A Good Day To Fly Hard

Today's office.

Today’s office.

One of the things I was looking forward to today was being able to leave my tent set up. It doesn’t sound like much but the reality is I kind of enjoy being in my tent and having a “permanent” home base for a few days is going to be nice. Plus, I don’t have to concern myself with whether or not the tent is dry in the morning.

The other thing I was looking forward to today was a bit more obvious. If the weather cooperated (which it certainly had lately) today would be the day I would return to the sky. The weather cooperated.

The morning temperature actually fit my definition of “cold” – ie. below 20C (68F); it was 19C. However, with my tent having a direct line to the rising sun, things heated up in a hurry. Especially inside the cozy comforts of my tent. By 8:30, my tent was approaching sauna-like conditions – and the outside temperature was working its way up as well.

By 9:30, I was out of my tent and ready to get things prepared for my first hang gliding flight since late March. Yesterday I had spoken with Spinner, Quest Air’s lead instructor and the one that cleared me to fly solo back in March, and we discussed which glider I should use. We concluded that it would be the Falcon 195. This morning, in speaking with Mark, on-site manager and pilot extraordinaire, he concurred with this decision and so we made our way over to the storage area to retrieve “my” glider.

The bell to summon the Dragonfly (tow plane).

The bell to summon the Dragonfly (tow plane).

Spinner was great with helping me set up the Falcon 195. It had been a while since I had done so and he was very thorough in guiding me through both the set up procedure as well as the pre-flight inspection. By 11:30, the glider was ready to go. So was I. Actually, I had to run back to my tent for a few things, but moments later I was ready to go. The only thing missing was a tug pilot to tow me to the sky. That missing element was quickly removed by ringing the big bell.

At 12:09, with me in my harness hanging from the glider and the glider sitting on the cart, the signal was given to Mark in the Dragonfly that I was ready to go. Moments later the Dragonfly was towing me along the ground. Moments later the glider lifted off the cart and I was flying. With the Dragonfly being a bit heavier, it was in the air moments later. From there we headed up. As we reached 2600 ft, I was given the signal to release the tow line. One push of the handle to my right and I was as free as a bird.

It’s hard to believe it had been seven months since I’d last flown like this. It really is a beautiful thing. The first thing I did was locate the flying field. When you’re on tow you’re pretty focused on watching the tug and less concerned about where the field is. Once the tug is gone, the field becomes a little more important. Fortunately it’s easy to find since that’s where the tug always goes.

My and "my" Falcon 195

My and “my” Falcon 195

With the field located I was free to fly. As this was my first flight in a while, I wasn’t looking to stray too far from the field. Nor did I have any illusions about finding some grand thermal to take me to cloud base – my ability to stay in a thermal still needs work! As I mentioned earlier, I was at 2,600 ft when I released from tow (aka. pinned out). A few pockets of sink later and I was down to 2,000 ft. Bummer.

However, I was able to find a little bit of lift in a few places and managed to maintain an altitude between 1,800 and 2,000 ft for several minutes. As I headed towards the other end of the field I ran into quite a bit more sink and I was down to below 1,200 ft. Bummer (again). However, on my way across the field I noticed a bird circling and, since they make thermalling look so easy, I decided to follow the bird. It turns out it was a good decision. The bird in question did a masterful job of riding a thermal to a height several hundred feet above me. And did so easily. It wasn’t so effortless for me but I still managed to find some lift and eventually stayed in and around it long enough to climb 800 ft back to 2,000 ft. Not having much thermal experience, I was very happy with the result.

After climbing 800 feet, I was once again able to maintain an altitude between 1,800 and 2,000 feet for a while. This was turning into a much better flight than expected. I still wasn’t ready to go cross-country but I was having fun.

Eventually gravity won out and at around 12:40 I was back on the ground. Despite it being less than 30 minutes, I felt like I had been flying much longer. My landing wasn’t as successful as I would’ve liked but in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t bad. I ended up landing on the wheels rather than my feet but that’s why the wheels are there.

I was tempted to go up for another flight but I wanted to enjoy this one for a bit. Plus, it was nearing 1:00 and I really hadn’t eaten anything yet. Nor did I have much food left in my ever-limited supplies. So, I tied down my glider and decided to deal with the food issue in two stages. One, I would cycle into Groveland for a good (yet coronary inducing) burger from Hardee’s. From there I would go down the highway to Publix to get some groceries.

A stowaway looking for a ride into town.

A stowaway looking for a ride into town.

Both stages of my plan went very well. I even found a Dollar General along the way which allowed me to stock up on some chocolate – including M&Ms – just in time for Halloween. As for groceries, I bought some apples, bananas, some sort of V-8 drink, trail mix, banana chips, and even some eggs. For quite some time I’ve been wanting to try cooking eggs with my Trangia stove. Sure, there’s a real stove in the clubhouse, but I wanted to try this. The lack of a fridge and my general travel schedule has prevented this from happening thus far. Tomorrow morning, I would aim to change that.

Before leaving Publix, I had a nice chat with the cashier (Sharon, according to my receipt) and the woman bagging my groceries (sorry, didn’t get her name). I had brought one of my panniers into the store with me which made it somewhat obvious I was travelling by bike. This led to a discussion about my trip and the usual talk of where I’ve been and where I’m going. Sharon (assuming the name on the receipt is right) mentioned that she recently started cycling and is working her way up to a quickly approaching 30 mile ride. She’ll be ready for a cross-country tour in no time!

By the time I returned to Quest Air I had pretty much decided that I was satisfied with my one flight for the day. Not to mention I’m still on the remaining rags of a budget so it’s not like I can just fly whenever I feel like it. Instead, I did some work on my computer and just enjoyed the day.

A "Laughing Skull" in a Yuengling glass at The Crooked Spoon

A “Laughing Skull” in a Yuengling glass at The Crooked Spoon

I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do for dinner – probably pasta – but that plan changed when someone suggested going to The Crooked Spoon Gastropub in Clermont. About ten minutes down the road. That sounded much better than any pasta I would ever make. So, at around 7:30, nine of us piled into two cars and headed to The Crooked Spoon.

The Crooked Spoon was excellent and it turned out to be a very enjoyable portion of the evening. The follow up portion wasn’t quite so enjoyable. It was decided that we would stop in at The Crown Lounge on the way back to Quest Air. The Crown is an interesting place. I won’t go into too many details about it but let’s just say the clientele is significantly different from that of The Crooked Spoon. Suffice it to say, Jeff Foxworthy comes to mind. And no, it wasn’t a comedy club.

Despite being given a pretty thorough description of what to expect, those descriptions don’t really prepare you. Maybe it’s me, but I don’t think it’s ever a good thing when you open the door to a bar only to be greeted by the foul stench of excessive smoking pouring out at you. Luckily, Donnie (another pilot/instructor at Quest Air) was one of the drivers on this expedition and managed to escape with three passengers – and I was one of the passengers.

Having survived The Crown experience, the rest of the night was pretty uneventful as a group of us sat around chatting. Most of which isn’t suitable for publication.

Yes, today was another good day.


One Comment to A Good Day To Fly Hard

  1. Jeffrey says:

    That movie reference I got right away! I’m glad you had a great flight. Did you happen to check the snowy forecast at home??? Happy Halloween!

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