This shear has carried us east instead of south, now within range of a new alternate, Brian Ranch. It’s the same kind of tentative final glide we had over Harmon, only a third as far. Lift where we are is feeble at best and the glide angle to Crystal has stopped improving, so again we have to swallow hard and GO.
The endgame’s on us, ready or not. Fly at zero MacCready plus a knot or two for the headwind, settle in and try to keep both eyes open. Early in the flight this spending of altitude between miracles was joyous, like a shopping spree, but lately it’s all become a chore. Even these last couple climbs have felt more like something to endure. Been a wonderful day, but I could use a nap. If there were any backwash left I’d pour it on my head.
From fifteen hundred AGL at Brian Ranch the smart thing to do is accept a gracious defeat and land. What relief! Four miles short shouldn’t be hard to live with. Even so (force of habit) I have to wonder…
Gliding from Silver Queen we bet five miles for every thousand feet of altitude and almost made it. Here we are with basically the same glide slope and just four miles to go. If only we can…
Sure, I know better than to think like this, but these pesky miracles keep popping up every few minutes and truth is we’re learning to expect ‘em. “We’ve got Brian cold,” I say out loud. “Let’s sneak one mile further to see what’s there and then hurry back.” One angel says that’s pointless if we intend to retreat anyway, and the other says it’s harmless enough so long as we promise to…
Uh huh, so which angel’s which?
Well, now Brian’s been behind us for a while, we’ve lost barely a hundred feet, and Crystal’s creeping lower in the canopy! We have this glide darn it, even into the wind — but fall short and we’re toast. Which gets the angels bickering so fiercely neither’s intelligible. Flaky spirit guides, right when you need ‘em!
We’re honestly at the very cusp of returning to Brian when sink grabs us, and after nosing over it feels too late to turn. In a fillip the decision’s been made. We’re committed to Crystal, heck or high wire.
Dropping through pattern altitude three miles out we aim straight for the nearest corner with speed-to-fly now triply important. Don’t forget to breathe. After most of another minute the glide’s still improving!
And that inaudible echo? Sound of the other shoe dropping. Yes more sink, deceptively smooth, and suddenly we’re down to five hundred feet still more than two miles out. Screwed. Every muscle screams slow up and postpone certain disaster, every one but this lazy muscle inside the skull. It says shove over and grasp the rest of your life.
Too late to wait for more miracles, this last one we must perform for ourselves. Time for the errant pilot’s ace up a sleeve, GROUND EFFECT.
TO BE CONTINUED
Well into spring now, we’ll see a cooling spell this week with more wave almost certain on Friday and quite possibly Saturday. By Sunday a switch to northerly flow might also bring some bow wave as well.
BTW, it’s come to our attention that we failed to congratulate Alan King for his first glider solo, now a couple weeks ago. Kudos Alan!
Way too late for a stand alone thermal to be kicking up dust like that in the middle of big flat nowhere. And one after another after another, has to mean shearline. Shears are typically linear, but they’re not obliged to run straight any more than we are. They meander wherever they please like a towrope dropped in high grass. Has a segment of ours somehow buttonhooked back around to within a stone’s throw of where we glided by ten minutes ago? Or is this the second one catching up with us? Neither seems likely, but as always in the sky, anything’s possible. Whatever this is, it feels like something about to happen.
The interface of a shear often slants vertically where stable air undercuts the live stuff. If that’s happening here, there should be lift below our level between us and those little dustups — as confirmed by ravens celebrating there. Two hours earlier when things were booming this would have fed a mondo dust devil, an hour from now it’ll no longer exist.
Good angel, for once, coos, ‘YESSS!’ (I start to wonder why the spirits are switching roles but NOW’s no time for that.) We’re this close and the shear’s still rolling on, slowly deflating like a leaky tire. How many times can we miss the same bus? Or abuse the same set of similes for that matter.
Ah anyway… Pinnacle moment; you forget to doubt your intuition and LEAP head first, transcendent clarity at once motivation, means and reward. Plenty of time later to learn if you trusted the right angel.
The plan is marginal but doable: Fly downwind away from the strip, far as we dare before turning back. Either lift there saves our day or we settle for a long base leg to Harmon.
Meanwhile we’re down to a few hundred feet above ground and wading through more sink. Time’s still running out. Whatever we do, it’ll be NOW, like always. Draw one sober lungfull to assure we really have the height for this, and the moment’s on us.
Just as we reach that tentative turnpoint sink fades to zero and smoothly broadens. It’s weak at first, but rarely can lift be strong this near the surface, and the sensation is unmistakable as a lover’s breath. We turn right above where that first puff vanished exactly as the noise level spikes, nosing gently into what we hope will be the day’s last climb.
One tentative circle leads to more and a minute later Harmon’s forgotten. Luxuriating again in the scent of good fortune, we inch along whichever shearline this is after all, not exactly toward home anymore but gaining a little height as we go. Having caught the much abused simile with not a clock tick to spare, we grin like bank robbers on the lam, accomplice driving the getaway car and me in back counting our loot. None left to chase us but the mad dogs of future memory!
Soon though, changing perspective reveals that ahead the shear meanders away from Crystal…
So in the end we face one of soaring’s more excruciating dilemmas, barely climbing in weak lift while wind drifts us further from home late in the day. It’s not like we have time to follow this wherever it takes us and eventually climb high enough for an entirely different homeward leg. No, this is the two-minute warning. Refs have swallowed their whistles.
TO BE CONTINUED
Well, we’re into that part of the year when there’s at least some kind of soarable lift every single day at Crystal, all the way to mid-October. The coming week should be mostly sunny of course, with Friday and Saturday breezy from the north, and some chance of WAVE on Sunday. (After that, thermal conditions should continue improving steadily for the next three or four months…)
SEE YOU SOON