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Thursday 5-19-2011
XCs from Ord
Desert Center and Indio



Here's my 29-minute, two-part live narrated video:

My interactive tracks:

Bruce's and my igc and kmz files are attached.       [[These are special files needing appropriate programs to view:]]

I'd like to thank DanD for suggesting Ord Mountain as the launch point and avoiding the 10 Freeway corridor; Wally for driving chase and his wife Julie for being a good sport and joining our outing; and Bruce for rescheduling his dental appt with  Maynard and being available for 4-wheel, high clearance transport.

~Tuesday morning the NAM forecasts for Thursday were showing SW on the deck by Marshall Peak, clocking around to NW at 15 mph above 6,000'. Tops were around 9,000' south of the San Bernardino Range and 11-12,000' on the desert side. Dr Jack's super UniViewer was showing WNW winds of 18-22 mph all the way to the Arizona state border with  consistent tops of 11-12 k.

Going into Thursday morning, the NAM forecast only improved with  one important exception: The skew-Ts all showed what looked to me like a 2-k thick cloud deck between 6-8 k along the front side of the range. Out front where the cloud deck wasn't an issue: the lift just didn't look so good. I drive a 2-wheel RAV4 with  limited ground clearance and street tires. My only viable option for solo XC was to launch Marshall Peak. Previously, I had attempted to introduce Wally's lovely bride Julia to the thrills of XC chase driving, but it turned out to be local fishbowl flying to the AJX LZ for me; and Bruce landed my Freedom 170 by the base of Hwy 18 or something like that. Julie expressed sincere interest and I promised that we would do this soon and she would be joining us, but only if there were no more than two pilots.

My original plan was meet Wally and Julie in the LZ at 10:00 a.m. and be airborne by 12:00 noon having launched from Marshall. Just in case I had trouble climbing up through an expected hole in the cloud deck I was equipped with three GPS units to assist in the task. I planned to fly above the deck and go OTB into the desert then make my east from there. Somewhere amidst all my XC strategy brilliance and mental foolery, Dan suggested that I avoid flying anywhere in the valley that the 10 Freeway runs down as it is known for being, "The Dead Zone" as in no lift.

I sent out my XC spam 'o gram and got a funny reply from Tom who was going on an epic XC from his house to Fullerton and back. Bruce rose to the occasion but had dental work scheduled for late in the morning. I did my best Ron (don't call me Weiner) Keinan-esque Realtor's pitch as to why he needed to reschedule his dental work and fly with me instead. I even offered to let him borrow my Freedom 170, which he'd previously flown XC. Bruce capitulated to my arm-twisting tale of how we'd fly wing-in-wing from Marshall to Blythe, and drop in on 'Drummer Stan'. That soon became Ord-to-Blythe as Dan (Ah shucks I have to work) told me to tell Bruce we needed to launch Ord and fly the north side of the Berdoo range all the way to the end before shadowing the 10.

The time pressure was off, as there was no reason to get airborne prior to 1 PM and the day should allow us to go on final glide into sunset. We were now talking about up to 6 good hours of lift with a 20 mph tailwind. That certainly makes a 155-mile flight possible even though the tops were only 11-12 k. "Just think of 3-400 mile flights from Zapata, TX at 4 k AGL", I mentioned to Bruce.

The drive up the BLM road to Ord was so gnarly that it made the road up to Blackhawk seen like the road up to Marshall. Bruce suggested that next time we include Herb in our XC plans just to get him out of his hermit cave. For those unacquainted, Herb is reputed to have more 100-mile flights than anyone in the state. I understand that he used to fly an ATOS, supine.

We arrived at launch a little past 12:30 and it was blowing straight in, but gusting 10-25 mph and switchy. There were definite cycles and clouds forming upwind. Base appeared to be around 8-9 k when we first arrived at this 4800' launch. Somewhere near the top of our drive, Bruce talked about the day Herb flew roughly 2.5 miles while Bruce made a very gentle low save over the high school that began with  near-zero sink and gradually strengthened as he rose and eventually flew over 300 miles for the state HG distance record. One thing I love about Bruce is his subtle way of motivating me through his clever needling tactics. Works for me every time too.

I got setup and launched at 13:09.  I did a radio check with  Wally and it did not go well. I assumed the problem was on Wally's end and not mine. Bad move on my part. I had a damaged wire in the molded pigtail of my headset due to the frequency with which I yanked it out to silence the various noise when flying Sylmar. I must have had 250 hours on this headset too. Each time I flew, I get more pops and breaks while transmitting--and never bothered to put in a fresh one, which I had in my ditty bag in the truck.

My other major pre-launch f-up was not eating anything with protein. I had a light breakfast and did not request we stop for a burger anywhere on the way up because I was impatient. Bruce had a half-Subway sandwich he would have donated; and that would have added several good hours onto my flight. I don't like to mooch excessively and ate three Trader Joe's oatmeal raisin cookies that I brought which gave me insulin crash about an hour later. Part of the reason I was cursing up a storm was from not eating properly. I became rather irritable to say the least. I did well at King Mountain in 2010, in part,  because I ate a big steak breakfast most mornings. On the days I just ate pancakes instead, I did not perform as well. This has been generally true for me over several hundred hours of flying in varied conditions.

This is getting boring. On with the flight already!

I launched and turned in the first thermal I found, then drifted behind launch and got chewed up and spit out. This went on for three iterations and rapidly because tiresome. I finally flew out front toward the path of an approaching cloud and sure enough I found a workable thermal that got me up. Rather that flying back upwind and doing that again and hitting cloud-base level I elected to go OTB at 8,000' even though I was well below cloud base. Prior to launch, Wally suggested I let Bruce launch first and show me the lift. I respectfully declined, stating that I needed to get the jump on Bruce in his rocket ship Atos VR.

Initially I flew down the north side of the range, but I kept getting my ass handed to me. It was so miserable I just wanted to land and drive chase. Did I mention Bruce's story about Herb's 2-1/2 mile flight? I saw the Mitsubishi cement plants to the east and recalled these as excellent thermal spots thanks to Wally's excellent coaching on a previous Blackhawk flight. Sure enough, I caught nice one a mile or so west of the western-most plant. I called on radio to Wally and somewhere around this time Bruce announced he's at 10,200' above launch. I cursed and swore I would not give Bruce any fodder with which to needle me. I did the only logical thing and headed north out over the Lucerne Valley and left behind the mountains and the turbulence. I told myself, "If I can't work from scratch then I don't know how to fly XC", as I looked down upon the Lucerne Valley and tried to pick out the house of 2-meter radio operator, Ron who has kept me company on many flights over both sides of the range.

And 'scratch' was all I had to work with too. There biggest cloud streets were either 20+ miles north or on the south side of the SB mountain range. I spotted some poorly marked lift lines that were defined by small clouds but nothing downwind of me. I recalled the lessons of Bill Soderquist who told be he could spot a convergence line by subtle difference in the transparency of the air or by line of dust devils along the surface. I had no such skill or visual acuity but I was highly motivated and there was this small line of little clouds. Did I mention Bruce's story about this Herb fellow?

I drew a mental extrapolation line along the ground that followed the line of the clouds up wind. Not only did this eventually work, but it got me caught up with  Bruce at the 62-mile mark. Only I didn't know he was only 1/4-mile away and had visual on me. I kept waiting for Bruce to buzz me at some point during our flights and my bad radio contact should have motivated him. It was at this juncture that I elected not to continue east along the morth side of the range. I had also gotten only bits and pieces of Bruce's transmissions to Wally and I believed that Bruce was near the 10 Fwy. and that I needed to be on the south side of the range too. There was this excellent cloud street that would have taken me all the way to the Salton Sea had I remained on the north side. I was tired, hungry and very bitchy due to lack of fuel in my system and decided to play it safe by crossing the Little San Berdoo Mountains from what turned out to be the LEE SIDE!!!

That's not playing it safe, but I did make it over with  about 1200' to spare. Once on the other side I did find a good thermal that brought me back up high enough that I felt comfortable proceeding east. Did I mention that Dan said something about a 'Dead Zone'? And not the one that had firmly established itself between my ears. Sure enough it was dead, save for the, you guessed it--the cement plant! What is it about cement plants that attracts thermals? I just don't know but they sure do deliver. This may have been a quarry or a mine but it's all the same to me. The dead factor won the battle of the lapse rate, and I knew I needed to find a place to set down and grab some chow. I turned west and told Wally that I was at the 77-mile mark and heading for a shopping mall. It turned out to be a pair of truck stops on the Coachella/Indio border but there'd be food.

Initially I glided upwind into pretty buoyant air and was maintaining a good glide angle from about 3800' or so. As I got lower, my glide angle rapidly deteriorated. By this time my camera batteries had died although my voice recorder was still very much alive. I spotted a huge, smooth field that looked to be part of a little-utilized trailer park. Initially, I was going to play it safe and set down there, but realized that I may have a long wait before getting picked up, and opted to beat my way upwind toward the truck stops. I scrutinized this 480-acre undeveloped lot from afar and could see that it was being used as a garbage dump but also looked as though it was somewhat cleaned up. Winds were getting pretty gusty--as I got lower-- and they were switchy too. I determined the mean wind direction by noting my lateral-drift fluctuations and put her right down the middle. This path happened also to be the 'Valley of the Broken Mirrors'!

Did I happen to mention about my irritability and cursing? I did not call this zone in the field by any such aforementioned euphonium. But I digress. All that profanity got edited out of my Good Housekeeping Seal Approved video. As I am sure you have heard by now. I am of course assuming that at least one of two of my readers has even gotten this far before hitting his/her wastebasket icon. Upon making a safe and clean landing in the shithole I was referring to, I immediately began hand flying my glider for about 200' until I found a clearing where I could break it down. Oddly the winds on the very surface were so smooth (did I mention 'The Dead Zone'?) that I could fly my T2C 144 with  good tension on my harness bridle and easily steer it while I jogged my way upwind.

I was promptly greeted by none other than 'Glenn, the Wheel Polisher'. Glenn came up to me and introduced himself as the resident transient who has been camping in this field for the past 2 years. He and his SO make their living by polishing rims for various and sundry truckers and motor vehicle owners who frequent the turnaround and the other truck stops. Glenn proudly showed me the aluminum oxide that accumulated under his nails and cuticles as he offered me his Top Ramen soup in a styrobowl that he recently made. Glenn even offered me his back-wash free and mostly full bottle of Dr. Pepper. Did I mention about the burger I never stopped to pick up and eat?

There's a lot more to this story and I haven't even gotten warmed up yet, as one may imagine. Suffice it to say that Julie is now an enthusiastic partner of Wally when there are no more than two pilots on the XC adventure. Bruce and I compared notes at the Denny's near his house in Berdoo and found it interesting that we crossed paths having taken completely different routes and with the aid of clearly defined cloud streets. We also concluded that had my radio been working right (my bad) we could have team-flown from the 62-mile mark eastward and could have flown a very long distance together. Bruce admitted that he had the Colorado River in his sights but opted to turn back and land at Desert Center facilitate my retrieval, and save on mileage costs. My share of the 350 miles on Bruce's truck plus Wally's driving wasn't cheap. We figured ~$0.60/mile split two ways. Hopefully, the next time there will be at least four of us on the truck and everyone will be well-fed and have his radio system working well.

I'm confident that Julie will join me on local XC flights using my cheaper-to-run RAV4.