Thursday, May 28, 2009

Walking (not running) the Ridge

Ridge running is one of the joys of glider flying. Air moving perpendicular to a ridge line has to go somewhere, and the only place to go is up. When the ridge is working you can fly for hours. And that means fly. Flying something like a King Air is to ridge running what riding a glass elevator is to rock climbing.

But there's more to life than flying. Really.

That's why the kids and I went hiking on Monday (Memorial Day holiday in the USA). We have it good: to go hiking we put the dog on a leash, walk out the front door, and turn left.

It's a steep hill, and the sun was hot, and there was no wind. I was more concerned about water than anything else; no point in getting dehydrated.

We climbed until the slope leveled. The trail was a fire break along the ridge line, cut about 20 years ago during a devastating fire on the other side of the ravine. The trees have not grown back. It's wide enough to land on, and the slope is shallow enough, too, if it weren't for the knee high boulders.

We climbed about 1000 feet to the National Forest boundary, a logical place to stop. We admired the view and started down. I had a lot on my mind, a lot of good stuff: watching the kids, watching the dog, watching my step, the good feeling of exercise, and admiring the view. But there's always one corner of my mind that stays in the air. The breeze was light, first from the left, then the right, then ahead, then from the left. "Not a good day for ridge soaring," I thought.

But things changed in a hurry. Without warning, the wind was at our backs, tumbling down the slope at 25 knots or so. My son turned to say something, but I couldn't hear him. I held onto my hat. I thought about cutting toward the trees.

I looked back up the slope. The little finger of cumulus that had been hanging above us in the first picture, just a few minutes before, had blossomed into the massive CB in the second. Ouch!

It ended as quickly as it began.

I'll remember this storm the next time I'm ridge running. It's true that walking the ridge can make you better at running it.

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