24 OURS

One endless day in May we flew 200 miles straight-out from Crystal after a 3:35 launch, despite cooler heads insisting it was already way too late. They weren’t entirely wrong, nor exactly right either, for this day had already shown itself to be one of that year’s very best. Twice, midmorning and again after noon, I had taken students southeast far beyond Baldy to where we ‘never’ go, then west along the 210 freeway between a cloud street and Pasadena, running hard at fourteen thousand to LAX’s Mode C veil, then diving twenty miles back to Crystal. That’s something I’ve been able to do only one other time in eighteen seasons here, so with still another four hours of daylight left I had a sense of what we might get away with.

Rather than starting in the mountains as usual for a high climb, we towed northwest to a dust devil on course, cutting ten miles off the distance and saving most of an hour. Normally we’d make this departure so high and so early that thermals over the flat desert wouldn’t yet be of much use, but instead of descending several thousand feet on the long crossing to Rosamond, this time we actually gained height! Way too easy.

Even in ‘perfect’ conditions, the neighborhood around Mojave is often a puzzle to solve, but all we did there was shift into higher gear. My only worry now was that the lucky feeling I’d had all day might suddenly fizzle, though gradually it continued growing stronger… Gotta be a limit somewhere, right?

Out of curiosity I counted thermal climbs along the way, amazed at how few were needed. We stopped to climb only ten times on a four-hour run to Bishop, and arrived there so high we could have glided down another thirty miles further, and thirty back. But nah, happily we pulled full spoilers and started talking about dinner. Granted, the horizon around Bishop is a lofty one, but by the time we landed the sun had fallen behind it.

So that was plenty satisfying by itself, but the flight back would prove even more so.

Early next day we towed to the foothills west of town in order to climb sooner on sunlit slopes and skip having to cross the valley later on. Our initial climb came quick down low, but once we had snow under us the air was dead and each time we started to move the cold would pull us down again.

Eventually we abandoned that idea and retreated to the valley, having fiddled away more than an hour of precious game time. Oddly though, even low again near the airport, that lucky feeling from the day before persisted…

Finally, east of Bishop we stumbled into a nibbly shearline, began tiptoeing south, and soon one obscenely generous thermal gave us height to gobble fully a quarter of the distance home. After that, I’m almost ashamed to say, our luck just kept improving, even into a steady wind. Grand total, we needed only four thermal climbs – plus four very convenient shearlines – to complete that 200-mile return flight, arriving home about same the time we left the day before.

Ah, that lucky feeling! Too bad we can’t store some in a time-proof bag for October.