[This is the fourth and final installment on my month long trip from San Diego to Massachusetts. It took place in April 2015]
The exciting finale of my coast-to-coast road trip. I departed San Diego on April 4th, flew 8 new sites, logged 12 hours of flight time, had amazing, unforgettable flights, met cool new friends, flew with cool friends I already knew, and arrived in Massachusetts on May 2nd. I’m so looking forward to the return.
First though, I must say, or rather yell, I BOUGHT A NEW GLIDER, I BOUGHT A NEW GLIDER, I BOUGHT A NEW GLIDER!!! But I think it’s missing parts, or at least I can’t seem to find the king post 😉
Yep, an impeccably cared for Wills Wing T2C 136, at a price I couldn’t resist, that’s slowly becoming known as Speedybird, or the glider formerly known as Tom’s. This glider ushers in a new era of my flying, and as much as I have enjoyed the Sport 2, I look forward to the many hours, and miles criss-crossing the country, me and Speedybird will spend together.
Now back to your irregularly scheduled journey already in progress. I warn you, it’s longer than previous chapters, but I hope a less dry read with ghosts, UFOs, floods, and exciting new flying sites…or at least some of those things.
Act 1 — The Ghost Truck & The Sea of Red
So there I was, on the long, straight, flat road after having left Lookout Mountain, Colorado. Acre after acre of farm fields. The only elevation changes were overpasses. The sun setting behind me and a dark sky rising ahead. This would be my only night not having a hang-friend hook me up with a place to stay. Wanting to get to another flying site, my motivation was to plow ahead past the farmlands from one Lookout Mountain to another. My mind prepared itself for the long, isolating drive. I, however, was not prepared for the oddities of that night.
By now that night has blurred together. Somewhere in the time frame of before midnight and after 10pm I was in my road trip induced trance rolling over Kansas—occasionally passing someone and occasionally getting passed—when a truck, white like a ghost, came speeding by. The unmistakable image of a grey bag with red tips on top shook me from the trance. The sight of gliders atop my car apparently shook the driver of the truck too. Although he was flying past, I soon saw brake lights shoot on and the truck slow until we were side-by-side. For a few seconds, as if I was looking at a UFO descending upon me, and ET looking down at me, we eyed each other confused, attempting to place who the other was. And then, after we had in some way acknowledged each other, the truck sped away. I can only hope whoever it was had enjoyed a great day of flying. It’s a strange bond that we hang glider pilots share. Sometimes all it takes is a chance meeting in the middle of the night, in the middle of the country, to remind us that what we do is special and links us by some indescribable bond.
Still on I-70, even later in the night, or likely morning, came another unusual surprise. In the distance appeared a vast sea of red lights blinking synchronously. Marching toward me like soldiers until finally I was amidst towering fields of red, it was such an eerie and disorienting sight. *Blink* *Blink* *Blink* Just when I thought I had left the lights behind, I topped another rolling hill and more appeared. The experience induced in me another weird mental state and once comfortably miles behind me I decided it was time to call it a night. Later I determined that it was a wind farm, likely one near Ellsworth, Kansas. Someone on a forum I found probably described the experience best (though a different wind farm):
“Last fall I was driving late at night through eastern Colorado. Suddenly I was surrounded by strange red flashing lights and thought I was either too tired to drive, having a life changing UFO experience, or somebody slipped me some LSD…It turned out it was a huge wind farm.” ABryant
And so, there I was, miles away from any flying site that I knew and hoping morning would come soon.
Act II — Nashville and the Relentless Rain
Another day of driving and I was beginning to feel I was making progress. Au revoir Kansas. Goodbye Missouri. Illinois, Kentucky, sorry we only barely got to know each other. Nashville was coming up soon.
It seems that Nashville and I have a one-sided rainy relationship. I pass through. Nashville rains on me. When I first passed through in 2011 heading to California, I encountered downpours. I splish splashed a bit at the Parthenon—one of my favorite Nashville attractions—and then swam on out of there. This trip proved no different. As I arrived the rainy weather was threatening, and the forecast for Lookout Mountain did not excite me. Rather than drive further into gloom, I’d skip the flight park and hurry on to surprise my parents in Virginia. A few days later I find out flooding plagued Chattanooga and areas surrounding Lookout Mountain Flight Park (Read All About It!).
On a brighter, sunnier side, I met up with rising star Cory Barnwell for dinner and had a great time reminiscing about the 2014 competitions and discussing future flying fun.
So sadly, Lookout Mountain was, literally, and figuratively, a wash. Next time LMFP!
Act III — Virginia, Sweet Virginia
The day after spending the night in Nashville, I hurried on to my hometown in Virginia. So great to be home, and spend a few weeks with my parents. I could almost not care if I did not get to fly Virginia sites. It didn’t take long for an opportunity to fly came up.
You see, the glider I was buying (the awesome T2C) had traveled from Massachusetts to Florida for one last hurrah with it’s prior captain. But he was scheduled to stay in Florida another few weeks, and impatient as I am, he sent the glider back with a couple friends. These friends just happened to know a pilot near me and were planning to stop a few days to fly with him. Long story short, the following day we were meeting at a local site and I received my glider.
That site was Ravens Roost, an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway with one hell-of-a cliff launch and trees. Oh my gosh trees. First, I could not believe that for my entire childhood I had this site practically in my backyard. Second, trees! Tall, intimidating trees. This Californian, used to mostly open land with some bushes and perhaps a few cacti, did not expect the shock of flying over forests. It didn’t help that the LZ was borderline reachable on my Sport 2 (I decided it was not a great idea to fly a new glider at a new site).
The launch is a boulder field with no good clear area to run, requiring a hop, skip, and jump practically before leaping off the sheer cliff lined by—this time of year—mostly leafless trees. Or at least this was my first impression, and first impressions are everything right? Nothing like I had ever seen in California. The LZ however was one of beauty; green grass, mooing cows (safely fenced away), and a babbling brook. Once in the air the view of the Blue Ridge Mountains was astonishing: the valleys on both sides, a local ski area, more green than in all of California. A nice flight and great no-wind landing later, I was giddy with having flown in Virginia…finally.
A couple days later the forecast looked good for a site near Amherst Virginia called Tobacco Row. Given the launch at Ravens’, I had no idea what to expect. Told it was a ramp launch, visions of beautifully crafted ramps like Lookout Mountain’s danced through my head. Sure, I can’t expect it to be that great, but… We investigate the LZ first, hearing that houses had been built around it. The wind was switchy and the every landing direction required a thoughtful approach, including the large bowl among the fields, endearingly called the Soup Bowl and historically the primary landing spot (down one side and up the other).
Arriving to the road to launch, we immediately realized the site had not been flown for years (a decade?). A tree blocked the road, and after clearing it, we found launch over grown with trees perfectly in front of our launch path. Of course they were no match for determined hang glider pilots, with ropes and, well, ropes. With a little ingenuity we (mostly the guys) were able to bend the trees enough for us to launch cleanly.
The ramp you ask? Well, though it had a solid enough structure, was basically a three foot wide plank giving a pilot just enough height above the trees to glide out to clear air. Light winds allowed me to be comfortable and balanced as I stared the trees down and ran off.
And once in the air, yet again this trip, the sky was magical. For an hour I boated around 2,000 feet above launch enjoying another site so different from California, so familiarly unfamiliar.
The last treat Virginia gave me was a first flight on my new glider. Feeling mostly comfortable with Ravens Roost, we headed there for another flight. Conditions looked great, with puffy cumulus clouds splattered across the sky. Winds were light and supposed to get lighter. For over an hour I played among the clouds, climbing to base and then finding sink when I became too cold. It was a perfect first flight and I felt very comfortable on the glider.
During the flight I felt the winds increasing. Oh contrarian you are Mother Nature! You read the forecast and play with our puppet strings! When I finally decided to journey out to the LZ, I found even Speedybird had difficulty. Near to the ground I found conditions even worse. Vicious gusts rattled my nerves, but I was not going to let the wind beat me. After a wild ride down, terra firma approached, and though not the most graceful landing, my feet were once again on solid ground nonetheless, and my glider and I happy with the flight.
Act IV — Onward to Massachusetts
A couple weeks with my parents, friends, my hometown, and three fantastic flights later, and it was time to complete the journey eastward. Repacking my car and tying down my gliders—all three of them now—I departed, next stop Massachusetts and Hang Glide New England!
Hard to believe at the beginning of the month I still worked a typical 8 to 5 job, loathed rush hour traffic, and only flew weekends and holidays.
This may be the end of the drive, but the journey is barely beginning.