Posts Tagged bad news

How not to fly

The background:
This summer I’ve been busy, and every weekend I can, I go hang gliding. I went on a such a trip to Hull this weekend, up in Lake County, near Lake Pillsbury, about 45 miles north of Harbin Hot Springs.

Lately, I really haven’t been flying that well. Oh, sure, I’m safe (aside from one scary launch), but I don’t stay up as well as the other pilots. On Saturday, I sunk out after 20 minutes, while Mike stayed up for 2.5 hours (without a variometer!). It doesn’t help that I’m heavy on my glider, but still: I kinda suck.

So, on Sunday, I borrowed Anthony’s bigger glider. It’s much like mine, but a little newer and noticeably bigger. That means I don’t fly as fast, but I don’t go down as fast either. I was hoping that would help me thermal better and stay up longer.

The story:
I didn’t fly well on Sunday. I foolishly left lift (I blame it on some distraction), and then I found a little more, but after a short gain, I lost the altitude again. My altitude was low enough at that I headed out toward the landing zone, taking the usual flight plan down the ridge (where you’re most likely to find lift). On my way, I hit a lot of sink. The ridge has a high knob at the end, and I found I was going down too fast to get over the knob! I went left around the knob (bad idea: I should’ve gone right), and was still going down too much to make it to the landing zone.

Going down at several hundred feet per minute, unable to land where I should, I had a few options. The ground was mostly pine forest, which is not a good place to land. There was a patch of low bushes on the side of the knob, and I didn’t see anything better. There’s a feeling I’ve had where everything is going wrong and there’s only one right thing to do, like being in a slow car accident or making a mistake in a performance. I did what seemed the only right thing, and combined two techniques I’d learned but not practiced: First, to do an uphill landing, I dove down to land up the side of the hill; it’s always best to land uphill, since that takes away your speed quickly. Then, to land in bushes, I just acted like the tops of the bushes were the ground, and landed on top of them.

The landing went more beautifully than I could have expected, though the bushes were also higher than I’d expected. I ended up as an undamaged pilot, hanging under an undamaged glider, which was resting on the tops of the 6-foot-tall manzanita bushes. I managed to stand on the bushes enough to detach myself from the glider, and radioed to the others so they would know I was down and safe. (It’s possible that I yelled, “I’m alive!,” but I’m pretty sure no one can verify that.)

I made a GPS track of my flight, but the relevant part is this picture. The airstrip below the knob is where I’d meant to land, and you can see I landed pretty far from that. Unfortunately, there’s a registration error with the GPS and Google Earth, so the last part of my landing looks like it’s inside the hill. Fortunately for me, that’s just an illusion.

A GPS track showing me landing in the bushes

After having to make that emergency landing, things started going my way. A pilot in the air above me pointed his glider in the direction of a path he could see, and the path was easy and clear. I recorded a GPS track of my walk, so the glider was easy to find later. I had great supplies: enough water, a makeshift hat, some granola bars, a pocket knife, a working radio, and a GPS-enabled phone. I easily walked out, and, once Barry and Mike landed, they hiked the 2000 vertical feet back to my glider to help me pack it up and carry it out. It’s not easy folding up a glider in 6-foot manzanita bushes, but the scratches I got from that were the worst injury of the whole day.

The embarrassment:
In the end, the only injury was to my pride. I should definitely have done some things differently: It’s important to use your launch lift, and it’s best to go right around the knob at Hull; that side has fewer other hilly structures, and the dry creekbed is a better emergency landing zone than any bushes.

But, given my failures, this was the best possible emergency landing I could have made!

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Attempted bicycle theft

Today, I found my bicycle upside-down, with the wheels taken off… but still there, chained to the bike rack.

Because I had a busy day and went into SF last night straight from campus, I left my bicycle at the downtown Berkeley BART station, right in the heart of Berkeley. I locked it up thoroughly, with my U-lock through the frame and helmet, and a cable lock through both the frame and the wheels.

When I found the bicycle, the U-lock and helmet were missing, and the wheels were taken off, but still there. I have no idea how they removed the U-lock; it’s possible that I didn’t lock it properly. They apparently bashed the cable lock with a brick, but that wasn’t highly effective, so they couldn’t get any of my precious bicycle.

The really funny thing was that all I really lost was the lock and helmet. Most of the cost of the replacement was the new lock: You know things are upside-down when all you lose is the lock itself!

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In Tennessee

I’m currently in Tennessee, after a last-minute trip to Boston. In case you hadn’t read it on my mom’s health blog, she died on Tuesday night shortly after we’d all arrived. We didn’t really see it coming–she’d been in the hospital with a fever before, she’d had infections before, but this time the combination of cancer and pneumonia overwhelmed her. None of us realized it was so dire until the last minute, and we arrived at the hospital just in time to see her. She, however, was not awake, and she probably never realized that this was the end.

Her funeral is on Tuesday. After that, I’ll be back in Berkeley finishing up my dissertation.

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A middle-school story

In 7th grade, I asked a girl out. I said, “Will you go out with me?”

She responded, “Where?” and laughed at my confusion. I had just wanted her to indicate an interest in me; the details of spending time together could be worked out later.

I still have that attitude, that disconnect from the way most others think of dating, to this day. I’m not so worried about finding someone to spend time with; my days already fill themselves. I just want attention, respect, love. Find that, and the rest will work out well enough.

In other news, I’m completely single again. Whee.

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GSI position hassles

God freaking dammit. I have had a series of hassles in getting a GSI (a.k.a. teaching assistant) position. First, they mistook my preference for TAing the undergrad AI class as a demand, so they weren’t going to give me any work. Just yesterday, though, they found a graphics class for me to TA. However, today, they sent me the forms for it and I found it was a 10-hour position. That means I’d be paid half as much.

I could live off my savings for a semester, and maybe the reduced work would help me finish my thesis, but I’d really rather not go there. I mean, I’d even checked in midway through the summer to make sure they knew I was requesting a 20-hour position, and they said “oh, yes, we know.” And now they screw it up. Dammit, this is really annoying, especially with class starting on Wednesday.

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Hiking and other disasters

We (a bunch of mostly grad students mostly in the 4th year) went on a hike to a waterfall on Sunday. It was on the North peninsula near Stinson Beach. (I’m familiar with Stinson Beach since that’s the landing zone for hang gliders launching from Mt. Tamalpais.)

It was a pleasant hike with greenery and little lakes/ponds with no streams in or out. I presume they’re groundwater-fed. At the end, we had to climb down this steep crumbling rock face.

cut for large image

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visiting Kate

I’ve scheduled a trip to visit Kate in Prague in a week (!), for a week. But the problem is that although I tried to book tickets via a low-end travel website/travel agent called Travel Enterprises (for hundreds of dollars less than anyone else could do), Lufthansa is saying that I’m only standby on one of my flights. I’ve contacted the Travel Enterprises people, and they say that they’re clearing that up.

But I’m quite worried. I can’t exactly get completely ripped off, since I paid by credit card and can have Discover not pay them if they don’t provide me with the tickets they agreed to (I think). But I’ve passed the point of getting decently-priced tickets from anyone else, so I’m pretty well fucked all around if this doesn’t pan out. And I’m really looking forward to going! So right now I’m pretty anxious. I may have messed up in a big way by going with this tiny website to book my flights. Also, if this doesn’t pan out, I don’t relish the hassle of canceling the useless tickets and getting new ones.

EDIT at 11:15am pacific: They said Lufthansa doesn’t accept Discover cards, so they asked for a second credit card. That’s a red flag, but dammit my hope leads me on. They’d damn well better get me some plane tickets!

EDIT at 12:45pm pacific: I HAVE CONFIRMED TICKETS! WOO-HOO, I’M GOING TO PRAGUE! I’m excited. After all my doubting and worrying, it’s all working out okay.

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