Thursday, July 31, 2008

Chelan

Sunny and light winds at the beginning of the day, with the winds predicted to strengthen quite a bit as the afternoon went on (to 15-20 mph on the ground). Task today was race to Okanagan (about 70 km) with no turnpoints in between. When we heard the task there was lots of discussion amongst pilots about which route to take: you could stay on the Chelan side of the river (the mountainous side) until closer to goal, or you could cross over to the Flats right away and fly on that side (the east side) all the way north.

Initially I had planned to stick to the west (mountainous) side, but once in the air I realized it was quite strong south winds aloft, and I didn’t want to be anyplace where being in the lee was a probability. So I decided to fly the Flats since there usually is no lee.

When the start came at 1pm, the gaggle split roughly 60/40: 60% went for the west/mountainous route, and 40% of us went for the east/Flats route. Crossing was a bit slow, and once on the other side at McNeil canyon all the thermals were actually pushing us back over the river. So we’d start at the rim, thermal up, end up over the river, and have to push back to the rim again for the next thermal.

It was quite windy up high and all our thermals were giant ovals rather than circles. It was hard to stay with the thermals since they were very bullet-like with strong edges and I heard lots of canopies flapping as pilots were having collapses. Eventually after a few km’s of flying north, I couldn’t catch the next good thermal (I was headed for a field with dust devils in it but didn’t get there in time to ride any back up) and ended up landing in a field next to the only paved road in the area.

I could see lots of dust-devils around (there was one in the same field I landed in but at the other end) so I unhooked from my glider ASAP as I’ve been taught when flying the Flats in Chelan (“Never stay connected to your glider when on the ground on the Flats”…thanks Martin!). Packed up and then the long walk back to civilization. No cell coverage and nobody on the retrieve frequency meant walking to a house and using their landline instead. Spent the time talking with the lady about combines and the secrets of wheat-farming :)

Back in Chelan and turning in the GPS met lots of pilots who did the west/mountainous route, and got varying distances on that side before landing. A bunch of pilots landed at the airport after getting flushed behind ridges in the strong winds, and more landings up in the various canyons and having to walk back out to the main road. Cherie won the day, and most of the Canadian contingent made goal too. I guess it just wasn’t my day to be among them!

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