Well, today was a day of pluses and minuses. On the plus side, the sun was out, no rain in sight, and we were getting occasional climbs to above 8000' msl, and although weatherman Richard Kellerman predicted a blue day, we were seeing occasionally puffs here and there. On the minus side, the day started late, and died early, leaving a number of pilots (including me) stranded out on course.
The task was planned to stay as much as possible up to the northeast, as far away as possible from the anticipated encroachment of high cirrus, the harbinger of bad weather for tomorrow and (probably) Monday. First turn was Bloomsburg, WAY up to the northeast, with a 15 mile circle, then Nisbet with a 20 mile circle, then back to Mifflintown (not to be confused with Mifflin airport, but close) with a 20 mile circle, then back northeast to Selinsgrove with a 10 mile circle, then home. Min time for the task was 3:30.
Unfortunately, the day started late, so the gate didn't open until almost 2pm, meaning a min time task would get you back at 5:30, or about 30 minutes *after* the day died! ;-). That last turn at Selinsgrove was a killer for a lot of the fleet, as there were a *lot* of 'AB' codes on the scoresheet. Probably a goodly number of the 'AB' codes were landings back at Mifflin, not wanting to push all the way around on a practice day that was clearly heading toward the crapper. Yours truly rolled the dice and came up snakeyes, landing at a very nice grass strip in the Lewistown valley. Gary Carter and his lovely wife Chris came out to get me, and we enjoyed a 'just-before-closing' meal at the new Billy's BBQ place right at the entrance to Mifflin airport - recommended.
As I was struggling home after tagging the last turnpoint, I ran across Evan Luderman (T8) scratching around on Jacks Mountain at the same (low) altitude. Since it was a practice day, I took the liberty of calling him on the radio, saying something like "Hey Evan, I think we are in trouble", to which he replied something like "No shit, Sherlock!" (well, actually he didn't say that, but hey, I'm on a roll here). Anyway, we flailed around for a while, and I decided to go over and land at Snook airstrip, which, although I didn't realize it at at the time, was all the way across the Lewistown valley from the Jacks mountain ridge. As I was heading toward the airport, I commented to Evan that I wasn't seeing anything resembling an airport ahead of me, and Evan said - "Oh, its there, right where the database says it is, and there is already a glider at the south end". I keep going, and eventually find the (very nice) strip, but there's not glider - hmmm. Well, that's a mystery, but it's too late to worry about that, as I'm already pretty much committed. I land and roll all the way to the end to make room for Evan, who tells me that he's about 5 minutes behind me. Then, I hear "TA - I don't see your glider - where'd you go?". Turns out all this time Evan was giving me information about Gifford airport, thinking I was headed there, and we were both surprised that things weren't as expected when we arrive. Oh well, at least we both landed at airports, got the bonus, and lived to soar another day!.
Speaking of living to soar another day; The winds today were pretty much parallel to the ridgelines, and normally the CD sets the task so that nobody is tempted to try ridge soaring in marginal conditions. However, as I was going outbound to the last turnpoint, I saw several gliders *way* down below me, appearing to me to be ridge soaring Jacks Mountain, ---- On *both* sides! Now it might be OK to try to ridge soar Jacks on the east side, as you can always bail into the Lewistown valley where there are good landing options most of the way home. However, on the west side there is nothing but trees, trees, and more trees. It is quite possible that I was mis-interpreting the situation and the gliders I saw on the west side were actually well above the ridge top, but I for sure saw one glider on the east side well below ridge top, heading south toward home. When I was a very new glider racing pilot, I broke my LS-4 by trying to do exactly that - limp home on Jack's mountain when the ridge wasn't really working, and then failing to bail out in time to pick a good field and execute a good outlanding. Hopefully no gliders were damaged and nobody was hurt today, but I gotta tell you that looked pretty scary to me!
By the time Gary, Chris and I got back to the airport, the free welcome dinner was gone and packed away, and they were well into the mandatory safety meeting. Having been to more safety meetings than I can count, I snagged the sign-in sheet, Gary and I signed it, and then the three of us beat feet back down to Billy's BBQ, arriving just before they locked the door for the night. The owner (Billy - duh) was very gracious and kept the place open for us, and even gave Gary and Chris some local shopping tips.
The weather for tomorrow and Monday isn't looking particularly good. If you believe the popular weather forecast, the next time our gliders are going to see sunlight is Wednesday. If it's raining, it must be Mifflin :-(.
PS: I was justly chastised for leaving out Heinz Weissenbuehler (HW) off the list of soaring luminaries at this contest. In my defense, I'd like to say that Heinz isn't actually competing in the 15m Championship - he and his beautiful wife Karin are competing in the Region 2 Sports class event, running at the same time. However, that's no excuse, so as penance, I looked up Heinz's accomplishments. Heinz was a U.S. team member in the open class at the 2008 World Gliding Championships at Lusse, Germany, where he won Day 5 *and* Day 7, winding up 14th overall against the very best soaring pilots in the world - Yay Heinz!