Seems cabin fever is now the new indemic, and everybody’s catching it all at once. Flyers under lockdown can be like caged birds, with brains way too big for the chore. It’s only natural to daydream about wonderful flights, past or future, and all the adventures we have or have not yet enjoyed. Fantasy is a fundamental human element, essential to mental health. But after all of that’s exhausted and you’re still stuck inside, how ‘bout the other extreme, flights made memorable by excruciating tedium? Got to be a story there somewhere.
Beginners might suppose it impossible to get bored aloft. I thought so myself for a few years, until entropy overtook me. I’d already logged several hundred hours of CFI before ever experiencing the faintest hint of dispassion for soaring. It happened where you’d least expect, my first checkout at a gliderport in the Southwest, eagerly expecting to have my mind blown. Prior to that, everywhere I’d been the challenge of simply staying aloft preempted any shade of indifference, but this was just too easy.
A booming thermal came as no surprise. I’d seen ten-knotters before, though never to 9000 AGL! With no clouds anywhere and the nearest hills miles away in two directions, I thought, ‘Now I’ll start to learn this new language of the desert.’ I asked the instructor where to head next, and he was audibly yawning as he said, “Ah just go straight, you’ll hit lift.”
He was right. What we tripped into seconds later felt the same as what we’d left. No strategy, no tactics, nothing but gobs of tall blue thermals standing shoulder to shoulder. So now I knew that aerial ennui was also a thing.
My personal benchmark for stir craziness was a typical late summer day in hazy old New England. I’d been mowing grass since morning, persuaded there wasn’t much up there to miss. All flights had been short ones, reporting not quite enough of anything anywhere, liftwise. The day was well past peak by then and business slow, so I took my usual 1800-foot tow to trusty old Elmore in search of a cure for gravity.
Turned out those discouraging debriefs were accurate, no lift of any kind — except a certain small declivity in the slope collecting a smidge more than its share of both sun and wind. In the 2-33’s smallest possible figure-eight, I was able to hang at one altitude for (abashed to admit) one of my longest flights that season. Three whole hours, actually.
Cabin fever began halfway through the first hour, anticipating a slide for home after the very next turn, or maybe the next… turn after turn after slow return. As the fever raged through its second hour, I sang versions of Eighty Hundred and Eighty Eight Bubbles of Eights on the Wall, but that got old too. Mused for a while about going full zen and flying all night (as it happened, there was a full moon scheduled). Had to grin at the notion of search-and-rescue folks tramping diligently through the woods until my shadow crept over them at two in the morning… No, that wouldn’t do, they might get mad and shoot me down.
On and on it went, delirium eventually settling to sheer drudgery, through what seemed a thousand nearly identical figure-eights, and honestly never gained or lost more than fifty feet. Grew more than a little drowsy at the helm before sunset mercifully stilled the breeze and brought an end to that voluntary ordeal, but I did stay up! And that’s the whole story. Five mile tow, six mile final glide, and a ton of zeros in between.
So yes, even soaring can become boring. But when circumstances make it so, remind yourself that a case of numb butt is more enjoyable in the air than on the ground.
And similarly, a case of numb butt on the ground is less permanent than one in it.