Five Dollar Challenges

There’s nothing like having a friend who pushes you to greater heights (puns always intended) and challenges you to progress. For me that friend is Butch Peachy, who seems to have the remarkable talent to pull off 100 mile flights on 40 mile days…among other things like being the human jukebox that won’t turn off. Oh, and if you’ve got time, lots and lots of time, ask him to tell a story.

One of those he tells is how when he was training to fly comps, he and a friend would make bets on flying tasks. And for the first many bets he lost, but the small incentive, and friendly competition, kept him scratching until his feet were on the ground. “Not another $5,” he’d think. Over time these challenges made him the amazing pilot that he is, and hopefully earning back much of what he lost. Of course, his story is much longer with tangents, twists, and turns, but you get the point.

My El Cap Hat Trick

My El Cap Hat Trick

He has told this story to me a few times, but we rarely get to fly together, and when we do it’s not an XC day. Then came our flight at Laguna a few weeks ago. He casually mentioned betting $5, but we never settled on a task, nor shook to seal the deal—after all, who am I to race someone flying a higher performance glider? I had in my mind that it would be nice just to get out of the valley we were launching into. But then I had an incredible flight after almost sinking out, eventually leaving the valley and landing well before him. I still consider it a victory and I’d be lying if my confidence didn’t soar. Read more about it in my last post.

Well, this week was payback. We were flying a site called Blossom and we actually did settle on a task (and shook on it).The task was to make two triangles between launch, a point we call El Cap (the mountain looks a lot like El Capitan), and a point slightly west of El Cap nicknamed the Cauldron. The entire triangle is only about 6 miles, but you are flying into a stiff headwind on the way back. The second triangle/lap would be open and continue westerly down the range after the second turn point.

After launching we scratched around waiting for an up-cycle. We would jockey up and down for a while, never climbing high enough to jump the valley. Finally, I caught a thermal that felt like the one. Circle, circle, circle. Then next thing I know I’m peering straight into the eyes of Butch. His glider is aimed straight for mine.

I guess he lost the thermal he was in and wanted to piggyback on mine—nothing wrong with that, I’d do the same. But feeling like I was in a game of chicken with the Red Baron, I turned out of the thermal and tried to circle back around. This came to bite me. He “stole” that thermal and circled up high enough to launch across to El Cap.Now it sounds like I’m painting him as a villain. In actuality, the thermals this day were small punchy ones and we were all up and down trying to catch and stick a thermal. Maybe there was enough room for him to join up in my thermal. Maybe had I kept circling he would have entered the thermal just behind me, or I would have climbed above him. But I’m sure I’m not the only one to freak when another glider is at the same altitude and close enough to read their vario (ok, perhaps a bit of hyperbole).In any event, Butch flew the first circuit and took a huge early lead. As he was heading back to launch, I finally caught the thermal with my name on it and shot over to El Cap, where after a few minutes I had another great thermal lifting me to over 4,000 feet or about 2,500 above launch. Without losing much altitude I rounded the second turn point and headed for launch. Butch was now climbing again and heading over for lap two, but I was catching up. Without losing much altitude, I rounded launch and could head straight back.

When I reached El Cap for the second time, Butch was at the Cauldron (2nd turn point). We both realized he was far enough ahead to win the bet, so he—being the former world competitor and mentor that he is—turned around to team fly with me a little. However, with the strong winds that day, there were parts of El Cap that felt like being in a washing machine. After a while of trashy air over the Cauldron, and not climbing much, I was ready just to head home to where my other friends were soaring.

Of course, once back to the launch area I caught the best thermal of the day drifting me high and back to El Cap again. I always feel that when the sky gives you a great thermal you take it. So I did. Three trips to the Cap and back is a good day, whether or not you complete a task or win a bet.

Without the friendly competition, I likely never would have challenged myself to fly back to El Cap. I have only previously flown there once, and every time I am somewhat nervous due to (1) the lack of good landing areas in that part of the valley, (2) tall, high tension power lines, and (3) the upwind battle trying to get back to our primary landing area. This time, though I was nervous still, each triangle I became more comfortable with my abilities, and more confident to push myself (and still keep a good margin of safety).The lesson of the day? Being somewhat nervous is good. It means you are pushing your abilities and learning. Being terrified is having pushed too far, too fast. Having a friend to give that extra nudge in the right direction is the gift we need to get better. Thank you Butch. That was well worth the $5.

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