I just finished competing in the Canadian Paragliding Nationals. Some of you who know my history with paragliding competitions might be laughing, as I've said repeatedly that I'm retired from that scene. But the Canadian Nationals are different; mellower, more fun, and less gaggle flying. I went to the meet with a relaxed attitude and a commitment to leave the comp and chase distance records if the day presented itself, but ended up doing the whole comp and learning a few things. Here a few observations from the week relating to both paragliding and life:
1. We often need less stuff than we think we do. I'm used to flying with a fairly high-end Flytec flight computer that does all kinds of stuff, but I launched on the first day and the vario and altitude functions totally failed. That means I had no "Beep beep" to tell me when I was in lift and when I wasn't. Initially I kinda freaked out and pounded on the instrument etc., but it still wouldn't beep, and I was sinking lower and lower as I worried about not having the reassuring "beep beep" to indicate lift. I sunk well below launch and almost to the ground before thinking, "OK, no electronics, what can you do without electronics?" I fly occasionally without a vario, but not in a national-level competition, in my mind that was like not having chalk or something in a climbing comp. But, as I sunk lower and lower in a sort of mental paralysis, I remember a story about my bud Chris Muller flying huge tasks in a paragliding world cup without a vario. That made me smile; Chris is always in my thoughts when I'm in Golden, and the image inspired me to focus not on what I was missing but what I still had: a decent glider, a lot of experience in the air, and a fun-looking day if I could figure out how to stay in the air and fly it!
I had to fight my way back into the air by listening to the glider, feeling the forces in the light lift, and tuning into what my body does naturally without listening for the beep beep. I would honestly never have thought it possible for me to fly an entire comp task without a vario, much less do OK. But, 110K later, I landed at the goal field in a good position. I'd rate that flight as one of the cooler experiences I've ever had, both for the silent 3 hours in the air, and because I was able to shut down the negative talk and just fly with what I had. I was ready to fly out and land at the start when I was sinking out, the transition to landing at goal three hours later was something I'm actually way more proud of than winning the title of Canadian Champion five days later (not dissing that, I'm always happy to do well, but that flight on day one was really cool for me).
I've sometimes forgotten "critical" gear on trips before, and yet we often still ended up succeeding somehow. Good gear is beautiful and I lust after it, but day one of the Canadian Paragliding Nationals was a good lesson for me in not letting what I don't have define my experience. What else in my life do I think is essential that really isn't? And I've ordered another Flytec vario, ha ha!
2. Trying to beat other people generally doesn't work out so well in any competition. This is hard to explain, but in every comp I've ever won I didn't think about the other people in the comp much if at all. I just did my thing as best I could, and the results showed some version of how we all did relative to each other. As soon as I start trying to beat other people in any comp I usually lose. In this comp there was a very good German (and hopefully soon Canadian!) pilot, Robert Hauser, on an Ozone R10.2 glider. This glider kicks ass, and because I wasn't really even planning to compete in the Nationals until just before going I was on an older glider that was a couple of generations behind the R10. Anyhow, the first few days I was able to hang with Robert, then I started pushing to beat him by flying low and fast. His skill and superior glider made that tactic just fail, as it always does, and I would repeatedly get stuck soaring some bump down low while Robert's glider flew over my head. He won the overall meet in the end and I was second, fair enough. I think, even with an inferior glider, I might have been able to pull a better result if I had of focused more on my own flying and less on getting in front of other pilots in the last two tasks. Focus on your own stuff first... And well done Robert, it was a pleasure!
3. Situational awareness is everything. I'm currently learning to fly airplanes while getting my private pilot license. This has been a dream of mine for a long time, and I'm lucky to have some time to get it done. Learning how to fly a plane has not been easy for me; a paraglider has three controls, you just fly it like you paddle a kayak. A plane as simple as the trainer 172s I'm learning to fly in have a huge quantity of dials and buttons, and eventually you have to know how to use them all. Each lesson a new control or maneuver is added, but only after you can show enough situational awareness to handle it. At first just pointing the plane in the right direction took everything I had, now I can use most of the controls and do most of the maneuvers required to fly (they let me go alone now, ha ha!). My situational awareness is growing every flight. In the Canadian Nationals I noticed my situational awareness shrink and expand depending on blood sugar, comfort level, emotional state, sleep level, etc. etc. As I think back over all the competitions and big efforts I've battled with the one common denominator in the "success" bracket is how aware I was in the situation I was battling in. If I had a high level of situational awareness I generally did well. Low level, poor result.
I often make an internal game of watching other people's level of situational awareness in different situations. A mother may be incredibly tuned into her kid, but totally unaware of what's happening around her as she drives. I do the same. In a paragliding competition I can watch pilots make the oddest decisions because they aren't thinking about the big picture around them. I do that too. If I had a switch that allowed me to get rid of extraneous thoughts and just work on my situational awareness I'd be a lot more successful in life I think. I haven't yet figured out to how to mentally train my mind to see the big picture or the appropriate picture in different situations, but I'm working on it in my usual ten steps forward 9.9 back. Mental training is way harder than physical training.
4. It's fun to do stuff with friends. I had a great time seeing many old friends at the Nationals, yeah!
I'll try to post some followup thoughts to all the excellent posts on Women and Fitness, thanks to everyone for those.