I was one of the first people to sign up for this year’s Tennessee Tree Toppers Team Challenge, which is sort of a hang gliding competition, though different from most comps, primarily in that it uses team scoring with handicaps for pilot experience and glider type, plus there is no racing aspect involved (time does not count). Eventually four other pilots from Massachusetts signed up, and we enlisted a drive to come down and fly as well. Vitaly was coming in from a trip out west and arrived first, Tom and Lee headed down Friday morning, and Jeff met me at my office in the evening, we picked up Max, and went for an all-night drive.
We pulled in late morning Saturday and got our campsite set up, then looked at the weather. The wind was from the SE, so we drove over to the Whitwell launch, about 30 minutes away, and checked out the LZ on the way. It was blowing straight in, so we debated whether to fly (the meet didn’t start until Sunday). Some of us we pretty zonked from travel, but eventually Jeff, Vitaly, and I set up our gliders, despite the gloomy overcast sky. As we were getting ready, the wind dropped off to essentially nothing. There were a dozen paragliders in the air when we got there (they have another launch area about 250 meters away), and at one point they managed to climb pretty high, but then the lift shut down and they all landed. There were other hang glider pilots with us, and we watched four or five take no-winders off of the very abrupt launch.
Jeff decided that it was worth going for a shakedown flight, and had a sledder with barely a bump. Vitaly looked at the windsock after that and said, “It’s light, it’s cross, I’m packing up”. I started to do the same, but after I got the sprogs unzipped, somebody said that the breeze was picking up. I decided to give it a chance, got the glider together, and moved it out to launch. There was another pilot ahead of me who had a minor harness problem that took a minute or two to sort out, and when I stepped up it got very light again. I sat there for a while, and eventually set myself a deadline of 5 PM. When that arrived, and the wind was trickling in from behind me, I called it a day and packed up. As I was doing so, the clouds cleared out and it turned into a beautiful afternoon. We picked Jeff up and headed back to our camp at Henson’s Gap, and got to watch one pilot do a no-wind evening sledder from there.