Not a desk job. phew.
I competed in the Rat Race US National Paragliding Competition in Oregon during my break (June 14 through June 27). Though I didn’t win anything, I had a great time and learned a lot. I’m going to miss it– this was its last year, at least under the current leadership. It was world-expanding to sit down next to pilots from the Western US and Canada, many of whom I did not previously know, and hear about their flying sites and culture. The weather was rowdy, and there were many incidents (reserve throws, tree landings, midair collisions) and unfortunately, a few accidents resulting in injury. I got more in touch with my new racing wing, but I was not comfortable enough with it to fly the race wholeheartedly. I often bailed out to the valley floor instead of risk other pilots in the tight start gaggles. Having recently met the hard ground, I have been flying more timidly this year than last year.
I spent a lot of time with the Hawaiians (There were 25 Hawaiians at the Rat Race), and their experience, sites, and attitude were so different from us Pine Tree Kickers on the East Coast. Paramotoring is not as common there. Their clouds and mountains are bigger. However, they can fly near those big clouds because their islands are surrounded by ocean, and they can always bail out toward the coast. Maybe someday I will visit.
The weather at the Rat Race was unfortunate. We started the event with a practice day, and I think that was the best weather of the whole event. Many pilots made goal. The first day of the competition brought us hot temperatures and high pressure. This resulted in many wings collapsing upon entry and exit of the “bullet thermals”– tight, narrow thermals with “sharp” edges (quick change between sinking air and rising air). In addition, the ceiling (height to which the thermals climbed) was low. The start gaggle (holding area before the race where all 200+ pilots attempt to stay aloft) was compressed due to the small area of lift and the low ceiling, so we ended up flying in close proximity to each other. There were several mid-air collisions, wings ripping from pilots going through them, and lots of shouting. Luckily no injuries or reserve tosses from the collisions.
When the gaggle got big and fierce, I left it every time. I was taking regular collapses on my new wing, so I didn’t have it under the amount of control required to fly close to other pilots safely. I was bummed to bomb out and miss the whole XC experience, so I asked Diana to mail me out my old Rush 4, no expenses spared! I flew the last 2 days of the competition on my Rush 4, and I was WAY more comfortable, even ass-kicking in it. too bad I messed up flying the last task… I may have had a malfunction in my vario, but I was so thirsty for cooler air and longer duration flying that I focused on staying high rather than racing the course. I didn’t get any inflight video– The air was so rowdy I didn’t dare put a line-snagging camera on my head.
There were many reserve tosses, at least 10, and they all functioned as they should, with good outcomes and healthy pilots. Some tosses were barely above the trees, but still came out fast enough to save the pilot. I participated in one rescue effort for a pilot who was badly broken the first day; he took collapses low and threw his reserve too low for it deploy fully– it was out of his harness but un-deployed when rescuers found him. Though badly injured and hanging upside down with a punctured lung, broken hip, 10 broken ribs and a broken back, he stayed calm on the radio and helped the crew get to him. I was with a group of 25 guys who hiked up the mountain to help carry him down. In the end we weren’t needed, and we arrived at the crest of the mountain just in time to see the helicopter liftng him off the mountain in a dangling litter. The next day my friend broke her back in a bunch of places making goal one day, and one of my campmates at Raven’s Landing broke his leg around the same time.
Enough talk of carnage– even having been that carnage myself once, I still think what I get out of the sport is worth the risk.
LZs were plentiful at the bottom of the valleys. “The longhorn steers are big puppy dogs,” (or something like that) noted the comp organizer, though I never landed in this field. You could land at some vineyards and buy a bottle of wine after packing up your wing.
However, some LZs were marked on our maps as “Do Not Land.” We would be penalized for landing in one. The landowners have final say in whether they want guests on their property, and many people don’t want intruders on their front lawn (particularly the marijuana growers… they think everyone’s after their lucky charms). In a safety emergency you land where you are able and the FAA will have your back, but that won’t keep you out of court.
Since returning from the Rat Race, I’ve been working with a student to get him his 25th flight, and I’ve been experimenting with a Chase Camera that attaches to my wing and follows me where ever I fly.