Wilotree Day 5

It looked like the afternoon might not be so great, so I headed over early once the morning overcast cleared out leaving promising-looking cumulus clouds. I was quite surprised on my first tow when we reached cloudbase at around 2000 feet, but we kept going up and I got some great pictures. I couldn’t fin enough lift under the clouds to stay up for very long.

Pete and Romano arrived and the three of us went up in the early afternoon. I was last in line, and when I got off tow, I looked around but couldn’t find anybody else. What I did find was a big thunderhead to the northeast that was heading our way. After landing, I joined everybody else in quickly breaking down our gliders, and I got mine into its plastic travel sleeve and up on my roof rack before the ran arrived (along with some serious thunder and lightning).

Heading home tomorrow.

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Wilotree Day 4

Pete towed up and I was right behind him. No real lift to be found, though I scratched as long as I could manage, trying in vain to get a positive number on the averager.

Afterwards the sky started looking intimidating (clouds getting tall) and we went down to Wallaby so Pete could make sure his glider was still there, and to say hi to folks.

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Wilotree Day 3

First tow seemed like a weak link break, but the weak link was okay when I landed. I guess I didn’t have the barrel on the release pulled forward enough and it let go.

Second tow I got so far off line that Kacey waved me to release, which I did, and immediately found myself flying straight at the ground. Recovered easily enough and was down to about 800 feet, but I was too embarrassed to land and show my face on the ground, so when I found a tiny bit of lift over the airport buildings, I worked the hell out of it and climbed to cloudbase at about 4500 feet. Then I spent an hour boating around with Pete J, and at one point got low again from trying to keep the field in range, but I climbed out again. This time I just drifted with it until I was out beyond Groveland and unsure about whether I could get back, so I turned NW and headed off for adventure. I stayed up at around 4000 feet for a good long while, scoping out places up ahead that would make for an easy retrieve if I were to land there. I finally picked a 40 acre fallow field that I could see had a couple of open gates, unlike the other possibilities further ahead where I might need to deal with a fence.

Excellent landing, longest XC flight for me. And Nancy arrived to pick me up just as I was finishing packing.

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Wilotree Day 2

I took it slow in the morning, since there was no hurry to get to the airfield early and just sit around until afternoon to fly. It was around 1 PM when glider started lining up for tows, and after the first batch, Pete and I queued up. There were already a bunch of wings milling around under a blue sky, and after finding some small climbs, I zipped over to join a bunch who were climbing well. There were about a half-dozen of us in the gaggle, and we were drifting to the NW. Eventually most of that crowd took off XC, but Pete and I kept the airfield within reach. We helped each other find lift for a while, topping out at around 3700 feet I think, then I eventually got a little wary about how far downwind I was, and burned most of my altitude getting back. I found hints of lift on the way, but nothing slid enough to use. It even seemed like I might have had a chance for a save a few hundred feet up, but it didn’t work out. The landing was tolerable — I wasn’t straight into the wind, so I ran it out rather than flaring into a ground loop, and eventually dropped the control bar to the ground, but kept the nose up.

Pete wasn’t interested in flying again, and I was going to skip it as well, but I texted Nancy, and she talked me into it, so Pete decided to join me (and one other pilot did as well). After little shuffling around of where to launch from, I got towed up, and though I found a little zero sink, there was nothing I could climb in. Back on the ground in fairly short order, with a better landing.

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Wilotree Day 1

I biked over from the place where Nancy and I are staying in Minneola. When I arrived I ran into Amy R and Dan G; Pete J and Stan M are also here, but the rest of the CT crowd as well as Krassi and Rosen ended up down at Wallaby (as I thought might happen).

Blue day, not much enthusiasm among the pilots for launching. I finally decided to get things started, and loaded up my glider on a cart, and a bunch of other people got in line behind me. My first tow did not go well. Mostly it was a matter of being rusty, though I was also taken a bit by surprise at how fast these tugs with the more powerful 4-stroke engines can climb. After flailing around a bunch for the first few hundred feet, I got it settled down for a while, then things got boisterous at around 2000 feet, and I released, thinking we might be in lift. Yeah, not so much, I cruised around a little and then landed.

After a bite to eat, I had a chat with Kacey the tow pilot, and she gave me some advice; she said looked like I was trying to correct for yaw, rather than just letting the glider fly sideways if it wants to. The next tow went much better. I hunted around a bit for lift, then saw three gliders circling and climbing off to the east, so I headed in their direction, and before I reached them I hit a climb that turned into 600 fpm up, and got me up to about 3800 feet. I didn’t find any more after that, though.

We were sitting around and spotted a glider coming in, which Pete guessed had flown up from Wallaby, and he further guessed was Mark H, and that turned out to be correct. Mark said the lift was still working, so four of us loaded up and rustled up some crew and gave it another try, this time to the east from the slot instead of diagonally across the field to the SE. By the time we did that, though, there wasn’t any lift left to be found. Three good landings, though.

I loaded my harness and gear into a friendly pilot’s trailer for the night and hit the road to bike back to the AirBnB.

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Wilotree Day 0

Nancy and I left home around 6 PM on Friday, drove straight through, and got to St. Augustine on Saturday afternoon to visit the lighthouse. Then on Sunday, she had chartered a boat to go to the lighthouse open house on Anclote Key, and I decided to go with her. We stopped at Wilotree Park and unloaded Pete J’s glider that I had brought down, plus my own, and headed off to see the lighthouse. There was some thought that I might fly in the afternoon, but we got back late enough that what made sense was for me to just set up my glider and get signed in and waivered, and wait for the next day.

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Shoulder Season

photo by George Wright

My plan was to fly at Tanner-Hiller on Saturday. The forecast looked good, Rhett would be there towing for the first stint of the year (third day out of three), and Nancy was interested in coming along and going for a hike. So I loaded up my stuff and we drove on down. I was scanning the sky as we approached the airport, but I didn’t see any gliders. It was supposed to be a SW day, so I looked at the NE setup area, but there was nobody there, just a few people flying RC planes near the middle of the runway. So I drove to the hangar, and Rhett was hanging out there with one pilot who was hoping somebody else would show up for him to fly with. That would be me. So I drove back up to the setup area and started setting up, and he came along in a few minutes and did likewise.

With my wing about halfway assembled, I went to the car to take out the rest of my gear so that Nancy could drive away and go for her hike. One look in the back of the car, though, and I changed my plans and packed the glider back up. What I noticed was that my big black bag was conspicuously absent, because I had left my harness back at home in the closet. I wasn’t going to do a two-hour round trip to get it, so I joined Nancy for a jaunt on the Midstate Trail. Fortunately, just as I was about to leave, Matt C showed up to fly, so it presumably wasn’t lonely in the sky. The weather turned out great that afternoon, I didn’t hear any reports on how the flights went, but the clouds looked terrific.

I had already planned to take Monday off from work to attend the funeral of an elderly relative down on Cape Cod. We were entering a weather pattern with a storm system off the coast where the wind was predicted to be NE for several days. On Sunday some paraglider pilots went to Wellfleet, even though the forecast was for enough wind that they were joking that they’d have to do tandem flights with mini-wings. One of them did have the gumption to get out there for 30 minutes with the wind blowing 21-24 mph, while the others stayed on the ground, though one stopped by Plymouth on the way home and said he was seeing 26 mph, which he described as “Not for me. Ooooo doggie.”.

But they fly paragliders, and I fly a hang glider.

The forecast for Wellfleet on Monday was 17 gusting to the mid 20s, and the rule of thumb is that you if multiply that forecast by 1.5, that’s about the windspeed you’ll see at launch as the wind accelerates up the slope, so that meant at least 25. I threw my beach glider on the car in case the forecast improved, but didn’t know if I’d even drive the extra hour to get to White Crest. On my way to the funeral, though, I got a text from Randy B who said that he heard I was thinking of flying, and hoped to meet me there. He was planning to get there around 11:30, and I told him I’d be there around 2:00 at the earliest.

I had the opportunity to spend more time with my extended family after the funeral than I had expected, so when I finally headed to the outer Cape my ETA was 3:30. Given the forecast for intimidating wind and the fact that it was raining, I likely wouldn’t have continued out there if I hadn’t gotten a second text from Randy saying that it looked perfect and he was looking for wire crew. When I pulled in, the parking lot was empty except for his car, and he was in the air.

photo by George Wright

I didn’t waste any time and just started setting up. I had called my friend George who stopped by to take some pictures and give me assistance with launching. When I was about ready, I asked George for his guess as to the windspeed, and he said 30 mph. My pocket wind gauge showed a steady 28, without much variation during the brief time that I stood there. Too much for the PG crowd, that was for sure! A couple of other cars had stopped in the meantime, and I knocked on the window of one of them and asked the people if they’d be interested in helping me launch. The guy got out and he and George helped me go through my preflight checks then carry the glider out to launch. I was glad that I had help, because it was a lot to handle as we moved out of the lee of the knoll, and as I stepped over the knee-high berm at the edge of the pavement, the glider was already lifting off my shoulders and pulling up on my leg straps.

One man on each wing, and nobody on my nose, so I had to put in some effort to keep the nose down. I had instructed them on what was going to happen, and as soon as I could get the nose down enough that they could let go of the wires, I yelled Clear and stepped off into the air. And 28 mph is fine for a hang glider. Even with inexperienced wire crew, the launch was a piece of cake. I made a few short passes in front of launch so that the people on the ground could see the glider flying, then casually hightailed it south to Nauset Light.

It’s nice flying when there’s ample wind like this, because you don’t have to be careful about maintaining altitude. Most of the time is spent well above the top of the bluff, and when there’s a minor gap, there’s always plenty of lift on the far side, and you can pretty much fly as fast as you like. There was only one moment when I thought about it a bit, when a weird little gust turned me briefly downwind, and after recovering I sank a bit in the lull behind it, but it was just a few seconds and then I was on my way again. There were people out walking despite the sketchy weather, and one of the cool things about flying at the beach is seeing people waving and having the chance to wave back.

Randy had been somewhere up north when I launched, and as I headed back from the lighthouse, I encountered him coming toward me and we passed each other. Then he turned around and surprised me by overtaking me from below, giving me a good look at his colorful new wing.

After cruising past launch I headed up to Newcomb Hollow and played around with storing up a bunch of altitude and then heading across the gap. I didn’t make any serious attempts to cross it, turning around halfway or so and making it back with adequate altitude to keep flying. I went back toward launch to see what Randy was up to, and saw him landing. It turned out he had been about ready to land when I showed up, and kept going so that we could fly together, and got a total of about three hours. He was down on the beach flying his glider with his feet on the ground, maneuvering it closer to the ramp up to the parking lot, and I flew some more between launch and Newcomb Hollow.

photo by George Wright

I didn’t have a watch or a vario, and wasn’t sure exactly how long I had been flying, but I considered my landing options. Landing at White Crest would take some mental effort to figure out how to get down, and then it’s (sort of) a long climb to get the glider back up to the parking lot. Instead, as I often do, I opted to go back up to Newcomb Hollow, where it’s easy to lose altitude in the gap. I noticed that north part of the gap had areas roped off that I assume were denoting potential nesting sites for piping plovers. The bottom dropped out on me as I got down to the sand, and I landed on my knees, then spent a few minutes swinging my arms around to warm my fingers back up (the gloves I had chosen have great grip, but aren’t overly warm, and even when it’s 50 F your hands can get cold). Easy to get my stuff up to the parking lot, and my text messages to George and Randy didn’t get through, so I just jogged the couple of miles back to where I was parked, easy peasy.

That was the last hang glider flight at Wellfleet this season. There were two days left before the summer shutdown to accommodate the plovers, and a handful of PGs did show up on the last day in less than favorable conditions (light and cross); I heard that two of them scratched out short flights.

flights: 1, airtime 1:16

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Bare Trees

A week earlier, some folks had gone to Ellenville, and Mike S posted a video. Looked like it was a good flight, but definitely rowdy air, he was getting kicked around a lot and I didn’t feel too bad about missing out on that. Then as the last weekend in March approached, the various things that might have been on my schedule didn’t materialize, so if the weather cooperated, I was clear to go flying. Mike said he was going back to Ellenville, some other folks indicated interest in that as well, Woz floated the idea of pulling out the tuned-up winch, and although I didn’t know it, paraglider pilots were looking at Wellfleet and Plymouth (E winds on the coast when it’s NW inland?). But what bubbled to the top of the idea pile was hiking up and flying Talcott.

I had a little excitement when I got in my car and couldn’t roll up the windows — then I hit the starter and the battery was dead. While I had been changing out my snow tires for summer tires the night before, and then while I was putting the rack on my car in the morning, I had been listening to the car radio, and I hadn’t thought to turn off the headlights. I couldn’t jump start it from Nancy’s car because she had gone skiing. Fortunately, I still drive a standard, and I live at the top of a hill, so it wasn’t too tough to push the car out of the garage, then run around and open the door and jump in, do a three-point turn entirely on gravity, and pop the clutch to get the engine running. Problem solved!

We had arranged to meet at the LZ at noon. I drove by the access road on my way there, and the place was already a madhouse, cars parked all along the side of the highway because the gate wasn’t open and people wanted to got for a hike on such a nice day. Woz had already dragged his gear up to the helipad with a kayak cart, and along with Mark H and Danny B we headed up in two cars. There was a policeman directing traffic at that point, and he let us drive in to drop off our gear by the gate, and luckily for us a couple of parking spaces had opened up.

Mark shouldered his glider and went with Woz up to the helipad, while Danny and I used my two carts to go up the wider trail. Carol showed up and helped Danny with his heavier glider, and soon enough we were all at launch. My main concern prior to that had been that the conditions might be too light, since the NWS forecast called for a maximum of 7 mph in the afternoon. But what we found when we got there was 17-19! Yikes! We set up anyway, in hopes that it would die down a bit before it swung too far to the south as evening approached.

The park was pretty crowded. I lost count of how many times I said “Hang glider” to people asking “What’s that” as I pulled it up the trail. Then as we were setting up, dozens of people stopped to watch, ask questions, and hopefully see one of us fly. It was clear from the some of the questions that a lot of people have a pretty meager idea of what hang gliding is about, expecting that we “jump” off the cliff and then glide down to the field, having no idea that we can actually soar and stay up for extended periods of time.

As I expected, Woz was the first to be ready to go (he was also the only one of us who had brought a double-surface glider, the rest of us had lightweight Falcons). The wind mellowed, and he suited up, with a big crowd watching. He got big cheers when he launched, and the spectators were all very impressed at how well he was doing, while Mark and I were shaking our heads with mild disappointment that he was just cruising back and forth at launch height. They thought he’d be gliding down to the field, and with the wind the way it had been, we were expecting he’d take off like a rocket and be hundreds of feet over. I went back to my glider and did a preflight, and by the time I was done, he was indeed 500 feet or so over our heads.

Launch was uneventful, the way it should be. I went straight out, not climbing or sinking, turned left, and when I returned two and a half minutes later, I was 500 feet over myself. Right after that I latched onto a thermal and started turning, and by five minutes after launching, I had to pull in because I was bumping up against the altitude ceiling that we have at that site due to the airspace of nearby Bradley Airport. In the times I’d flown at Talcott, I had only once gotten up to 1800 feet, most times not even close to that, and here I was immediately climbing to 2100 (1350 over launch).

It’s easy-come, easy-go in this game, though. At most sites I would have kept climbing and banked up as much altitude as possible, then floated around up there if possible. But not wanting to run afoul of FAA regs, I left the lift, and instead found some pretty serious sink. Down I went, almost as fast as I had gone up, and in short order I was below the cliff, close to the trees, and heading out to the LZ for an early landing. A spectacular start to what was looking like a very short flight.

But you don’t give up until you have to, and as I headed to the LZ, just below the end of Cobtail Lane I felt lift and started turning. It was a solid thermal that I worked to comfortably above launch, and after losing it briefly a couple of times, took it all the way back up to the airspace ceiling. Shortly before I had launched, Dan had not yet set up and was saying that he was not comfortable with the conditions and was going to pack his gear back down to the car, but I guess he was encouraged by how I was doing, because I could see him setting up.

There was a time a few years ago when I had been trying to take a good picture of the Heublein tower from the air, but hadn’t had much luck.The problem had been that I was flying on ridge lift days and not getting very high, and I was nervous about going too far south along the ridge in case I had trouble getting back to the LZ. It’s not really very far, and I later managed to get a number of good pictures, getting well past the tower. But I realized that I had an opportunity to take a picture of it from an unexpected angle, and maneuvered myself into position for one fortunate shot.

Woz at this point had gone well to the west, out over the valley, which I now realize was for a game that pilots like to play here: fly directly over Woz’s house. He had also been going further east behind the ridge than I had, and later said that had considered heading south to Rte. 44, which is the edge of the restricted airspace, where there’s no longer an altitude ceiling.

Around the time that Dan was ready and moved out toward launch, conditions softened again and I found myself sinking fast. Below launch height again, I tried the same trick as before, found a thermal in the same spot, and got myself reestablished. I was facing the wrong direction when Dan launched, so I missed it, but I hoped he’d be able to catch the same climb that I was in. He said he did briefly, but then lost it, and had a smooth trip to the LZ that he was satisfied with.

Woz over Holcomb Field

After that I did the usual back and forth passes along the cliff, occasionally tagging hikers with my shadow and waving to people who were looking up. Mark got ready to go, but by the time he was out there, he said the wind had really died down. It was a strange day, although the wind streamers at launch usually seemed to indicate that the wind was blowing hard, the ridge lift didn’t seem to be working, and it was thermals that were keeping us up. Although I hoped that Mark would be able to get into the air before I landed, some clouds came over and shut the lift down, and my third try for a low save didn’t work, so I headed down for a fine landing in Holcomb Field, and started breaking down my glider next to the road.

Mark and Danny

Just as we had had lots of spectators up top, so we also had plenty of people in cars waving or honking after we landed, including a few who stopped to ask questions. One of the more interesting questions came from a woman who asked if I was going to go up. No, I said, I just came down (though to be fair, we have done winch towing from that field). I pointed to Mark’s glider, which was visible up on the cliff, and said that he was going to be flying soon. The woman parked her car across the street to watch. Less fun was another woman who stopped and politely but firmly instructed us to pack up and get off of her property as quickly as possible. Except… it’s not her property. She and Woz exchanged introductions, and he recognized her name as being from the family that owns some adjacent property, but not the field we were using, which we have explicit permission for.

We had time for a brief get-together in Woz’s back yard before I had to head home. From the reports that came in, we made a good choice: though not everybody soared at Talcott, Ellenville served up only extended sledders before it started blowing downhill, and Wellfleet was light and cross and challenging for the paragliders who went there.

flights: 1, time: 1:05

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2020 in review

This was a bit of a surprise.

Months flown: 7 (Jan, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov)
Flying days: 16
Days when I showed up with my gear but didn’t fly: none
Flights: 23 (8 foot-launch, 12 aerotow, 3 static winch; 9 soaring, 3 extended sledders, 11 sledders)
Sites flown: 5 (Talcott, Tanner-Hiller, West Rutland, Ellenville, Wellfleet)
New sites: none really (I winch towed for the first time at a place I had flown before)
Gliders flown: 3 (Falcon 2 170, U2 145, Vision Mark IV 17)
Longest flight (time): 5:07:13 (Aug 9, West Rutland)
Longest flight (XC distance): 8.08 km (Nov 22, Wellfleet)
Total flight time: 19:08
Max altitude: 6572 feet (July 5, Tanner-Hiller)
Damage: nope
Injuries: meh, a skinned knee

Despite a decidedly late start to the year due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I barely missed (by about 30 seconds) having the third-most airtime of any year so far. It’s tempting to attribute that to the fact that I had a bunch of free time on my hands. The vacation trips that I had planned evaporated, and my main activity, orienteering, was pretty much not happening. After February, orienteering events were pretty much cancelled, and are for the most part still on hold. In the years since I started keeping this blog, I averaged 26 days a year of orienteering, but in 2020 it was only 4. However, my average number of flying days had averaged 14, and it went up to only 16. Combine that with the fact that almost half of my flights were sledders (the shortest half dozen flights combined were only 16 minutes), and it’s only because I posted a 5-hour flight (my longest to date) that I was able to get to such a high total. There were some other good flights mixed in there as well.

On the flip side, there were definitely some things that did not go well this year, for other pilots, when I was not around. One pilot had to toss his chute when the nose wires on his Falcon 2 became disconnected during flight — he was fine, but the glider was totaled after coming down through the trees. (That whole episode is something of a mystery to me.) Another pilot had a very bad crash on his mountain bike, resulting in hospitalization and a long recovery. And worst of all, a third pilot had a huge mishap at a site with a sketchy launch. I’m not certain of the details, but it sounds like he probably clipped a tree with a wingtip and pivoted back into the rocks. That resulted in broken body parts and an airlift rescue and a bunch of surgery and a very close brush with death. Yikes. This reinforces my lack of desire to fly at that site again. Be careful out there, folks (in many, many ways!).

It was nice to get back out to Rutland, Wellfleet, and Ellenville. I hadn’t been to any of them for several years, aside from one sledder at Ellenville. No Ascutney flights, though, for the first time since I got my H3 in 2008. And I missed a couple of good Greylock days as well, but there will always be more chances in the future.

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Wellfleet for HGs

I certainly wasn’t the first one to get to Wellfleet. The forecast was very much to my liking, and there were already HG pilots who had gotten there early and were either in the air or already landed, and the PGs were either standing around scared or kiting down on the beach. Plenty of wind! Unlike the previous time, there was a setup spot available up front where somebody had just left, and I dropped my glider bag right next to Krassi, who already had his partly assembled.

No time to waste! I set up as quickly as I could, threw on my flying clothes, grabbed one camera, and started moving over to launch. Ross saw me and immediately rustled up some help for my wires. This was a piece of cake, I got my hands on the control bar, took a step, and went right up. I started out northbound, as far as Newcomb Hollow, then turned around and headed for Nauset Light. No issues, plenty of lift, and I went all the way past the lighthouse and to the very end of the bluff down near the Coast Guard station.

Most of the early HG crew had landed, but Krassi had launched a bit after I had passed by the parking lot southbound, and followed me down to Nauset. He turned around sooner than I did, and landed when we got back to White Crest, but I continued northward. At Newcomb I felt that I had enough altitude to jump the gap, so I went for it, and made it across, though with not all that much to spare. The bluff gets taller after that, and I was in pretty good shape when I got to Ballston Beach, but I did an extra pass to pick up another 100 feet of altitude before I crossed that one.

Continuing on, I soon had the radar installation in sight, then the Jenny Lind Tower, but… where was Highland Light? It couldn’t be missing! As I got closer to the golf course, I could see what was going on, the lighthouse was surrounded by scaffolding and wrapped in tyvek, presumably for painting. Oh well, I had run out of space on my camera’s memory card anyway…

Another about-face, and it was time to try to get back to the car. The crosswind wasn’t that bad, and I was making some progress even up by the lighthouse. As the angle of the beach curved around I did better, until I got back to Ballston Beach. I had mentally prepared myself for the possibility of landing out up here, but I banked up some altitude and gave it a try. The Mark IV doesn’t fly that fast, which means I was hanging in the gap (and sinking) for too long, but I got to within maybe 100 yards of the other side before I was on the sand, with a gentle tiptoe touchdown.

I should have worn heavier gloves. After I got my glider turned around, I spent several uncomfortable minutes as my fingers thawed out, then set about packing up. Max, who had arrived shortly after me and who had taken my setup spot when I launched, flew over as I was getting things bagged up. I stashed all of my gear behind a dune, and then set off to get my car.

As I said, I was mentally prepared to land out, and I was mentally prepared to deal with it. I figured I was about five miles north of White Crest, so I took off at a jog. The surface was mostly firm intertidal sand, so it was easy going. I stopped a couple of times to take pictures, once when I saw some seals, and the other time when Max passed overhead at Newcomb Hollow on his way back south. He flies a Sport 2, which has better performance than my old beach glider, but it also struck me that he started out across the gap with more altitude than I had, and made it across easily. I need to think about getting much higher than I have been when doing this.

There were still a lot of PGs down on the beach when I got back, after running for about an hour. I said hi to Ross when I climbed back up to the parking lot; when he asked where my glider was, he looked at me like I was nuts, and asked why I hadn’t called him for a ride. Hey, I was happy to get the exercise! It’s not the farthest I’ve landed from launch, and not the farthest I’ve gone on foot to retrieve my vehicle (I’ve jogged around Ascutney, among other things), but I think it’s the farthest I’ve landed from launch and then retrieved my vehicle on foot.

flights: 1, time: 1:30

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