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The big flights in Texas

Rich Reinauer <<richreinauer>>

Four hang glider pilots, one retrieve vehicle. Each of us flew
about 200 miles over six hours Sunday, from Cowboy Up Hang Gliding, south of
Houston to south of Dallas (my home town). Not one poor bastard had to
endure the shame of bombing out and sitting in the car all day chasing the other
lucky bastards, as is usually the case. We all won Sunday. Epic conditions.
Personal best for Tyson Taylor, I think 208 miles. Previously 186, I believe.
Personal best for me, 193 miles / 310 km. Previous PB was 119 last year at Big
Spring. Robin Hamilton killed it with a 230 mile flight, and Mick Howard flew
197 miles.

We planned on launching two hours earlier, and ended up wishing we had. The sky
looked great at 0930. I didn’t get up until 1230. Two extra hours could have
potentially meant another 60 plus miles. At launch, Mick told me to put Caddo
Mills airport (just east of Dallas) in as a waypoint. I chuckled like a kid who
had seen something really silly. Only a 420 km task? Ludicrous. But, sure,
why not? Lol. Never dreamed I’d get even close. I hoped to get 100 miles.
Maybe 120 for a new PB if I was lucky.

It was a day of overcoming obstacles. My flight started with discovering a
cracked carbon base bar seconds before launch, which had to be removed and
replaced. Only 800 bucks. During replacement, I destroyed my pod that holds my
primary flight instrument (XC soar). Luckily I fly with a backup instrument, a
Digifly, which I have no idea how to use, but it beeps when I go up, so that’s
nice. lol. It was missing a Velcro strap, so it was attached precariously at
best. No worries.

I launched and got towed right to Mick. Within 30 minutes my microphone had
disappeared somehow, and I couldn’t find it, rendering me receive only on the
radio. I could hear everyone. For six hours I tried to find it and listened in
frustration, not able to communicate that I was receiving them. I had them in
sight (occasionally), but could not dispel the rumors that I had landed, or
defend myself against all of the slights about my flying abilities, the size of
my anatomy, etc. Of course when I took my helmet off after landing, there it
was, just like I imagined it was. It was right behind my helmet. Frustrating.

Not as frustrating as when my Digifly (my only instrument keeping me airborne)
battery died 90 miles into what would be a 193 mile flight though. Luckily I
was in a thermal with Ty at 6500 feet. I somehow managed to stay in the lift
while I fished out a spare battery and cable, Velcroed it to my glider and
plugged it in. Thankfully it started back up, and I continued. A couple of
times I managed to get my tethered phone out to verify I'd clear the airspace at
College Station and Waco. It came at a cost though. I was losing the thermal
and gliding like crap messing with that, but it worked. So, I guess I need that
backup vario after all.

My first thermal with Mick was in zero lift. I pushed out to the next cloud
from 2500 ft wondering if I’d deck it. I found it, took it to 4500 cloud base
and left for the next cloud. Never saw Mick again.

Each climb was a little higher. The clouds were all working, and only 2.5 miles
apart. I was not getting below five thousand feet. It was too easy, unlike
yesterday where I fought hard for three hours to make 55 miles. Today was gonna
be a good one. I could already tell.

Almost three hours in, and 80 miles down the road, I could hear everyone’s
position on the radio. I knew Mick and Ty were very near by, but despite my
best efforts, I couldn't get a visual. Robin was just a few miles to my east
over Somerville lake. Finally, while thermaling, I could see Ty speeding toward
me from below like a bullet. We went on multiple climbs and glides together
until the battery fiasco, where he got ahead and I stayed back playing it safe
to try to stay high.

I found a banging climb to about 8K a little while later, went on an awesome 10
mile glide at 50:1 and 60 mph ground speed and finally ended up on top of Ty
again at Bremond, Tx. I don’t think he ever saw me above him there. I got to
cloud base fast and decided to lead out. Looked back at the next thermal and no
sign of Ty. I was alone for the last 60 miles.

It got hard after we split up. The clouds were dying and the air was getting
very stable and smooth. I went on glide to 2400 feet, thinking this was
probably it. Sun getting low, no signs of lift. Finally, at Prarie Hill I found
a scrap of inconsistent lift and decided to take my last stand. The thermals
were really spread out now, and the chances of another one were slim to none. I
was in and out of it, but barely maintaining, even gaining a bit. Each circle I
cautiously rolled out for a couple of seconds to the stronger side of the
thermal and was rewarded with a better and better climb until it turned into a
nice 800 fpm climb to 7200 ft. That was my last climb. I glided for 17 miles
to the 193 mile mark and a beautiful landing next to a paved road with the
easiest gate for retrieval.

That last glide had me going toward a lake which I could clear, but not by a
lot. I was worried about sink over the water. In retrospect, turning away from
my downwind heading a bit to avoid it may have taken me out of the lift line and
made me avoid a thermal which was probably straight down wind. Maybe the lake
could have even triggered a thermal. I’ll never know, but I wish I’d tried that
in retrospect.

At the end of the day, it was obviously the most epic flight I’ve ever had and
one I’ll remember for a lifetime. I even had a buddy give me a ride to my house
in Dallas rather than drive four hours back to Houston with the others. Epic.
Lots of life lessons in hang gliding. You’ve got to be in it to win it. Half of
being in the right place at the right time is just making the effort to show
up. Everyone has a plan till the get punched in the face. Adapt, improvise,
overcome. (Semper Fidelis) You’re never out of the fight. (Ooh-rah). Stay
positive. Don’t give up. Luck counts. You make your own. Friends are
everything. Tiki (Cowboy Up Hang Gliding), Ty, Robin, Mick, Mak all helped me,
some in huge ways. Thanks guys.
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