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Black Hawk to Daggett
35 miles ~ 3 hours 20 minutes
Tom Pipkin, Robb Milley, Eddie and I found ourselves on launch at Blackhawk at about 9:30 a.m. on Saturday morning. We left Ventura at 5:30 and ended up early by about 2 hours, but considering the length of the drive, it was still better to be early.
Team Atos was there, setting up, when Pipkin launched first at a little after 11:00. Conditions were very light, but he made it look easy, climbing above launch in smooth fat thermals. Robb and I wasted no time in following, but we found the conditions not so easy. Basically a prolonged scratch/flush for both of us while Pipkin boated around above launch.
In a last ditch effort, I peeled off and hoped to find something to the west, while Robb searched further out front. Robb’s path was the recommendation from the “locals” but the downside was if you didn’t get up out front, you were done for the day. I figured if I didn’t get up to the west, I could land at the gun range and still get another shot.
So I landed at the gun range. Eddie had me in the truck in short order and back at launch. Robb was smokin’ the soles on his shoes as he walked in 120 degree desert heat, and Pipkin continued to watch all the action from his comfortable seat about 300 feet above launch.
Back at launch and there were 2 Atoses in the air with Pipkin, but there were 3 HGs lined up on launch waiting for a good cycle. Pipkin had climbed to 10.5 and was anxious to get on course, so I spread out off to the side and launched in a weak cycle.
Then I began my second flush. I thought of all the tough-talk we had spewed on the drive out. The anticipation for the day was very high and I resigned myself by thinking, “with great anticipation comes great disappointment” scratching my way all the way down the main spine to what I called “the last chance station” at a slide area just before the retrieve road where Robb was still hiking.
The slide was kicking off a trashy thermal and I was surprised that it was actually able to carry me out of there. I hadn’t been able to stay in a thermal at all until that point. The ride stayed rough for 4 grand, then I lost it and didn’t find it again until I was 100 AGL back at the slide. Took it up again, lost it again, and this time I slid all the way down the ridge, past the last chance and over the retrieve road.
Eddie was picking up Robb, who had lost the soles of his boots to the searing heat of the desert. Pipkin was still over 10 grand and getting on course. My best bet was to land next to Eddie and join the Pipkin chase.
I started getting a few beeps on my vario and decided that I would turn in it just to pick up a little altitude and increase my landing options. 100-200 up turned into 3-4 hundred up, but I didn’t want to get sucked back into the wild and unbeneficial ride up from the slide, so I kept correcting back out to the flats.
Surprised to find myself at 9K, I radioed Pipkin to check his status. He was 7200 and 5 miles out. I was 2.3 miles out so I figured I could catch him. Quite excited all of sudden to be making a go of it after all.
Before I could get to Pipkin he began sinking fast. I caught another smooth thermal that tracked me back to my 2 mile mark, while Pipkin lost almost everything he had. So then I was at 10.2 and Pipkin was at 4-point-something, strange reversal of fortunes.
For a while it seemed that Pipkin was going to climb back out and we were going to be able to wander around together (the “course” was proving to be very elusive), but Pipkin ended up on the deck somewhere past the 7 mile mark and I was on my own.
I was over 11K when Eddie and Robb picked up Pipkin right below me. I was getting frustrated with my slow progress though. The forecast was for southwest, and the cloud shadows were clearly drifting from the southeast. I kept trying to go northeast under a cloud street, but I would hit a headwind, hit a bunch of sink, stumble into a good thermal, climb and drift right back to where I had been 10 minutes earlier. So then I would try due east. I would get a few minutes of tail wind, followed by a head wind, followed by sink, catch a thermal and end up back at my spot. Progress was very slow, I was staying high, but there were also several times when I got tossed around by the changing winds, and that was losing its appeal.
I stumbled around in that fashion for about 2 hours, probing in every direction except south (which would have taken me back to launch). I had been flying for about 2.5 hours, at the 17 mile mark, with chase right below me on a rough dirt road, when I got pissed and just decided to head north under the cloud street. “I’ll get somewhere, or I’ll land!”
I pushed through headwinds for several minutes, lost a few grand, but then got ripped. Head down and determined, I did not turn in the lift, I just pushed on. My vario maxes at 1600 fpm. When it gets fully wrapped, I think it leaves a bar behind at the 1600 mark. I always say that when I’m on the ground. In the air (and I’ve only wrapped it a few times) I generally like to think that I have stopped accelerating at 1600 fpm and things have leveled out. For some reason that gives me comfort. So when Eddie mistook my translation for “1800 in sustained lift,” I quickly got on the radio to correct him. “NO, NOT 1800, 1600! I’M AT 12 GRAND IN 1600 FPM SUSTAINED LIFT! … WELL, MAKE THAT 13 GRAND!!”
I didn’t turn for the rest of the flight. Eventually I hit 14,200 and as my teeth chattered through my radio, I reported that my boots were definitely not melted. Chase was passing through a dry lake bed that I could see far beneath me. Eddie was asking if he should stay east of the water. They all reported later the vivid effects of the mirage that made them certain that the lake was full of water.
After passing the Ords, I began to lose altitude. I figured I could make Highway 40 with about a 3 to 1 glide, but I knew the effects of falling out of the convergence. Even with 10 grand AGL, I could land directly under my feet if my company was no longer requested at the convergence party. From the Ords to Daggett ridge was no-man’s-land. The thought of having to hike for several miles after landing gave me great concern.
I crested Daggett Ridge with several hundred to spare (thankfully) but it was quite apparent that my flight was about over. I lost 12 thousand feet in just over 10 minutes. Figured I probably had the glide into Newberry Springs, but couldn’t see anything that looked too inviting as a spot to wait for retrieve. About 5 miles to the east, I saw green grass, trees, and several cars parked next to the highway. Looked like a café, bar, or maybe even a big gas station (where cold beer and air conditioning could be found), so I headed for it.
The ground was falling away at about my same glide angle which allowed me to maintain about 300 AGL for a couple miles. I had a light tail wind and the bar stuffed as I watched the desert floor zip by under my feet. It was 3:45 and the heat of the day was still in full force.
I hit the deck about a half a mile from the 40 and exactly 35 miles (and 3 hours 20 minutes) from launch. The heat was the most intense I have ever felt. I jumped out of all my extra clothing and packed the bag as quickly as I could and started off for the shade.
When I was 10 years old I put a bug in a hot frying pan just to see what it would do. Not surprisingly it displayed some considerable urgency as it tried to escape the pan. I thought a lot about that bug as I displayed similar urgency across the desert floor to what turned out to be a rest stop, (without the hoped-for amenities). When you are in that kind of heat, the only thing you can think about is getting out of it.
The rest stop did have abundant shade, green grass, and sprinklers running. I still had water and food in my pack (although both were almost too hot to consume), so the wait wasn’t that bad.
Eddie, Tom, and Robb got to me an hour later with cold beers and handshakes.
Got back to Ventura, exhausted at 10:00 pm. Thanks Eddie for the remarkably full day of service.
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