Today's task was simple (at least to remember, not necessarily to fly!). Launch and fly south to Nephi airport, about 66 km away straight line distance. Winds were predicted to be NW so it would be downwind for the most part (in theory, anyways).
The wind techs weren't staying up, so it was up to Bill Belcourt to launch and get the rest of us motivated. I happened to launch just as a band of cirrus came through so I had to work hard to find lift and stay in it. But I managed to stay with the lead gaggle until the start (at 3pm), at which point we were all just outside the 3 km start cylinder, so we had to backtrack to tag it before we could get on our way.
Most pilots were flying deep in the range, but I didn't like the glide out if caught back there, so a few of us stayed out front instead. It was windy down low (as per) so the thermals were all broken up, but we got down to the spot on the range where you have to decide what to do next. Goal was actually still 45 km away or so, and in the flats, with the mountain range curving around towards it. This meant you could either attempt to fly the flats the whole way, fly the flats for part of the way, or stick to the mountains.
Ryan, Bernard, Andy Macrae, and myself chose the flats for the first part at least. It took us 2 thermals to get across to the other side, but by doing so we cut a major corner and were able to jump ahead of some people, and catch up to other people who had chosen the more roundabout way. But flying the flats requires a gaggle...I wouldn't recommend it here if you are flying alone!
We were able to cut a bunch of distance off at Spanish Forks canyon, avoiding the windmills and the huge gap to cross, with the associated canyon suck, and reconnect with the mountains on the other side. Back in the game!
From then on it was easier as I had lots of thermal markers all around me and the more familiar mountains to fly. As we passed by a large forest fire started up on the mountain just south of Spanish Forks, and was still burning as of this evening. Hopefully it won't impact our flying tomorrow and they put it out quickly. (Probably human-caused as there wasn't any lightening in the area).
At Payson was another crux. This involved a large gap jump into the west wind as the mountain range did a major right turn into the valley before continuing on south. I topped up at Tower Peak with everyone else and then we started the long slow glide into the wind. Depending on what line you took, it either worked or didn't. My line very nearly didn't work :) Jon and I found ourselves very low at the end of the bend in the mountain range, just on the last foothill, and not finding anything. We were getting ready to land, only about 35m above the ground with our feet out of our pods for landing, when we found a little 0.1m/s thermal. Since it was totally flat ground beneath us, and there was little to no wind on the ground, we decided to turn in it. Worst that would happen is that we'd fall out and have to land slightly downwind.
Fortunately we didn't fall out (!!!), and from that low save of 100' AGL, we gained 650m of elevation and were finally able to connect back with the mountain range. It's the lowest low save I've had in a while, and it felt great to pull it off (especially when other pilots came to the same spot and had to land; many pilots landed here).
Back to the mountain range where we were able to meet up with the other pilots who had made the glide a bit more easily, and it was time to start thinking about goal. It was still 25 km ahead of us, but out in the flats, and we didn't want to fly too far past it and then have to punch cross/upwind to make it. So I started planning my approach by staying out front, and making sure not to drift too far back into the back range.
This worked nicely until the group I was with found a ripper which was taking us past 13,000'. It had some drift to the backrange, but since it was taking us so high I decided to stick with it and see what would happen.
The thermal kept going past 13,000' (cloudbase looked to be about 16,000'), but it was starting to drift me too far back for my liking so I bailed and headed back for the front range. I looked back and everyone else was following me, and looking at the GPS I could see why...goal was now only 20 km away, cross/downwind, and available at 11:1.
I was averaging roughly 11:1 (it varied between 7:1 and 15:1), and the day was getting late, and it was time to start thinking about heading out into the flats anyways to not overshoot goal, so I decided to go for it. I got myself as skinny as possible and put the glider on a glide for goal, putting the arrow on my GPS straight ahead, and tried to move around as little as possible. It was going to be close!
Fortunately the lower I got, the more downwind it became, and the faster I flew. I still wasn't sure I was going to make goal until about 4 km out, but the last 4 km flew past as I was doing 75 kph downwind. My GPS chirped that I had arrived at goal and I had about 100m to spare (phew!), enough to turn around into the wind and elevator down into the field next to the airstrip.
Many people ahead of me, but also some people behind me arriving, so I'm not dead last :) It took me 3 hours 55 minutes to fly the course. Tracklog is here (even though the distance to goal was 66 km, I actually flew 77 km to get there), and pictures are here. There were about 20-25 people in goal which will make for a 1000 point day. Mads was in 1st, about 10-15 minutes ahead of the lead gaggle. He apparently flew most of the way via the flats.
I really enjoyed this task (and yesterday's as well). Technical and lots of decisions to be made, gap crossings, and a combination of flatland and mountain flying. Kudos to the task committee!