over at Rattlesnake, knowing that if I went over there, chances are that I would not get back either.

Should I dare cut the psychological umbilical cord to the Tiger LZ?  Would I at least be able to land somewhere other than a tree?  At last, I climbed up over the towers to 4,500 and decided to keep going.  Mind you, that’s probably plenty of altitude to play with, but as it was new territory for me, my sphincter started to pucker when I dropped to 3K, only to find another thousand foot ride back up again.

OK, I’m here… this is new… I don’t think I can make my way back.  But since I’m already going to need a ride when I land, I suppose I should just keep going!  I always kept at least one LZ on glide, seldom going too far one way or the other of the freeway, even though in retrospect, I probably would have been better staying more over the hills.

At one point, I figured I would need to land in what I later realized was Preston.  However, I can be stubborn sometimes, and despite dropping down to about 1,200, I managed to find something over an asphalt park that took me back up to a more comfortable 4K again and I kept going.  At this point I had no clue where I was and no idea where I was going.  Also, having drank all that water on the hike up, staring at the lakes and Snoqualmie river was not doing me any good at this altitude.  I thought about landing on purpose, but after more than 5 years flying, I had never been this far from “home” and didn’t want to land because of an itty-bitty-bladder.

It seemed to me that the LZ’s were getting farther apart at this point.  Sure, there were many places I “could” land, but fewer that I would actually choose to land.  Plus, I vaguely recalled that there were one or two places that looked great but that we were supposed to avoid, but I had no idea what those places were.  (Mental note… do my homework before my next XC flight.)  So instead, I was focusing more on schools with big football fields and golf courses.

I’ve known since I was a student pilot that the more altitude I have, the more options I have, but in traveling XC that became all the more true.  Not only would regaining altitude allow me to see farther, it also increased the range of possible LZ’s that I had on glide.  But regardless of how high I was, there always seemed to be this mental transition point between where I had one LZ in mind, when it was no longer in range, and when the next one came into my comfort zone.  It was akin to Tarzan swinging from vine to vine, where there is that point of letting go the old vine and hoping that the new one will be where it needs to be in time.  The difference was that rather than swinging through the canopy, I was several thousand feet in the sky.  I hardly got so high as to have the air go thin, but I swear that I could actually breathe easier with every hundred feet that I gained in a turn.

When it became clear that my trip was coming to an end, I had two schools to choose from, so I picked the one with a bigger field.  It turned out to be Twin Falls middle and high school, but since this was a Saturday, I could not see any flags flying to give me an indication of the wind.  So I put myself into a gradual turn while watching my GPS.  At one part of my circle I was doing 35 miles an hour, whereas the other side had me going closer to 5.  OK, so it’s clear what direction its blowing up here… I just hope it’s the same as I get closer to the ground.

Ah, yes… the ground.  That thing I should start looking at as I come in for landing.  That field that should be getting closer, was mysteriously getting ever so slowly farther away on my ground-track.  CRUD!!!  That meant that my numbers were 35 MPH to the southwest, versus 5 miles an hour to the southwest, and the “best” number still had me traveling freaking BACKWARDS!  I had set up for what should be a long final, only to realize that I was getting farther away rather than closer to my landing zone!

Fortunately, I was still at about a 700 feet, so I had plenty of space to change the pitch of my wing with the speedbar and increase my forward speed.  I wanted to land as close to the downwind side of the field as I could in order to stay out of the rotor from the trees on the upwind side, but not so close that I risked missing the field altogether.  For goodness sake, we just had the 4th of July last two days ago… couldn’t somebody have enough patriotism to leave their flag up through the weekend?  I was developing a greater appreciation for the traditional LZ with wind-socks on both ends and the chance to watch others come in for landing to see what happened to their wings before I set up for my approach.

Alas, I came in almost dead-center of the field with a ground-track just slightly more than a walk.  I flared my wing like the dickens, but still managed to hit the ground with a grunt before killing my wing so as to avoid getting yarded across the field.  The unfortunate part about the center of the field, however, was that after quickly putting my wing into a rosette, the edge of the field where I could pee was now that much further away.

After packing up my wing, I opened Google Maps on my phone to see where I was, and to figure out how to get towards the freeway.  Two kids were walking near the back of the school and I asked them which way was the quickest way to the front of the school.  They looked at me like I was an idiot, and one said “just go back the way you came,” but then I told him why I couldn’t really do that.  “Oh.  Really?  Cool.  That way.”

I had a sign on the back of my pack that said “Glider pilot needs ride” as I started walking down the road, but nobody was stopping.  I probably wouldn’t stop for me either, as I looked pretty ragged at that point.  Just as I was contemplating tossing a lightweight cotton skirt into my pack for next time, some 86 year old guy in a pickup truck honked and gave me a ride all the way back to the LZ nearly 20 miles away.

He refused any compensation, and I thanked him profusely.  After the requisite “whoo hoo!” and sharing the tale to a fellow pilot or two, I still managed to get home in time to tuck the kids into bed and have dinner with Kristen.

All in all?  An extremely good day!



Click on image to download the Google Earth file