Thursday, March 18, 2010

St. Patrick's Day Flight

Wow, I totally scored on my birthday yesterday and got my first flight of the year. Yeah! Hiking up Tiger Mountain kicked my ass but it was worth it. After 160 days in 2D gravity lock down, it felt really good to bring up the wing and run into the sky again. The air was a bit trashy off launch and knocked me around a little, but once clear of that I headed north into a giant wall of lift that just kept taking me up and up without having to core any thermals. I used my variometer for the first time and it worked well. I climbed about 1400 feet above launch (to 3200+ feet), which is significant only in the sense that I now have a number to associate with what that looks like from the air. Mentally, it gives me a better frame of reference. Last year I had no instrumentation, so everything was like, "Yeah, I'm way up here," without having any clue what that meant. I'm not really a gear/tech fiend to begin with, but it's nice to have access to the basics.

Humans are oddly obsessed with data and numbers, and while I respect the need to quantify maximum lift rates and so on, I can't help but notice soaring raptors require none of that. They're just up there for the freedom and joy of it, and that's how I am. Philosophically, I believe that man is an end in himself, and when I'm flying I feel that. It's so urgently right here and right now that I feel totally alive. It's the beautiful antidote to mentally inhabiting imaginary futures which may or may not be, and that often have no bearing on my present except to ruin it. It's good to let all that go and be 100% in and of the moment. There's a lot of smart, tech & weather savvy, left-brained pilots out there, but I'm more into the spiritual-natural side of things, learning directly from the hands-on experience itself. I'm not the smartest cat in class, but the sky is in my bones because I've been there, even when I shouldn't have been. The lessons are visceral, happening on all levels simultaneously, and each flight my body records conditions and reactions that are then deposited into the bank of experience. The sky is where I feel alive, joyful, free and grateful for existence, and for me that's the payoff. I can't imagine a better state of mind than that.

I flew for 25 minutes, and could have flown much longer were it not for the icy winter air (colder than Santa's balls). I flew until my fingers froze, pulled big ears (a maneuver for fast descent) , and headed for the LZ. The air can often be turbulent on final approach at Tiger, especially during dynamic conditions, and yesterday was no exception. I've heard it described as a washing machine or a rodeo and both are fitting. You assume you're gliding in on a nice smooth straight line and then wham, your wing pops up like you're riding a wild horse and drops you back down again. It's not really a big deal, it's just something you have to be aware can happen and remember not to panic. Experiencing something like this feels way more dramatic than it looks, but when it's your ass in the harness you don't really care what it looks like, you just want to land safely. Within seconds I got bounced twice on final approach, and I just rode through it. By the time I slid down the slope of the second giant air mogul, I was close enough to pull both brakes all the way and land on my feet without incident. Wow. There's nothing that polishes off a good flight like a good landing, and I stuck it. What a great feeling, what a great day.