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Day 4 at Logan, 2011 - Farmers are nice people

Did you read the title and wonder if I ended up in a farm field yesterday?  Luckily, I did not.  But unfortunately BK (Mike Reid) did - and I wound up driving up to Thatcher, ID to get him.  I hadn't been on a retrieve in a while...  Driving that far to pick up someone who almost made it home really gives you an appreciation for how far we really fly in these aircraft!

The task today was to fly NE to Alpine, WY over some rugged terrain, then back down past Mt Geneva and then W/SW home - for a total distance of just over 200 miles.  The weather looked decent, although tricky in some spots - so we all milled about until midafternoon and then headed out into the wild.

I'm running late this morning so I'm not including photos or anything with today's synopsis, sorry!  The flight out to Alpine was pretty good.  As we got away from the main ridge and stated crossing the big scary (usually no-lift) valleys some Cu began forming up in streets.  They were too broken and fast-cycling to fly straight in, but I was able to hop from cloud to cloud pretty easily.  Climbs weren't super-strong (in the 3 to 3.5 knot range, averaged for the whole climb) - but they worked and went higher as you got farther NE.  After a little over an hour I got to Alpine - and it is absolutely beautiful country up there.  You can see out to the Grand Tetons and the view is just magnificent (if a little intimidating).  I got photos but don't have time t post them today, sorry!  

Turning at Alpine, I was a little behind on time but decided I had a "hero-or-zero" decision to make:  The cloud street I used to come out would get me home, but it would only nick the second turn cylinder.  If I instead ran the ridge east of Afton, WY I could hit the back side of the turn cylinder and get a lot of extra distance.  It would take me a little longer; but if I could do it without circling I'd be ahead in the game...  So I ducked a little farther east to the monstrous ridge and began a 75-80 knot run down it; which was both cool and scary at the same time.  I wasn't anywhere near the rocks like on the Logan ridge; but the Afton range has a lot of lower peaks that were upwind, causing turbulence and the mountainsides are very threatening there.  I made a pretty good run south from Alpine, past Afton, to Smoot, WY.  The ridge itself wasn't working great (I was probably too high, to be honest) - but I had an extended glide and ran into a couple of VERY strong ridge-assisted thermals that threw me up over 13,000 feet so I could cross the valley to the West. 

I had hoped to use a cloud-street home but everything was suddenly drying up.  I didn't notice the haze and put 2 & 2 together at this point; but later on it would become VERY obvious that a change in airmass was happening.  I flew across to Mead peak and thought I'd hook some good thermals under clouds there, but it really didn't work well...  I was lower than I wanted to be to make the jump back to the "home ridge", but without other options I cruised across and got in front of Sherman Peak.  This had good clouds over it and I thought 1 good thermal would put me back on the main ridge and a safe/fast glide home.  But as I arrived the clouds stopped evolving and just sat there... and so did the air!  I dribbled my way south, grinding a few hundred feet in a couple of weak thermals (and hating every minute of it after my fast earlier flight).  Finally I got on the ridge at Mink Creek and got up to 9000'.  I thought I had it made!  This was 7pm.  Everything around here usually works until almost 8pm; but today Mother Nature decided to screw with us, and flipped the "OFF" switch at 7.  As I cruised home I was suddenly unable to find any lift on the ridge!  Instead of lift, I began finding sink everywhere; and there are some high saddles to cross up on the main ridge.  I quickly lost 500 feet and had to turn and run down a finger/spine out to the Logan valley about 20 miles from home - far earlier than I wanted to.  I still had a moderate glide with a few hundred feet to spare, but as I flew along the side of the hills I kept finding sink and more sink!  I should have turned out away from the ridge but it didn't occur to me because it is so unsual that the slopes wouldn't work (the hillsides face directly into the setting sun and get lots of good afternoon heat)...  About 8 miles out I found myself so low that I didn't know if I could make the airport!  After flying 200 miles I was going to fail to complete the task at the last moment!!  Arrgh!  I had been doing 70 knots... then 60 knots... and now I pulled up to 48 knots (best glide speed, but much slower than the rest of my flight) and just ghosted out across town, nibbling at a few rising bits of air that were not strong enough to climb in.  I finally drifted across the finish line about 400 feet below the required altitude; so I am going to get a penalty... But at least I finished!  I was only 600 feet off the ground so I immediately pulled spoilers and landed straight ahead on a taxiway, allowing the glider to roll most of the length of the airport so that I wouldn't have to hike a mile to get my gear!

Right after I landed, it became apparent that the day had shut down for everyone... I think only 2 gliders landed after me - everyone else had to be retrieved by towplanes or via car & trailer.  The retrieve of Bravo-Kilo and Juliet-Seven (who both landed in the same farm field and enjoyed a good dinner) kept me out until almost midnight... But that's the way the game is played!  Because of my late night I have no idea what the scores look like - I could still either be a hero or a zero. I'll find out in 30 minutes!

--Noel "Kilo Romeo"

Posted: 7/22/2011 By: Noel Wade

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