Wow! What an epic day of flying! First I want to start off this flight report by saying thanks. A BIG thank you to Bart and Tiki at Cowboy Up Hang Gliding! I was so lucky to have found Cowboy Up and was able to learn from the BEST!!! And in no particular order, Thanks to Efrain, Mick, Robin, Sir Rich, Ingo, Makbule and Christopher, Rich 2, Mark M., Rich “Double D”, Henry, William, Ben, Tim, Jason, Mark C., Michael, Nate, Jeff, Alex, Amber, Eduardo, … basically the whole community of pilots here in Houston and those who drive down from Austin that have always been so positive and have given me encouragement! That is probably the greatest thing in this sport is the strong community that we have.
Ok, so Mothers Day I was up early and I called my Mom, and my grandmother to wish them a happy mothers day at around 9 o’clock. After lengthy phone calls I was headed out to Cowboy Up.
There were cumulus clouds already built up at 11o’clock but they were low and this really high cirrus cloud was blanketing in the whole area around Cowboy Up. The wind was out of the SE at about 10mph and the main task for me was to try out my new Woodey Valley Tenax 4 harness! I spent the morning setting it up with my water bladder and putting in my hook knife with lanyard. Up to this point the only harness I had ever flown in was my High Energy Cocoon…so this harness was a pretty big step up for me to say the least. The day before Bart helped me firgure out the hang length and he helped me adjust my center of gravity on the back plate. I was overwhelmed with all the intricacies that was going on inside the harness to be honest…Tiki even said that “I looked worried”, she was right, she read my face and I was honestly a little intimidated by the harness. I was used to the easy going cocoon, now I was in a full blown race harness. The whole rocking up and everything, any ways…..I was all set so all I had to do for Sunday was to hook in and fly.
There were already a few gliders rigged up that morning and I was really excited/nervous to try out the Tenax so I quickly grabbed a cart and adjusted it for my glider. Bart had taken a quick tandem and Ben Sands from Austin got outta whack on tow and released early at like 500′, I knew from yesterday that the tows were a bit rowdy. Ben said, ” I just got real low and the rope got slack so I just released…” something like that…anyways I launched right after him at 12:45. The launch went OK but then I was quickly involved in what was the most rowdy tow I’ve ever been in. I had to COWBOY UP and be on point! I have about 200 tows under my belt and I’ve never had to work so hard to stay with Tiki in the Dragin’ Fly. Huge ups and downs, it was white knuckle! Tiki gets me up and she is banking to the left to circle in the thermal and she waves me off. I was full on trying my hardest to turn left with her and I was getting locked out to the right, so I was going to release anyway, thankfully I was able to hold out up to 2000′.
So now I’m getting the feel for this harness and I clumsily grab for the zipper and I’m fooling with zippers and pockets and bridles. Like I said my goal was to just get a feel for the harness, and have a good landing.
I’m drifting pretty good and the lift was ratty but strong, and I’m struggling to stay up at 2100′. I was just beginning to get a feel for the harness for the first 20min of flying and now I’ve drifted to the point where I need to decide whether to go back to the airport and try a landing, probably get another tow, or just go X-C. I flew twice the day before and everyone had good extended flight and I bombed out two times in a row…I thought how nice would it be if I could just get an hour long flight in today. So I decided to just drift, and maybe get another 30min of flying in this new harness.
Like I said before there was cirrus clouds way up shading in everywhere and the low cumulus clouds were flat and ragged. Not very promising to say the least. However, to the North, the cirrus clouds were non-existent and it was blue higher up with cumulus clouds not stacking up very tall. Looking down wind the clouds were not exactly textbook cumulus clouds, short, raggedy, with waves on the tops. But after drifting a bit and finding lift I was able to make an almost complete circle in lift and climb up a bit more.
Really soon I was down low again, and I’m looking down at fields that I’ve landed in a few times before so I just tried to focus on staying up and the cloud I went for worked and I was up to maybe 3500′ over Glen Flora, I called out my location and altitude on the radio, no reply.
All the little yellow pins here show where I have landed out before. So as you can see I really did not want to land down out here again! My XC goal at this stage of the flight was just to make it to I-10 highway.
Coming up to Eagle Lake I can see flooded rice patties and wet fields everywhere. I thought that if I can just get past all of this I might be able to make it. Right before I got to the lake 2 good sized dust devils fired off below me and I got some help from some buzzards to get over the lake, not by much though. One of the lowest parts of the whole flight was when I was gliding over the town of Eagle Lake.
Up ahead on the north side of Eagle Lake there is a good sized airport, so I relaxed and thought that “well if this doesn’t play out I can land here with a windsock…” Then BOOM!!! Right over the airport I hit a boomer, the strongest thermal of my life! 10 on the averager, not just for a turn or two but for several turns!!! I rode up to a frosty 5400′!!! I was stoked!!! But I knew that if I wanted to make it up to I-10 I just had to stay high.
Well my plan worked out, I topped up every 500-1000′ and I made it to I-10! I lazily flew under the clouds at 5000′, time to take an inventory. I dug in my pocket and pulled out my cell phone. I had not set up a retrieve driver, or even told anyone that I was going XC. I wasn’t on a tracker, or airtribune, my Garmin just ran out of batteries, so I desperately tried to get a text out to Tiki to let them know I was at I-10 and at 5000′ ….no service at all for me…so I decided to save my battery and turn off my phone and figure out a retrieve later. I was also keeping my eyes peeled for Mick and Robin, “they should be catching up to me by now” I thought. I was really happy because at this point I was setting my new Personal Best with every mile I flew.
This was the “Promise Land” for me. Flying out of Wharton, our winds are usually SE or N. But the majority of the time it’s blowing SE and over the past couple of years hang gliding, (I’ve only been hang gliding for 2 years now), I always overheard the XC pilots in our group, (Robin, Mick, Bart) that once you get past I-10 everything gets easier. The climbs are higher and the thermals are better…everything is just better and easier. Most likely due to the fact that South of I-10 it’s considered coastal flood plains. When it gets wet the clay soil can take a long time to evaporate. North of I-10 on the other hand is rolling hills and more areas for water to flow. I was finally there, after so many attempts to make it everything from now on was going to be easier!
The south east wind was still blowing and I had to make a decision on which cloud street to go with.
I chose to head to the east because I had a big blue hole ahead of me. Also, I was thinking about the time of day and I spent some extra time seeing how things were developing. I noticed that some clouds were breaking up rather quickly and others were staying together. I could see their shadows on the ground and I could see little spots of light and I tried to stay with the more organized cloud street that left dark shadows on the ground with out any specks of light shining through.
Also, I most definitely noticed the performance of the new Tenax 4 harness! It was like I was flying a whole new glider! I was able to patrol around and not lose much at all. I was very impressed right away, also, with just how comfortable it was! Very plush!!!
So once I got to Belville, I was working my way back to the West and I thought, “Shoot, if I can make it to the Brenham airport, that would be nice!” And surely enough, the clouds just kept working and the next thing I knew I was passing Brenham(home of Blue Bell ice cream)! I stuck with a cloud street that I could still see cumulus tops way back in the distance.
After a little while, I was starting to get a little fatigued, and I remembered what Tiki told me…”You have to reward yourself with some time spent rocked up in the harness with your feet out” So I practiced getting upright and hanging my legs out on the climbs and I would also reward myself with a little sip of water. This helped me in the long run stay fresh.
I was thinking to myself that I was in rolling hill country now. I remembered driving to retrieve Robin in Brenham about a month ago and I was in awe about how pretty the coutryside was there, up north of I-10. And also, I kept in mind that there maybe a hill on my landing.
After Brenham, I take a look at my clock and it’s 5o’clock in the afternoon, I thought that the next climb I get could be my last, the day is going to be over soon, little did I know I had almost 2 more hours of flying left! But I was still getting good climbs back up to 5000’…the only thing was that now the clouds were getting further and further apart. Also, the clouds were looking really ragged and flat. However, I was really smiling because the cloud street that I chosen was still maintaining while others streets on my flanks were disappearing. I’m topping out the best I can and I’m using the speed to fly gauge on the 6030 for my glides.
Bart told me, right before launching, that with this new harness I will be able to go really fast. He said, “If you ever get in the bad sink, pull in that bar Ty, I mean FAST, 45-50mph FAST, you want to get out of that sink fast!” So that is what I did the whole flight, I’d pull in hard on the sinky stuff and I’d hold it until I felt that bar wanting to come back out, and when it did I was usually in a thermal.
I was unbelievably still finding thermals on the downwind side of the most rag-tag looking clouds that you could imagine. Enough to make full turns, get out of the harness and relax. I was west of College Station, home of the (in)famous Texas A&M University, and I decided to take a look at the map function on my 6030.
Mick had given us all a heap of waypoints to add to our instruments so we could all be on the same page about going XC. He even spent the time to create our very own Cowboy Up Flying Club XC League, where we upload our flights on Leonardo. Anyways, I thought that it was about time to set a task for this flight. I turned on my Garmin again hoping to use some of the last bit of battery, if any, to get an idea where the heck I was. Up on the map I could see Hearne, Tx. coming up (33miles) and I thought, with the way the clouds were dying off that it would be a miracle if I made it there. So I set the task for Hearne, and glided North under the remnants of what was left of my cloud street.
I was down low again 2300′ and I was looking for good landing spots, and I found some 50-100 up coming off of some pump jacks that I was able to get a half circle in. Up ahead the clouds were gone. I thought that maybe I’d gone 80-90 miles….It was almost 6:30 in the afternoon, and I was just already happy with the flight I had and I just kept with the 100 up and drifted. Well, son of a gun, this 100 up kept building and building and the next thing I know I had a full blown 200-400 up thermal on my hands. I looked up and smiled, I was under a new cloud! There were wispy clouds above me and I was getting cold again up at 5200′!!! I was happy that I went with the cloud street that I had chosen, I caught the last thermal out of town,…. so I thought!
From up there, I tried to drift with the wispy cloud as much as I could but after sinking down to 4900′ I decided to go on glide. My vario told me that I had my goal with a 10:1 glide and I was set! So on what I thought was my final glide, I just pushed that bar out and enjoyed the tastiest glide of my life! I decided to take my phone out and capture some of the glorious evening.
At 2900′ I made it to the Hearne airport. I heard stories that back in the day, they used to have National Compititions at Hearne, and I could see why! Fantastic SOARING!!! Just when I thought it was time to wind it down, I got ANOTHER BLIP on the vario!!! It was 7o’clock in the evening and I was getting a climb! NO WAY!!! So I stayed with it and climbed back up to 3700′ UN -FREAKING-BELIEVABLE!!!!!
Here is a picture of Hearne from over my shoulder in the distance, CYA Hearne!!! I did the best I could to maximize every little bit of lift there was to find but its 7:30 and all the sudden it just disappeared.
There was a little town ahead of me and I just wanted to milk this glide for all that it was worth. I flew over downtown, and I could see a bunch of people playing basketball at a park. Adjacent the park, there was a possible landing field. Upon closer inspection, there were telephone lines and also a person on horseback riding in the field. I did a 360 over the people in the park, and spotted a running track, next to some football fields by a school. I decided to land in the open track field, and there I decided to land in the field next to that one because there was a fence going around the track.
I was upright and I was noticing that my landing position was very VERY different to what I was used to. My 6030 said that there was 15mph wind, so I thought this should be a piece of cake. Well, that instrument was off by about 15mph, it was a no wind. I couldn’t find a single flag around the school and I noticed the grass was still….
I recently had a landing where I flared too early and zoomed up and came down hard on my heel. So I was timid and waited too long to flare. I tried to run it out and the grass was deceptively deeper than I had anticipated. After a couple of running steps my base tube caught the grass and I whacked! My head was under the front wires and my glasses were all messed up…I picked up the glider and moved it to the nice mowed area by the fence. The nose cone wasn’t even dented in, and there wasn’t any grass stains on it either, all my tubes were straight and I was OK. So all in all, I’d say that I had a good landing, considering that it was a new harness, no wind, and I had just flown for 6hours and 50 minutes! I’m always striving to make my landings perfect, but under the circumstances I’m not going to be too hard on myself for my whack.
Anyways, as soon as I get out of the harness I turned my phone back on. My phone was inundated with messages and missed calls and voicemails. The phone froze temporarily while it all loaded. As it turns out, back in Wharton people were starting to get really worried about me. Tiki, Bart, and others had called sheriffs departments from Wharton to College Station (100 miles out) to see if anyone had found me! As I’m trying to grasp the whole situation Ben calls me. “Dude, where are you?” he asked in a frantic voice. “I just landed like 5 minutes ago!” I said. “WHAT?!?! WHERE ARE YOU?” Ben exclaimed? “North of Hearne!” I said. “HEA…..HEARNEE!!!!” Ben shouted!
I had to end my phone calls quick because I was running low on battery on my phone. Tiki was RELIEVED and OVERJOYED that I was OK and that I had just flown so far. I still didn’t know how far I had flown at this point! Bart and Tiki got my coordinates as I was greeted by KC, the man who lived next to the field I was in. KC helped me move my glider over the fence and his wife Karen took me in and treated me to cold beer and some snacks! They were such a nice and hospitable couple that you could have possibly imagined, THANK YOU SO MUCH KC and KAREN!!!
And of course, thanks again to TIKI and BART for the retrieve. Thanks to everyone that stayed late at Wharton calling all the sheriffs departments.
So, I was just planning on testing out my new Tenax harness, turns out that it works pretty well!!!