Friday, April 22, 2011

NorCal XC League - Dunlap - April 2011

In his new book on XC competition flying, “Flying Rags to Glory,” Mads Syndergaard writes extensively about the subconscious and its ability to process more information and react many times faster than the conscious mind. This weekend, at the first gathering of the NorCal XC League in Dunlap, CA, I tried my best to use the principles mentioned in the article, with some success. I also proved that there is a bone-headed, impetuous, 25-yr-old lurking inside this brain that I need to get the reins on.

Waiting for a cycle at launch - Photo by Bad Patrick

Saturday we assembled on launch and Jug lead an informative pilot briefing. Over 30 pilots from All over California, Colorado, and more than a handful of foreign pilots were in attendance. Notably missing was Eric Reed who had made an epic vol bivuac journey through the entire length of Nepal and was finally released from a month of house arrest in Sikkim, India, this weekend, after all charges regarding “permits” were dismissed.

Cloudbase was 1000‘ above launch, so Jug built a short task that kept the pilots within the Dunlap valley and had 3 valley crossings. I launched early and explored the area while feeling out any conditions that might be hazardous. It was a buoyant day with slow climbs but dependable lift. The start went well and I made it to Hill 49917 and Last Chance in the lead gaggle. I got a bit low at last chance before finding lift and I watched Josh and his armada of GTOs heading back to the ridge to tank-up before the crossing to Granny’s Knob.

Note the hard right turn to "Damn Kitty"
As I climbed to near cloudbase, I caught a glimpse of a bird circling in lift West of my position (on a direct line to Granny’s) and decided to head directly to Granny’s. I had company as Natalia, Max and I headed out on a low-percentage glide on course. Our move paid off as we contacted some nice lift near Granny’s and we tagged the fix and glided across the valley to the ridge at launch, before the other gaggle had headed out for Granny’s. When we climbed up at the ridge I was feeling pretty good and was contemplating the best route at the next crux in the route - the glide to Airstrip. . . but I had completely forgotten about the need to tag Big Cat on the way to Airstrip. I rolled out and pushed some bar, drank my water and futzed around to get a granola bar out of my pocket, when I noticed my 5020 pointing 90 degrees to the right of my heading - “OH Fudge!” - I had spaced on Big Cat. This blunder cost me dearly and was the beginning of the end for me. I tagged the (now renamed) Damn Kitty turnpoint and, instead of taking a deep breath and reminding myself to reassess my situation, turned to cross the valley to Airstrip. This move was my undoing as I arrived with very little altitude at Granny’s with which to find a thermal. I was low, alone, and whether I was leading or not, I was in terrible shape. The flight was extended with short, trashy, drifty climbs, but soon ended in the valley with two turnpoints to go.

I should not have let this blunder cost me as much as it eventually did. I should have taken a cleansing breath, marveled at the beauty of nature, and taken the time necessary to climb on the ridge and make a sensible crossing. I also had completely missed the cues that the day had matured and the winds had picked-up from the West.

Note to self - When you screw-up, reassess and recover intelligently.

Three pilots made it to goal and deserve congrats for using the day well. Results for day one are HERE.

A view of launch on Saturday morning.
On Sunday the early cloudbase was lower and we considered doing the same task as Saturday’s. A ‘do-over’ was popular last year since it allowed those of us who had mental lapses to refly the same task. As the sun warmed the valley, cloudbase rose substantially and we decided a task similar to the first 3 waypoints on Sat with a run down to Sand Creek and back to the pizza place in Squaw Valley was doable. I launched early and found the lift to be very weak and sporadic. I eventually found some lift on the correct edge of the start cylinder about 5 min. before the start. The climb took me away from the cylinder and when the start time came I was forced to penetrate back to the start against the traffic of, what seemed like 25 wings, all passing me on their way to the first turnpoint.

I made the start cylinder and caught a good climb which allowed me to get back into the hunt. By the time I had hit the first two turnpoints I was running just behind Josh and was feeling good. The crossing from Granny’s to Big Cat (Damn Kitty) went very badly for me and I spent the last 35 minutes of my flight trying to put together a decent climb on the ridge behind Damn Kitty. I eventually landed at the St. Nicolas ranch in defeat.

Meanwhile Jug and Alex were the only two pilots to get beyond the ranger station and they eventually landed in the Sand Creek area. Josh landed at the Ranger Station, no doubt in disgust that I had blown it so bad in the crossing ;-)

Congrats to Jug and Alex for the best flights of the day! Sunday's results are HERE.

It was a great weekend with many pilots in the air and many first-timers. There was very little drama and no incidents.

My personal struggle to fly well but not take stupid, low-percentage risks will be foremost on my mind next month. I need to take Mads’ advice and listen to my subconscious (The Force, if you will) but temper the crazy 25-yr.-old that wants to dash around the course without the intelligence to fly with my buddies and not venture out on my own early in the task. I need to mature as a XC pilot. When I was a kid I wanted to be a pilot when I grew up.  Since then I've heard it said that, “You can either be a pilot OR grow up . . . but not both.”

Well, I’m going to try.

Fly Safe -


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