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.