Monday, July 31, 2017

Refugio!

I join many of the hang gliding forums around the country in search of good flying stories that I can learn from. Last year I read the HHPA forum post regarding Mick, Robin and Niki pioneering XC flying out of Refugio, TX. I have been an XC pilot since 1983 and ventured downwind nigh 20 years before I was coaxed into flying competitions by my mentor Jim Lamb. His reasoning was sound in that it would make me a better XC pilot. I did have some success previously, flying 100 miles three days in a row in 1987 from Whiskey Peak in Wyoming and then topping that off a week later in post frontal conditions in Illinois by flying 176 miles. This was the longest flight ever (unofficial) off of tow on a flex wing. Fifteen years later I claimed the east of the Mississippi River flex wing record by being the first to ever fly over 200 miles (213). So when Mick told me more about the big flight (180 miles) that Robin had out of Refugio, my interest was piqued to go there and check it out myself. Thankfully, I received an invite and jumped at the chance. My friend John Enrietti a former hang glider pilot and now super driver from Chicago volunteered to haul my butt down there and then chase me all over Texas. I was stoked because this guy is really good at it, which removes one huge distraction when undertaking such a task. I went there with the goal of flying 500km (310 miles) as there have only been nine pilots in the world who have flown this distance. It takes alot of work to prepare for a big flight especially in the oppressive 100 degree heat during this time of year. I spoke with my trainer several times on what I could do from an exercise, fuel and hydration perspective to ward off fatigue and dehydration for the expected 10 hours in the air and worked toward that end before I left on July 14th. Here’s most of the equipment that I needed for the trip.



















2 meter radios, batteries and battery packs, camera, chargers, two camelbaks, instruments, spare zipper, catheters, vacuum bags, tools, tape, velcro, Tailwind and Skratch energy powders, energy gels, Stinger wafers, knee pads and ankle braces.

We arrived on Saturday night and went to the airport on Sunday afternoon to help Gregg and Kim set up their BMW powered North Wing Mustang trike. I had hoped to get in a test flight however the conditions and timing weren’t quite right for me. I still had a number of things to do to get prepared for the first day and decided to take care of them instead.







































Gregg’s Trike

Day 1: Most of the pilots were there and we set up in anticipation of a really good day. I didn’t launch until 12:13 even though the conditions were good much earlier. Winds were easterly most of the day and started out at 7mph but increased up to 14mph near Kenedy to the northwest. My goal was to fly to Hondo as the forecast models showed huge overdevelopment in the late afternoon up on the Edwards Plateau. Winds turned to the SE at Pleasonton and stayed relatively strong but I could see the front migrating south which made it a race to see if I could get to Hondo before it did. Climbs all day had been in the 500-600fpm range. The shade from the front was now directly in my path but I thought I could still make it in. At 25km out I hit 800-900fpm that was super smooth and took it to 6300’msl when I saw lightning up toward Hondo. I turned tail and ran back SE to a good landing. Flight time was 5:19 and OLC distance was 208km.







My new T2C144



Day 2: Stoked after a good flight, I was keen on getting prepared earlier to take advantage of the early part of the day. Still didn’t have my act together but managed to take off at 11:45 in good conditions. Mick and I had picked a task to Castroville just west of San Antonio and then on up to Big Spring. The climbs were similar to the day before, 3000’ early and slowly increasing to almost 7000’ and climbrates were again in the 500-600fpm range. However, the wind direction was SE the preferred direction and the velocity increased to 15 mph much earlier. I neared Castroville and checked the time, it was already 3:30, I figured that I needed to be here an hour and a half earlier to meet my goal of getting 500km. I spun it down at the Castroville Airport after 4 hours believing that Wednesday would be even better.and vowing to take off earlier. Flight time was 4:05 and distance was 200km.
Day 3: I use XC Skies and the new soaring weather program Skysight to assess the conditions each morning. I was very hopeful on the day, the winds looked good and the lift and clouds did as well. Unfortunately I didn’t check the CAPE (measure of instability). I was much better prepared today to take an early launch and got off at 10:06 with good clouds over the airport but rain upwind of us. I had two good climbs to base at 3300’, one of which was strong at 500-600fpm.  The third thermal was at 150fpm however base had lowered to 2800’ and I could see mist and rainbows in front of me. I had to dive off to the NW away from the rain to the next street that was quite a distance away. This took me toward unlandable terrain. I pushed over the scrub land as far as I dared and didn’t quite get to the cloud. I turned back to an open field near what appeared to be a road about 1 mile from the highway and landed. The road turned out to be for ranch access and the gate was locked so 2 1/2 hours later I finally got out of there. Good thing it was only 100F that day!

View of the sky when you land too early! (courtesy of K. Myrkle)

Day 4: The winds had turned south and were predicted to be light all day. Robin is here today. I pick Bastrop just east of Austin as my goal 200km away (again). I launch 4th so don’t leave until 10:16. I work my way north. Although the thermals are consistent and each cloud is working, I can’t get above 3500’ for the first 2 hours so it is painfully slow in the 8 mph winds. Northeast of Goliad I run into Nate and we do a few turns together before I take off for some better looking clouds. At 12:40 I hit 650fpm and climb above 4500’. The thermal spacing is good but I seem to be missing the climbs in successive clouds. It gets frustrating to not connect and again slows me down. The only positive is that the top of the lift continues to rise as the peak heating part of the day arrives. I continue to drive downwind and hear from Robin that he is about 10km ahead. He decides to spin down north of I-10. I continue on and am hitting 600-700fpm but base has only risen to 5800’. North of I-10 I top out above 6000’ a couple times and finally have Bastrop on glide. I circle over town land in a big open field on the highway south of town. Two minutes later John pulls in to the entrance! It is so good having a good driver. Flight time was 6 hrs and distance was 221km.
View From Cloudbase (courtesy of K. Myrkle)

Day 5: I’m gaining experience here. It is clear that the cloud streets start early. The question is, how early can we start and stick. If we launch too early and can’t stick we may not be able to get back to the airport for another flight so it’s a real challenge to pick the right time. The winds are south this morning but are predicted to go SE early in the afternoon so Robin, Glen and I choose a task west of San Antonio to Castroville, then Utopia and hopefully up on to the Edwards Plateau. I launch at 9:48 and slowly climb to 2300’. The next thermal is 300fpm and takes me to 2500’. After the third thermal I’m back to 2300’, it looks like the game is on. I’m drifting to the north at 6mph and know that I need to head west to stay on track. I cross from one cloudstreet to the next and sink like a stone down to 900’. I unzip preparing to land soon but see birds soaring further west and get to their lift just in time. Eighteen minutes later I top out at 2800’. I decide against crossing streets and slowly drift downwind off of the planned course line. Two hours into the flight the top of the lift rises above 3000’ for the first time. Two more good thermals and it is now over 3800’. I hear from Robin and Glen, they were able to take a good line to the NW right out of the airport and were north of Beeville. My confidence returns after several good climbs, I am now 26km east of course line and decide to head WNW to get back on track and away from San Antonio airspace to the north. The winds have shifted to the SSE, the climbs are now stronger in the 600fpm range and top of the lift has risen over 5000’ making the trek back to courseline easier. The cumulus clouds are large and are running in streets to the NNW. Crossing them is much easier now and Robin and Glen are just off to my WSW. We connect with strong thermals and high clouds (6800’) every 5-10km and head past Kelly Airforce Base to our east. The lift is noticeably stronger and more turbulent. I see a massive dust devil churning the ground in front of me. I take the thermal that it is marking up over 6000’ and push on toward Castroville. We have been in the air for over 5 hours so unanimously decide to land there so we can get back to Refugio early and relax before the last day. The glide into goal is very turbulent, there are dust devils all around which makes landing at the airport a daunting task. I circle around the airport and see these massive columns of dust off to my west, south and east. Just as I am coming in on final I see the large wind indicator swing to the east and land too slow in a thermal breaking off, skidding in on my base tube but no worse for wear short of a few scrapes. Whew! Glen and Robin come in and have excellent landings. Flight time: 5:33 and distance 208km.
Day 6 the last day: Gregg and Kim have done an awesome job all week. Gregg’s BMW powered trike is a pleasure to tow behind and launches have gone flawlessly. We have south winds again today with a better velocity early but slowly dying down as the day wears on. We all decide to take the northerly route around the east side of Austin as we had done previously. I set a waypoint at Bastrop and then Draughton Miller Airport in Temple with a goal at Mineral Wells to get 500km. Launch was at 9:58 and Gregg gave me a high tow as no one else was quite ready yet. Three days earlier he towed me high between the clouds on a surreal tour from the topside of the cumulus. Today he took me high to the SE as the clouds were sparse and quickly evaporating. I released and found a climb at 200fpm to 3000’ in 15mph south winds. The clouds were quick to dissipate so it was important to pick those that were just beginning to form rather than in full bloom. Climbs topped out above 3500’ by 11:00. The winds were holding at 10-15mph and I was about 35km out after an hour. Glen was about 10km to my east and picked an awesome cloudstreet that held together for most of the day. Soon he was pulling away as I was zigzagging down wind trying to pick the best looking clouds. Robin meanwhile got a later start and was rapidly closing the gap on my same line. The winds slowly diminished to 10-12 mph but we were all still making good progress. North of Cuero, the climbs were above 5000’ however a bit of a blue hole had to be crossed to get to the good cloudstreets. Once there, the climbs improved to 700fpm and topped out over 7000’ at base. Robin passed me at this point and we ran into high cirrus that completely shaded the ground. Putting on the brakes, I crept across the shade under a good cloudstreet but no lift. I continued north looking for any kind of climb to get me back to the sunshine and eventually hit 100fpm at 1500’ above the ground. It improved to 300 and then 500fpm getting me over 5000’ so I could dive for the nice looking clouds in the sunshine. Glen meanwhile worked his excellent line to the east and was now 37km in front. He was battling sore shoulders and eventually decided to land around 250km out. Robin made it through the shade as well and was slowly pulling away. The clouds worked much better now with a couple climbs at 700fpm to 8100’ near Temple. The clouds were rapidly drying up with just a few wispies to the north. I picked a line to the west of Waco and thought I was going to land when I spied some birds that were climbing. I clawed my way back up from 1500’ and made it over 6500’ again. From there a line of little wispies marked my way and I spent the next 1 1/2 hours slowly climbing up and gliding until I left the last one and went on final glide landing 20km north of Waco. I moved my glider to the edge of the field, dropped a pin and made two quick calls only to see John pull up next to me! He is one amazing driver! Incredibly I felt very good after such a long flight. I actually had fuel left in the tank! Flight time was 9:34 and distance was 403km.

























Happy camper!

It was an amazing week and a tremendous learning experience! I can’t close without thanking the people that support my habit and the need to scratch the itch; my wife Sue who is my biggest supporter and puts up with my dreams to shoot for the horizon and beyond, my buddy John Enrietti super driver, Gregg and Kim Ludwig who supplied the tug and towed us up each day, the Refugio airport manager Ruth who allowed us to use their fine facility, Matt Bouback who provides the forum and the drive to get me into shape (kicks my butt) on a regular basis, my friends at Wills Wing who build one superb glider and to my family and friends for pulling for me to go long!  
Although I didn’t meet my 500km goal, I did set two personal bests on the last day for duration and distance. Also my totals for the week were 1268km and 31 hours 17 minutes which rank right up there with Forbes, Big Spring and Whiskey Peak in Wyoming way back in 1987. I am leaving this place feeling confident that I have the skills and stamina to break off a really long flight in the future. I only hope that I get an opportunity to fly from Refugio again next year.

Bun

Oh and as of two days ago, I’m a grandpa again too! Livin’ the dream……..

Lessons learned for the week:
1. I need to maximize the front end of the day. Based on the last day when cloudbase was 3000’ at 10:00, It is apparent that the clouds are working much earlier. On the last day they were probably over 2000’ at 9:00.
2. I need to do a better job of searching under the clouds for stronger lift. If climbs were stronger in previous thermals, it is reasonable to assume they will continue to be of the same strength if not more so.
3. I need to do a better job of exiting the thermals. I tend to hold on too long in weak lift at the top wasting precious time. This time (and distance) adds up over a long flight.

Friday, August 05, 2016

The High Road To Buffalo



In August, I usually head to Big Spring, TX to fly in some of the best conditions in the world. The west Texas high desert is ideal for flying big miles in smooth strong lift. The predominately southerly winds bode well for pushing us deep into the panhandle. However this isn’t about Big Spring. Last year I spoke with Greg Fergus who tows hang gliders in the Dallas area. He told me about the flying there in August and asked me to stop on my way west to fly with him. It turns out that Finney airfield was only 20 minutes from my son’s house so I took him up on it. Greg Chastain and I attempted the local challenge flight to Buffalo Mtn in Talihina, OK but were stopped by unusually wet conditions in the Red River valley. Later in the week I attempted a 100 mile triangle in much better conditions to the northwest but a persistent 10 mph SE wind stopped me 20 miles short. The two flights were enough to get me excited about the potential of the area and I vowed to return next year to give it another shot to be the first into the Kiamichi Valley.
Greg moved his operations to Caddo Mills northeast of Dallas this year and mentioned that the airport was home to a sailplane club at one time so the soaring conditions there were conducive to hang gliding as well. I studied the route from Caddo up through Antlers and on to Buffalo Mtn (133 miles) and concluded that the route was very doable with one challenging area between Antlers and Clayton, OK. This 45km leg was over the start of the Kiamichi Mountains leading to Buffalo. The mountains run to the northeast from Antlers and there are two valleys that parallel them; the Kiamichi River valley on the northwest and the Big Cedar Creek valley on the southeast. In my planning I concluded that the Big Cedar route would be best with an 8km hop over the end of the valley to Clayton, OK. I looked hard at the Kiamichi route with its’ wider open valley but concluded that it would be safer to stay to the southeast.
On my drive down to Dallas, I decided to take a route through Talihina, spend the night there and then scout the Kiamichi River valley on my way to Caddo Mills in the morning. Unfortunately my plans to stay there didn’t work out and I drove through the valley in the dark to stay in Antlers. It was a short drive to Caddo Mills and I met Greg there at 10:30. I had been checking Thursday’s weather for three days using my familiar tools (XC Skies and Skew T diagrams). It was looking like an epic day with decent southwest winds, lift in the 800fpm range and later in the day top of the lift greater than 8000’. By 11:00 the clouds were popping and already lined up in streets to the northeast.  James Race was going to be there at noon and the plan was to do an abbreviated talk on flying xc and weather predictions but alas work delayed him until after I launched at 1:15.
I pinned off at 700’ (gotta stay on a little longer) and climbed out in good lift at up to 500fpm to cloudbase at 5800’. Heading downwind the clouds were lined up right on courseline, the lift was consistent in the 400-500fpm range and every cloud was reliable all the way up to Antlers (145km). I couldn’t believe my good fortune, it was hugely gratifying to fly deep under each cloud and feel the surge of lift increase 200, 300, 400, 500fpm then bank hard and climb rapidly to base. The frequency of the clouds was short (3 to 8km) and each climb to base was higher than the last.  By 3:00 base was over 7000’. At Honey Grove (~20 miles south of the Red River) the conditions really improved as I didn’t dip below 5000’ for the next 57 miles (took 90 minutes).  The best climb of the day was at Soper peaking at over 800fpm. This really was an epic day!
Heading into the mountains northeast of Antlers I was concerned about the route through Big Cedar. What looks so good on Google Earth from a 20 mile high view takes on a whole new perspective when you’re at 5000’. The crossing from the end of the valley over the Kiamichi’s to Clayton now looked daunting. I flew under three clouds and stopped to climb in a couple but wasn’t hitting the solid stuff like before. I figured I was now in the mountains where the lift would get stronger but it wasn’t happening. I was down to 4000’ before I recognized my error and put the brakes on to grovel on the edge of a thermal. I was hesitant to go into the mountains to the north but eventually climbed up to 6000’. From there my confidence returned and I headed north across the mountains to a nice that took me too cloudbase at 7800’. I was now over plentiful landable fields on the edge of the Kiamichi River valley. A nice cloud south of Clayton rewarded me with a smooth 300 fpm climb to base at 8552’ my high for the day. Off to the northeast, Buffalo Mtn looked like a small ridge only a 7:1 glide away. I yelled a big “wahoo!” it was now in the bag. The glide across the valley was under a nice cloud street welcoming me to the Buffalo LZ. I checked the wind direction down below and didn’t like the westerly flow. From 4500’ the wooded area on the northeast corner seemed to cut off the approach for that direction, so I got a brilliant idea that I’d just fly to Heavener where there would be a better LZ right into the wind. Hah! The only problem was that I didn’t put Heavener into my gps and had no clue where it was. I climbed out over Buffalo to 7600’ with a spectacular view of the mountains to the east northeast including Mt Magazine way in the distance! I spied a southwest facing mountain due north and thought for sure it must be Heavener so burned off my altitude passing up lift along the way only to find that this mountain wasn’t it. I spiraled down anyway next to a town and landed at the big ranch on the west end after 5:12 in the air. I met the rancher, 80 year old Don Lessel (sp?) who just so happened to own the club’s north training hill in Red Oak, OK. Total distance just over 250km (~155 miles).
Now for the retrieve. The area north into southeastern OK doesn’t have very good cell service. I was able to talk with Greg via radio all the way to Antlers. Greg had a glider set up in the hangar for James to fly.  I saw his truck down below as I climbed out in the first thermal. He got up off of tow and I talked to him on occasion but his radio kept cutting out frequently clipping his communications. I was able to discern that he was doing quite well however heard that he had no waypoints so was flying by intuition. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but he ended up thinking he needed to cross a blue hole to get back on course line and it ended up putting him on the ground near the Red River. Greg ended up driving back south to pick him up so it was going to be a long retrieve.  On my drive down that morning, I had no cell service during halfway to Caddo Mills and had zero bars in the field I landed in. Thankfully, Don loaned me his phone (US Cellular vs my AT&T) and I made a quick call to Sue and my daughter Vanessa to let them know I was down safe and that it would be a long retrieve. I left a message with Greg to give my location and began tearing my glider down.  I knew that Kelly Merkle and Bruno Schnedl were flying at Heavener that day but had neither of their numbers. Luckily, Greg did and was able to get them to pick me up in their motorhome. Wow! That was cool as they were almost to Antlers when they got the call. Tom from Buffalo also called and said he’d come and pick me up too. Kelly and Bruno picked me up just as finished packing up. Kelly and Bruno were good sports and listened to my recapitulation of the flight all the way back to Caddo Mills so thanks guys for putting up with it. As it turns out, Kelly was high over Buffalo in his paraglider as I was climbing out over launch. Sure wish I had spotted him.
It was truly a magnificent day. There is a resounding peace that overwhelms my normal senses when I fly. Today I got to spend 5+ hours reveling in the billowing cumulus filled skies above juxtaposed with the panorama of the ever changing countryside rolling below. I am a lucky man.
 Greg Fergus has a nice operation at Caddo Mills. He has a big hangar to store the Dragonfly with room for many gliders. The towing is conveniently done on the paved taxi-way right next to the hangars.  The area around Caddo Mills is flat wide open country with innumerable places to land and the conditions in this area compare well to those I fly in west Texas. I look forward to coming back to explore the possibilities in the area even more. I can't thank Greg enough for giving me the opportunity to fly in north Texas. I am especially grateful for the tow into a nice fat thermal and then him volunteering to chasing James and I to the north. Can't wait to fly with others there the next time.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Quest to the North

2-16-15 Quest
Greg, Mitch and I debated about going to The Florida Ridge on Monday as the conditions down there looked ripe for a long XC.  I looked at the weather late Sunday night and it looked good at Quest too so decided that I was out and would stay “local”.  Of course, Monday morning the conditions looked much more favorable down there. The forecast here was good enough with cloudbase expected around 6000’ and strong winds from the south at 10-15mph on the surface and twice that at base. The only detriment was a 20 mile lobe of overdevelopment that would form in the afternoon east of Gainesville. The lift there would be suppressed. North of there however it looked really good again so Greg and I set a task to Keystone Airport just south of Starke, FL (~90 miles north) with hopes of continuing on to GA. 
I towed up around 12:30 at least an hour after the cu’s started forming and pinned off at 2400’ under a good cloud.  The lift wasn’t so good and it was 10 miles before I got above 4000’ just south of Lake Harris.  I headed NW from there to avoid the lake and the Ocala National Forest to the north. The lift was elusive and it was difficult finding solid climbs. I kept pushing to the NW far left of course line where the better landing fields run north along Rte 301. I was down to 2000’ right over The Villages looking for a suitable landing area when the strongest thermal of the day took me to 4800’ at over 500fpm. Climbs so far were to the north which continued to push me toward the forest east of Ocala.  I was averaging 25mph even though I was pushing cross wind to get in better position. A nice thermal at Leeward Air Ranch to me above 5000’ for the first time and I used this altitude to continue my push to the NW. I was on the east edge of Ocala 12km west of course line and now had multiple landing options as I continued north. The clouds were thickening and less sun was hitting the ground. My next thermal averaged 200fpm but there weren’t any better options ahead so I stuck with it all the way to cloudbase at 5900’. The wind shifted toward the SW which ate up most of my course line advantage and I drifted into the overcast on a long 25km glide. 33km out I hit a smooth 200fpm and slowly climbed out from 2200’ under a nice looking cloud. I was drifting east of course line and the landable fields were looking sparse again. I was worried about my next glide toward goal and made the wrong decision to leave the thermal at 5200’ to head back NW.  I had several fields in view and headed for one along a major highway to my NW. I was now 20km from goal and only needed a short climb to get me to the airport.  The shading and lower angle of the sun made it difficult to see landable fields to the north so I continued to the highway. It wasn’t until I was 2km away that I saw young trees all over my LZ. I had no fields to the north so had to push into the 23mph wind back south to another big field only to see a power line crossing from east west right in the middle.  Luckily I had enough altitude to push even further south over a wooded area to a big ranch with a wide open approach to the SW.  My landing was super smooth as I lightly touched down in a 12 mph wind.
I quickly phoned Sue to let her know I was down safely and to warn her that it would be a difficult retrieve so to have patience while I figured out the best way to get out of the field. She stated that she was 20 minutes away.   I was in a huge ranch quite a bit south from the nearest road.  For some reason Google maps showed that I landed on a peninsula on Levy’s Prairie Lake only there was no water anywhere around. Soon, Keith the ranch foreman pulled up on his 4 wheeler.  He said I was on a 1700 acre cattle ranch and agreed to meet Sue at the highway to the west a couple miles and would lead her back to me. I started tearing the glider down and another 4 wheeler showed up driving like a bat out of hell. He skidded to a stop on the opposite side of a fence. Darcy Sanders and I talked for quite a bit about the local area, his ranch and air strip that I almost landed on.  He seemed like a reasonable man. A few minutes later, Keith and Sue showed up however she didn’t drive the SUV all the way back to me.  Keith picked me up on his 4 wheeler and we took my harness back to her. I said let’s take the vehicle to my glider and she went ballistic, stating we weren’t going anywhere near my glider!! I couldn’t believe it, it didn’t take her that long to get to me so I told her to chill out and drove the vehicle as close to the glider as I could. I said my goodbyes to Darcy then Keith and I walked the glider back and loaded up.  While drinking celebratory beers, Keith explained that many years ago the lake had drained. He has walked the entire lake bottom and discovered the sandstone hole where all the water drained out.  Nearby he found 7 indian dugout canoes.  A few years ago there was a huge fire on the lake bottom that burned out the bog. Keith believes this plugged the drain and the lake is slowly filling back up.  Unfortunately we couldn’t go check out the canoes as they are again at the bottom of the lake. On the drive out of the ranch Sue told why she was so upset.  Keith told Sue to hold back because Darcy was a notorious ex-con who was imprisoned for hiring a hit man to kill his wife and that it was rumored that there were others. Needless to say she got a tad bit emotional about the whole thing and was not, repeat not going to go anywhere near the guy! I told her there wasn’t anyone near him that he could hire but she was not impressed!

All in all it was a very good day. Linda picked up Greg who went down about 40 miles out and we picked Greg up at Mitch and Linda’s house. Linda made us a fine dinner and we made it back to Quest about 11:30 pm. My totals for the day were 81 miles and 4 ½ hours. Sweet!

Monday, May 06, 2013

100 Mile Ridge Run


Ridge Run At Jack’s

I went to Jack’s for the second day in a row.  On Thursday I showed up late and launched around 2:30.  Some nice climbs in the 600fpm range and top of lift was over 5000’msl.  I cruised around for a couple hours and then landed at the Mifflin County Airport after Shawn offered to pick me up.  That night, I checked the weather for Friday and plotted out a long flight over the back to Casement Airport on Lake Erie (dream big!).  It looked like there would be clouds and top of the lift was predicted to be over 6000’.  I resolved to get to the site early and be ready to fly by 12:00 as it would take a long time to go that far. I couldn’t sleep that night thinking about putting in some big miles. Friday dawned with a slightly different forecast, no clouds but winds straight in at 10-15mph, lift to 6000’, climbs around 700fpm and a solid boundary shear ratio of 7.  I really wanted clouds if I was going downwind so… OK change of plans, it looks like a ridge run day. I was the only pilot at launch at 11:00 and was ready to go shortly after noon.  Conditions were straight in at a steady 10mph.  Unfortunately, no other pilots were there yet.  Bob and Cookie arrived, followed by Joe and Karen.  They threw me off just after 1:00 and I climbed out above launch in 600fpm.  I headed NE and hit a nice smooth 800fpm thermal with bits of 900 to 4200’. Climbs never got quite that good the rest of the day.  I continued NE and the top of the lift progressively improved as the day heated up. An hour into it I hit a nice climb over the gap at Lewistown and topped out above 5000’ for the first time.   The going was slow as there was a tad of east in the wind.  The thermals were spaced every 2-3 miles but I just wasn’t comfortable enough to really put the hammer down; not having a driver put me in conservative mode as I really didn’t want to land out and have to beg for a ride. A couple climbs took me well over the back to my top altitude for the day at 5700’.  Jack’s is unique; the ridge is so abrupt that thermaling over the back is easy, there are open fields everywhere and even if at ridge height you can dive over and get out of any rotor to safe landable fields.  At one point I was over 1 ½ miles back working lift even with winds aloft at 17mph.  It took me 1:40 to get from Lewistown to the end of the ridge. At this point the ridge drops back to the north and then continues on for another 10 miles.  I chose not to go for it as it looked too difficult to punch back upwind on the return leg. At the end of the ridge I topped out again and headed back on a long 6 mile glide.  I was down to 1000’ over the ridge scouting potential landing fields (at this time of year they are everywhere!) when I hit steady 700fpm up to 5000’ again. It was another 6 mile glide to the next thermal and even though I was getting down to 1000’ over, my confidence was going up as the sink wasn’t near as strong as earlier in the day. I crossed the gap again (the return leg took less than an hour) at 4000’ to the next thermal.  The climbs were becoming softer and the edges weren’t as defined.  I stopped topping out when the lift lessened and pushed back toward launch. Two sailplanes (Rick and George) passed underneath and out front. I saw Joe thermaling and joined him for some turns and then kept pushing to the SW. A couple more good climbs and I was at the SW end where the Juniata river runs through the gap at Mt Union. The ridge continues on another 13 miles to Three Springs but it was just too late in the day for me to try it.  I met up with a Sport 2 (Andy?) on the way back and we thermaled together for a bit before I pushed on to the NE.  Doug called from the LZ to report on conditions there however I was intent on making it back to Lewistown to land at the Mifflin County Airport again.  At the power lines I turned in my last thermal realizing that the valley was lifting off and there was no need to circle anymore. I flew the last 6 miles with VG full tight and the bar pushed out boating along at 3200’ (1400’ over) before diving over the back to the airport.  I landed at 7:42 25 minutes before sunset, totally exhausted but elated to no end.  Two sailplane pilots, Rick and George offered to take me to my car so I quickly packed up as the sun was setting.  What an awesome day, 6 hours 34 minutes, 102 miles and a lot of smiles!!!