Saturday, March 18, 2017

Ground Handling, literally

Like many sports, there's nothing like getting out and doing some to give you an appetite for more. Since we got back from our last flying road trip I've been reading paragliding books and waiting impatiently for spring to come so I can at least get out ground handling. (In paragliding, ground handling (aka kiting) is practicing with your wing on the ground - bringing it up and down and keeping it in the air.)

It's finally warmed up enough to start thinking about getting outside. Of course, the snow hasn't gone yet, and the melting is making a mess. But I figured I could get out early enough that the ground would be frozen.

Saturday morning and Shelley is off with SAR, but it's cloudy and the wind looks strong. I check the weather and it shows 30 to 40 kph (18 to 24 mph) - too much for my skills. So much for that idea.

But then the sun came out. And I'm a sucker for sunshine, especially after a dark winter. Is the wind really that strong? I check Weather Underground for local stations and they show less wind. I grab my gear and head out.

The park is a mix of snow, ice, and mostly frozen mud, rapidly melting in the sun. Not exactly ideal footing. But contrary to weather reports, the wind is actually blowing up the hill which means I might be able to fly down it. But as soon as I get my wing out I realize it's too strong at the top of the hill.

I bundle up my wing and move down to the bottom of the hill where the wind isn't quite as strong. Of course, it's more squirrelly due to trees. But although that makes it frustrating, it's also good practice.

In my mind, I was going to go out and kite the wing effortlessly overhead. Ah, how our memory tricks us! I was soon reminded that ground handling in rough air is anything but effortless, at least for me. But I managed to keep it mostly under control and the skills started to come back.

Stronger spells of wind would push me towards the hill where the wind was stronger. But I found that I could turn and forward kite and walk the wing back away from the hill. I did that a few times, until I let myself get a little too far up the hill. When I tried to forward kite back down a strong cycle of wind yanked me off my feet, dropped me on me butt, and then proceeded to drag me up the hill. Usually, if you're below the top of the hill you're less likely to get dragged because it takes a lot of energy to pull you up the hill. But the wind was strong and it had warmed up enough that the mud on the surface was no longer frozen. Imagine a tug of war where you're sitting down facing away on slick mud.

I managed to hold onto the brakes and pretend I had some control. But every time I'd get the wing down a gust of wind would reinflate it and drag me a further. I lost one brake but as I went to grab it again I clued in that I should just grab some lines and start reeling them in. That finally stopped the wing from taking off and I was able to regain my feet. I looked down the hill at my hundred foot track in the mud. I was now wearing a lot of that mud. Even my helmet was plastered, although I don't recall sliding on my head! But hey, I got off without a scratch (other than a bruised ego), and how often do you get a sled ride up a hill!

When I was younger, my current age seemed unimaginably far off. But what little I did think about it, I never imagined that at this age I'd be out getting dragged around in the mud. On the other hand, I think that younger me would have approved.

No comments:

Post a Comment