The Panoche checkout this year was an amazing experience for me. Even though the soaring was terrible, I met new people, learned a whole lot, and enjoyed some amazing scenery along the way.

The day started out quite peacefully. I was the first one at the airport, determined to get the covers off 5KM, fill the tail ballast, and get the preflight done. Not long after I arrived though, Aki and Dan showed up.

My mentor was Jeff G. I had met him just the previous weekend at Hollister as he was giving some rides. Honestly, I was a bit nervous as I had no idea who he was when he signed up to mentor me, so I was very relieved to get to know him and find out that he's a relaxed, calm, and reassuring person: just want you want in a mentor! He helped me finish the preflight, and we went inside for Jonathan's briefing.

Jonathan gave us a heads up about how the tow would go, some of the landmarks to watch for, and what to expect as we landed at Panoche. He made sure we understood which portion of the runway to land on, what obstacles there were, and to stay on center with wings level! I was quite nervous about doing all of this right, and I hoped I wouldn't scare Jeff too much...But, soon thereafter, we were off!

I did it! I was a little disappointed there was nothing at EL-1, but was totally overjoyed to hear Jeff say that I "smoked" the landing. I have a tendency to overthink the landing if I'm out of practice or at a new field, so I took a new approach to this one: just be normal! I mean enter the pattern just like at Hollister at 1000 AGL, keep the speed constant, fly the angles, and just ease it down on centerline. The only thing different from Hollister was to notice the soft dirt at the beginning of the strip and change the aim point just past it. It worked!

As you see in the video, we met the caretaker, Al, pretty much immediately after we landed. He walked out towards us and was very kind and happy to chat with us. He's quite a unique character, and kept us entertained until we heard the distant roar of the tow plane again.

Jonathan, of course, made a beautiful landing and pulled off in the first "turn off." We saw Aki and Dan not far behind, and watched as they touched down and rolled out.

Everyone brought out their sandwiches and had a quick lunch, with Al making another appearance to meet the new pilots.

I asked lots of questions about where the good lift is likely to be found. Jonathan was happy to point our EL-1...

...and EL-2 as well as he could. He was saying "it's the next ridge past this one."

As we sat in the shade of 5KM's wings finishing lunch, we saw two Cessnas circle. We quickly pushed 1CH the rest of the way down the runway and they landed. They had come from Watsonville and were up for some burgers at the Panoche Inn. That makes me excited for the food at the Gliderpalooza!

We did a couple more pattern tows each, but I had to get a panorama of the landscape before we headed back. It was beautiful with the green grass in the foreground and the mountains in the distance.

My GoPro gave up on the return, so I don't have any footage, but it was just as nice coming back. Jeff pointed out the various landmarks from the opposite angle. I was quite surprised how different everything looked, and really glad he was there to show me how to find everything. We found the convergence line that day just at the south end of the Quien Sabe valley. I circled back a couple of times to see if I could find any decent amount of lift, and it was perhaps barely positive, but it was time to get back to Hollister, and we continued on. We spent the last 15 minutes just going back and forth near the east hills purely enjoying the scenery.

On the drive back home, I kept thinking about the day's flights and what I learned. It's something I won't forget. Thanks so much to everyone who made this possible!