So after 2 weeks decompressing in Vancouver, it's time to get the obligatory February Woodside hike-n-fly in. The forecast was calling for increasing clouds as the day went on so I wasn't very hopeful of actually thermalling (even though people have been doing so the past few days at Woodside), but was rather looking forward to socializing with people I haven't seen since before Christmas.
Arrived at Eagle Ranch to the usual full parking lot of pilot cars, and a few pilots hanging out, while another load was just arriving on launch. The road up is in pretty good shape until the 3.5 km mark, at which point it goes from bone dry to 1' deep snow instantly. The tracks in the snow tell how far each vehicle has made it before sliding out or getting stuck. Each time you can get a little bit further. This was actually the worst section...if you could get past this 100 m section you are pretty much guaranteed that you will at least make the spur road.
I was fortunate to get a ride up to the 3.5 km mark in Al's Hammermobile, since he's the one who has been punching the furthest up through the snow each time. So we burn up to the 3.5 km mark at breakneck speed, and then Al speeds up even more to get a good run at the snow; the pilots who had driven up earlier are on this section, see (hear) us coming, and leap out of the way (as much as you can leap when you are carrying 40 lbs in 1' of snow). Of course Jim had parked his van in the middle of the road in the snow so we wouldn't be able to get past him! That doesn't stop Al; we get out to watch the show and he rams his truck up through the snow to the van and then tries to drive past it, through the untrodden deep snow on the ditch side. Of course this doesn't work.
At this point we decided to start hiking up ourselves and left Al to his own devices. So we're walking peacefully along, when all of a sudden we hear this roar and see the Beast coming straight at us, full speed ahead and engine howling, and Al passes us with this maniacal grin on his face. I guess he found a way past Jim's van after all (turns out he backed Jim's van down the hill to give him space to attempt the snowy section, and eventually punched his way through).
Passed Al's truck on the top of the final hill into launch (about 25 minute hike), with steam still coming off the undercarriage from all the snow that had vaporized. And no sign of Al, he had launched ASAP and was already in the air on the way down for his sledride.
It was clouding over just like forecast, and it didn't look like it was going to get any better, but not appreciably worse, for a couple hours at least. So I wasn't in any hurry. After 2 weeks of having to launch early, I was keen to just hang out on launch, enjoy the view, socialize, and launch whenever I felt like it!
The black carpet is still up there and doing wonders. It is snow-free and dry, so while the surrounding area is either snowy or muddy, you can lay out your glider on this stuff with no wetness issues. Cecilia was out as well, with the hang glider that she had hidden in the woods from yesterday after hiking it up and discovering it not to be launchable for her.
The big sandbar in the middle of the river, the one that the rednecks are always playing on in the summer, is currently a gravel mine. There was a constant stream of dumptrucks driving out to a predetermined spot to pick up their load and drive it off the sandbar. It actually looked like a racetrack since there were so many vehicles driving a set route and they were all kicking up the dust as they sped back and forth (good wind indicator!), so we initially thought it was some kind of rally, until we looked closer and saw the excavators. I like the rally-car idea more :)
Sat on launch for about 2 hours and enjoyed the sensation of not hurrying. It was so peaceful compared to the recent hoopla of El Penon. But finally it started to blow down so I figured it was actually time to do something other than stand around.
Got off launch in a forward (something I haven't been able to do for 10 months since my shoulder injury last year; yay I can forward again!) and it was a smooth ride to Eagle Ranch. As soon as I launched it was sooo different though. With the balaclava, mitts, snowboots, and insulated clothes, I felt fully muffled and could hardly move. And it felt like I was launching in molasses with the dense sea-level air, not the high-altitude air of Valle. Quite a difference from Mexico! I remember feeling this way every year about this time though...I'll get used to the Michelin-Man feeling soon and will welcome the warmth that comes from it when I start staying up and not just sled riding for 10 minutes. Flying in the Spring is way colder than flying in the dead of Winter! Time to start breaking out the chemical hand warmers.