Don't Anger the Soaring Gods

Sunday, 5/9/10

I almost didn't fly on Sunday. Not that you want to hear about my personal life, but I'm winding down from a difficult semester. My sister is very sick, a relationship went sour in a big way, and I've been teaching a new grad course, which has sucked my time away from my normal Spring pursuits (such as tinkering on the glider and trailer with Walt Johnson-- Sorry Walt) and left me with a Bad Attitude. As a result I've felt about ½ human this semester. And my normal motivation for flying is not fully there. I had to take several runs at my motivation for getting a crew for this flight. Usually it comes without thinking. First, I want to fly. Next, I start asking around for people who might crew. This time I had to do my crew-asking in three bouts of self-motivation. After each successive "no", I had to rebuild my motivation. I often struggle in my mental health with anxiety and depression and this semester has been a bigger struggle than most. At least I teach college and I have a natural break built in, which is just about to happen.

The weather forecast for Sunday looked good, which helped. The Sunday temperature-dewpoint spread looked better than Saturday, and the winds were forecasted to be lower, and the low-high temperature difference looked better. Steve Kennedy said he was willing to crew, though I felt a little like I was twisting his arm. Sorry if I did, Steve! Sunday morning arrived, and I got out of bed at 5am. Only 6 hours sleep. Ooops. But I didn't toss and turn to get to sleep, which is something at least.

The morning looked good. A blue sky. Some fog over areas of water, and frost to the South as predicted. The morning soaring forecasts looked good. Some remanants of the snow from a couple of days before may have still been on the ground in Duluth. That snow seems clear (or, white!) evidence of the cold front. The Ford forecast was predicting lift up to about 7,000' MSL and at least along my task route for the day that proved to be about right (my highest climb of the day was about 7,200' MSL). Steve told me that nearer to Osceola the lift went up to 8,000'.

My plan was to make another attempt at a 500km FAI triangle. A FAI triangle has side length restrictions. No side can be shorter than 28% of the total task length. That is, it needs to be more or less an equilateral triangle. It is somewhat difficult to fit one of these triangle tasks into the region around Osceola, WI (OEO). The trees to the NE and the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport airspace (TCA) both impose restrictions. Plus, I like to stay away from the MOAs in Wisconsin. However, Walt Johnson and I planned a task: Lublin, WI, to near Rochester, MN and then back to OEO. The Rochester to OEO leg requires that you skirt the TCA, which would add to the length of the flight.

The main drawback of the weather during the day was high cloud, Cirrus. This looked like it would repeat my first attempt at this triangle, which had me cut the task short. I decided to give it a shot though. I suggested to Steve that an alternate task would be a straight out and return to Wausau, WI. That would also be a 500km closed course task. Steve brought the voice of reason to the conversation. He asked how far it was to Wausau. And of course that is about 250km as the crow (or soaring bird) flies. With twists and turns of the road, it was surely to be 3-4 hours on a retrieve, one way. Both he and I had to work the next day, and so I agreed with him that it wouldn't be sensible to attempt that Wausau task.

I got into the air at just before noon. Lee Bradshaw was towing and Darryll Dodson acted as a sniffer (he was working on accuracy landings). Darryll reported, via Mike Finegan the Field Operations Officer for the day, that there was good lift. I released at 2K AGL. The vario was reading 10kts up-- there had to be lift! I gained 500' on that first thermal, the second one shortly after went up to nearly 6K MSL and gave me the confidence to set out on my task. The lift looked very good!! Our plan was that Steve would remain at OEO and I would keep in radio contact with him, while he was flying. (Radio contact air-to-air can be great. We had more than 100 miles worth of radio reception that day). And, if I landed away from the field, he would come fetch me.

The flight to Lublin, WI went quickly. I was there by around 2pm. I was mostly staying higher than 5,000' MSL. At Lublin, I had a choice to make about where to go next. To the SE, to the 2nd turnpoint of the triangle (Rochester) there was the high Cirrus cloud. To the East was very nice looking cumulus cloud and a blue sky above that. I wasn't ready to turn back and head to OEO. I thought to myself: I can surely make the 50 miles to Wauau (from Lublin-- in fact I could see the hills at Wausau already), and make it back to Lublin. The day was great!! My decision felt like the same kind of decision I made last summer in flying from Wausau to Escanaba, MI. On that flight, the risk was trees. On this flight, the risk was alienating my crew, Steve, whom I had already agreed with that I wouldn't go past Lublin, and also not making it back to give my exams in Duluth the next day. I decided, however, to take the risk. The day just looked too good to the East to turn back!! I always fear Angering the Soaring Gods for not making full use of the soaring day!! :).

I made Wausu around 3pm. I was starting to get out of my working altitude band of above 5,000' MSL. A few times I got low between Lublin and Wausau (down to 2700' MSL), and this continued heading back to Lublin. I was having a mild head wind (winds aloft were varible, but I don't think I saw more than 12mph aloft and usually less than that). Here are some pictures at Wausau:

I had decided I would stay out of radio contact with Steve until I got back to Lublin. Even though I was more than 100 miles out of OEO, I was getting occaisional radio broadcasts (on 123.5 MHz) from him, while he was aloft near OEO. My plan was to make it back to Lublin, then let Steve know I was heading back to OEO. I was indeed fortunate to make it back to Lublin, at around 4:30pm. I broadcast to Steve that I was 100 miles from OEO, and told him I'd been a bad glider pilot and had went back on my word of not flying to Wausau. All he wanted to know was the direction I was heading. WEST I told him. I am flying WEST, back to OEO!!

After Lublin, I called out my distance away from OEO every 10 miles. Here are some pictures at the Chippewa River.

From the Chippewa at a little after 5pm, I started getting less optimistic about getting back to OEO. I was somewhat uncomfortable in the cockpit. With my mukluks and with my thermal underwear, I've been having some pilot relief issues. Plus, it felt like I had a scratch on my back. Perhaps something was digging into my back. Plus, with my sweater and jacket, I felt like I didn't have enough mobility in the cockpit, which is normally a pretty tight space to begin with.

I started checking my distance to the Boyceville airport. And thinking about just making it there instead of getting back to OEO. I was under the high cirrus cloud, and the cumulus clouds were sparse. I was making fairly long glides between thermals, with not too much in the way of sink, but the lift also was relatively weak when I found it.

At 10 miles out of Boyceville I was working a weak thermal (under 2 kts), under a scrappy looking cumulus cloud and looking NW to OEO. The clouds didn't look too promising. I had under 4K MSL of altititude. Perhaps it was my discomfort in the cockpit. Perhaps it was my general malaise this Spring. I decided to head to Boyceville and land. I radioed my plans to Steve, and headed to Boyceville. Here is a picture just before landing at Boyceville:

I made a picture perfect landing at Boyceville at 6:15pm, intentionally using up most of the runway to get myself closer to the hangars and taxiway. Getting off the grass side of the runway before I stopped, I got out of the cockpit, and called Steve. He made me laugh by asking how I was going to make it back to OEO. He had heard me calling out that I was going to land at Boyceville and had ended his flight short for me. Thanks Steve!!!

The Boyceville airport was pretty much quiet, and so I decided to get my ship to a place where we could derig once Steve arrived. I turned on my radio in hopes of hearing someone if they decided to land and proceeded to tug my glider back onto the asphalt from the grass. This required some sweat, but once there, it was suprisingly simple to push it along the center line of the runway back to the taxiway at the West end. Fortunately, I had landed long. I managed to get the glider positioned off of the grass of the taxiway in a spot that would be suited for derigging once Steve arrived. At about 8pm, Steve was there and we managed to get to the ship into the trailer well before sundown. Steve drove back from Boyceville to Osceola, because I still had the drive to Duluth ahead of me. Thanks Steve!

My first three cross-country flights this season have been under less than perfect conditions. The first two flights were in blue conditions. And today, while we had some excellent lift and cumulus clouds, was having a good deal of high Cirrus cloud. Looking back on the pictures from the flight, the world is green again!! Spring is here!! My best thermal strength of the day was 8kts. The temperature at cloudbase was 30 degrees F. My feet were a little chilled getting out of the glider, but warmed quickly.

The average speed of the flight was 39.9 mph (73.86 km/h), with a total distance of 249.2 miles (461.48 km; OLC Classic), flown in 6 hours 15 minutes. Here's a link to the OLC for the flight trace, and here are more pictures.