Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Dreams of XC

Imagine a bright summer day. Imagine soaring with an eagle as he circles his way up over a big green forest. Imagine flying silently beside white fluffy clouds, so close you could almost touch them.
These are the images of cross country paragliding that Eirik described while expressing his love for the sport.

I'm a pilot, too, and have been flying along the Norwegian coast for two years now. There's plenty of great ridge soaring on this side of the country, but not so much in the way of cross country. When he asked if I wanted to join him on a tandem XC tour near Oslo, I was all over the chance to see how a pro does it! We started looking at weather to pick a day. We'd missed the good spring time flying season so Eirik filled the time with stories of his adventures. I saw pictures of flying beside the clouds with little patches of farm fields far below. I heard all about the eagle he played with on his birthday. He showed me pictures of three peaks way off in the distance and then pictures as they got bigger and closer suddenly from the other side!

The weekend weather forecasts continued to promise stable weather. Eirik explained all about the best conditions for thermalling. High pressure days make for stable air masses, which means thermals aren't strong. We've got to wait for a low pressure system to move through. Cold nights and hot days make great thermal days. Cloudless days are great because the sun can heat everything. Then again, once at altitude, clouds make great lift when you fly beside them. Cloud streets are an XC dream!

We started discussing the practical elements of the flight. He showed me the options we had for launching and typical distances that could be travelled on good days. He explained how we needed a good "strong" wind at altitude so we could use it to push us along further. He talked about finding thermals and how they drifted and how sometimes it could be pretty far between them. He explained the flying with friends increased chances of finding them and that meant longer trips. He talked about finding the right lines with less sink. And sometimes you just have to hold your breath and hope you get lift. We talked landing options and how far we might have to hike to the road and back to civilization.

When the X-Alps started, I was watching it like a hawk. We were watching when the race started. We watched as they waited for good conditions at the top of the first mountain and how one man getting lift meant the whole fleet of them had to get in the air as fast as they could. We were zooming in to analyze flight patterns. We were checking wind directions, looking at google street view, and trying to guess where they were headed next. I finally understood some elements of the challenge and the race took on a whole new dimension.

Finally we got lucky with a promising Saturday forecast. Eirik calls around and scores us a tandem. It's a four hour drive north and a good launch isn't too far from there. If we want an early take off, we need to prepare today and camp out there overnight. Food! We need to eat a lot tonight. We need a proper breakfast. We need snacks for the flight and food for the hike out. The days are hot but we'll need warm clothes and gloves while we're up so high.

 It's getting late but we're finally packed. Our shoes are on and keys in hand, ready to walk out the door. Now for the four hour drive. This is going to be a tough night. The phone rings.

 Score! Stein Are has a tandem we can borrow since he had a cancelled flight. We can go to a much closer launch and that means we can drive out in the morning. Eirik gets excited and calls around to see who else will be flying there. Seems we'll have some good company!

Suddenly it hits me. This is really going to happen. Now I admit I'm a bit of a chicken - not something you expect a paraglider to say! Just like all sports, the more time you spend at it, the more horror stories you hear. I worry. What if the clouds start to suck us straight up? What if the wing stalls? Worst of all, what if I start screaming like a little girl? I have to calm myself down. I fall asleep trying to dream of small white fluffy clouds, bright sunshine and laminar winds.

I'm still nervous in the morning. It feels like I'm still dreaming. Being passenger on an XC flight just doesn't happen often. I trust the pilot, but I want to hear him say that he will fly safe. We have a few hours to drive ahead of us.
I say I'm worried.
He says so is he.
Really?! About what?
Because we might be flying over some desolate areas and I don't know where we'll land. We don't know how long a hike it will be to the nearest road. Not even sure if we'll have anyone to pick us up, if we even have cell reception.
But you're not worried about the flight and falling out of the sky at high speeds with a collapsed wing while screaming like a little girl?
Nah... the flight will be the fun part!

We've got food and water enough to last us a day. The furthest we'll have to hike is 30km if we land in the most desolate forested area. We've got a beacon for an emergency outside cellphone range. And it's Saturday... I don't have to work until Monday. What's he worried about?

Driving to the launch, we slow down and Eirik points out the landing field in case we bust. It's covered in bushes and little trees knee high.

We finally get to the parking area and the other guys pull up behind. 
So... you're the passenger, are you?
They aren't laughing... that's a good sign.

We get to the launch after a nice long hike upwards. The launch is very small. There's a cabin at the top and the bottom has a small pit full of tall weeds and rocks before it gets flat again. Eirik lays out the tandem to check it. With the top of the wing near the cabin, we have just over a meter before the small drop into the weeds. He gathers up the glider and puts it to the side.

With everyone at the top and a promising forecast, the guys get together to discuss their flight. Seems these guys are some of the best cross country pilots in Norway. This is one of the secret cross country launches where long distances are usual. The weather looks so promising they decide to declare the flight... 170km! They all gather around and start plugging coordinates into their varios.

This doesn't feel real.

It's a hot day and the sun is beating down. Time to take off. The guysput on winter coats and thick gloves. I'm wearing a tank top and am sweating. Definitely surreal.

The three of them take off in succession with their crispy class D gliders, making the launch look easy. There's a bit of sink straight out, but they found the thermal so now they're all flying way overhead. There's a small crowd of hikers gathering at the top, all of them cheering and taking photos.

Now it's our turn.
I put on winter pants, a sweater, my jacket, a scarf, and put my gloves in the harness. Eirik lays out the glider and I strap into my harness. He secures us together and points the direction he wants me to run - right between those two boulders at the end of the weedy pit. The crowd stands around us as we wait for a good wind cycle to fill the wing. Still unreal.

Okay. Good cycle. Go! Run!
I get over the edge and try running down into the pit, but my feet aren't on the ground. Suddenly I'm barely hanging above ground and one of the rocks is headed straight at me. Good thing we land in a bush first.

Take two offers the same scare, but by take three we're pros. I'm still on my feet when Eirik yells at me to stop because we still don't have any pressure in the wing. The crowd has disappeared. Perhaps they are too embarrassed to watch us anymore? Eirik's radio'ed the guys to say go on without us, but they probably guessed that already.They didn't wait around long.

Last try before we give up and try a nicer launch without XC possibilities. The day is getting too late. We wait several cycles to make sure we get a good one.
Go! Run!
My feet are off the ground again and my face is skimming the ground. I see the massive rocks coming up and we sail between them. Last chance to bail? Suddenly the ground drops away and we're flying! We actually launched!

I'm hanging in my harness and Eirik is squirming behind to get comfortable. I'm just hanging there, wondering how strong the straps are because I'm definitely not in the seat. He tells me to hold on a moment longer and that moment stretches out. I finally feel a little space behind me and I quickly squirm myself into the seat. Alright. This is starting to feel like a PG flight I'm used to. Now with company and auto-steering!

He catches a bubble and we go up up up! And then it's gone. And then we catch the next one and it's up up up and a screaming vario. We're catching 3s! and then nothing and we sink. Searching searching for where the bubble might be and suddenly lift... and so it goes until we get way up high and it starts getting cold. Eirik tells me to zip up my jacket and hands me gloves. The vario is now beeping every few seconds as we bob at the same altitude. Eirik points out an inversion near the horizon. Turns out we hit it at 1400m, which means no more lift. We're going for the glide!

Out we go, further and further away from the mountain and the car. Eirik points out several places we might get lift... but nothing. The other guys are long gone and there's no birds flying. We're sinking like a stone. All this talk about picking good lines with minimum sink and we're just going down down down. Suddenly we're not far above the trees and Eirik says he'll try to get some mechanical lift on a hill side until a good thermal cycle comes along. Nothing. We're sinking and we need to land. There's a small dirt road that ends in a circle. Perfect.

On the ground with the glider all packed up, I'm back in a tank top and shorts. We're ready for the hike back! But no cell reception? No 3G! That means no map! Which way does this road lead? Better to hike along a road than through dense forest and it's going mostly in the right direction. We've got the late afternoon sun to point us westwards and keep our bearing, and we do have our coordinates. We can find our way to the launch. The road turns and it's not heading our direction anymore. We're striking off across this bog. And then the bog turns into dense forest. And then more bog. The bugs are coming at us and my shoes aren't as waterproof as I thought.

We're finally back at the car. Over two hours of hiking to get here and we only landed 6km away. Possible the other guys have landed by now. Calling around to see if anyone needs a lift. Several phone calls and a cup of coffee later, we find out everyone else landed in Sweden. One of them flew 91km! and his lady was driving to go find him out in the boonies.

We struck out towards the border to get the other guys. They managed 60km from launch. Seems they got a lift from the Swedish boonies, and the lovely couple offered them lunch at their home before giving them a lift back into Norway on their way to a cabin. Lucky guys! We found them enjoying coffee at a gas station and managed to stuff everyone and their gliders in the car. We had gliders on laps and a two hour drive ahead of us.

The tandem glider is returned and we find out it was a vintage 1999. That explains the glide ratio.

By the time we got home, it has been over 24 hours since we'd started calling around for the glider. The flight was a total of 30 minutes.

Seems this is what to expect when flying cross country.
I'm already dreaming of the next flight.

Melanie, PP3

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Lekne kysthang!

Jeg har lenge lekt med tanken om ett gresskledd kystheng hvor man kan leke seg i laminær vind, men jeg har aldri helt hatt tiden eller interessen for å aktivt oppsøke noe sånt, før nå!
Tidligere var vel tanken å ta en tur til Dune de Pyla eller Løkken, men hvorfor det? Vi har jo fine, lave kystheng her i Norge! Riktig nok ikke de store sanddynene, men allikevel!

Jeg fikk meg en liten forsmak da jeg reiset til Reve sammen med Robert Ødegaard i foorige uke, men forholdene var litt for kraftige til at jeg var så intresert i å leke for mye. WO med 100% speed er ofte en dårlig kombo...

I går fikk jeg derimot testet ut Obrestad i smør-forhold! Turen startet med tog fra Stavanger tol Nærbø og deretter en hyggelig times rusletur fra Nærbø til Obrestad Fyr!
Dagen statet med marginalt hang sammen med Dag Åreskjold, men det økte sakte på. Etter en time hadde det marginale hanget plutselig blitt et greit hang for 2 vinger. Dag hadde tatt av ved Obrestad Havn, mens jeg tok av ved Obrestad Fyr. Jeg ble først obs på Dag i det han kom flyvende fra havna! Det ble derfor en naturlig task å prøve å kble seg tilbake på hanget ved havna.
Vindrettninga dreide også litt mer fra vest til syd, noe som gjorde havna mer og mer aktuell, vindstyrken økte også gradvis. Til slutt var det ett enormt heng, men ikke for mye vind. En perfekt kombinasjon til WO og swooping!! Kristian Anderson tok turen innom som tredjemann på hanget. Og kort tid etter han kom det flere! Vi var en stund 5-6 vinger som lekte oss sammen.

Per Sandved tilbød seg å kjøre meg ti Sandnes, der han bor. Hyggelig det!
Men det skulle vise seg at Per hadde en firmabil i tilegg, så da tilbød han meg like godt å låne bilen!
Takk skal du ha Per!

Endelig fikk jeg prøvd meg på ett ordentlig leke-hang jeg også. Dette blir ikke siste gangen!
Bilder kommer seinere :)