We’ve had lots of wind lately, and unseasonably cool temperatures too. Feels like we’re a month behind in terms of thermal development, but the coming week might just bring our best so far this season. Expect light breezes, balmy temps and thermal lift well up over the mountaintops right on through the weekend.
SEE YOU SOON!
It was a typical gray day in New England, overcast with no thermals and ridge lift up the kazoo. Bomber towed us over to the hill, then rather than turning straight for home, took the long way back, apparently to sample some of the goods himself. Never seen him do that. Our first priority was topping out, so I loitered in a sweet spot and watched. Dragging two hundred feet of rope, he couldn’t bring himself to fly close enough for much benefit, inching along way shy of the ridge throttled back and giving up maybe twenty degrees to the crosswind.
The longer I watched the more it looked like we might be able to catch him. We’d have three small advantages, each enhancing the others. We’d fly a lot closer and absorb twice as much energy from the hill, plus higher speed would sacrifice less to the crab.
But time was short. Once Bomber came abeam the field he’d be leaving the ridge. In standard climb-and-glide strategy we should be after him now, exploiting our height in the time remaining. Yeah, but that’s if we were chasing another sailplane. He was already a mile ahead, but even as he trudged further away I could viscerally see the point where we’d overtake him nearing.
When our climb slowed I dove for the next wind-collecting bowl and squoze in tight as possible to make up ground before he turned away. Snaking along the ridge, changes in slope and wind angle are what matter. Different every run, and more fun each time because the harder you try the better you get.
It was close, but as we slid between Bomber and the ridge at half again his groundspeed, that freeze frame of eye contact was almost too satisfying to endure. When I waved like homecoming royalty he shook his fist, so I pulled up extra hard to rub his nose in it. Afterward, he cussed me with grudging admiration, not for overhauling him, but for the sassy pull up. Then also admitted that running ridge was kinda fun after all, and he might even like to try it in the glider some time.
‘Duh,’ I whispered, then for his sake laughed, “Et tu, Brute!”
Lots of other things have happened since then, good, bad, and so much more no one knows about. Bomber has matriculated to a higher level of learning, but the marvel on his face that day will live on as long as… well, me. Can’t help wondering if he’ll shake his fist again the next time I catch up with him, in that big blue finishing school on high.
Except for the mythic condor, pelicans are the largest birds in North America. Enormous flocks, properly referred to as squadrons, migrate seasonally through our western corner of the Mojave, NW in spring and SE in fall, across wide stretches of desert between waters where they feed. For reasons only they could know, they never utilize the tremendous lift in our local mountains. Every time we see them approaching or sailing away, it always seems more about course line than local geography. And right now the NW season is upon us.
When thermaling, pelicans form into huge silvery spheres like holograms of bubbles in the sky, slowly pulsing from light to dark to light as they circle. It’s wickedly tempting to fly near them, share in their lift and get a closer look, but we really shouldn’t. I wrote some time ago about feeling a pelican’s tail brush our wheel when I came too close, and how scared I was for the bird. Risk of collision, though, is not the only issue.
Could these creatures with brains the size of a walnut have reasoned responses to aircraft? Doesn’t seem likely. Yet their actions do display definite organization. We’ve all seen flocks of birds, schools of fish, or even clouds of insects sashaying in perfect unison, as with one mind. Enough to make even a drill sergeant smile.
And we mar this ineffable beauty every time we intrude.
Any time I’ve tried to join flocking birds they’ve broken formation and fled, some reversing course, to form up again only after I fell behind or below. Animals in migration operate on tight budgets of time and fuel, and can’t afford to consume either precious resource dodging fools like us. We must appreciate this and leave them to their far more serious business.
But what if they approach us? One unforgettable day we were already circling in a predictable manner and posing no threat when at least a hundred pelicans swirled up from below. For one long dreamlike minute, a fog of enormous white wings floated all around us, above and below, ahead and behind, wafting silently inside a feather pillow fallen dizzily upward. Borne aloft by avatars!
Soon they’d climbed high overhead and gone for the season, but talk about goosebumps! That may always remain my single most gratifying encounter in the sky, made possible simply because we let them initiate contact.
This coming week will be mostly about what the wind decides to do. Thursday’s blowing solid from the west, but that may subside on Friday and Saturday, with fair weather from either northeast or southwest depending which forecast you believe. Then on Sunday and Monday, wind is scheduled to return from the southwest, with wave almost certain – crosswinds permitting. In other words, typical spring weather.