THE FAT LADY DOESN’T SING ‘TILL SUNSET (PART NINE)

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