Record flight from Cuesta

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Record flight from Cuesta

Postby John Hesch » Sat May 29, 2010 12:13 am

I know I'm not a member of the club, but I fly with some from time to time and thought a few might enjoy the read. It also involves finally breaking the record from this site that Craig Warren set 15 years ago. Enjoy..


Well, it’s been some time since I wrote-up a flight, but this one was kinda unique and the more I thought about it, the more I thought I should write it up-if nothing more than for a supplement to my geriatric memory!
So, it’s Thursday morning and I’ve just finished some last minute details on the house makeover surprise that I was performing for my mother-in-law while she was away on a cruise. I’ve been watching the weather for a few days and while the day before showed promise, today looked even better. I headed back home around 10:30 to load up my glider and gear and took off for San Luis, checking flags and clouds as I drove. At camp San Luis Obispo, the flags showed NW and I started a conversation with myself in my head about how a good flight was wishful thinking and I could save a lot of time and effort by just turning around now (I’ve convinced myself with that conversation before, and turned around!). The other self said that a drive to launch was the least I could do, at least check the conditions for future reference, so on I went.
After beating my way up the pothole-filled ridge road, I noticed a truck with a USHG A sticker at the south end of the launch knoll, then drove on over to the north end where I used to set up my glider. I parked and took a quick recon up the ridge to the top, noting the strong cycles, flat-bottomed cumies scooting by, and the low temp. I checked both launches and started trying to talk myself out of unloading my glider, setting up and wrestling it to the top of the hill to launch in this cold air, since it might just be a flight to the bottom, or over to Margarita at best. I headed back down to my truck, but walked to the north end of the knoll first, where it comes down to road –level, and considered what it would be like to launch there. The lazy part of me decided that it would be a perfect place to setup and launch from and from there my fate was sealed. I turned my truck around and parked it on the west side of the road, facing south right at the north end of the knoll so that it would be easier for my retrieve to get going after me(not knowing who that was going to be since I was flying solo today). I hadn’t wanted to get anyone involved in chasing me in case the day didn’t turn out to be productive. If it did, well, there is always time to work small details out after landing! ;-)

It was a short walk across the road (10 steps) to where I set up my glider in the wind-shadow that my van created. No one came by in the 20 minutes that it took to get ready and after packing my harness on the clean asphalt and hooking it into my glider, I noticed that the “blue” off to the west was getting closer and started getting even more anxious about getting off the hill. I forgot to pack the energy bars that I had earlier reminded myself to bring along, since I had not taken time for breakfast or lunch yet, downed the last of a bottle of water and locked the truck to go get in my harness. I slipped my cell phone into my right chest pocket after hooking it to the pigtail that plugs into my helmet, and my camera in the left. Buckled up and everything double-checked, I picked up the glider, turned around, 10 steps across the road, check the air, two steps and glide out at 11:26. A sharp left to stay in close had me climbing past the “normal” launches where I suddenly noticed 3 paraglider pilots with one looking ready to pull up. I hollered to get their attention, not wanting to become one of two surprised and tangled pilots as I made a pass south across launch-I think I startled them.

After a few passes and a couple of circles, I was about 400 over and went into “trolling” mode, heading south down the ridge for about a half mile then back, looking for that elusive thermal that would be my ticket out of there. I caught a couple of teasers that took me as high as 3k, then found a solid climb that averaged 575fpm to base at 5500’. As I watched launch drop away below me, drifting back over the highway with a 13mph wind at 255o, higher than I had ever been here before, and with flat-bottomed cumies to the horizon, this was looking to be the start of a special day indeed! By the time I decided to pull out and head on glide, I had taken one too many turns as usual and found myself high in the whispies. I had only been climbing with about 1/3 vg and had to muscle the bar in to try to dive and race out from under the cloud being in the familiar predicament of needing more vg but not being able to relax the bar to pull it for fear of getting whited out. No real drama and never lost sight of the ground, but it did serve me a reminder on the rest of the flight that saw me pulling out before making that “one last turn” and having a more relaxed exit from under the clouds. This glide averaged 50mph ground speed at 13/1. I was getting more exited, seeing the day’s potential.

I cruised over Santa Margarita feeling out the day, seeing what I might expect in lift patterns and taking in the view while trying to fix a plan. Heading for a familiar area just east of Garden Farms, where I have both landed and gotten up in the past, I noted that I arrived at the altitude that I normally depart from there with!. To the east lies terrain that is unfriendly to landing a hang glider for about 5 miles and I wanted to be sure and set myself up well for the crossing, looking forward to an afternoon of hopping from cloud to cloud, mile after mile-oh, wait, I’m getting ahead of myself, still have to get across this area first! It was hard not to start dreaming of the flight ahead, the sky was that perfect! I fished around and finally settled for a slow climb that I could stay in lift most of the way around by looping my turns and pushing back upwind briefly. While I was climbing, I was able to get some video of the flight, the only time that was possible for me. I also had time to soak in the scenery-Paso to the north, the Cuesta ridge with Morro Bay and the Pacific in the background, Santa Margarita lake, Machesna Mountain and wilderness, California Valley with the Temblor range in the backdrop, and the central valley beyond that. To the northeast, along my projected flight path lay Creston, then Shandon with Parkfield beyond, and just perhaps, the glider port at Avenal would be possible over the hills from there. Back to reality, put away the camera and concentrate on centering turns, just hanging with this thermal as the “badlands” below inch their way along. This showed up on my track-log as a series of three thermals, first 77fpm, then 29, finally 106fpm, that carried me over 4 1/2 miles while climbing out from 3400’ to 4900’. Now the lack of landing options was well over and the world was before me! I was stoked! The sky looked so much like a good sky in Texas, but this was in my own back yard! I tried to decide if there was really any streeting going on and when I couldn’t see any good definition, began picking my “stepping stones” through the sky. The rest of the flight to Shandon was a very enjoyably “academic”, climb-and-glide, and I soaked up the view on the way, arriving on the outskirts at 4600’ after several thermals that averaged 100-450fpm. One of the longer glides on the way there averaged 53 mph ground speed(with spikes as high as 80!) and a 23/1 glide. The wind at altitude had picked up to 18mph and was helpful in making the miles go by quickly.

After getting established in the last thermal before Shandon, I pulled out my “patch-cord” for my cell phone and, struggling, managed to get it plugged into my helmet. I almost never fly with gloves, but they are always there, in my side pocket, just in case. Today was a case. I had pulled them out after putting the camera away behind Margarita and was glad to have them on when I topped-out a couple of thermals later at 6200’. The skewT had called for the temp to be 32o at 6k and it felt like it! Once I had the phone hooked up, I found dialing to be rather complex with gloves on and it took about 10 tries before I could get a call out to Jeff. I knew he’d be stoked and I wanted him to hear the “happy sounds” coming from my instrument! Apparently, I didn’t get the air noise down enough and he could hardly make out anything when he retrieved the message I left on his machine, but still knew that it was me calling and that I was in the air. He just happened to retrieve the message as I was landing and called back after I had been on the ground only a few minutes! But I digress…

If the flight to Shandon was bliss, the second half was filled with sheer terror. After climbing out over Shandon, I went on glide to the NE, at first thinking of Parkfield as a waypoint, then dismissing that idea after realizing what a cross-wind struggle that would be. Highway 41 cuts through a low point formed by by the end of two mountain ranges, one from the north and the other from, you guessed it, the south. I arrived in the middle of that venturi at 2800’agl, with wind that had now increased to 21mph at 230o, and in air that was decidedly more “active”. I was too focused on deciding how to get over the mountains coming up quickly to my east to pay attention to the wind speed that my instrument was so faithfully reporting and recording for me. While being a tad slow in some areas, I was sharp enough to recognize that the flying wasn’t quite as much fun now as it had been earlier. One thermal and a glide and I was climbing again, drifting past the 41/46 fork and decision time was upon me. I realized by then that the wind was going to be an issue, though I never did check my instrument to see what it was. I guess the fact that I was making tracks even while just thermaling was enough evidence of the obvious. I had a range of mountains to my NE that the 41 cuts through, that top out at about 2400’ and I was at 3800’, seven miles short of the crest and about 12 miles from landable fields on the lee side. I didn’t do these calculations at the time, I just looked at it and said, No way!! By this time, the wind that during the first half of the flight was my “friendly helper” had become downright evil! The wind had also decided that it was no longer happy just being my “helper”, and thought that it should be able to fly the glider half of the time-I hate helpers that decide they should be the boss! My grip on the basetube had gone from “relaxed”, to “crush” mode! I had drifted just north of the 46 and into the hills that the 41 cuts through and found lift to turn in for several circles. I gained a few hundred feet in this but felt there was something upwind and pushed out a little over a mile to find 500fpm average, to 4900’. For those who hate boring circles in the sky, this one would have captivated you. The lift was anywhere from -400 to +1250, no longer fun. I was just hoping to finish up with the glider on top! The crossing to the NE still didn’t look good but now I realized I had boxed myself into a predicament. There was still no way I was going to cross the mountains at this position and altitude, but I was now at the crest of the 46 and with the headwind that I would face trying to return to a landable field, flying down the canyon to the SE that the 46 runs through looked like my only option. I headed off in that direction, hoping for some salvation from this mess.

I flew for several miles, at least I did when the wind let me take my turn, before finding 400up for 2k which took me to 5200’ in front of the biggest mountain in the area(3000’). I took this gift and ran with it at 20/1 for 5+ miles and was finally over the large mountains and into the flats. Whew! I figured that it would smooth out soon-I hoped so anyway. I wasn’t sure I could hold on this tight much longer, but I saw so much potential in the sky to the east and I wanted more miles. The wind had backed off to 16@237o but I was still uncomfortable and still not the only pilot on board. Reef City was looking like a good place to put down and I was envisioning a nice cold soda and a comfortable booth to sit in. I half-heartedly worked a couple more thermals to assure making it there, only to arrive overhead and see no cars or people around. Dang, must be closed down. Looked at the Kettleman hills to the east, knowing that I5 was just over those hills, then it was flat for 50-60 miles, but I just didn’t have another hill-crossing in me, so I turned toward Avenal and landed shortly after. I took some photos of the sky that went forever-there were so many miles yet to be had. Then I took one of the hills and mountains I had just crossed, and the lennies mixed in the cumies above. Next time I’m going to try to find a more submissive helper…

Hope you enjoyed the story, and as my old buddy Jeff used to say, “That’s my story, and I’m stickin to it!”
PS, 51 miles, new site record. Last record was around 27 miles held deservedly by Craig Warren for 15 years.
Last edited by John Hesch on Sat May 29, 2010 10:14 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Record flight from Cuesta

Postby Tom Pipkin » Sat May 29, 2010 6:30 am

Nice one John. We all love reading these epic XC stories. Thanks for sharing.
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Re: Record flight from Cuesta

Postby NMERider » Sat May 29, 2010 9:25 am

removed by author
Last edited by NMERider on Fri Feb 15, 2013 8:48 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Record flight from Cuesta

Postby craig » Sat May 29, 2010 7:42 pm

Great write up John. I am really stoked for you! Great flight! Hopefully someday soon we can fly together again.
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Re: Record flight from Cuesta

Postby John Hesch » Mon May 31, 2010 1:51 pm

Here's a link to a blog that I created a few years ago, meaning to document my adventures at the comps, but never used. I had tried to upload pics and a tracklog, but this turned out to be a easy way to bunch everything together.
http://jrhesch.blogspot.com/
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Re: Record flight Track Log?

Postby sd » Tue Jun 01, 2010 8:08 am

John Hesch wrote:I had tried to upload pics and a tracklog, but this turned out to be a easy way to bunch everything together. http://jrhesch.blogspot.com > link to track log in google earth >
http://www.onlinecontest.org/olc-2.0/pa ... &kmlfile=1


John, your posted link in your blog that should point to your track log in Google Earth requires a log in ? Do you have a more direct link that everyone (including myself) can access?
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Re: Record flight from Cuesta

Postby Dizzy » Tue Jun 01, 2010 8:38 am

Correct link to GPS track:
http://www.onlinecontest.org/olc-2.0/para/flightinfo.html?flightId=-265649913

Click on KML or IGC to download it.
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Re: Record flight from Cuesta

Postby craig » Tue Jun 01, 2010 8:50 am

John, you took a much better line then when I flew out to Shandon. I think I flew over Creston, and hit 46 well west of Shadon and had to fight a strong SW to stick to 46. Your path was perfect to Shadon
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Re: Record flight from Cuesta

Postby John Hesch » Tue Jun 01, 2010 9:05 am

Craig, it sounds like you were able to open up the file. I'm not sure if it requires logging into the OLC or what, but perhaps you could tell Tom how you did it. I couldn't manage to get a link that would open direct in Google Earth, that's why I wound up loading it through the OLC. The graphics are much better that way also.
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Re: Record flight from Cuesta

Postby Dizzy » Tue Jun 01, 2010 10:38 am

Unfortunately you need to register and log in to http://www.onlinecontest.org/ first in order to download KML or IGC file. But, if you just need John's KML file its in attachment. Unzip it and open in Google Earth.

To admin: Is it possible to allow KML and KMZ file extensions for attachments? Because its not allowed now I have to zip it first.

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