Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

June 29, 2013

Rat Race Paragliding Competition: Task 2

Another great day of sunshine and it's time for the second task of the 2013 Rat Race Paragliding competition.   Some pilots just wanted to continue their great flying.  Some of them, like me, wanted to realize the elusive goal for the first time ever.   We arrived on the hill early and it was already scorching.  Temperatures in the valley were supposed to reach 100 degrees.   Even high in the air, it wasn't going to be cold.   I packed up my winter flying suit and flew in a light windshirt.   Which left me lacking pockets to put things in, like food and drinks.   (Later in the air, my water bottle threatened to fall out during some rough thermals.  Finding nowhere to put it while wrestling the punchy air, I finally just stuffed it down my shirt.  I didn't have time to drink it anyway.) 

The task committee lined up another challenging task for the Sprint group.   Only a few kilometers shorter than yesterday, it took us up and over the high ground several times.   On the map, it looked possible.   In reality...nothing is ever certain.   There are so many unknowns in paragliding.   On our fragile cloth wings, we are at the mercy of air currents, invisible to us aside from guessing and hoping where there might be lift.  We pretend to have educated guesses but even those can change depending on the day, the location, the weather, and our state of mind.  

My wing is slow.   I'm low on the weight range, so I climb easily and then get passed by every other wing out there.  Or at least that's what it feels like.   So I like to get out as early as I can...I figure then I have all day to let people pass me, and then show me where the lift is ahead of me.   On the other hand, if I would start later, I would just get further behind, and then there would be no one in sight the whole race.  

The race group launched ahead of us, and formed a perfectly beautiful gaggle of wings out in front of launch.   Then it was our window...I was ready when it opened and got in the air.   And somehow, impossibly, found myself high again, looking down over dozens of circling wings.   And they stayed that way, too, as the start time crept up.   When the first time to race opened, there were only 5 of us high, with everyone else struggling far below.  I couldn't help myself.  I went.   

The first turn point was close.     The turn points are circles laid over the map, of varying sizes.  In today's task we had 10 circles to fly "into", ranging from a 400 meter circle to a 4 kilometer circle.   These circle are, of course, invisible to the naked eye...only the GPS on my flight deck knew where they were.   When I reached the edge of one, all that is required in this race, my electronics would beep happily to let me know that it was time to turn for the next one.   In fact there was a lot of beeping going on today...I had borrowed a new GPS/Vario, and the new style of beeps let me know when I was climbing, when there was no lift at all, and too often, when I was sinking (and how badly!).  

So we were off, and at the first circle from the start.  All 5 of us, which considering there were almost 200 wings flying around, wasn't very many.  I was high.  I kept going and crossed my fingers we would make the valley crossing.   We did, we found lift, and I kept breaking the rule all day of "never fly alone".   I couldn't help it, no one seemed to be going my way when I was high.   But luckily, there always seemed to be someone around around when I was getting low.  

It was very bumpy.  The lift was really strong in places, and entering a thermal sometimes felt like a giant fist had suddenly grabbed my wing and yanked it straight up.   The radio chattered with warnings about higher winds in the valley, and someone landed in a tree (again) after throwing their reserve chute.  I determined that I needed to get high and stay high.  

People seemed to be sinking out all around me, but somehow I made it back across the tree covered hills to launch.   Low.  I circled just a few hundred feet over launch, verbally yelling at the wind.  "Come on, this is launch!  Give me a thermal, already!"   As I was scratching with a few other people, finally I got good lift and several thousand feet over launch.  Cool air was welcome again.  It was hot.  
Another turnpoint north in the valley.  I took a bad line but still got there, and then I was back over the trees again.   No one around, no lift, and basically I got cold feet.  I looked behind me, saw that there was lift over the valley above me, and went back.  Mistake.   In minutes I was below launch, looking down at the main LZ (landing zone) below me, thinking that I had a good day but all good days must end.  

I wore my Go Pro today on my helmet so got some good pics!  Plus Rob has been roaming the takeoff for great shots of the gaggles in the air.  

My finish today was enough to net me 3rd place in the women's race.   Very cool!   Women's Results and overall results here.  I am third overall now as well, but it's really close.  Tomorrow's task will likely shake up the places again.  

June 28, 2013

Rat Race Paragliding Competition: Task 1

So it's the start of the Race Rat, my first paragliding competition.   Well, actually it's Day 5 of the competition, but we the weather was not very good the first 4 days of the 7 day event, so we didn't get to fly.  (We went to the coast instead and had a nice rainy day walking in the redwoods...but that's a blog for another day).

So it's the first day of real competition, and everyone is ready to get going and get flying.  It's a challenge to get almost 200 pilots and their wings loaded onto busses and up the gravel road to launch.  Launch is high on a hilltop overlooking a valley full of wineries.  And trees.  Lots of trees.    Somehow all of the competitors, volunteers, and gear make it up to the start.  It's sunny.  After 4 days of rain, we're happy to see blue sky.

The Race Rat competitors launch first.  They are in the most difficult class of the race, with the longest tasks.   Launch is fun to watch...three lines of pilots taking turns launching with more lined up behind them.  It's fast and furious and when my turn comes I hope I don't flub it up and mess up the machine-like proficiency of it all.

I'm in the Sprint class, meaning that the task isn't quite as long and as hard as the pros.  Our tasks are meant to be challenging but fun, hopefully doable.   Even with a paraglider as slow as mine.  I hope.   Today, the task for the sprint class is the longest they've ever done in the history of Rat Race.   For the first day!   They explain that weather conditions are looking really good.

I launch without messing up the machine.  Volunteers lay my wing out while I swelter in the heat wearing my winter flying suits.  Heck, it's my only flying suit.  Don't tell anyone, but for emergencies sake, I'm also wearing a diaper.   Hey, there are no bathroom breaks in the sky!  Takeoff is easy.   LAUNCHING LEFT SIDE!  and I'm off.   Climbing is easy, too.  There are wings flying everywhere so it's easy to find the lift.   Lift is where everyone else is already flying.

I get high.  Really high.  For a moment I am higher than any other wing I can see in the sky.    Then I try to just hang out of there for a while.   Our first turnpoint is south into the wind.    I creep towards the starting gate as the start time opens, and suddenly a whole gaggle of pilots is pointed my way.   I creep slower than most others, but that's ok, because when we tag the point, they are ahead of me showing me the lift lines.   Then it's back over launch, fast, really fast.   I'm still high over the next turnpoint, and point out over the valley for the first real challenge of the day.

There's no time to do anything but fly.  I used to think that flying cross country would give me time to eat, drink, take photos and enjoy the scenery.   Not so much in reality.    In a thermal, it takes all my concentration to stay in the lift and keep going up.   On glide to the next turn point, I am focusing on going straight, plus watching the air, terrain and other pilots for clues on which line to take.   Honestly,  I'm too worried to have time to think about eating or drinking.

To the west of launch is a big set of rolling peaks.   Our next challenge was to get up and over them.   Below us is what looks like never ending forests.  There might be a few small landing spots, but it doesn't look inviting.   I get lucky, and stay high enough not to have to worry about that.  As my GPS told me that I had hit my turnpoint, I also hit lift, and rode the thermal back up to a safe height.   There were a few clouds in the sky, and at times as they formed out of blue sky, the lift under the wispy new ones was great.  I looked for new clouds along with everyone else, and we all tried to stay under them and get high.

Getting back north of launch wasn't too hard...the tailwind made it fast.   By then, the hundreds of wings in the air had dwindled, slowly at first, and then poof, they all seemed to be gone.  I couldn't tell if they had sunk out, sped past me, or were still behind me.  Actually, I'm sure it was all three, but for the first time all day I couldn't get high enough to make the next move.   I ran out of patience.   And went for it anyway.   Doh.

Not a great idea. With no one around me, I was one my own to find lift. All I found was sink. Doh. In minutes I was going from hopes of making goal, to hopes of finding a landing spot. Two wings were on the ground below me already. I had enough height to try another stab at a small hilltop for lift, but I think I got "deer in the headlights" thinking, and could only think of landing safely. Which I did. Packed up in the baking sun and hiked out to the road, and had a lift back to race headquarters within minutes. What luck.
I flew 29 kilometers in a straight line between the checkpoints.   Of course, most of the time I wasn't flying in a straight line, I was flying in circles.   I'm sure I went triple that distance in actually miles covered.  All I know is that after landing, I felt like I had been on a rollarcoaster all day.  Or maybe a rocking boat.    I missed the final two checkpoints, but it was enough to land me middle of the pack of racers in terms of points.    The scoring system is quite complicated but takes the results of the group into account when assigning points.  I won't try to explain it.

Results are HERE

Anyway, disappointed not to make goal but maybe I'll learn to be patient tomorrow.    The good weather continues so there should be another great couple days of flying left in the competition!

June 27, 2013

Rat Race Paragliding Competition: Practice Day

So I'm out in Oregon for my first paragliding competition.    It's the Rat Race, the largest competition in the USA, near Woodrat Mountain, Oregon.   Last Saturday, we had a practice day, which was fun flying with a task to get us acquainted with the area.   Since I had never flown here before, and I was using a borrowed GPS, my learning curve was quite steep.   However, since there were about 100 other wings in the area, it made it easy to follow the lift by watching who was sinking and who was rising.

Our practice task was just a triangle around the main valley above Ruch, with a landing at the winery.  My borrowed electronics and their capabilities meant that I could actually see the wind speed while flying, plus tell when I was getting near my turn points and my final landing zone.   I know this sounds like greek to most of you...I will attempt to explain more about paragliding competitions soon.  Just as soon as I learn what they are all about myself!

Since then, we've had 4 days of really bad weather, no flying, and Rob and I took off to the redwoods and the coast for a couple of days.   Bummer, but now we have 3 days of competition left, and what looks like really cracking weather for it.   Stay tuned for some race blogs after the flight today.

While I am flying, I am carrying my SPOT tracking, so you can see how I am doing.    To find my SPOT map, go to RAT RACE SPRINT, click on the word SPOT next to my name, and it should pull up a map of where I've flown that day.

Once we have a real task (hopefully today) check for the results on the website.   They should be here:  http://www.flyxc.org/2013RatSprint.html

June 25, 2013

Deadfall Lakes and Mt. Eddy Summit, CA

I stepped onto the path, and took my first teetering steps on the Pacific Crest Trail.   Yippee, I'm finally on the PCT!   A dream come true.  Unfortunately, I'm not doing the whole trail, or even a substantial part of it...Ok, we're just doing a dayhike, and happened to get to hike part of the PCT accidentally.  But that doesn't mean I don't want to do the whole trail someday.  Really.

So Rob and I were headed out to Oregon for a paragliding competition called the Rat Race, near Medford, Oregon.   It's the largest paragliding comp in the USA, and should be a great chance to fly a new site.   In the meantime, we arrived a day too early (yup, I read the schedule completely wrong).

So on a beautiful sunny morning, we diverted south down to Mt. Shasta, and spent the day hiking up Mt. Eddy.   This 9,000 foot peak is just to the west of Mt. Shasta, with great views of the Trinity Mountains, Lassen Peak, and Mt. Shasta.  Even the paved road up to the trailhead was scenic, as we saw a deer and a fawn along the way.

The PCT was the complete opposite of the trail I had hiked a few days before up to Lone Peak.   A nice smooth, open trail under huge trees, gentle elevation changes, and great views.  The trail wound along the steep edge of a valley without being at all steep itself.   A really pleasant dayhike up to a few lakes in a volcanic valley.

Wandering past the blue and green Deadfall Lakes, the still-nice trail diverted from the Pacific Crest Trail and continued on to Mt. Eddy.   Here the trail got steeper, but only in the sense that it wasn't flat.  Still perfectly hikeable, and I had none of those moments of last weekend when I was completely out of breath and had to stop and catch it.

Mt. Eddy was essentially a big scree slope of volcanic rocks.  The trail zigzagged up the side of the ridge, with great views opening up of the mountains all around.  Mt. Shasta, the biggest view of them all, was hidden until the very tip-top of the peak, where it appeared looking like it was in fingertip reach.

Unfortunately it was really windy at the summit, and kinda chilly.  We weren't tempted to stay long, and hurried back down the zigzags to the lakes, where it was warmer and less windy.   Returning to the car meant retracing our steps along the magical PCT (I will be back someday) with more nice views of the mountains and volcanoes all around us.

Looking up at Mt. Eddy summit from Deadfall Lakes

June 24, 2013

Backpacking: Corner Canyon to Bell Canyon, Utah

I like to explore my backyard, wherever I find myself.  City dwellers (of which I am one now) might call this their neighborhood.   When the snow was still falling, my travels were limited to the lower canyons and streets around me, but now warmer weather has arrived in Utah, thank goodness!   And the snow line in the mountains keeps creeping upward.   So my backyard now includes a really big mountain range.  Luckily, after my EMT course, I found myself with a couple of free days, and decided to take a backpacking trip up into the mountains.

Lone Peak, at just over 11,000 feet, was practically begging me to visit it.  Unfortunately the actual peak is somewhat technical, so I left that for a later visit, and went for easier walking trails instead.   Or so I thought.

After packing my gear, I walked out my front door (that's right, no driving needed) and headed southeast to find the Bonneville Shoreline Trail.   This foothill trail follows the edge of the mountains, along what used to be the shoreline of a huge lake which covered the entire valley.  The current great salt lake is now just a remnant of what it used to be.   The Bonneville trail led me a few miles south to Corner Canyon, where I met up with a jeep trail and finally started climbing in ernest.   Since the house is at 5,000 feet in elevation, I was already out of breath, and wondering how I would get up to 10,000!

Jacob's Ladder Trail started when the jeep trail ended, and then began a lot hot afternoon climb up the south side of Lone Peak.   It starts pretty gently, but it was so hot that I soon found a shaded rock to hide under, and took a short nap.   I continue hiking in the late afternoon, turning off Jacob's Ladder and continuing to work my way around the canyons to the East, looking over the town of Alpine.

The trail then degraded to the point that it was barely an animal trail.   Spring growth had overgrown the path in many spots, and my legs were constantly pushing through branches.  It continued this way for quite a few miles, and it was slow going as I had trouble even following the trail.  It was still a trail, but barely.

There weren't many flat spots, either.  With a short time to go until sunset, I was happy to find a small meadow with a few old fire rings.   It was just flat enough and I was happy to lay out my tarp and sleeping bag there for the night.   It was my first experiment of not carrying a tent, and luckily even the few bugs left me alone for a good night's sleep.

The poor trail continued the next day.  I was still hoping for some nice alpine scenery, but what I got was more struggling through scrub oak and other bushes covering the trail.   Finally I worked my way up and over to the Lake Hardy trail.    This trail was steeper, but well-used, and my scratched legs got a break as my lungs burned climbing up to the lake.    The views got better, too, as I was finally out of the trees and into the alpine rocks.   The final climb up to Lake Hardy was over boulders, but it was worth it for the views.

At the lake, I settled in for a rest and knew I had a choice to make.  Descend back down to return the way I came, or set off cross country and try to find an alternate route back to my house.   Cringing at the thought of pushing back through the nasty trail I had come on (that's right, I neglected to bring any long pants), I decided to try a new trail.  How much worse could it be?

From Lake Hardy, I climbed higher, above 10,000 feet, and reached a saddle of boulders.  From here I could finally see down into the northern valley where I was headed.  Bell Canyon reservoirs were far below me.   I also had a great view of the backside of Lone Peak, which looked impossibly steep.  There's a reason the only approach is from the west!

Snow lay heavy on the valley in front of me, so the fastest way down was to skate my shoes through the slushy white stuff.  It proved a quick way to go, and pretty soon I was looking back up at the pass realizing it was far above me.  The snow was pretty sturdy even for late afternoon, although I did have a few moments of falling into holes up to my knees.   My bare legs got a bit cold and found a few more scrapes.

A mountain stream was running steadily from the snowmelt, and it was a beautiful afternoon of hiking. I passed up a few nice places to camp, hoping to get to lower elevations where I might be warmer through a night with no tent.

The terrain defied me, however, and kept getting steeper.   Upper Bell Canyon reservoir, and the trail below it, proved very hard to find.  I kept checking and rechecking the map, and finally realized that I had come down the other side of the canyon, which was wider than I had realized at first.    This might have been a blessing in disguise, as my side of the canyon was marginally less steep.   Although that was hard to see at the time as I picked my way through house-sized boulders wishing the snowfields hadn't run out.

I never did get to see the upper reservoir, although I finally did find the trail below it, which was a sight for sore legs.  It was still steep but at least there was a trail to follow.   At a river junction in the late evening, I even found a flat place to camp, and was able to brew up some supper on my alcohol stove.

The descent on my last morning was steep, but relatively easy.  After the bushwacking of the last couple days, it was a walk in the park.   The path led along a crashing river for a while, with some nice waterfalls, and then finally I was down to the lower reservoir, which I had visited before.   At that point I felt like I was home already.   Another short descent to the main road, and a couple of miles later I was turning in my driveway for a cold drink, a shower, and a shady escape from the hot sunshine.

June 22, 2013

Last Hike at WEMT Course

Our last week at the Wilderness EMT course was surprisingly less stressful than the rest of the time.   Although we had quizzes, tests, and and hands-on practical exams almost every day, by this time we were ready to take the final and be done with the class.  I think we were just tired of studying, really.   So on a free afternoon, Aaron and I went out for a last hike.   We were feeling spunky, and headed toward the river, which I hadn't crossed before.  Supposedly the mountain lion lives over here, although the instructors are pretty sure that it has headed to higher elevations for the summer.  

There is no easy way to cross the river, which was running about mid-thigh in the middle depths.  Aaron braved it barefoot to save his shoes, while I just plunged through and hoped my feet would dry out.  I actually felt less wet than I sometimes did running in the rain in England, anyway.  

The slickrock across the river was actually quite a bit bigger than the stuff near our cabin.  We climbed up a narrow valley and found ourselves with a bird's eye view over the campus.   Aaron was hoping to see a rattlesnake (I secretly wasn't) but we did see some owl poop.   Basically the desiccated remains of a mouse, some bones and skin.  
A full circle brought us back down to river level, across a marsh where both our shoes got filled with dirt, but still no rattlesnakes.  We did find an old tractor, and the remains of the a burnt house.  

And since this all happened a couple of weeks ago, I can happily say that I passed my Wilderness EMT course, and I am now officially an EMT.  That's kind of scary.   At the time, I was just happy to be done with the class and get home again!

June 6, 2013

Wyoming Skyscapes

It's been a wetter, windier year than normal here in the Wind River Range of Wyoming.  Luckily the rain showers have been timed to avoid our outside scenarios during class hours, and generally it's been sunny and warm.  I have gotten some really amazing time lapse photos of the clouds, which I will be posting as a video once I have some free time to put it together.  
For now, here's a few shots of the cool scenery.   Plus a rather grainy shot of a scorpion, which I couldn't resist staring at after a classmate turned over a rock and discovered it!

Red Canyon from the top end (we live at the bottom)

Oh, and I saw a scorpion when a classmate turned over a rock.  
The blue cabin...home sweet home!

June 4, 2013

A Family Of Owls In Daylight!

My explorations around the NOLS Wilderness EMT campus continue.  Still no mountain lion sightings (yup, still too chicken to cross the river).   But while I was setting up for a time lapse sequence last weekend on the slick rock, I saw a grey shape on the red rock and started wondering what I was seeing.   I couldn't get very close to the side of the cliff, but was curious enough that I left my camera and backpack on the rocks and made a mad dash back to the classroom to see if anyone was around and could lend me a pair of binoculars.   

Sure enough, I got lucky to find some, and convinced classmate Linn to come along and check it out with me.  We were super excited to find a family of Great Horned Owls living on the ledge.    There appeared to be two large chicks which were not grown up enough to fly yet.  The adults were not present, although we could see a large bird flying around the rocks nearby.    I returned later that day, and the next morning, to find both adults near the chicks.  In fact I've had some amazing moments watching them all different times of day.  Once I even caught one of the adults silhouetted on rock at sunrise, it was amazing.  I love just sitting there and watching them.   They keep a pretty close eye on me, too, although I am still pretty far away.  
View from iPhone through the binoculars
Apologies, these photos of the owls are taken with my iPhone, looking through the lens of the binoculars.  Yes, it can be done.  No, it doesn't give great photo quality....duh.   Yes, it takes some hand-eye coordination!  
Linn and I continued exploring when the owl excitement wore off, and I even convinced her to stand on my posing rock.   What an awesome view!
One adult with two chicks