This Blog Entry has been edited for inclusion in the 2008 Rat Race Book. It is now an article entitled "Lessons I've Learned From my First Few Comps" and can be downloaded HERE
I got home late last night after a 10 hour drive. The pop-up trailer was very comfortable and made the week of flying enjoyable. . . I figure that having the 20-yr-old camper saved me approximately $700 over the 9 days I was in Jacksonville. I ate well & had fresh, strong coffee each morning while laying in my bed - Life was good, even when the temps dropped to 40F at night.
The flying at Woodrat was classic Rat. Nice buoyant areas of convergence that are accompanied by strong (sometimes nasty) turbulence. The tasks were very well suited to the conditions as they changed over the week. This competition attracted most of the top 50 pilots in the US and I was very happy to watch & learn. Josh, the Erics, Dean, Brad and many others were always willing to offer advice. Jug and I had a lot of fun flying together and watching as our different styles still had us meeting up at the next turnpoint or thermal, wing-tip to tip.
Lessons I learned are below - Some are repeats of lessons listed in prior comps. I never have said that I learn quickly or efficiently - Just that I'm learning. . .
Be ready to launch early. Then Launch early.
I launched at least 35 minutes before, and usually 50 minutes before the start. I am now confident that I can stay in the air if anyone can. This confidence allows me to sample the air, explore the start cylinder for lift, and try to make my own start rather than chase the gaggle.
Get a GOOD START
I had 4 really good starts and a couple of marginal ones this week. A big lesson I learned is that being with the leaders, but low-man, as you cross the valley is not as competitive as being behind and high. Go fast by slowing down if the climbs haven't come at the right time.
Stay with the Gaggle.
It's not easy to stay with the comp wings on my Avax XC2, but I MUST try. If I get dropped, the second gaggle is an excellent place to be. It is easy to drop back (actually let them catch me) to the 2nd gaggle and be the 'high-guy' when they get to my thermal. It is sometimes amazing how close the second gaggle is (in time) to the leaders when getting to goal. More than once this week the leaders raced themselves into the ground, allowing the next batch of gliders to tip-toe through the weak patch & make goal.
Don't get low - or alone.
My two worst moments were the desperate last ten minutes of flights where I hadn't heeded the prior rules. I found myself low & alone. Without help, the chances of finding a low save are very small. It's all about making high probability decisions. - Even bold moves must be done with good odds. It's like playing poker & knowing all the odds - Going all-in looks bold to someone who doesn't realize the hands showing are in your favor 75% to 25%.
Don't Give up - Until it's time to give up.
On the last task I had goal almost made. I glided into Boaz Peak low, hoping to get to the 1k circle and then glide into the goal cylinder 1.75k (about a mile)away. As it turned out, I turned away from the 1k cylinder with 750 feet to go because I was heading downwind, into steeply rising terrain, in crap air, and I heard my inner voice say, "Tim - You are not going to get extra attention from the ladies, or rich, or famous, if you make this turnpoint. Do what's smart & fly the jet." So I did what I knew I should, turned & made a safe landing on my terms in a nice field. No fame ;-) but I get to fly another day. If I'd pushed it, I might have made goal, but it would have put me in 24th place overall, instead of 27th - worth it when the down-side was ugly? Nope. . .
As it was, I landed about 100 meters from where Marty had thrown his laundry when his wing went away at 50 meters in the air. He used up some luck & walked away unscathed. His luck was compounded when he made goal by a couple feet while he hung in the tree! Welcome to the Caterpillar Club Marty.
To summarize - I'm learning the game. Fly fast enough to stay with the gaggle but be ready to change gears and slow down when conditions warrant. My speed system was not set-up to allow me full bar & this hurt at times. A.J. flew his 2/3 with the comp wings by aggressive use of bar & pulled it off day after day. He's an excellent pilot and will go very far.
I had a great time at the WCPC. My flying wasn't as consistent as I'd like, but I am really understanding what's going on. When I make a bad decision, I'm realizing the consequences much sooner than before. I hope to be able to use these lessons to avoid the bad decisions in future flights. On an up note - I felt like I flew really well for portions of a couple tasks. My attention waned, or fatigue set in, or something - but for a while, things were really clicking.
Next comp is the BAPA comp in Dunlap next weekend. Then the Chelan XC Open in Chelan WA.