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This is the Wills Wing Team Pilots competition blog. Here you can keep up with the various members of our team as they progress through the competition season.
Author: Jeff O'Brien Created: 5/13/2009 2:45 PM
Jeff O'Brien revolutionized his life when he learned to hang glide in 1998. He dropped most other interests and promptly moved to Utah to fly full time. He's flown hang gliders on five continents and began competing in 2005. Jeff is probably most known for his wing mounted photography which can be seen in hang gliding publications and press worldwide.

Purposeful Goal...

Around Valentine's day I made some random resolutions. One of those included trying to run 500 miles in the year. I've never run much before. It seemed like an appropriate challenge.

My garage wall running journal.

One thing has led to another and I find myself around 700miles from where I started. Along the way I decided running a marathon might be feasible. I'm apprehensive and probably should have trained harder, but I'm willing to give it.

Ran 90km while I was in Arizona last week. My daily trip west...

The Denver Rock and Roll run is in two weeks. I'm trying to raise $1001 for First Descents, a non-profit providing outdoor adventure camps to young adults with cancer. My wife used to be affiliated with the organization and is a big proponent. I've got nearly $600 in contributions already.

Click here to donate:


I'm trying to raise enough to send a participant to camp for a week in the memory of Nick "Nickname" Raitt who passed on June 2, 2011. Lauri got to know Nickname when she participated in a week long kayaking camp. She found him to be a young man who was focused on his life, not his illness. The week was transformative for Lauri, and Nickname went on to become an avid kayaker, motivated fundraiser, and staff member at subsequent First Descents camps. Lauri and Nick kept in touch until his death.


First Descents programs empower participants to overcome their fears and rise to a challenge with support and enthusiasm. It is a fulfilling energizing experience in contrast to the isolation and dependency those living with cancer can experience. It provides lasting gratification.


Please click HERE and make a donation to help me reach my intended goal.

At the end of each morning's miles, the pool felt electrifying.

I've enjoyed the experience and personal challenge and would like some good to result.


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SCF 5.0 Day 7

Present: It's hard to come back down... I'm at work, attending to voice and e-mails, looking out on a crispy Colorado mountain morning. Aspens changing, 47 degrees. My present reality completely contrasts the experiences I had over the past 9 days. It's comfortable to be back home, but Santa Cruz daydreams linger...

Sky early morning on the last day. Photo by Jamie Sheldon.

Day 7 - Couldn't run early - I was sore top to bottom. Flying muscles, running muscles, blisters on my feet from the harness cram. Leisurely breakfast and normal preparation for the day. There were mid-level clouds encroaching.

Landing after the 30+ mile glide from 15,000ft. Photos by Jamie Sheldon

A 91km out and return task was called taking us away from the cloud development. Launch times were pushed back to let the day heat up a bit extra. As we moved our gear out to the paddock, strange looking mini-cells were dropping virga and subsequent mini-micro burst, downdraft cylinders. They were all over.

Weekend surprise from my biggest supporter. Photo by Jamie Sheldon.

Johnathan Dietch towed up just as the first mild front was arriving. He climbed up, then got tossed around to the ground. Johnny came down with the tug saying it was ROUGH.

Dustin took a quick tour in the tug with the same consensus. Little cells all around creating downdraft cylinders and unpredictability. We all waited for things to stabilize.

Sunscreen caked and exhausted from 5 hours and 15,000ft.

Two or three walls of dust hit us. We kept an eye on our gliders so they wouldn't blow away.

The cells kept cropping up, and we were loosing time. Things did clear a bit, but it soon became apparent we wouldn't have enough time in the afternoon to launch everyone and get a task in. The day was called, a gatorade cooler of ice water hit me from behind, I'd won the comp.

Post icy Gatorade cooler baptism.

Some pilots free flew, some had an hour or more of good soaring while the rest of us washed out gliders and packed up our gear. There was maybe a two to three hour window of soar-ability.

Washing the dust off... Photo by Jamie Sheldon.

People took in the evening socializing around the pool with drinks. It was nice to have a bit of time to get to know some better. We'd had such a busy week, there wasn't much time for socializing.

Packing up...

I motivated for a sunset run aided by a margarita buzz. Sheets of virga to the north turned to fire as the sun hit the horizon for an inspiring scene. No one was around as a couple of screamed salutations to the gods left my mouth.

Running to tie the plane down... Photo by Jamie Sheldon.

The awards dinner came next. The Cloudbase Foundation donated $6500 to two children's charities in the Casa Grande area. Really cool.

I found myself up in front of the crowd with exceptional company. Any one of half a dozen or more pilots could have won the meet. Santa Cruz has always been a great time. It provides a comp. environment unlike any other. We all stay @ the resort in communal fashion, we park our gliders outside in the grass, we tow out of the paddock next door. We have out and return tasks in excellent desert conditions most days. It's a special event not to be missed. HUGE thanks to the organizers and tow crew.

Three, two, one... Mitch, Dustin, me.

I failed to publicly thank Belinda Boulter, my exceptional driver. I'm comforted knowing no matter what situation I get myself into, she intuitively knows right where I am. She provides incredible support. Thanks!

WW has a proven winner in the T2C. The first day of the comp was my first flight on the glider. Out of the box, it's completely race ready. I took out the VG limiter and lowered all sprogs ONE turn from factory settings and could keep up with anyone in the field. The glider flew exceptionally from the first flight with no discernible turns. It's feather light and intuitive to position on 5 hour flights or thermalling in a pack.

Forrest Gump road...

The party carried on, and we packed for home. Got up and departed @ 3:30am the next morning with Alex and his wife Jo. Caught an old moon hanging in the east before a morning through Monument Valley. Pleasurable ride through the desert with great company. Dropped Alex and Jo in Grand Junction and curved through Glenwood Canyon on the home stretch. Was greeted with hugs and kisses from the family, kudos from the neighbors, and an indian summer evening as I unpacked the truck. Passed out @ 8pm. Head still in the clouds this morning.

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SCF 5.0 Day 6

Business as usual - run, pool, breakfast. They call a 78 mile box like task that will take us quite a way out into the mostly roadless desert, but we'll be in proximity of the mountains. It's forecasted to be a good day.

I'm a little skittish about the light conditions when launch opened yesterday, so I wait for half a dozen flexies to tow up before I launch myself. Light lift has us all congregating before the start.

We're not getting high and everyone is bunched up north of the resort. The start times begin ticking over and no one is interested in going. Probably 3/4 of the field is in one thermal. The switch never turns on. We're only topping out at 5500ft.

Dustin, lower right, and I going into orbit.

Everyone finally bails on the third start. It's slow, conservative going the first and second legs over the flats. Many are gaggled up just trying to survive.

As we near the desert, things do get better and I think we get near 8000ft. close to the sailplane port on the border of roadless land. Bunner sees a sailplane flying around inverted. We spot him flopping right side up and upside down. Apparently there's a hot US aero sailplane pilot based out of Estrella.

The view of the big range from 14,000ft.

There are clouds @ 16 or 17,000ft. over the big mountain range and Dustin sees a wispy developing over the south end close to us. He heads for the big ridge and I join him.

We're rewarded with 800fpm up, and up, and up. Around 10,000ft. I realize we're going to get high and cold. Suddenly I hear Dustin on the radio, "HEY, Look, Look, the fighters to the west!" There are two fighter planes making contrails as they dump copious amounts of fuel diving out of the sky. They're heading RIGHT for our gaggle.

The view from where we came. Agriculture turning to desert.

I watch them approach, still dumping fuel and try to figure out if anyone will get hit. They pass directly underneath me between the group that is high and the group that is low in the thermal. It's unbelievable no one gets hit and I'm sure they didn't see us blazing along at 400mph.

We top out at 14,200ft. still going up, but I'm getting pretty cold and decide to head out. I head straight for the turnpoint 20+km in the distance over the valley. I get a good glide while Dustin runs the range and gets to 15,500ft. He's behind a few km now, but I'm thinking he's got position on me.

The area out by the turnpoint looks really desolate and I'm glad everyone is high enough to make it out and back to civilization.

Toward the far turnpoint...

Mitch and I take a long glide right back to the south end of the big range where we'd climbed before. The cloud is still there and we pull into good lift at around 10k. We enjoy smooth lift right up to 15,000ft. before pulling out and heading on course. I've got 12.2 to 1 to goal. It's over 30 miles away and around one more turnpoint.

It's amazing to me we can tow out of 100 degree oppressive heat and rise almost three miles above the ground until we're freezing. I can feel my heart beating hard in my harness and a couple of people sound like they've got a touch of hypoxia on the radio. My hands turn wooden around the basetube and soon I've got full body shakes vibrating through the control frame into the wing. Who gives a sh*t though. We're in orbit and might have glide from 30 miles out.

looking SE toward home. Twenty miles to a turnpoint, then 10+ miles home.

My numbers stay the same for 30 minutes. As I round the turnpoint, I can hear those on the radio behind me starting to struggle. They hadn't gotten as high in the last climb. I'm just gliding, and gliding, and gliding not hitting a blip of lift with a 12 to 1 still.

Finally about 8km from goal, I hit buoyant hot air which carries me along. Numbers start getting better but I still fly conservatively. After the dramatic flight, I don't want to hit sink and land short.

I burble in with just enough altitude to have a dive at the roof of the hotel where 10 spectators are congregated. Turn around and land... Unbelievable final. For many including me, it's one of the longest glides they've ever had.

Airtime: 4:50. Flights: 1. MIles: 78.

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SCF 5.0 Day 5

Contented after a great day of being social and racing your mates.

I woke tired, took the run, swim and breakfast. Things are getting wonderfully routine.

Set up my glider, they called a 73 mile triangle, and we went out to the paddock.

Waited suited up on the heat for a bit longer, the rigids weren't getting that much lift. Despite the weather forecast, we'd have to wait for the switch to be flipped. It took 15 minutes.

Pass on the run everyday...

I looked at my frayed weak link just prior to launching. It'll be fine... It popped @ 80ft. behind Russell. Turned into the quartering tail, cleared the bushes, landed. Mike Detgoff was there in an instant with a dolly and I walked back to the launch line. Appreciative of the help.

Got into the sky again and hung out for over an hour staging. We weren't in position for the first start and others were higher nearby. Got higher for the second start and hit GOOD lift to 10,000ft. 3.5km outside the circle. Dustin saw Bostik go back for the third clock and asked if we should follow. All the usual suspects were taking the second and I thought 7km was too much distance to risk. We pressed on.

The 30km glide to the first turnpoint was lift free and things slowed down a bit. Took our time in light lift near the turnpoint. Everyone was being social. Bostik hit a great line and caught back up. Great move in hindsight.

After the turn we drifted into the desert where things should be better. Soon we'd link up with the big mountain range.

pool side...

Sure enough, there was 500fpm over the low hills on the way to the range. We took it and scooted over the range to the second turn.

The dive into the second turn was wasted time and effort because we ran back to the big peak and spent a long time drifting and climbing back toward the turnpoint. Those out in the flats were struggling so the best move seemed to get as high as possible on the mountains before leaving.

I got to 9500ft. and left with three following. Dustin mentioned the climb turned back on and they stayed to just over 10k. Kept an eye on those out in front who were lower.

The lift in the flats ended up being decent, better than previous days. The moyes crew were pushing the situation leaving lift to push out. We gave chase.

A couple of climbs brought us to the black mountains 10miles out. Hit expected lift just downwind of the range to a 9.5 to 1 to goal. There was a headwind and I personally didn't want to flirt with a flat final. Dustin pulled up right off my wing, got on the radio and uttered, "Well... isn't this cozy?"

There were a handful of others just out front and speeds increased until we were holding 70mph+ the last 5 miles. Dustin took it to the deck, I held back just a bit. Six to eight pilots arrived within a minute of each other. Smiles all around. A great racing day.

Bostik's move won the day. He was understandably stoked.

Airtime: 4:20. Flights: 2. Miles: 73.

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SCF 5.0 Day 4

I already read Davis's account HERE but my perception of the day was a bit different.

Sure, we could have and probably should have gone to the north and west and things would have been better task wise, but I think we would have been returning to the hotel regardless of the task, and I think the gust front would have influenced negatively regardless.

Most of the gust front...

Jockeying before the start was a bit congested. There was decent lift before time ticked over and many of us got a reasonable start together. It felt more racy and social. A couple dozen pilots together rather than a few.

We hit a solid climb before the black hills and then a boomer over them rocketing up over 10,000ft. Finally strong, racy conditions if even only for two or three thermals.

There was a lot of talk on the radio about if conditions were safe. I never felt they were unsafe. We had a close eye on all gust fronts, dust walls, etc., and we could always run to the NE if things encroached faster. It was mostly slow moving, it seemed predictable and benign. We could see dust from tractors working fields toward the storm and the dust wasn't showing much wind.

Fair skies to the NE.

I was running well in contact with half a dozen pilots. Barker, Dustin, and I had a calm glide flanking each other. There was time for subtle body language indicating we were having some fun.

I was running for the big mountains left of course still kind of in the sun. I was sure they would be working. Belinda got on the radio and mentioned the task had been stopped. I was bummed. We were never in danger. I signaled to Barker the task was called and everyone turned around. We thought about trying to fly back to the resort, but the gust front was closer from where we came.

A few of us decided to land on the grass at the Eloy Airport. It's a HUGE drop zone. We were half way broken down when the mild gust front hit. There were two more "waves" of gust front to come, the last one violent. In the end, it was probably good the day was called, but it didn't have to be called so early. We had time. It would have been cool to get some score today. Can't be a HG meet without a wee bit of controversy. :)

Robin Hamilton / Ominous Backdrop.

Had a nice lunch at the airport bar and hung out @ the resort, flew the r/c plane off the roof and took in a nice sunset. Good day. Laughs this evening. Hope tomorrow brings improved conditions. I'd like to rage a day or two.

Airtime: 2:45. Flights: 1. Miles: 25.

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SCF 5.0 Day 3

I get up early, run then plunge and I'm having breakfast with coffee on the balcony by 8am. Do an hour of work then head up on the rooftop where Alex is flying his remote control airplane.

One of the reasons I like Alex is because he's focused on fun. We've started a water balloon dropping trend off the balconies at the tower. Nothing too malicious. He's got the remote control airplane, remote control cars, a rubber bat (the winged kind with fangs), a shoe box of contraband, etc, etc. It was great fun watching him do "carrier landings" on top of the roof before the pilot's meeting.

They call an out and return to the west, 60 miles with four turnpoints. Times are moved back 30 minutes from previous days. Cylinders and start clocks are all the same.

Our desert oasis. Pool side toward the tower.

I've got priority at the front of the line, but I'm still keen to get out of the heat, so I'm the first flex wing off the ground behind the rigids. The day has already turned on, and I happily boat around above the paddock in the cool breeze. I hear Dustin on the radio. He gets the rope accidentally at 400ft. He drops it on the runway and works hard to low save from 200ft.

The launch gets mired, and I learn later people had a hard time getting up and out. Many weak link breaks, many re-lights, etc. It's a bummer. I know the crew and tugs are working as hard as they can.

We're higher today, but there's still significant traffic, so I stay mostly away from the congestion. No need to eek out a few hundred feet with a lot of time to waste. Dustin mentions he's got a climb to the north alone, and I head for him.

I'm not sure if the decision is going to pay off, but patience yields a slow climb to over 8000ft. just as the first start time is about to tick over. Dustin, Davis, Mitch, Glen, and Alex McCulloch are all there. We've got a great group and excellent position. We take the first clock.

T2C's are running and looking HOT.

It's a LONG glide toward the rigids who are climbing slowly. We hook a reasonable climb with Davis lower and work it. Alex presses a bit too hard and lands. Moving on, it's disorganized light lift until we hit a solid one before the second turnpoint. This gets Dustin and I back in the game and puts space between us and the rest of the field. We're chasing down the rigids out in front.

We keep up with the Steve in the Millennium for quite a while as we head out over the hills / mountains into the desert. It's mostly disorganized lift again and Dustin heads for the far turnpoint before I do. As he rounds the turn, he's 2 miles ahead, but quite a bit lower. I fly fast through sink thinking I'll get something on the way back.

G R I D L O C K... Little pink houses for you and me...

There's nothing substantial to be found, so I slow up and get patience knowing Dustin is out ahead, lower, and not finding anything either. Pilots are still heading toward the far turnpoint and most are struggling to get high.

As I make my way toward Dustin when my climb evaporates, he sees Charlie north of course going up well. We happily take 600fpm to 8400ft. and a 14 to 1 to goal 30km away. We've got a light tailwind and we're thinking our chances are good to make it in. Our glides are identical for 15km above the inversion. We shade north over the desert and avoid the green, agricultural ground. Still no lift.

On our way up and over the range into the desert...

Dustin's line degrades, and I point it for goal. I've got 13.5 to 1 with him a few hundred lower. It's looking uncomfortably close. We need a bit to make it in with any cushion. We both hit a bubble 3km out. Dustin's is better and it takes me 30 seconds or so to get to him. He rises a couple hundred feet and burbles in. I take an extra turn or two and burble in a minute behind.

Beneath my belly looking east...

Glen scoots across the line 5 minutes behind the two of us and there's a gap before a handful more make it before the evening wanes. Apparently conditions shut down for many.

I was appreciative to team fly with Dustin and had a lot of fun.

Airtime: 4:00. Flights: 1. Miles 60.

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The sign that was plastered last year is gone... Utah DOT has put up a new "canvas" to decorate. See below:

SCF 5.0 Day 2

Woke @ 7am and went straight for a run. Hard to motivate, then the miles meditated away. I found myself pool side staring at blue electric light waves contemplating the plunge. (I'll take a photo tomorrow) The morning swim post run has been therapeutic.

Flytec USA and Steve Kroop came through with a vario to borrow, and I spent time customizing settings. Flytec has the market cornered, but Steve serves customers as if he exists in a highly competitive environment. His service is always lightning fast and thorough.

They called a very similar task to yesterday, adjusting us over more desert, more mountains, and less agriculture. The green ground suppresses lift. It was sweltering on the ground out at the paddock and I spent just enough time out there to suit up and get in line. I was the first flexie to tow up after the rigids and got Johnny Thompson on the trike to pull me up. It was a slow ride, but he can fly the hell out of anything.

Spent over an hour fighting traffic for meager altitude gains. The daisy chain demeanor with light lift and lots of wing wakes was an unpleasant equation.

As pilots started heading out on course, four or five of us gathered just outside the start circle as the lift was getting better. The second start ticked over, and no one seemed interested in going. Dustin was still struggling @ the hotel, so we waited to hook up for the third. I'd been in the air for an hour and forty when we took the start and headed for the hills.

I shaded over the mountains while Dustin and Davis went around them to the south. My line was better and I kept an eye on Robin Hamilton as we pressed on. We had a really long glide to nearly the first turnpoint when things slowed down.

Davis hit a ripper behind us and jumped ahead at the first turn while a lot of us groveled lower. It was slow, conservative going between the first and second turnpoints. Davis and others would land, while the rest of us shifted into survival mode. The second turnpoint was positioned so we'd have an opportunity to get on the big mountain range.

I finally got high enough to slide into the range and could see three unknown pilots reasonably high in front of us. Dustin and I hooked up as we scooted along the impressive chunky cliff faces watching birds dive and soar the cliffs. There must be a bullet of a thermal nearby...

The mountain range we toured.

Dustin found it first and boosted off the cliffs. I muttered, "That a boy" on the radio and tucked in underneath him. We went tip to tip then side by side and egg beater style riding the solar radiant rocket into orbit. Topped out somewhere over 9000ft. and went hunting for the three I'd seen earlier.

Soon enough, we saw them, Hazlett, Coomber, and Bostik. We were catching them, but they were always higher. We were out over the flats again, time to downshift and be patient. Our numbers incrementally got better toward goal, there were light thermals regularly spaced.

I hit a nice punch 20km from goal and took a conservative 8 to 1. I'd fly reasonably fast, but need most all of it to comfortably make it in. Dustin evaporated from my sight, got a few hundred feet on me and shadowed me to goal until he had a cushion to pull in and dust me by 30 seconds.

Hazlett edged out Bostik, then Coomber, then Dustin and me. There was a long gap, and gliders came raining out of the sky. Many more happy faces at the resort this evening. A challenging day.

Airtime: 4:00. Flights: 1. Miles: 60

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SCF 5.0 Day 1

A 70 mile triangle is called. Winds are supposed to be light, and we're supposed to get to 9000ft. maybe higher near the mountains. (ground is 1300ft. here)

The view on our balcony.

Launch opens at noon and it's HOT as I carry my glider to the flight line. Soaked after the 5 minute hike. There are 5 start times starting at 1:15pm. A tug is down and they're concerned about getting everyone off the ground quickly.

I'm third in the air and after I pin off, I take a big sigh. AHHH... It feels like home up here. It's my first flight on the psychedelic sky queen and I need to take her for a circular stroll before we get to it. She's delicious to hold.

I'm by myself and I spend 35 minutes sightseeing as I climb almost a mile and a half above the ground. I've got plenty of time before the start, and it's nice and cool so I float around.

I begin to stage for the second or third start, and the audio on my vario quits. I fiddle with it, then turn it off and on, and nothing. Just the wind. My head space turns instantly bad. How am I supposed to discern any nuance or variation of lift? I never look at my instant reading and I've got 20 seconds on the averager. I decide I'm going to have to look at the vario and other pilots A LOT to gauge my performance.

Proper digs...

I take the third start and fly with a total lack of confidence. I follow people around, not wanting to get out on my own and land because I can't discern the light lift we're in. Conditions are soft anyway, so being social isn't a detriment.

As we near the first turnpoint, I'm getting the hang of watching my instrument and trying to feel the sky. A good gaggle is forming and we're moving along. Everyone is a bit wary as it's been light the entire first leg.

The resort from a mile up... Can you spot the launch paddock?

On the 20km to the second turnpoint, when many turn for a climb in the valley, I press on toward the mountains. Suddenly I'm alone and I'm not finding anything. I think I've just made the mistake of the day. I eventually catch up with Davis who's been out front all day with Glen as we get low by the second turn.

I drift into the hills, 100ft. off the mountainside peppered with Saguaro cactus. It's bleak. Dustin comes in above me. I work breaths and bubbles of hot air as they pop off the rocks. Nothing coherent for a while, then the wicking comes together and gets better as we ascend. It takes us a long time, but Davis and I get to 8400ft. over the peaks with Mitch Shipley. Dustin just missed the bubble we found and is still plastered to the hillside.

Closeup of launch paddock.

It's slow going and we see a lot of others groveling after the second turn. We stop for 100fpm a couple of times. Winds aloft are very light, but our numbers are getting better with patience. I'm getting used to watching the vario, but I still feel I'm not flying as sensitively as I could.

Davis and MItch are a great help as we spread out to find the best lift. I shade toward the black mountains 10 miles from goal and we find 300fpm to get us within 12 to 1 to goal.

The grid to the organic... Looking SW from the resort... Not far from Mexico.

Numbers get better and it's a nice glide in. Davis arrives less than a minute behind.

James Stinnett got a ripper by the second turnpoint that put him out in front to goal. I was second followed by Davis, Shipley, Dustin, and Robin Hamilton. Seven total would make it in.

Great day in the sky.

Airtime: 4:45. Flights: 1. Miles: 70.

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Davide Guiducci over the Dolomites last week. Remember that photo of GW meadows over the Pali coast 20 years ago? The modern version... Exceptional shot.

Waves in Fluid

Air is an exploitable fluid just like water:

Steve Fossett without a motor in a space suit over 50k:

Took 13 months to find a piece of him - fitting demise - let the birds pick you apart:

RC pilots can use dynamic soaring to accelerate their gliders to over 400mph.

The Doppler effect sounds like a bullet.

Mid-century Modern? -

Haven't read it yet...

Powerful cells have been rolling through the last couple Colorado evenings. Pouring rain blasted out the back side, followed by rainbows, and heavy lightening over the peaks at dusk.

Fringe Scientist Alex Morillo is crafting the above. I hope he doesn't mind me sharing. Says they fly great.

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Day 7

We head an hour away to Mt. Subazio above Assisi. Completely open meadow atop the mountain. They call an 87km basket weaving task across the valley with four turnpoints. Our launch line is a sh*t show with total lack of procedure. I pack into the order-less pile and call a push. No reason we shouldn't be piling off the hill. A minute after launch as I'm happily climbing out, my instrument bricks up and the vario is one tone wailing at me. I wonder how long I can put up with the incessant scream. After a minute of chatting on the radio, Zippy tells me it's permissible to land and re-launch without scoring penalty. I dive through lift, and land on top.

"Dam, you Americans are pimp! Where can I get a bit of that action?"

I take the batteries out of my 6030 and reset the instrument without volume this time. My gecko is working and I've got the route in it. Fabian loans me his vario with simple GPS with no waypoints. Now I've got to get my glider over two barbed wire fences back to the downslope where I can launch. This is where my savior Catherine comes in (from Germany) Catherine is stout, and starts ripping fence posts out in quick order. I hear cracking timber as she reefs the last out and lays the fence flat for me to walk over. Sweet! Repeat on the other side of the road and I'm back on proper launching ground. Thanks to Jamie, Bob, Sue, Belinda, Fabian, Catherine, and a couple of other bros I didn't get the name of for helping me sort out the crisis.

I launch again and my primary instrument freezes instantly - bummer. I'm figuring out the sounds of Fabian's vario as I climb out, totally out of phase - brain scattered. I've missed the first start and sort out my other instruments. I ask the boys on the radio for some information and eventually burble across the start line 7 minutes after the second start. I'm alone and going seemingly very slow against the stiff head wind across the valley. Our first turnpoint is 32km away.

My gecko gives me a low battery signal. FU*K! I turn on Fabian's GPS, but it's in french. I try and get it to a main page and let the gecko die. I have no idea if I can piece together two track logs, but I'm still into attempting the task. Eventually I see other pilots are going better pinned up against the mountain range, and slide downwind to the higher terrain. It's slow going, but eventually I catch up with Zippy and Shapiro as we near the turnpoint. I'm heartened to catch up to my bros, and I'm just hoping I've got a viable track log. As I get within 1km of the turnpoint (which was a hillside castle), I turn on the gecko and count to 15seconds out loud to make sure I drop a track point inside the cylinder.

I'm trailing Zippy and Jeff by a minute and we all get LOW on foothills going back the way we came. It takes some effort to dig out on the low terrain and many pilots land in this area. I eventually hook a climb that develops and I'm whisked over the peaks again. Zippy and I run 30km back toward launch with Shapiro just ahead. As I near the next turnpoint, I turn my gecko on again and work to modify the route so it will tell me proximity to the turnpoint. In the process of punching buttons, the gecko shifts and flies free of it's mount. There's a split second of situation recognition as it drops past my reach. "Nooooo! NOOOOOOO!" is all I can say. I've now lost my back up track log.

I have no idea where the third turnpoint is and I have no idea how to operate the french GPS. I hook up with Shapiro and fly around aimlessly. After a time, I realize if I land out, I won't be able to communicate my location to my driver without a viable GPS. I head for goal. At least I can get a ride there.

After trying to download the french GPS and bricked 6030, it's apparent nothing recorded a log. On the down side, I've let down the team with my minimal score. On the up side, I dealt with adversity and still pulled off a good fly. In this game, there's so much to coordinate. Instruments, retrieve, radio, gear, etc. Gliders have to operate flawlessly in every way all the time. You have to launch, fly, and land safely in sporty conditions. That's what makes the game so engrossing.

Update - Apparently my french GPS DID have a track log. A few conversations have transpired and I will get scored based on how the rules apply to GAP2002

Davis and Belinda pick me up and we head to dinner in historic Spello. They choose a refined locale and we have a savory meal. Home around 11, chat about the day, and drift after midnight.

Spello alleyway...

Day 8

Woke tired to rain outside. Sigh. Headed in to HQ, indulged in a massage and some lasagna bianca for lunch. Took a 10k run in the heat of the day and met Birget from Germany on the road for the third time. She and I plunged in the pool after arriving over heated at home and chatted about skull collecting. She's an interesting bird.

It looked flyable, and Derreck, Jeff and I threw on the german van for a ride up the hill. Set up in a hurry and launched into a group of nearly 20 gliders. It was fun to get our strafe on for a few. After about 20 minutes, I decided to head west down range and promptly got flushed behind a spine. Discerned the wind in the valley had quickly shifted 45 degrees and was now parallel to the range. Got bounced around in heavy sink until I cleared the range and found buttery conditions in the valley. Worked light lift at full VG taking in the sunset scene. Counted 9 mountain ranges silhouetted by the sun to the western horizon. Long shadows cast by the trees across the rolling golden crop quilt below. Idyllic.

Chick preparation...

Stayed up until the sun got low and had a successfully succinct landing next to our compound. Popped prosecco and had a slack line while everyone finished breaking down in the garden. Headed in for dinner @ Pizza on the Piazza, toured party venues around 11, and headed home when we found nothing swinging. Learned of Amy Winehouse's death before bedding down. Bummer.

Trip Flights: 6. Airtime: 7:00. Task km: 120.

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