SUPERSTITION: WHAT’S IN IT FOR YOU?

As a kid I was always steadfastly unsuperstitious, having no cause to believe otherwise… until I took up soaring. Several seasons, I resisted conversion even as firsthand data continued to mount, and ultimately it was empirical (not theoretical) reality that persuaded me to sell my soul. Below are a few examples of Truth’s dark side, things you should say or do only if you intend to fail.

Pointing out to a passenger (or fans on the radio) how fast you’re climbing. This was the first such evidence I observed, but it’s still as prevalent today as the incessant gravity it conspires with. To intensify this hex, simply suggest that your companion glance at the vario. It’s guaranteed to plunge a moment later.

Blowing altitude carelessly. Fine with me if you want to pull spoilers at the top of a thermal and dive off thousands of feet — for sensible reasons of your own. Sloppy flying though, mindlessly squandering energy you could put to good use, is not only dumb and ugly, it’s disrespectful. Aeolus recognizes these insults, and is dispassionate in rendering verdicts. Every foot of height you misuse is one you may never get back!

Unnecessary circles. It takes twenty or thirty seconds to complete a typical circle, so every two you waste shorten the available time before sunset by about a minute. It’s always okay to fly another circle, even if only to further enjoy the view, but if you’re trying to get somewhere – or losing altitude – treat pointless circles like distractions on the freeway and fly right on by.

Trying to out-climb other pilots in a gaggle instead of feeling your lift and flying your bird. Gauging oneself against others can be helpful, but you’ll never outperform anyone by flying too slow, banking too steep, squirming, gritting your teeth, or indulging negative thoughts. The point is to ENJOY flying your best, whether it’s better than someone else or not!

Brash declaration before a flight on its speculative outcome. I committed this blunder prior to what would become my all-time favorite flight, ironically, and spent from then till the rest of the year living it down. It was brassy enough to claim a 500-kilometer circuit beforehand, but I mistakenly said, “500-mile circuit,” and when questioned on that, upped the ante by foolishly sticking to it. The flight was memorable for lots of reasons despite the extra burden I put on myself before takeoff, but it fell quite short of five hundred miles. Credit me for that.

Making a badge or record flight more for bragging rights than the joy of soaring itself. A former favorite student once found a state multi-place record he thought was breakable and drafted me to be his ballast. It was his idea, and would ostensibly be his record, so I made a point of not helping him prepare the documentation and barograph, and at least tried to not help much with the flying. He (we) did fine, and ended that long flight with a righteous sense of accomplishment. Then, rather than take a deep breath and celebrate he went straight for the barograph to admire his work. The crestfall was instantaneous when he learned that little ticking time bomb held no visible trace, turning his rosy glow to ash. Moments after completing the longest flight of its kind any two friends had ever made in California, he was bummed. I tried not to laugh out loud, and failed, shall we say, risibly. He eventually forgave me for that laugh, having none to blame but his egotistical self!

Last yet least defensible, failing to fly your very best the entire time you’re up there. This curse demands your compliance up front, willingness to endure tortuous minutes (hours?) staunchly refusing to surrender, persevering with every twitch of finesse you can muster to simply stay aloft until the brass ring finally comes around. Even when losing altitude, doing so as slowly as possible can be what keeps you aloft long enough for the magical moment to arrive. It does happen! Any time I fail when expecting more, I assume it was my own doing and wonder which of my maledictions cost me the most. All other rationalization is delusory.

Avoiding failure does not equal success, yet is often what allows it. There are countless ways to jinx yourself, and now that you’re alert to the peril you’ll probably start discovering them too. Think of it this way: eliminating certain anathemas from your list of options simplifies subsequent decisions, and that by itself could be critical on those occasions when time, uh, accelerates…