Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Rat Bites: Random Thoughts from the 2013 Rat Race

A bunch of Hawaii paraglider pilots just returned from a week at the Rat Race. There were pilots from all the islands there to take on the sweet thermals in Ruch, Oregon. Here are a few of the lessons, themes and moments I found memorable.

"With every turn I learn." Somehow that became my mantra for the week. Whenever it was rough, or I was scratching low, or flying deep, I used it to motivate me to focus on the moment and concentrate. It just kind of popped into my head while flying one day.

Forrest and Raven turned their house into Camp Hawaii for the week. It turned into the perfect party place with a hot tub, pool and bailout LZ.

Poor Bonnie came down with a shit kicking virus on the way over. But even in her reduced state she managed to get in some nice flying.

Joey (7th) and Thom (15th) made goal in their first Rat Race appearance. A really amazing start considering some of the pilots in the field.

After 3 days being rained out, we headed up into the clouds to wait around at launch. I was truly skeptical, but the clouds rose to just above launch and a task was called in the Race. It was a tough little race with the 4,000 foot cloudbase, but in the end, Alex edged out most of the field and found himself tied for 5th, along with Josh Cohn and Rob Sporrer. A high spot for our local guru. The funny thing is Alex got beckoned over the back by our host, Paul Murdoch, to 'follow me'. Later on Paul told Alex that he bombed out, and Alex didn't believe him. The mystery remained: who called to him? After lots of incorrect speculation it turned out to be Dean Stratton, a top pilot.

The Saturday practice day, was predicted to be followed by strong rain, so everyone was amped to shake off the cobwebs. Pilots were greeted by easy thermals to 9,000 feet for some. Nicole McLearn, a top comp pilot, got a frontal and a big cravatte and threw her reserve. She bounced off the roof of a barn and injured her wrist. Andrew Beckley landed out and got greeted by a landowner on a quad with a shotgun strapped to the handlebars. He threw a donut turn on Andrew's glider, and it got stuck in the back wheels and was shredded. Andrew, still strapped to his glider, got yanked to the ground. His brand new Peak 3 was destroyed and the Sheriff got involved.

On one of the rainy days, Bill and the campers headed to the Oregon Caves, and they ended up on a long drive on crazy back roads to finally arrive there.

I talked Thom into taking a ride out to the coast to try and do a little ridge soaring. We drove on the craziest 62 mile single lane road, and each mile seemed like an eternity. When we finally arrived at the coast, we found it cold and 25+ mph. Even the birds were flying backwards. After a solid 7 hours driving, we were hungry and tired, and ready to push each other out of the car. As we arrived in Jacksonville, we had to do the Pepe rescue from the hands of the police.

On the second day of the RR Sprint, as John 'Frosty' Todd was gliding to goal, a pilot lost control of his glider, threw his reserve and ended up in a tree. Frosty circled, radioed position, and came up short of goal himself. The race committee awarded him goal as he clearly wasted his altitude circling around the troubled pilot. Well deserved.

Kevin Fowler sponsored me with a loan of his nice Flymaster B1. It is a simple and intuitive device, unless you don't read the start instructions and start outside the cylinder. It wasn't until I was 15 miles away at the first waypoint that it became apparent something was amiss. I spent the next hour+ trying to make the waypoint turn over, and it wouldn't. Unable to mark a course, I flew close to 30 miles in 3+ hours. I turned in my GPS to find I had missed the start cylinder by a few feet, and I got 0 for the day. Amazingly, Scrappy had the exact same problem, and got 0 as well. Lesson learned.

Our former local guru, Doug Hoffman, showed up with his son, Matty, after a few tandems, not to mention some 100 mile flights earlier this year. Doug jumped in one day on his Icepeak 6 and proceeded to fly the entire task to goal, and even flew back to town after goal. Amazing.

Glider performance matters. The Boom 9 beats the Enzo, which beats the Icepeak 6 [editor's note: ???] which blows away my Mantra 4. I can't do much about it. But it is really amazing how top pilots on top gliders seem to rarely need to turn. Beautiful to watch. The technique seems to be glide into the ground, with a sense of knowing that a good climb is waiting there for you.

I saw Michael Sigel, the Swiss fly god and eventual winner, on launch. I offered to let him launch ahead of me. He said, "Better for me to wait here on the ground, than wait up there." Life should be so easy.

When I arrived on launch my first day, I scanned the crowd, and I saw Frank H, TommyRD, Joey, Thom, Bonnie and Bill, along with another hundred pilots I know. I felt instantly at home among friends.

Joey and Robyn stayed at a nice B & B. I give Robin credit for hanging out with a bunch of pilots in a dusty place for a week. It must be love.

Tyler had some of the best flying of the week, getting out early and high as wind dummy. Reaper styled him out with his P2 in front of the crowd at the award ceremony.

Speaking of Pete, he gave his time and made sure all of us idiots were safe on launch and in the air, plucking pilots from the strangest of places.

We had a sweet young Harvard student, named Emily, helping with check ins at launch and after landings and retrieves. Why a cute girl like her would choose to hang with a dusty crowd like paraglider pilots suggests possible mental illness. Nevertheless, she was very popular, and the tails were wagging when she was near.

Goal. What can I say. I did finally make it on the last day. After my last climb, I wanted to make sure I had goal. The Flymaster said I had 4:1 from 7 miles out. So I flew straight, as fast as I dared to goal, not caring about lift. Of course you know what happens when you stop looking for lift. I was going up and up in thermal convergence. What a great experience. Of course I was almost late, because it took so long to get down over goal.

Dirting out happens, but in a place like Woodrat there seemed to be a low save thermal waiting everywhere for me. It seemed like when I strung together a bunch of low saves in a row, I started to lose focus and eventually found the dirt. Bad route choices hampered me early on.

Light winds. That is really the magic in a place like Woodrat. I violated all the ridge soaring rules. I thermalled in the lee sides to find the best lift, and I flew low with few or no LZs, and took committing lines. You name it, I did it. I guess the light winds and consistent conditions made it possible, in relative safety.

I doubt I will ever be much of a racer. I consider myself a goal chaser. I found people about my speed and ability and raced along with them. That is the fun part of competition, charging deep with a bunch of friends.

The RR Clinic was a success. They learned a lot, flew early, and basically had a blast.

If you are considering going to the Rat Race, but don't want to compete, I would still sign up for the Sprint. It is like an all access pass to the show. The gang who didn't sign up seemed to be roughing it on the edges.

I always say that I both love and hate competitions. I am often left feeling like a subpar pilot, but I find that if I check my ego, I really do have a fantastic time flying with friends. The results really don't tell you who had the best time.

I was invited to stay at Paul Murdoch's house, which was a great opportunity. A great family, a huge sense of humor, a terrific spread with the full farm, and a kegerator in the bird house. Life doesn't get any better.

One night after a few drinks, Paul and Alex got fired up to do some late night bareback horse riding, and they scampered off into the darkness to find their steed. The rest of us tailed along to watch the mayhem. Instead, the horse they were looking for was hiding (smart horse), and they found another, but instead of riding it, they kind of embraced it together, silently in the dark. We were not interested in a reenactment of Brokeback Mountain, so we left them there and wandered off.

Paul's goats were a blast, just a ton of fun. I couldn't get enough of them. I learned about the pecking order of chickens, and how there really is one, and you can spot right away the chicken on the bottom, by her lack of feathers. We are just like them.

We had coffee until 10 am, and beer after 4 pm. I didn't consume a lot, but just enjoyed a constant drip in my system.

I loved gaggle flying. We had to fly differently, kind of working as a team. If the gaggle was big or tight enough, we just had to wait our turn for the core to come around. We never lost it, and everyone got a chance.

One thing that became apparent to me is that the sense of danger mostly existed in our minds. The real danger rarely materialized: that rotor, that leeside. Some pilot would fly in deep and sky out, and I would think that I had no idea it was safe and could work so well. I guess it takes experience to show you this, and I hope I never stop learning.


firedave2 said...

I forgot to mention Rayna, Jared's sister, she is young and new to the comp scene, but charging. Give her a couple of years and she will be a serious contender. Good fun, as well as her father , Duane.

Keoki from Japan was killing it on her EnZo, finishing in the top 10 overall, and top woman.

DaveZ said...

Great read Dave, thanks for writing it all up. I'll have to join you monkeys up there one of these times.

Nick Johnson said...


I've always loved your writing the subject! I liked your bit about the scoring doesn't reveal who had the most fun. Maybe they should offer a trophy for the best story of the day...


Thom said...

Thanks Dave,

Just like riding in a car with you for 7 hours, always interesting.

I do it again too.

Thanks for the write.

JK said...

Thanks for the vicarious inclusion. It's not as good as being there but it helps to bridge the gap to next year. Who's IN for 2014!

Alex said...

Dave, excellent recap of many great moments during that week! Thanks for taking the time to jot them down. After years of writing up these events I am super happy to have you and Thom sharing your experiences as first time Rat Race goal makers! I hope it will prove to be the first of many for both of you.

firedave2 said...

The outline format came about from being bored on the plane home. It took a week before i picked up my phone again and finished it up, thanks for waiting.

I loved Woodrat. It has the best, most textbook flying conditions that i have ever experienced. There were 4 good tasks, i can only imagine if we had 6 or 7, you could log 300+ miles for the week with a few goals.