I had known about the Refugio Airport for a long time. When I used to live in Corpus Christi I almost decided to take sailplane lessons there. My Dad had told me about Marion Griffith, who flew from Refugio to Kansas back in the 80’s out of the small little airport in Refugio. Also, my Dad told me that he was soaring his sailplane in Dallas at the time Marion had his flight and he even chatted with him on the radio as he made his historic flight. So for me, I knew that Refugio was already a legendary spot.
This all started with Robin Hamilton wanting to set up a week of record attempts. He had been thinking of Refugio and Jeff Kannard, a Texas Hang Glider pilot, had seen the potential for early starts there for years.
During the last Zapata WRE (World Record Encampment) Jeff had driven through Refugio several times and the conditions were much better than Zapata. There are early bail-out LZ’s that are much safer than Zapata. The retrieve drives are much easier for the first 100 miles , so it just made sense to make Refugio work. The airport is glider friendly and the people welcomed us there.
Last year, Mick, Robin, and Niki had gone down to Refugio to scout the area out and fly for a few days. Their overall perception was glowing! Soon, there were plans for a long distance cross-country encampment in the works. Jeff started taking the steps to make it happen. I’m not saying that Jeff was alone in the planning, not by far, Mick and Robin both had huge parts to play in getting everything organized. They reached out to Gregg Ludwig, a tow pilot out of north Houston to be our man to get us up. Soon, Jeff had selected a week to have Gregg come down to fly and it was all locked up! Mick had spoken with the airport manager, Ruth, and we had clearance to fly! This was the best part, the airport was so supportive of our cross-country flying camp! Thanks go out to Ruth, Ray, and Barry for being super supportive to our hang gliding group.
So the pilot list kind of centered around the XC flying group out of Wharton, TX. The guys originally tried to get Bart and Tiki from Cowboy Up involved but their business conflicted with the dates we had. It was just Robin, Mick, Jeff, Niki, Nate, and I (Bart and Tiki of course). Somehow, word got out, and the list grew during the Midwest Comp. Robin and Mick wanted to keep it under 10 pilots since we had just 1 tug to get us in the air.
The pilot list:
Jeff Kannard – Texas (cancelled)
Mick Howard – Texas
Robin Hamilton – Texas
Niki Longshore – Ford Abductor Van
Larry Bunner – Wisconsin
Glen Volk – California
Kelly Myrkle – Tennessee
Tyson Taylor – Texas
Gregg Dinauer – Wisconsin (cancelled)
Nate Wreyford – Texas
Micheal Williams – Texas (cancelled)
OK, so I just want to get into the flying… July 17th – July 21st were the dates, but they also ended up flying on the 22nd as well.
Monday, I showed up late and the weather was over developing so I didn’t fly.
Tuesday, after a good nights sleep in the Refugio Rooke Airport guest house, I set up my glider at 7:30am and I get a call from Craig that was saying that he was available to drive for me today. You have to understand, that even at 7:30 in the morning it is already getting so hot that you are sweating all over while you are setting up your glider.
The soil here in this part of South Texas is a thin layer of dirt covering 2-3 foot of caliche, under that it’s clay. The ground is hard packed, you have to put a lot of effort to drive a stake into the ground. When I was a teenager, I worked replacing road signs on the highways for a summer. So, it is extremely hard to dig in, I KNOW!!! Anyways, Just like clock work, by 9 am there are cumulus clouds popping up above us. By 9:30, there are cloud-streets running North! The crew is launching by 10am and I take off last at 12:30. The cloud-street out of Refugio was amazing! The lift was consistent but a little weak and luckily I was able to catch up to Kelly and a couple of topless gliders to make the work of leaving the coastal plains easier.
We were all able to stay up and we had let the wind carry us. I tried my best to help do my share of searching for lift but I had a hard time connecting with the thermals and I was struggling to keep up.
By the time we got to Karnes City, I was getting even more behind the guys as they headed NW. I looked out to the West and it looked sparse. But, we were flying around airspace so I had to keep my altitude up. Kelly was up at the cloud base and I was working hard down low to stay alive. So I decided to punch West out into the sun where NW was a lot more shaded in. I looked down and I realized I was flying over fracking sites. A fracking site in south Texas is a really HOT place to be, my friends who work in the oil patch always show pictures of 120 degree weather where they are working. Well, sure enough, those fracking sites provided me with booming thermals all the way up to 6500′.
As I headed more to the West I was out on my own. I was getting really high and the cloud base kept going up. As I was heading to Pleasanton and I was able to connect to a BIG cloud all the way up to 7995′!!! I noticed these little birds no bigger than the size of your hand, Swifts, I think. If you found yourself in a thermal with a Swift that’s when you knew that you had found a good thermal.
Once I got up high I headed up to Hondo. Once I was there I noticed that the route through the valley North to Bandera didn’t really offer that many good LZ’s despite a really nice looking cloud-street, so I decided to keep heading West.
This was such a beautiful part of the flight. I could smell the cedar trees in the thermals. I was looking down into some of the most treasured parts of Texas, the Hill Country! By this time, it was getting late, but I noticed that the wind was picking up to 18-20 mph. So I decided to head for Utopia. I made it a little south of there and I still had some exploring in my blood with another climb that I found. It was a group of hawks circling at the tip of one of the larger hills. A thermal was sweeping up through the valley and I could smell the cedars, I soared to amazing heights with the birds in the evening sky.
I had been to Leakey before with my buddy Craig who was driving for me. So I knew that this was really rocky and hilly country with not many good grassy fields around. Then I remembered that there was an airport in Leakey so I made my way for it. Once I got to the town of Leakey I got another thermal sometime around 6:30 in the evening!
I saw the airport, and I was really thinking how nice it would be to land there with the wind sock. But just downwind of me, there was one more cloud to the north. If I went for it thinking that if I connected I could break 200 miles! I was at 180 miles and I weighed the options in my head… I decided to go for it. I had already gone this far, why wind it down now! So I drifted another 5 miles down wind and by the time I got to my cloud it was not producing, the day was done.
I had a couple of options for landing fields but first I wanted to have a little fun. I was down low enough to run the ridges of the hill around the area. I was thinking that I was probably the first one to fly a hang glider over some of these hills!
The fun was over and it was time to get serious about landing. My first choice LZ started to change as I got closer to the ground. The grass was a lot higher than I had realized and there must have been two dozen deer in the middle of the LZ! My back up was a much smaller field downwind that was mowed. I was flying over the Rolling River Ranch and I caught the attention of the guests down below! This is the Frio River, one of Texas’ most famous rivers, and I was getting a great look into its’ clear blue waters and limestone cliffs. Lower, I realize that my back up LZ is full of deer too, at least a dozen! Also, there was a power line running along the side of the trees. With only enough altitude left for a few more turns I buzzed the field and luckily I spooked the deer which went running in all directions. Then it was time for a quick restricted landing. I didn’t realize it but when I took of the VG, I accidentally put it on zero, when I came into ground effect I noticed a bit of an uphill as well. I quickly thought about my landing in Buffalo with the uphill component, but without any VG the glider was ready to stall before I knew it! I threw the control frame up in a flare, and I was running. I managed to run a while until the glider got ahead of me and I dropped the control bar and fell to a knee. Whew! That wasn’t so bad!
It turns out that there is NO cell service down in the valleys. After getting to a pay phone I was able to get a hold of Craig after borrowing enough quarters to make a long distance phone call! He was 3.5 hours away from me. Lucky again, the family from Beeville took me in and fed me dinner! Fried quail, chicken, salad, fries, it was unbelievable!!! I was so thankful that Jim and his son helped me load my glider on their trailer and give me a ride back up into town.
I waited at the gas station for Craig to pick me up! We had a great drive back, arriving back in Refugio at 4:00am!!!
I was so tired from the flight/drive I didn’t fly the next day. I broke my Personal Best distance by more than 50miles, I broke my PB for duration as well! I was flushed with congratulations from everyone when I posted on Facebook! THANK YOU EVERYONE!!!