Sunday, May 31, 2015

Serendipitous Ascutney

Weather shutdown Friday on unstable prefrontal winds, so I set out for Mount Ascutney. There's a wood platform that might be my first mountain launch some day.

Ascutney glider launch platform 

Trails on Ascutney's slopes pass over large  boulder fields and granite outcroppings, difficult to follow even with frequent blazes. At one point I turned back to ask a three generation group of local hikers for directions, which they easily provided -- just keep going until you get to the waterfall, etc. The senior hiker in their group then asked if I was headed up for the picnic on the summit -- annual Ascutney Trails Association picnic, yes, everyone's welcome! My motivation level and my water supply were running low, so I followed them up to the summit.

Small crowd of couples standing around eating and chatting while the kids and dogs charged around ... one woman greeted me and sent me over to sign in. I made a point of picking up an association brochure and putting a contribution into the donation box, then went over to refill my water bottle.

When I turned, another woman whose clear eyes outshone her silver-white hair introduced herself and asked if I was local. On hearing that I was visiting from Virginia, Barbara Rhoad thanked me for coming up "from Virginia!" just for their annual event, loudly enough so that everyone could hear. She then asked if I was doing anything else besides picnicking on mountaintops, so I admitted to being in the area for hang glider training. This excited her -- she had not seen glider pilots on the mountain for more than a year, she said, and missed watching them "jump off the edge" (run off, i politely averred). She especially missed holding the wing wires for those daring young men as they steadied their sails against the mountain winds ... and flew away.

Guessing that those young men could have found an invitation to home cooked meals at the family table if they had taken a few moments to be sociable, possibly even a place in the guest bedroom if they had been smart enough to dig up a collared shirt before arriving.

Barbara mentioned that she had been involved in setting up this annual summit picnic for 49 years, though she lets her children and grandchildren haul the food and water up the trail these days.

At day's end, the magic of GPS discovered a non chain coffee shop nearby for me, the Boston Dreams in Windsor (Boston Red Sox, of course. Waddaya, from Philly or sumthin? Don't say Noo Yuk.) The store manager noted my OBX shirt, and said she had enjoyed her visit to Kitty Hawk some years ago ... Kitty Hawk? Yes, and her brother had tried to get her to try hang gliding, but she had panicked at the point of launch and refused to go. I did my best to convince her that she should try again at Morningside, if only to one up her brother.

Woke to rain beating on the tent this morning, forecast to  continue for the next two days.   ¿Por quĂ© es New England tan hermoso y verde? ¡Por supuesto! llueve mucho.

I will fly when I can.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Once is not enough

150' launch site was inhabited by capricious sprites Friday morning, puffing from seemingly random directions while I tried to steady the glider. After half an hour, they took mercy on me and left the wind steady long enough for a launch -- a couple of minutes' intense physical effort to get airborne, a few seconds of wild joy free of earthly constraints -- and then, time to land.

Forecast was the most fascinating result of the meteorological art yet, predicting that the front- driven winds would begin in the north (very marginally flyable on a westerly cycle, with risks of landing in a mud pit), swing around to the east (totally unflyable), and settling down to due south in time for a late lunch. The flight park hill elected to ignore such confusing advice.

It's a perfect site, says the site manager with a wry smile, to practice hang waiting.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Conversations among the addiction support group

Glorious sunset on Thursday evening.

Mount Ascutney Sunset

Considerable discussion over the past week about the advantages of owning my own glider. My pleas of poverty have been met with suggestions that I could buy one of the training gliders that will be retired; I countered with an offer to open bidding at $50 for the Alfa 210 I have been flying when they put it up for auction. Not too likely, they say, think 20 times higher.

Another conversational wheel among the instructors and resident students here -- recently, two largish spoons used to scoop coffee into the percolator have vanished, one per night. This has been the cause of anguished mornings, as might be expected... but when the self-commisioned investigators came to me, I regretfully disavowed any knowledge. I pointed out that I have been limiting myself to a single morning cup from Dunkin' Donuts -- then in an effort to lighten the mood, suggested that the two AWOL items of kitchen ware might have snuck off together to, well, spoon together for a while, you know, ha ha?

Lightening everyone's mood is important this week. Post frontal forecasts tend toward downslope winds from the east, completely unflyable at Morningside. The paragliding regulars are muttering about a road trip to some place northeast of Montreal.

A hang glider, waiting

Thursday, May 28, 2015

One flight before the storm

Heavy rain Wednesday evening, ending a small heat wave here. A number of mosquitos decided to come in out of the rain and join me for dinner in the tent, but their intended meal had strong objections.

One flight this morning; instructor let me set up, check out, go to the slope, and wait for a wind cycle I felt safe to fly with. Twenty minutes or so later, I stood up, ran through the seven "L" preflight check, and ran off into some "textured" air -- the opposite of which is called "glassy" -- avoided landing into a paragliding chute spread out next to the LZ, and ran out the landing on my feet.

Walked the glider off the field, tied it down, and looked at the approaching clouds.  Thought better of trying to fit in another flight-- "never regret the flights you did not take." So I confirmed with the instructor and broke the glider back down for storage.

According to off site expert sources on local soaring weather, tomorrow morning could be the last good flying opportunity I will get this trip. Given their track record, I won't take that advice as a reason to leave early.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Descent Into Chaos

What is this, Eloy in New Hampshire? Local high  of 100 F reported at the flightpark today.

Occluded low squeezing down from the west onto a strong high pressure air mass to the east coupled with strong thermal activity made for an experts-only day; the training field is closed.

A suspicious number of the instructors, though, have been returning from, umm, safety evaluation flights? with howls of glee and wild grins from eye to eye. We mere acolytes applaud dutifully .... The lead instructor did, at least, honor me with an invitation to go upslope with him and help steady his glider for a launch from the 450 foot ramp at the top of the hill.

After waiting for the right rising wind cycle with one helper on either side balancing on the ramp's edge and restraining the glider's wings, the pilot called "Clear!" We did, quickly -- and he ran off the ramp, flew successfully over the scrub, and soared off down the ridge. After working the columns of lifting air for a quarter of an hour, though, he gave up on his plan to go for a long run over the mountains, and returned to earth gracefully.

So, no Maine lobstah for dinnah. It's been that kind of a day, sprinkled with exciting if unlikely prospects that did not quite make it into the pot.

His other wire man, a Hang 3 certified Morningside veteran, talked about the two near-disasters he had at the 450, one instance of a wingtip catching in the brush and another of his base tube mowing through some tall grass that used to grow at mid slope. I can wait for a while before I try descending into that one.

Adult Swim

Reviewing progress, adjusting goals

One flight yesterday, not particularly well handled in a brief cycle when the wind was not blowing from the south across the slope. Given my continuing challenges with reliable technique and the approach of another storm front, I will be content with reaching the 150 foot launch point, focus on practicing what I have accomplished and on having fun!

I might return in late September.

Monday, May 25, 2015

One more week at Morningside

Drove north again after a mostly unproductive return to Virginia for Memorial Day weekend. Everyone was glad to see me, though, I suppose that counts for something ... and it was only another thousand miles on the road added to the tab for this summer. Two, four, one, eight .... roughly fifteen thousand? Loudoun County is going to look pretty good by September.

Weather forecast looks terrible, but the instructors are getting ready for a very flyable week. I start today on my own ticket, limited to the 150 launch.

Morningside training center

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Certifiably certified!

Completed certification requirements for USHPA glider pilot (H-1) from Morningside 150 foot launch point.

On to the next terrain feature!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


Rain today. Good day for catching up on laundry, bill paying, playing solitaire dominoes.

Wednesday's forecast is excellent -- possibly, they may be correct.

Encountered a young black bear here the other morning, back on the forest roads behind the launch site; over thirty yards away and watching me, so I spread my arms -- which was enough, the bear turned and ran.  No sign of Mother Bear, but I followed the General Prudential Rule and went the other way.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Break day

Winds out of the east this morning,  and the instructor has been expressing concern about training for five days in a row - most of his students burn out in two, he says. So, break day.

Time to check out the trails on Mt. Ascutney, a perfect way to relax! Stopped 1000 feet short of the summit, though, short on time and hiking solo. Another day...

Stone handling cables for the old quarry

View from Quarry Outlook

Everything else (almost)

Some notes about domestic matters here at Morningside Flight Park - my day's beginning is heralded by a motivated and tireless woodpecker's search for breakfast outside the platform tent. Rising (eventually ) I fire up the Jetboil (R) to make a cup of tea while, organize my pack for the day - water bottle, sunglasses, bug and sunscreen, a change of clothing, my tablet, and the rechargeable battery pack that keeps the tablet going for my nightly reading and writing.

Lots of praise for the Jetboil here. I have yet to fire up the camp stove, instead limiting my "cooking"  to  boiled water poured into dehydrated camping food packs. Over the past five - five? - days, the compact water boiler has turned out 6-8 cups of boiling water every day, still on its first gas cartridge!

The dehydrated food? Faint praise; they're better than any military field rations I ever ate. Quick, satisfying, easy cleanup. I'm okay with that.

The walk over the crest and downhill is an inspiring view of Vermont's forested hills - better on clear mornings, of course! Mount Ascutney dominates the northern horizon, while a number of rolling ridges border the western edge of the valley.

Mount Ascutney

View to the southwest

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Just saying yes

This morning opened on a completely windless sunlit field and a flock of eager paragliding students on their way to fouling the landing zone. Not a good day for baby sharks (aka hang gliding students).

Which is okay with me, I cold have used the time out. Might have rambled up the trail to the Mt. Ascutney launch site. Or not.

Wind forecasts have been reliably wrong, with local effects like adiabatic flow as the LZ warms. Good thing - the west-facing slope only works with a WNW to WSW.

Then my instructor called to me, said I was wasting time online when I should be getting ready for the good winds. So, I stowed my tablet and set up my glider.

Four good flights (with one aborted launch in the middle, argh). Most exciting one, my first landing into the north field; turn and landing approach went so well that I wound up running smoothly a few feet above the field, still slowing so that I could flare as the mud pit on the border got closer and closer ...

Saturday, May 16, 2015

At Morningside, close does not count

First attempt at meeting the four-in-a-row clean flight requirement fell short today, even though the weather was excellent. A wandering spot of unsupportive air jumped into my landing approach path and forcing a less than graceful  (but undamaging) end to the flight.

Count reset to zero. Next time!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Higher today, naturally!

Suspicion provisionally confirmed: weather forecasters are as inaccurate on calling bad winds as they are on calling good. Today was an excellent day to fly Morningside.

Fellow trainee Dave and I both ran off a series of increasingly better flights, finishing with two solid flights each from the 150 foot launch point. The instructor says that we are ready to do both the written exam and the required five-in-a-row qualifying flights for Hang One certification, weather permitting!

He has also expressed confidence in our ability to continue on to the 250 foot launch point - and again weather permitting, to fly at least one flight between the trees and over the boulders at the top of the hill. No words to describe how I feel about that possibility?

If any waves of non flyable weather pass through in the meantime, another target of opportunity beckons to the north. Mount Ascutney is on the horizon, reported to have reasonable trails for day hikes. Mount Monadnock is further away, but also reported to have a good variety of trails.

Life is good. Busy, also.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

How to view photos and post comments

It seems that Google now requires viewers to authenticate their identity by signing in to "follow" a blog. Efforts to find a direct way to do this continue!

For the moment, interested readers can click on any of the "Comment " or even a "No  Comments" link, scroll to the bottom of the page, and wait about a minute for the "Who's reading this blog?" watermark to load. Then,  click on the link to become a member, and comment away!

Even if nothing in this blog stirs your interest enough to generate a few words, you may want to sign up so that the photos can be double-clicked and viewed at full size. Enjoy!

Perfection, eluded

Weather forecasters can actually predict local winds? As if. Almost entirely out of the north, running almost entirely across the slope, and cycling. On my second launch, though, the hang glider and I did slip free of gravity's clutches for a few seconds - at which point there was a disagreement between us that ended with another broken downtube and a slightly scraped forearm.

Both injuries were promptly and easily remediated. My self-esteem was also partially restored when one of the instructors broke the downtube on a more expensive glider.

Wrap up: not only do I owe thanks to my late wife for this (almost) perfect day, I also can be grateful for another lesson in humility.

Tomorrow's forecast is less promising than today's was. Could this be a good sign?

Morningside from the 250' launch. Some day soon!

Morning mist on the pond

Morningside training center

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Over the River and Through The Woods

May 13

Valhalla Ranch faded into the dark at 3:40 this morning, the Potomac slipped under the Ion's wheels at 4:15 - and I had already remembered three items that did not find their way into the car. None essential,  so - onward!

For the last few days, my internal Critic has been demanding a review of plans for this summer of wander, questioning whether I am ready and even whether any of this is worth it. Plenty of catchup  work needs to be done,  after all that's gone by in the past year ... but this morning, my alarm did not even get past the quiet opening tune. Rolling!

 Crossing over the Potomac near Harpers Ferry, it occurred to me that this place I knew only slightly when I was growing up - somewhere in one of the Virginias on a river, wasn't it? - by its connection to John Brown. Now, it  has become very central for me - its Civil War story another example of how merely technical military defenses fail, and (in its role as a national park ) both as a place where my parents enjoyed working as volunteers and as a frequently visited location for my fitness training on an easily accessible steep hike. Our experiences change what we see.

Green Mountains haven't changed much for me yet, still mysterious and alluring. Rich green hill wrapped in mist - a little like but not quite the same as the Nikko region in Japan. Morningside Park has not changed much, either; I made a point of complimenting the staffer who mows the hill, promising to avoid putting another divot in his well-maintained greens.

The lead training instructor was waiting to greet me when I pulled up at the Morningside training center. His winter also included a westward drive - his to Utah,  where he marked up his personal hang gliding records to 14,500 feet high and to a single flight duration of 5 hours. He also mentioned chasing an eagle? Whoa.

Morningside Flight Park

Luxury accommodations!

Weather forecast for May 14th looks excellent for flying (thank you, Marie - happy 59th birthday!) Weekend, less so.

Administrative note: the Web page code for showing full size photos and the links for adding your comments are not working, again. Something to keep me occupied while I'm not flying.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Down dates and Up dates 3

My swim plan this summer clearly shows even more than sleeping outside in subfreezing temperatures that my common sense is on sabbatical --  but here's the current guess at where I will be.

    May 13 - June 3: More training on hang gliders at the Morningside Flight Park in New Hampshire, living in a "platform tent" on the east side of the hill, flying off the west side from increasing heights, and getting higher every day.... Then, a careful and safe low altitude drive back to the Valhalla Ranch to do laundry, pay bills, and hitch a ride down to Pilot, Virginia. Then  --

    June 6 - June 23: Traveling across the country with my daughter, her son, and their dog, leaving the green hills of southwest Virginia behind for the golden rolling hills and a new home in California. Stops along the way will include a number of unusual landmarks to the nation's history-- Gateway Arch and the Great Salt Lake are the only ones that everyone would recognize, I think.  Oh, and the World's Largest Ball of Twine, of course. The stops also include the childhood favorite entertainment park of my grandson's father in Silver Dollar City, so that he can check out all those wild stories that his Dad told him? Rather than staggering back to Virginia (so boring), I may revisit some places in Central California and then head north, where I plan to be --

    June 30 (?) - tbd: Hiking the younger (steeper, higher) mountains of the Olympic National Park that have not been mellowed by millenia of wind and water. The first-born sister of my closest friend will be my host there, and will hopefully restrain her spouse from any ageist comments about walkers, wheelchairs, et cetera. When an military flight from McChord AB to Yokota is  posted with available space for retirees, I hope to be --

    tbd -- August tbd: Visiting Japan? Maybe. Given the number of unresolved logistic questions, climbing Mount Fuji has been taken off of this year's goals; this trip will aim only for advance recon, making connections, and possibly climbing some of the less prestigious piles of rock there.

    August tbd: Returning to the ranch, hoping that Thor and Valkyrie still remember who I am!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Down dates and Up dates 2

Hiking the local ridges and valleys this spring has been both a great joy -- and a hard reminder of how long certain muscles have been idle. Fortunately, my mentor has been patiently leading me up and down at least once a week, my close college friend has encouraged me to do so once or twice more, and I have managed to find the willpower to do a few well-traveled paths on my own.

Yet to be seen --  whether I will be able climb higher than the eastern mountains allow, and from a higher starting point.  For the moment, I'm content to enjoy the beauty of the Shenandoah Mountains and their neighbors.

Here's some photos from a few of my hikes that were easy enough that I could take time to pull my camera out of my pack. The ridge photos are from the Catoctin Mountain Park in Maryland, and the waterfall photos are an inadequate sample of the twenty-one works of natural art at Ricketts Glen in Pennsylvania. The canal reflecting the redbud trees is at the C&O National Park, on the Maryland side of Great Falls.

Several good friends have mentioned how much more relaxed I have become since I shook the City's dust off my boots, and have suggested that my place is in the country. They may be right -- but I recall leaving a small town behind many years ago, and my approach to life hasn't changed that much.

It is true that I have always found peace in the trees, away from the crowds. It's not home, though -- too confining.

Even when it angers me, change is what calms my spirit.

Which is why I wander.

Down dates and Up dates

A few notes about winter's shadowed months since my return from the 2014 road trip to visit my sisters and brother-in-law --

View from my window at Valhalla Ranch
Thor and Valkyrie
Cadillac Crew!
Jean and Hal
  • Online searches finally turned up a place in western Virginia whose room rental was a good value, so I said good-bye to careless housemates, stress-addled drivers, and clouds of  airliners, helicopters, and drones passing overhead. With a lot of help from a few very good friends, I am now settled in five miles and at least twenty minutes south of the exciting metropolis of Purcellville, Virginia, which actually has two excellent non-Starbucks® coffee shops. My favorite is Loco Joe's -- but of course, I'm trying to wean myself away from my coffee fixation, so I rarely visit there (koff).
  • The expanding number of new friends I have made in the trail hiking and repair communities, especially the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club's Cadillac Crew, have drawn me into the company of mad folk who enjoy camping out on freezing nights -- and have supported my own mad quest to regain the "mountain goat" agility of my years growing up in Arizona.
  • My close friend's request to visit Makemie Woods encouraged me to visit Norfolk in February; I was able to meet with the new caretaker for the forest where my wife's cremains are interred, spend time with my in-laws listening to their disagreements, and visit many places nearby that framed some of the happiest times of my life (First Landing State Park, and the Naro Cinema, for example).
  • Another unexpected return to Arizona recalled my saddest years -- a sister's untimely death. These unpleasant reminders that tomorrow is not guaranteed are hard to bear -- yet I will not speak sadly of her passing, of my parents', or of my wife's. Both her husband and I believe that the death of the body should be a moment of happiness, no matter how much the child in each of us wants to cry out in rage against the loss.
We just keep swimming.