Thursday, February 07, 2008

Travel, comps, good old gear

To those of you who have been giving me alternate loads of grief and writing inspiration, thanks. It's been a mad four weeks:

Ouray Ice Festival:

As always, incredibly fun, the social event of the year. Didn't compete due to a ripped stomach muscle, which was hard not to do, sure looked fun. Congrats to Jeff and Ines and everyone who pulled to the limit!

Monarca and Pre-Worlds Paragliding comps in Mex:

Tons of fun, 40+ hours of flying. I somehow managed to break the tip off my clavicle before the comps even started, but flew anyhow, a little pain focuses the mind. Or not. Thanks to the Arctic house for the good times. For anyone who hasn't flown in Valle De Bravo, go. It's stellar. Hopefully the local politics will be resolved soon, and be sure to join the local club if you visit.

I did learn a few more things about my own head in the two comps, mainly that I'm not interested in competing in paragliding comps with a 150 other pilots. I don't like flying so close to other people for hours, so I often just headed off on my own. I do not make a good herd animal, and PG comps require herd flying to win. I've won some comps, but those are generally comps where I just do what I feel like doing and the choices end up being correct enough to win. At a big comp with many high-level pilots and difficult conditions you need the herd. On the last day of the comp about 100 of us were climbing in a total cluster just after the start when I looked downwind on the course line and thought I could make the transition to the next bump. I KNEW that going was a bad idea from a comp perspective, but there was nobody on the bump... I did eventually get up there, but I should have waited and climbed with the herd to make it happen--if I were flying alone that's what I would have done (get higher), but I wanted out of the gaggle... When you're making bad decisions in a comp just to move away from the gaggle then you're not competing to win or do your very best. If you're not competing to win (or eventually win) then competition is meaningless, and in my opinion you're just taking up space. One day we had cloudbase at around 18,000 feet over a local volcano; I kept looking at that as I was flying back and forth along the course and thinking, "Why am I not there?" Flying up there might have been risky, but flying directly over a huge volcano would have been cool... I also find myself making poor decisions from a safety perspective during high-end comps; I went for one of the worst rotor rides of my life going to goal one day, just so I could beat a few pilots in. After the ride I still had the altitude to make goal, but that would have meant flying downwind at 80+K less than 100M over the ground. I landed rather than chance that. You have to have that, "WIN!" desire to pull moves like that (or be totally unaware), I don't think winning another comp is worth that sort of risk. I'll take big risks for what I believe is a big reward, but I'm not seeing winning comps as being worth the risks I (and that's just me, not everyone has the same attitude obviously) sometimes will take. A man's gotta know his limitations as someone once said.

Competition is the acid test for pilot skills and I like that and fully respect it, but part of that skill set is flying in big gaggles for hours. I've come to the realization that while I can do that, it's not why I fly a paraglider. I only get so much time every year to fly, and for me pushing the limits of the sport in more remote places is now a higher priority. Yeah! Sometimes in sports I realize what's actually important to me about the sport, and adjust how I approach it as a result. It always feels good, even if it's not an easy thing to admit at the time.

Good Gear:

Yesterday I took the kidlet and went on a savage aerobic burn session at the local Nordic centre. She loves riding in the backpack, and an extra 25 plus pounds on my back just adds to the load. At one point I looked down and noticed that my old "classic" skis were the same onces I used to race on in high school, so that makes them 20+ years old. They are Fischer SCS skis, red and white, with almost as ancient "race" bindings on them. That started me thinking between hills (can't think up the hills) about good gear I have that's really old and that I still use. There isn't much of it, but what I do have is kinda cool to me:

The Fischer SCS skis. I've used them for big backcountry tours in -25, raced on them, trained on them, and still going.

My Jrat neck gaiter. At least 20 years old, still works. It's flown over the Grand Canyon, climbed hundreds if not thousands of ice routes, and just done me right. Ugly enough that nobody wants to steal it. Jrat was an era.

A #9 Hex. Also 20+ years old, beat to shit, still hanging on the wall and occasionally gets an outing.

A cave bag: It was old when I bought it, and is 20 years older now. Some piece of junk US Army surplus, but still works, and gets out once a year or so.

I can't think of much else that I have that's 20 or more years old and still in semi-regular use (OK, my body, but that doesn't really count as I can't buy a new one); I've saved a few bits just to save them, but this is just the gear I truly still use. I keep thinking I'll get a new pair of nordic "classic" skis, but those skis still work just fine. I have the sweetest new backcountry setup going, but part of the cool thing here is that old nordic gear is still functional. And that's cool.

What else do other people have that's 20 years old or older and still going out into the hills regularly?