Monday, March 10, 2008

Atlas Shrugged - Nestucca Spit

By John Kraske:

From a high point of the sand ridge that runs from Cape Kiwanda south to the mouth of Nestucca Bay my wind meter was gauging a slightly cross wind from the north average of 12.2 mph, but predominantly from the west. Gusts were sporadic maxing at 16.7 mph. Just barely enough to fly this shallow of a ridge. Haystack Rock, bathed in dismal gray, loomed a half mile off shore. Cape Kiwanda pointed west about a mile north of me. The summer beach homes set back along the ridge, all looked deserted. Other than a few seagulls and one eagle soaring by from south to north, I was alone. I guess that’s the way it is on an early Monday afternoon on the 3rd day of March. Gray to say the least. But what the hell, like Aynd Rand’s Atlas, I shrugged and thought at least I could kite and it didn’t look like rain would be coming my way anytime too soon, just gray, no tell tale vertical textures on the western horizon, at least none that I could see. I hiked back to my van and retrieved my beach wing.


I’d started my morning in Oceanside with a little breakfast at the Breaking…oops, that’s Brewing-In-The-Wind CafĂ©, waiting for the morning air to warm and the torrential rains to back off. By eleven a.m. the sky had lightened up. I bolted for the launch on Maxwell Mountain. Another lonely landscape void of all the brightly colored hang gliders and paragliders I’ve experienced here in the past. Only a doe and fawn leisurely grazing the launch seemed just slightly concerned that this two legged, winged wannabe had arrived. They ambled by, not twenty feet away, stopping to nibble on the fresh pre-spring sprouts announcing, spring on the rise.

Not much in the way of wind from the right direction. I bolted back to the beach to check the wind in the vacant lot next to Rosanna’s. Here the winds were slightly cross from the north and blowing at 20 mph plus. With this direction I thought Terra Del Mar would be my best bet and pushed my aging Westfalia south, stopping at Anderson where the winds were cranking in with way too much velocity, from a perfect direction. I parked long enough for a cell phone call or two, but couldn’t roust out any of the local pilots. I pushed on to the south where I found the perfect wind direction at Tierra Del Mar. My wind meter showed a 17.7 average with a plus 22 maximum, and who knew what the wind would be 20 feet off the ground. I was alone and feeling a little timid after having broken some bones and bruising a kidney two months ago. I opted to head south to Pacific City for lunch.

Map image

There was some road construction on the west end of the bridge that leads into town. I turned west, parked and check out the west facing sand ridge. I wasn’t all that hungry so opted to give this 20 to 30 foot high ridge a try. To me, the ridge looked like it had been piled high by Winter’s bullying winds and violent waves. The beach was practically void of driftwood that can sometimes pose a problem for high wind kiting. My greatest concern would be being draggged through a plate-glass window of one of the seasonally abandoned beach homes along this stretch of beach. The beach was empty as far as I could see to the south with no activity to the north. Just a brisk westerly wind, gray ocean, gray sky and clean white sand forever, and shortly, my purple paraglider.

The 3 foot to 30 foot high ridge on Nestucca Spit runs just less than four miles from Cape Kiwanda south to the entrance of Nestucca Bay. There are breaks and variable slopes here and there between higher peaks. Golden beach grasses whip in the wind, perfect wind indicators. Further to the south the spit becomes the Nestucca National Wildlife Refuge and there are no beach homes, just the barren dunes with a scattering of wind tortured beach pines and scotch broom separating Nestucca Bay from the pounding Pacific Ocean.cape lookout1

I laid out my purple beach wing on the forty-five degree sand slope, placing hands full of sand on the trailing edge, about a foot apart, a technique that keeps the trailing edge of the wing from being lifted by the wind. I stretched out the lines so I was standing on the beach at the base of the ridge and clipped in. Leaning into my harness with knees bent, I lifted my A-risers and my wing was flying in very laminar air. I kited to the north and let my wing assist me to the top of the ridge. At about twenty feet above the beach I tested the pressure in my wing and determined that I might be able to maintain a semblance of altitude above the ridge. At worst I’d glide to the beach. I launched myself forward and to my right. Skimming the ridge face I flew towards Cape Kiwanda, gaining a slight bit of altitude above the highest points where I executed a one-eighty and headed south, with the ridge now on my left, my ground speed was just slightly greater than it was going north. I soon found myself kiting on the beach, having lost the advantage of the slight headwind I had experienced in my northward track. This was fun, and I wasn’t about to give in. I kited across the wide sloped gap to the south and found greater lift against a slightly higher ridge than the one I had originally launched from. This was getting to be really great fun. I continued zipping further and further south and away from the summer beach home lined stretch of ridge I had started at. The wind seemed to be picking up and I was soon maintaining flight above the ridge in all directions. Keeping my eye on the horizon for squall lines or vertical streaks of rain, I worked my wing back and forth, working my way further and further to the south then back again with each turn to the north. With each pass I used my speed system more and more. Finally, at one point, I could no longer penetrate to the west and had to utilize full speed bar, wingovers and ears to get back down to the flat beach. A squall was rapidly approaching, pushing high winds in front of it, and I was just beginning to feel a fine mist of rain. As I finally touched down on the beach, I released my right control and pulled in on my left risers, disabling my wing in twenty plus mph winds. I bundled up and stuffed my wing just as the rains began to hammer down against Nestucca Spit.

Flying alone in these conditions is probably not the wisest thing to do, but to justify my decision I chose a comparably safe location considering what my options had been on this particular day. I suppose the bottom line is that flying solo is nowhere near as much fun as flying with friends.

With the upcoming Oceanside Open Fly-In being held April 19 and 20 there will be lots of bright wings and many options of places to fly. Lots of friends. Even if Oceanside is forecast to be blown out or rain is predicted there are lots of options to fly along the Coast of Tillamook County. Saturday was epic at Cape Lookout’s Anderson Point. Sunday I didn’t fly, but saw several wings at least 1,000 feet over Kilchis in the Tillamook Valley. Monday’s the day I flew the Nestucca Spit at Pacific City. Tuesday I was in traffic court while one of my Tillamook friends was 1,400 feet above Cape Lookout.

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