Another weekend, another epic flight. We have been having
very good luck this year. Rich and I have been talking about flying from Elk
(Northern California) to the north into the central valley for the last year. A
friend of ours was going to fly at Hull and we figured if we just made it to
Hull it would be a fun flight. If we could continue on from there so much the
better. Saturday, the forecast did not look that good, but we figured if the
opportunity presented itself, be would take advantage of it. Rich’s wife Linda
was not available to drive. A hang gliding friend of ours, Bill Vogel said he
would drive for us if needed. I don’t think he fully realized what he was
When the three of us arrived at the south launch of Elk, we found the wind coming from the West, splitting the ridge. There are two launches, the south and the north. The wind would cycle up the south launch every 5 minutes so we decided to set up on that launch. After setting up the cycles were less frequent. We watched some birds getting tumbled in the lift and wondered if maybe it was not the best day to fly. After a half hour of pondering this, we decided to fly, but now the wind was coming up the north launch and we had to make the miserable hike down to the north launch with our gliders.
I launched in a nice cycle and climbed above launch without much trouble. Rich got stuck on launch for the next ten minutes waiting for another cycle. I climbed 500’ above launch and hit 500 fpm up. About half way around I went over the falls and was weightless for about 2 seconds. I thought it may have been a fluke and went around again and went over the falls again. Ok, you don’t have to tell me 3 times. I headed elsewhere to look for lift. It was one of the rowdiest days I have had in a long time.
Rich was in the air now and quickly climbed to 6,000’. I was back down below launch. After a lot of struggling I managed to get to 6,000’ (you can see in the 3D track log how much time I spent trying to get up). Rich was about 500’ higher than me as we headed for Horse on the way to Hull. I come over the top of Horse with about 200’ (Horse is 4,600’), enough for about one 360. If I did not find lift I would have to bail. Luckily I found enough lift for another 360, then another until I was climbing safely above the top. There was some drift from the West that had me worried, but after the thermal turned on the drift stopped. Rich was above me the entire time. We topped out at 7,000’. We decided we needed 7,500’ to make it across Lake Pillsbury to Hull. Just for the hell of it we flew a couple of miles in that direction. The sink was not very bad so we went for Hull.
Just before the lake we hit a thermal and climbed for 1,000’. This gave us enough height to make it across the lake and above the house on the ridge that is also a house thermal. We were a little above 4,000’. I spotted two flexies above hull about 4,000’ above me. I would not be happy until I was above them. It took almost a half an hour, but I managed to climb up through them on my way to 10,300’ and over the top of hull. Rich joined me 5 minutes later. I’ll be damned if one of those flexies almost climbed up through us. They got within 300’. We looked across the Mendocino National Forest toward the Central valley. A couple of weeks ago, Kurt had made the jump from 12,500’. It looked iffy from 10,300. Again we decided to fly a few miles toward the north east and see what developed.
The sink was not a problem. After a couple of miles Rich said “you realize you might not get home tonight”. For a once in a lifetime flight it was worth it so we continued on our way. I tried not to look down. There was nothing but trees and no LZs anywhere. I could see the terrain on the other side of mountains rising in my view which was a good sign. About halfway across I hit 700 up and climbed to 11,000’. Rich was too far to the side to risk coming over and continued on. He then hit his own 700 up about 3 miles further. We joined up at 11,400’. Now it was a piece of cake to finish the crossing and start what was going to be my longest glide ever. We went on glide from 11,400’ to 2,400’, 24 miles and 35 minutes without lift. At 2,400’ and about 1,000 agl we hit some weak lift. We were now on the same route that we took from St. John last week. The lift felt like the same crappy lift as before, but much to our delight, took us back above 5,000. Last week we were only getting to 4,000’.
About this time Bill had radioed that he had a blowout on the rear tire and would be a while. I thought we might be waiting a long time for a retrieve. He already had to cross the Mendocino National Forest on old logging roads. Rich told him where the spare was and we continued on.
At this point I was getting really tired and sleepy. I felt like I could just close my eyes and sleep. Each time we went on glide I thought (maybe secretly hoped) that it would be our last and I could get on the ground and rest. But each time we hit lift, that competitive drive in me took over and I worked it for all I could. We were getting closer to the site record with each thermal. At the 74 mile mark we were down to 700’ agl and looking at landing in a creek bed that had been quarried. It had some long straight flat sections where gravel had been removed. As we came over we found zero sink. The wind was out of the south and blowing us in the direction we wanted to go. We slowly climbed and drifted north. Occasionally we could hear Bill on the radio. We told him how to find us if we lost contact. After drifting for 7 miles we had to either land in a nice big (1 mile long, ½ mile wide) field free of live stock, or risk landing on a field full of livestock. We were down to 500’ and chose the nice big field.
We both had great landings into a 3 mph hot breeze. It was close to 100 degrees on the ground. I took off my harness and laid out a drop cloth I keep in it. I laid down for 5 minutes. I could not remember being this tired after a flight before. The flight was only 4 hours and 30 minutes long. I could have been the lack of sleep the night before, or the amount of scratching I did at the start of the flight. As I started breaking down Bill drove up. I did not expect him for another couple of hours. He was our hero of the day. We were a good ways into the field and looking at a long walk to get our gear out. We could see Bill talking to someone, and then he jumped in the truck and drove off. He came back, unlocked the gate and drove right to us. He had driven over to the owner’s house and got permission to drive in and pick up us. He is our hero of the month.
Total distance was 81.8 miles about 9 miles short of the record, unless you start creating records for every different direction you could fly. We did not launch until almost 1:30 which is kind of late for me. By the time we landed it was past 6:00 and the lift had shut down. I got back home at 12:15AM and was in bed by 1:00. A very long but rewarding day.
Track of flight:
Track of flight in 3D: