Friday, May 16. First Flights
The six of us meet at Yuba Lake early on Friday morning, where we join up with Steve and Terry – so all eight of us have arrived safely and without any incidents at the border. Chris has said that he will meet us at "seven-ish." We soon learn that in Utah this means "any time before eight o'clock."
Yuba Lake itself is a good size, and although it sits in the middle of a parched desert landscape, the temperature in the morning is very cold. There is frost on the vehicles, and the temperature has dropped nearly to zero degrees Celsius. (By early afternoon the temperature reaches over 30 degrees.)
Chris arrives with the boat and he makes some brief introductory comments. We review proper tow procedures, and Clint – our fearless coach and official wind dummy – is the first one to launch. Dan, Trevor, Mathieu, and Steve all get their first experience towing and flying maneuvers next, and we are visibly timid up there. Chris is patient with each of us, but he is less talkative than I think we expected. Difficulties with the boat force us to switch to the truck, so Daniel and Tomo have their first experiences towing up behind the vehicle – by which time the wind has started to pick up – so it is a lot more difficult than towing up behind the boat.
The witching hour arrives after Tomo's flight, so we are done for the day. Everyone except Terry has had his first tow and flight with basic maneuvers, and we are all kind of shaky. It has made each of us a bit giddy, and we're still a little freaked out by the whole experience – like nervous and giggling school girls after a wild prom night. Our flights are strangely difficult for us to remember: all buzzed up and blurred out.
Each of the flights is recorded on video, so we return to the hotel to watch ourselves and make notes for tomorrow. In the evening we return to Point of the Mountain, and this time we visit the north side. We have never seen so many gliders in the air at one time – we count 34 just driving up to the launch site. The flight park itself is unbelievable: it has a paved parking lot with sidewalks, benches, and washrooms with running water. The launch/landing field is half-way up the ridge – pilots can fly sled-runs to a groomed field at the base, or bench up to the top of the ridge, or simply boat around above the field – which is a sprawling, manicured lawn. Daniel suggests that Vincene ought to till the field at Cochrane Hill and lay sod so that we can have something similar back home. Everyone laughs, and all of us helpfully suggest that he be the one to make that recommendation to Vincene when we return.
The wind is smooth and consistent, but too strong for us. We are content to sit on the grass at the edge of the field and watch the gliders until sunset. We meet several local pilots, who are just as friendly as Mathieu has said, and we enjoy the evening watching dozens of gliders launch, soar, and land. We are even treated to some fantastic acrobatics. Done well, paragliding is a beautiful thing – there is simply nothing that compares to its simple elegance. However, when it is done poorly… paragliding becomes something else entirely. We watch one pilot in particular, with great interest, as he struggles on launch for more than fifteen minutes. We laugh a little to ourselves, because we can all hear Keith in our heads hollering: "No jumping!" and "If you look down once more, I'm going to kick you in the nuts!"
We have dinner at a buffet restaurant in the city, where Mathieu eats a staggering amount of food (we lose count after the fifth or sixth plate), and then we drive back to the thriving metropolis of Scipio (two gas stations, a Dairy Queen, and a Subway). Mathieu is forced to stand in the parking lot for a while, venting thermals of his own, before he can safely enter the building.
Tomorrow will be Day 2, and although we are more confident now than we were at the start of the day, we are still a little apprehensive about the day to come.