Of course, I wish this was just a trip to Marshall. Instead, it’s been a knock-down, drag-out almost-3 week ordeal of meetings, long-distance flights, puddle-jumps, hotel rooms and not a single day-off.
I’ve been on the road so long it no longer feels strange that I don’t know where I am when I wake up, it’s accepted, a given. I’m in a hotel room, it doesn’t matter where until I’ve had my coffee, it’ll come to me where I am and what I have to do today. I’m not sure if I can make conversation that doesn’t include specs or pricing on bicycle parts, it might come out automatically….”Can I get a cromoly handlebar with that instead of fries?…”
I never understood those airline TV ads in America, such a big fuss over the tiniest of details, “Now you can blah, blah, blah…” it never made sense. All the things I had always taken for granted, like being able to use a baggage cart for free, or getting a smile at the check-in counter. In 3 weeks I have gotten so sick of the endless walks from gate to gate, the attitude of counter staff, stewardesses old enough to be my mother (grandmother?). Slandered from check-in counter to baggage claim, endless friskings and humorless people, like everyone thinks they’re a cop (“Put DOWN the REMOTE and step AWAY from the TV!!!”). I never knew how good we have it in Asia.
Yesterday was beautiful, clear blue skies, the drive down to San Diego is really pretty, but my meeting was too long to go fly Torrey. The drive back up I-15 via Lake Elsinore is sort of surreal, strange and haunting landscape. This morning also dawns bright and clear, so here I am, my first free day in a month, and I’m sitting in a McDonald’s near San Bernadino, jump-off point for Marshall. It’s 9am, and I’ve already called Rob to check the weather. There’s a Santa Ana wind, over the back, and Rob thinks there’s only a 30% chance it’ll switch to upslope by 12 or 50% by 1pm. His weather forecasting skills are legendary…and I’m afraid he’s probably right.
I’m going to call Jerome in a minute, then head up to the LZ to hang out for a while. My gear hasn’t been out of the bag since I left, so want to check things out before deciding whether I should try my luck here, or turn tail and run back to San Diego and the safer bet of a coastal dangle at Torrey Pines.
Meanwhile, I’m drinking my second cup of coffee and watching the locals come in for breakfast. Somehow this place has been co-opted into a community center, like the old diner might have been. People know each other, old gents sit and wait for their friends, who shuffle in one-by-one. People are much less leery and paranoid than in LA. The Spanish speakers chatter and giggle while the white folk mutter in subdued tones…and why should they be quiet and respectful to the white folk, this used to be Mexico after all….
Doug says he’ll come here, and Jerome says he’ll go to Torrey. Hmmm, what to do? Stuff it, I just drove up from SD yesterday, and everyone says Torrey is horribly crowded on a weekend, so I’ll see what the weather dishes up here at Marshall. If it craps out here, we could always go fly Torrey on Monday when the crowds are back at their desks…. So we show up at the LZ to find a howling wind blowing downslope and a few hopeful pilots waiting for the miracle to come. I join them in some banter and like them, keep my eye on the windsock up at launch. Eventually, Doug shows up and we take off for some burritos and then head up the hill to wait there. The Marshall launch offers a knockout view over the whole San Bernadino valley, the city, the airport, mountains all around with a sprinkling of snow on the peaks, it’s really pretty, there’s still snow on Crestline behind us, and the range on the other side of the valley.
Finally, at 4pm, exactly as Rob predicted, the wind suddenly shifts and it’s showtime. It’s not an easy launch, and it’s been a month since I last flew, but I manage to launch without incident, but not really gracefully either… Don, who’s not a pilot, thought it was great that I could take off with a wing-tip folded, as if I hadn’t even noticed. Of course, I hadn’t even noticed.
As many were doubtful, there are only a few of us to enjoy the hour of lift, and cruise around the hills in search of a real thermal. Too bad, because no-one ordered any today. It’s very smooth though, maybe the smoothest air I’ve encountered inland except for glass-off very late in the day, or the early morning calm. I end up more interested in the view and my camera, so I just fly over the valley a bit and play around with lift coming up the small gulleys and spurs until it’s time to come down. It’s not too bad, Jerome is still up there and he’s quite a hotshot.
I guess I must have misheard Diane this morning. I was sure she said it was OK to land in the pretty 20′ grass circle, which no-one else managed, but everyone hissed when I set down in the middle of it….I had mis-heard her, and the grass circle is off-limits, DOH!
Doug and his friend Don (who doesn’t fly) have taken off to try to beat the traffic going back to LA, but I know they’re really just afraid to hang around and drink beer with me….
Rob says tomorrow it will be flyable all day, and he’s been right so far.
Finally, Doug has had enough and launches, he streaks straight down to 750′ launch and scratches around there for a half-hour before landing. I launch at 2:30pm and get some lift, and a bunch of pilots launch after me. We fight for the lift zone for a while before we sneak off one-by-one to find our own rides. It’s a lot more active today, so I’m getting worked a bit more, but quickly find 1400+ meters on the vario and it’s gotten cold too. Jerome and a small gaggle have found a nice fat thermal and I head over there, but a bit too late to join them. I hang around enjoying the scenery and waiting for the next big one to come through, but even as I run away, the sink alarm starts wailing and doesn’t shut up till I’m over the 750′ launch. I scratch around for a while, but soon lose heart and go land. Since another two pilots have landed on the circle, I guess it’s ok and risk Diane’s wrath by landing on it again…
Monday rolls around, and Rob says it should be good. We meet at the LZ and head up. Two-thirds of the way up the wind has turned downslope, ho hum. We wait around at Marshall launch for a while before Rob suggests we go down to Regionals, the lower (1004m) launch as it should come on earlier there. It’s a steeper, grassy slope and we wait down there for ten minutes, watching the crows ignore the rotor, thermalling off, croaking, mocking us, and sure enough the wind comes around. Rob launches his hang-glider with his passenger, followed by a PG, then Doug. Two of them go pretty much straight to the LZ, no passing “GO”, and no $200.
Doug does better and cruises around making it look pretty easy to stay up. I wait a bit longer for the cycles to solidify and launch after the Canadian goes up. We buck around for a bit, there’s a cycle, but it’s so broken I can’t work it. The thermals are worth 3.5m/s when you can stay in them, and they’re gentle on you when you fall out, unlike yesterday. We swap ridges a few times, that one always looking better than this one, but eventually get flushed down to the 750′ launch again. I’m looking at Doug’s yellow Swing down there on the grass, and I think I’ll be joining him soon. But, at 300m over the LZ, I find the miracle and start to work it up and back, strong and vertical at first, then tilting with the wind back toward the ridge, then vertical again. I watch the Canadian and a hangie sneak in under me to catch the ride, but I have this thermal carefully stuffed into the special pocket in my harness and I’m not leaving any lift for them. After 10 minutes or so, Marshall launch is close, and I get to within 30m of launch altitude before my thermal leaks away and leaves me to scratch along the ridge for a moment before the plummet back to earth. Maybe the pocket is old and porous now. Doug and the other two look pleased to see me, but I don’t care. Of course it now looks much more consistent up there, the hangies are launching from Marshall now, but now I have to face the drive back to LA and get ready for the 10hr flight home, oh well. It was pretty good while it lasted, and it was me that didn’t make the most of it. All in all, Marshall is a great site if you have the skills to get the best out of it, and you need to be P3 rated to fly it safely. Rob and Diane are great hosts, and probably the most knowledgeable people about the site. Hell, Rob just about built the LZ with his own hands. Check out their website, www.flytandem.com , for more site info and amazingly accurate weather info (though you may have to answer a quiz question to get that).