Air Sailing's XC Camp was a blast this year! I met many new people, saw familiar faces from last year’s Thermal Camp, and learned lots from the presenters and lead pilots. Although the snow just a few hundred feet above our heads the first night kept us grounded, the weather steadily improved throughout the week, culminating in my first solo XC from ASI to Truckee on the last day.
I'd tried several days to hit 50 km in one way or another to get my silver badge distance, but low boundary layers really prevented much more than local flying for a novice like me. Since this was the last chance and I had to get the ship to Truckee in one way or another, you better believe that 9JH was preflighted and ready to go at 10 am! After not-so-subtly hinting to my mentor, Christian Ilmi, that I wanted to launch early, I queued up as a few short-lived Cu started popping up, and 1CH (Ben Hirashima) and VN (Christian) staged right behind me.
The first part of the flight was...a learning experience. Like the rest of the week, the winds were out of the west at about 15 kt, which cuts the glide ratio in 9JH down to around 25-30, and I was topping out around 10,500 ft. Still, I made a decision to try a jump from north of the Dogskins to Peterson Ridge in the blue. I didn't find a single thermal on the way, and I let my arrival altitude at Stead slip a couple hundred feet below pattern. I couldn't see any really good options below me, and that made me pretty anxious. H Bar H was there at least, but I wasn't enthused to be in that situation. I did make it to Stead at a normal altitude and found enough of a thermal to get me back to ASI safe, but deflated, after going in a 2.5 hour circle.
I made it back with enough altitude to try the red rocks for a minute or two, so I did. Just over the usual spot I felt a sharp kick in the pants, and there was suddenly a 7 kt thermal throwing me back into the sky! Maybe I wasn’t quite through just yet. Reinvigorated, I started to assess my options. The Cu near Tule had developed flat dark bottoms, but the day was wearing on. Now was the time to strike. I had enough sense to turn on the GoPro, and the video below picks up here.
Heading to Tule, I heard people between Tule and 7990 reporting wave. I thought: if I could sneak over the tops of those clouds, maybe I’d find the good stuff. Hard as I tried, I didn’t climb over the clouds. I tried pushing windward anyway hoping to find something. I did! It was weak but gave me enough of a breather to eat a Clif bar, relieve myself without need for a third hand, and gather my thoughts for the push forward.
It was already 4 pm. The forecast said things were supposed to be calming down, so I didn’t spend much time exploring the wave. Instead I pushed onward towards Nervino again, this time crossing Peterson Ridge comfortably far from the ground. I pushed over Adam’s Peak into the Sierra Valley under a few Cu in glide of Nervino. I’d managed to catch up to Christian, although we never visually spotted each other.
Instead of pushing too far into the valley, I stuck close to the high terrain moving south, hoping to catch a thermal and pick up Sierraville. That thinking was too wishful. Pretty soon I was too far south for Nervino with few good options...deja vu. I’d gotten down to just over 8,000 ft, with my best option being a large light-green circular field near Loyalton, which I learned in camp is most likely to be recently-clipped alfalfa: at least safe. I had plenty of altitude for the field, but I was getting to be only 800 ft. off the hills below with no airport in glide, so I turned toward it resigned.
Headed towards the field, I saw a wide canyon to my east. Although I was right over it minutes ago, its shape seemed suddenly conspicuous from my new vantage point. It was opening into the West wind and funneling upward to the East. As my eyes scanned towards the far peak, I saw a small Cu. This was it! It was this or the ordeal of a ground retrieve. I flew immediately into the canyon towards the Cu, and felt that welcoming upward acceleration of a long-overdue thermal! I managed to center 5 kt worth of lift and get myself in glide of Sierraville.
After getting a bit closer to Sierraville, I pointed the nose at Truckee, determined this time to reverse course should my arrival altitude at Sierraville slip. I saw an east-west cloud street ahead that was a bit sickly but was the only obvious sign of potential lift between me and my goal. I passed underneath; I caught the thermal. I hit 10,000 ft on the second turn, and the glide amoeba crept South. On the third turn, the amoeba crept across the field. A few turns later, Truckee was in comfortable glide for the first time! More importantly for my spirits, I could see the field.
What a relief I felt…I had to let 123.3 know. Christian in VN and Ben in 1CH came back with a “great job 9JH,” and I have to admit, I felt pretty proud having heard other gliders give up on Truckee. I called up the tower “N599JH 9 miles north with intentions to land,” and they repeated my call sign and gave wind information. VN was calling in shortly after near Verdi peak.
Having screwed up the crosswind landing at Truckee a year ago, I paid very close attention to my altitude, angles, and speed this time. Other than leaving the spoilers open a bit too far, it was a good landing, and I made the high-speed turnout like I knew what I was doing. As the wheels came to a stop, I felt a calm joy wash over me knowing I finished what I set out to do.
This was a tough day. I made some mistakes, but I also did a few things right. I tried to remember all the things people had taught me not only in camp but in every prior flight. There was hardly a lesson I didn’t use or draw from. I am incredibly lucky to be around a group of people willing to get in a glider with me or just share their knowledge and experience. I feel proud to have completed my first solo cross country, but it simply would not be possible without this community. Thank you!