Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Peaceful and Scenic with a side of Thrilling Spirals

My flight experience at the Northwest Paragliding Club Tandem Fly-in

by Marilyn Monserud

wouldn't really consider myself a daredevil or crazy thrill seeker. I’ve skydived a couple times and I love roller coasters, but I don’t have plans to bungee jump off the Bloukrans Bridge any time soon. What I’m looking for is something…a little out of the ordinary…without being blatantly suicidal. Paragliding has long been on my list of such adventures. When the opportunity to tandem paraglide came up, I jumped at the chance to knock this one off my bucket list. I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Would jumping off a mountain attached to a giant kite be as thrilling as jumping out of a plane into nothingness? Would soaring around like a bird be more or less exciting than freefalling from 12,000 feet or doing loopty-loops on a high-speed coaster? I guess I had to do it to find out.

After signing the usual I-won’t-hold-you-responsible-if-I-don’t-survive-this paperwork and taking a shuttle to the launch spot, I met my flight partner and got the expected rundown on how we’d work together to get off the mountain and into the air. It was pretty much what I expected except we weren’t tied as close together as when I skydived. In fact, I had my own, comfortable soft seat! (I’d rather imagined I’d be dangling from a harness attached to a giant Baby Bjorn in front of my partner). When the wind blew up the mountainside just right, we ran full speed off the mountain. Or, I should say, I “ran,” but in reality I was mostly running in place in order to put tension on the canopy so it would catch air and lift us into the air. And then we were off…

The flight was different from what I expected. It was very peaceful and scenic. The air was cool and smooth and it was fun to realize how we were trying to find and “catch” invisible thermals in order to rise higher into the sky. My partner offered to let me steer the kite, but I honestly just enjoyed sitting back and watching the landscape below us. We caught some of those thermals and rose high enough to see all the way to Puget Sound. It was beautiful. When it was time to descend, we did do some more thrilling spirals which did feel a little akin to a roller coaster. When we touched down gently on the grass landing field, I realized I’d forgotten to take pictures or a video while we were aloft. I guess that’s a good reason to go again.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


Ballard pilots Sarah Doherty and David Masuda talk about this year's Rat Race, Sprint Category.

Dave: Well done, Sarah!  Third place in the women's sprint category two years in a row!

Sarah: Yeah, I feel kind of weird about that. I mean, you outflew me this year, and there's no real reason women can't compete equally with men in this sport.  So I feel a bit embarrassed by the accolades.

Dave: I can understand that, but as long as we're on the subject of categories, I'll propose they consider adding a "Masters" category.  Those of us who are well past AARP age need all the help we can get. 

Sarah:  I will say that one thing I do quite like about the Rat Race daily awards is that the recognition of accomplishments is more than just who did well in the day's task.  One of the really enjoyable things is the random awards - such as Ian Frew's accomplishment this year -  the "Most Bi-Curious Retrieve" award.

Dave: Absolutely!  Only Ian could find his way into a van with a couple of hard-core swingers.  And only Ian could tell the tale in such a way that had all of us rolling on the floor.

Sarah: Overall I have to say Rat Race is a terrific experience for fliers like us - the casual pilot.
Dave: Exactly. I've been flying for 20-plus years and rarely get more than 20 days of flying a season. I'm reasonably competent with the occasional XC flight.  And more than anything what I enjoy most of all is doing an XC along with a gaggle of friends.  No real pressure, no full-on competition. The Sprint category at Rat Race is ideal for people like us. 

Sarah: I never would have entered Rat Race if it weren't for the Sprint category.  It's a great way to break into the competition scene or simply as a way to improve your XC skills.

Dave: We do have to talk about the gaggles at the start.  The Sprint group typically has 80 or more pilots circling above launch in the start cylinder, sometimes for up to 45 minutes.  And two things are pretty clear.  One, 95% of us up there have precious little experience in such intense gaggle flying.  Two, the other 5% up there can be rather scary.  You really do come to appreciate - and use - what the race guys told us: "ALWAYS have your head on a swivel". 

Sarah:  I will say that I found the gaggles this year to be far less crazy than last year. I think a big reason for this was the addition of "staggered starts".  In short, you have a choice of three different start windows, each 15 minutes apart.  And you can choose any of the three.  So this thins out the mass exodus you have with a single start window.  It let us spread things out in the gaggle quite a bit more.  

Dave:  Also important to point out that even with six full days of flying there were no mid-airs.  OK, at least no mid-airs of significance.  Also, the staggered start adds a fun bit of tactics to the task - do I leave in the first window or the next one?  You have to read the weather and the other competitors. 

Sarah: One thing for sure - watching the folks in the Race category is a wondrous thing.  Almost like synchronized swimming.  They are so wonderfully coordinated.

Dave:  Indeed they are.  Although I imagine that if you were up there with them you might hear some very colorful language.

Sarah:  Dave, I am sure all of those pilots in the Race category are always perfect ladies and gentlemen.  But as long as we're speaking of the view from the ground I have to say that the town of Ruch is an ideal place for spectating.  The Applegate Valley has dozens of craft wineries, and at least two of them are wineries with LZs - how can you beat that? This makes for some great spectating - nothing better than a glass of Syrah on the sun deck whilst watching pilots come in on full bar.

Dave:  Lest our readers think Rat Race is all about what happens on the ground, let's talk about the flying. I think the tasks they laid out for the Sprint group were terrific. Their goal was to have about a quarter of the pilots make goal each day.  And mostly that was the case.  This seemed to me to be just about the right level of challenge.

Sarah: I'm entirely on the same page. Each day's task brought a combination of skills and strategy into play.  What route would be best?  Do you start early or wait for others to lead the way?  Which leg would be the crux of the task?  Do I push out ahead or do I hold back and wait for others to lead the way? By far and away, the best thing I learned over the course of the week was PATIENCE.  As the race guys say, "Until you are making goal every day you should NOT be racing."    

Dave:  That was my big mistake last year. This year I worked hard never to leave lift until I hit the top - and was then able to make goal all the days but one.  For me, making goal is far more fulfilling than trying to make the podium. And of course, getting to fly a site day after day gives you more and more site knowledge, allowing you to start figuring out some of the subtleties of the site - like the Applegate convergence zone.  Last year I never quite appreciated this.  This year it saved my ass on at least half of the days. In short, this is a superb site to develop your skills in reading site terrain and weather.

Sarah: I love that convergence zone!  The Ruch Valley is such a great place for a comp. The launch at Woodrat Mountain can be on the turbulent side but it also works quite reliably. And once in the air there are so many options for directions to fly that they come up with great new tasks each day. Some tasks are pure mountain flying and others take you out of the valley to what’s really more like flats flying.  What I want to know though is who named all these turn points? "Rabies peak”? “Burnt ridge”?  "Cemetery”? "Longsword?"  Rather intimidating.

Dave:  Surely there is some history here.  And remember, for the most part we never actually had to land in places like Burnt or Rabies. And thanks goodness I never found myself in the "Twenty-Five Buck LZ"!

Sarah:  Or the LZ with a resident - and rather assertive - one and a half-ton bull.

Dave: Longsword, though, is a deceiving name.  It's actually an LZ in the backyard of a local winery.  I mean, where else can you do a challenging XC task, hit the last turn point, scoot downwind into goal, land, and walk up the winery and be handed a free "pilot's glass" of Sauvignon Blanc? 

Sarah:  As Wheels so elegantly says, "This is civilized flying." Now if they'd only add a "pack my wing" service.

Dave:  Rat Race is set up for a lot of fun. Outdoor breakfast and dinners at beautiful wineries, an amazing collection of volunteers keeping everything running smoothly, burgers on launch, and always music, beer, munchies, a pool, and horseshoes back at Mike and Gail's at the end of the day.

Sarah:  It would be hard to make us feel more welcome to the valley!  And of course even if the weather is bad, there's winery tours.  For sure after all the years of doing this Mike and Gail have it down.

Dave:  Sarah, I seem to recall that after both this year's and last year's Rat Race, you told me on the ride home you would not do it again.  Now that were a couple month's out from the Race, is this still true?

Sarah:  Well.... 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Black Mountain Fly-In

“The 2012 Can-Am”
Friday, August 17 — Sunday, August 19
The Group Camp at Whatcom County’s Silver Lake Park in Maple Falls
Reserved from Friday—Sunday noon to host the Black Mountain Fly-In
Paragliders, Hangliders, Family, Friends & Frasier Valley Pilots
Campground reserved for pilots, but spectators are welcome.
Hope to see you there!
Registration/Camping Fee — $35.00
Monies collected will pay for campground with balance going to support Whatcom
County foot-launched Site Development, Site Preservation and Advocacy Efforts.
Pilot Meeting — Saturday 10 a.m.
POTLUCK BBQ Saturday Evening
Bring your best side or dessert to go with Guy’s Barbchoo’d Ribs!
Pancake Breakfast Sunday Morning
Silver Lake Campground is great for kids and non-pilots! Hiking,
fishing, lake, paddleboats, horse camp, bike trails, nearby wineries, etc.
If interested in helping make this a fabulous weekend!
Contact Stacy or Jeff, enes14@wildblue.net, or call 360-739-5649
Blue Skies and happy flying!

To get to Silver Lake Park from I-5:
Take the Mount Baker Highway (Exit 255) out of Bellingham and drive east 28 miles to
Maple Falls. Turn left on Silver Lake Road and follow the signs approximately 3 miles to
the park. The group campground and LZ is the road on the right just before the main
entrance to the park. http://www.co.whatcom.wa.us/parks/silverlake/silverlake.jsp
If you’re coming from the south you can follow the above directions or an alternative
which cuts off about 15-20 minutes is:
Take I-5 North
Take exit 236 — Bow Hill Road
Turn right – head east on Bow Hill Road
Cross old Hiway 99
Bow Hill Road turns into Prairie Road
Stay on Prairie Road to Hiway 9
Turn left on Hiway 9
Go north on Hiway 9 through Acme, Van Zandt
Turn right on Mt. Baker Hiway 542
Follow 542 to Maple Falls
Turn left on Silver Lake Road
Approx 3 miles to the Park