A Gift

Photo: cloud-base at 8000 feet msl, June 2, 2019

The soaring forecast was marginal, the day…exceptional.

My favorite gifts are unexpected. Though receiving such a gift can be uncomfortable. Yesterday’s paragliding flight was unexpected, at times uncomfortable, but most certainly, a gift.

The sky was hazy, tainted by smoke from Canadian wildfires in Manitoba. The soaring forecast called for weak lift, low cloud-base, and strong winds above 6000 feet; not a great recipe for a long cross country flight.

That being said, after an hour in the air, I was 25 miles from launch, circling in a thermal climbing at 750 feet per minute and on my way to cloud-base at 8000 feet; so much for the forecast.

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Photo: 8000 feet msl above Gaylord, Minnesota, June 2, 2019

With the plains of Western Minnesota far below me and white clouds just above me, I was suspended in space. Serenity unfortunately, was elusive. I was uncomfortable. Somewhere above the clouds the winds were coming out of the north at 40 miles per hour. Under the cloud, I was flying with winds out of the north west at 18 miles per hours. This creates shear, which in turn creates turbulence. As you climbed to cloud-base, the sporty air was everywhere. There was no escape except to exit the thermal. My glider pitched, rolled and yawed. It took all of my years of experience to stay centered under my wing. For the first time in years I found myself wishing to be on the ground.

Fortunately, the air softened a bit and I continued flying with the wind at my back. On glide between thermals, I hit speeds up to 49 mph. As forecast, the haze shut down the thermals around 4 pm. I touched down in a beautiful restored prairie field outside of La Sueur, Minnesota. In two hours and seven minutes, I flew a straight line distance of 54.05 miles for a personal best cross country average speed of 25.53 mph, on a “B” rated glider.

There is only one thing better than getting an unexpected gift: giving one.

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