The last two days of flying have been off the charts fun, just epic!
The last day of the Chelan comp was fantastic--a 120K triangle with absolutely rocking conditions. If there was wind I was planning to blow the task off and try my luck chasing down the Washington state record, but with minimal wind (maybe 10-20K) the task just looked like too much fun not to do... I went out hard and led to the first turnpoint, where I broke my speed bar. We were headed crosswind to the next turnpoint so a bar would be nice to have--I spent some time tying the bits back together as the lead gaggle caught me and then flew by while I tied knots, but I got back into the game to the second turnpoint until the cord broke again. I was having a bit of a hard time tying knots as I had forgotten my gloves on launch and had pretty cold hands, and the course was now taking us back into the headwind. The lead gaggle went right, I went left under some better clouds so I could try and glide straight while tying knots. Eventually I rigged up a full junk show system with my speed bar line coming straight out of my pod to the risers. This required holding the riser with one hand while pushing bar, but it worked enough to get moving again. I wasn't racing for any sort of lead in the comp as I had sucked the first two days, so I got stinking high and stayed there, just enjoying the conditions over the flats. As usual I flew almost the entire day on my own, I just like that better than gaggle flying. I like flying with my friends, but the gaggles just annoy the hell out of me, it doesn't feel "free." The smart "comp" thing to do was push it hard to goal, but I tanked up super high on the rim and flew over the goal on the moon so I could tag launch on top of Chelan Butte and close out the triangle totally. This added maybe 10K to the overall flight but was well worth it--so much fun to burn it back into launch after flying a big task!
I'm pretty sure I'm done with paragliding comps. I just do not make a good herd animal--I want to fly the air, not other gliders. There's too much waiting around on launch, too much circling, just too much in the way of FLYING for me. I like seeing friends and the whole scene, but the part of flying done in the air is for me fundamentally about the experience of the atmosphere and my very small slice of it. There's a joy in being all alone or with a couple of friends way out in the middle of nowhere that I just don't find in comps very often. It was great to see Bernard, Nate and some of my other friends out on course, but turning circles before the start with so many gliders just doesn't fill me with joy--in fact, it pisses me right off. That's not how I want to feel in the air. One of the hardest things in life to do is recognize when you have changed; I could keep going back to comps, which have taught me a lot over the years and I highly recommend for any pilot, or seek out what truly lights my mind up today: XC flying, preferably with a huge goal or in a new place where simple exploration makes me happy. I need equal measures of what I feel as meaning and uncertainty to truly get into flying; I love winning, but that doesn't pull as much as the thought of, "What's over that ridge over there?" Yeah! Paragliding is one fantastic sport with so many different possibilities, and a great community. If we could have a comp without the comp that would be great--fly with friends, come up with interesting goals and celebrate flight without having to mess about I'd be in.
Congratulations to Keith MacCullough, who defended his Canadian National Paragliding Champion title successfully. Keith has gone from a talented pilot who would generally do random things in about half the tasks to a focused competitor. He wants results in comps, and has matured enough to get 'em. Well done.