After last night's party the morning was a bit rough. The sky just kept getting better, so up the hill we went. On launch I found a shady spot and worked on my hydration levels while the usual gaggle formed in front of launch. Eventually I couldn't put it off any longer and staggered off the hill. The climbs off launch were ragged, weak and inconsistent, sort of like my thinking. But I just didn't care. The ground looked really hot, and I just wasn't up for that level of suffering. Eventually I flew down the ridge to the edge of the start cylinder and got to base, then up the side of a cloud. Suddenly it started to be fun--edging along a cloud, way up high, that's what flying is all about. I forgot about the start cylinder until I noticed gliders turning back for it. There were four start "gates," and I exited about five minutes after the third start--not ideal, but I was at base so I just kept going. Keith was just below me, we had a quick conversation and decided to just head out rather than play start games.
For the next two hours the flying was just super fun--some real climbs, lots of flying through cloud canyons above base, just great stuff. I wasn't racing hard or worrying about other gliders ahead of me, just flying along. I pushed out front a couple of times with a few other pilots, each time we would get caught by the horde, but each time there were less gliders, and those in my thermal were fun to fly with, good pilots who were flying the lift and not the glider in front of them. Suddenly I was with the lead four gliders, and high. We worked the next 20K as a team, and for once nobody was circling in anemic lift, everybody left and fanned out looking for the next climb, which one of us would find. About 20K from goal we started what might be our final, and had a great glide under a dark cloud. A little bit of bar to stay out of the cloud, then I got left as the other three gliders went hard when it became clear we were going to make goal with some altitude. I have been convinced I had goal in this meet before only to dirt, so I had a snack on glide rather than push hard, it sure was nice up there. I came over goal line around fourth for the day (other pilots may have been faster than me with later starts), but it sure was fun to be at base over the goal line. Keith and Tom came in a few minutes behind me, then Josh about 30 minutes later (he took the last start so that's really only 1o minutes back).
Today was a good illustration of how fun competition flying can be. Conditions weren't great, but they were better and the cloud edge surfing was just stellar. I could pretend that I had skill today instead of better luck, but this been the most random, frustrating competition I've ever flown in. My best memories will be of the people I've met here, especially our hosts at the River Gums, David and Lee, as well as the ranchers, school bus driver, bar tenders and just the general population of Australia. If I had to sum up the flying, I would say, "Never have so many pilots flown so close together in so little lift for such a long time." We saw what it can be like in Manilla during the XC comp--fantastic. This Worlds was like a big-wave surfing contest with six-inch waves; it takes skill to do that, but it's a different game. I now know what I like about competition flying and what I don't, I hope I can carry a more balanced attitude into future paragliding competitions both as a competitor and meet organizer.
I'm going to close this off with one experience that stands out and puts the whole deal in perspective. One day I didn't make goal and ended up there only after a car ride. Goal was about a K from the River Gums (our campground), so after doing the GPS download I started the walk of shame back to the campground. There was a beat-out old Holden "ute" parked in the shade, and as I walked by an old guy stuck his head out the passenger side and asked, "Are you a pilot?" I didn't feel like one, but I said, "Yes." He said, "That sure looks like fun--you get so high up there! What's that like?" I was hot, tired and pissed off that I hadn't made goal, but his lined face showed such enthusiasm that it cut through my pissy attitude in an instant. I said something about the clouds being really nice to fly under, and he said, "Wow, I'm 89 years old and that's just amazing, never seen that. I'll bet it's just great." In that moment I realized that I was really missing the point of the day and experience--it sure is fun up there, and it took this old guy to make me realize that beating other people isn't why I fly. I'll try to keep that guy in mind next time I'm short of goal and getting pissy. The flip side of that is getting all wound up with doing well--both are external judgements, the true quality of a day is not found in the results card. That said, I sure am fired up to fly in Golden when I get home, a good strong thermal is a good thing.