The Calm Before The Storm

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Red sky at morning…

The west coast of the USA is about to get a one-two punch from a set of storms that are bearing down on us from the Pacific Ocean.  We can really use the rain here in California where we have been in a 7 year drought.  The winds were calm this morning so I decided to get in a quick flight before the storms this weekend.

I pulled into New Jerusalem Airport just before 0700 this morning.  The air was completely calm with just a hint of frost on my breath.  The airport windsock hung on it’s pole like a discarded rag.  When I put my windsock up on top of my van it was in full agreement.  Not even a hint of wind.  I was grateful because this morning’s early Autumn air had a chill to it.  I pulled my wing out of the van and dropped it on the ground.  It landed with the sound of a laundry bag thumping down.  There was just a hint of “dairy air” in my nose as I set up.  Not an entirely pleasant smell.

I rolled my trike down off the trailer and primed the engine.  It took a couple of tries to finally start it but once running it purred.  After a full throttle run-up I shut the engine down and walked out to the runway to set up my wing.  I glanced back over my shoulder at my windsock.  It was just starting to show a southerly breeze, I was setting up to take off to the north.  There would be a slight tailwind.  Noted.  I spread the wing out and untangled the lines.  Satisfied that all was in order I walked back over to bring my trike over.   I donned my helmet, jacket, and gloves and drove the trike over to the wing.  Backed the trike in, connected the risers, one last look at the wing… alles goed.

I strapped myself in… legs first, then arm straps, chest strap, anti-torque strap, reserve parachute, throttle strapped to my left hand.  Good to go.  Strobe on.  I call on the radio “New Jerusalem Traffic, powered paraglider, departing runway three zero, 2 minutes”  Left brake handle in my left index and middle fingers, right brake handle in my right hand, press start on the throttle, the engine buzzes to life.  “A” lines hooked under both my thumbs, one last look around, deep breath, squeeze the throttle half-way.  The engine strains against the billowing wing  behind me as it slowly climbs above me.  I drop the “A”s and pull on the brakes to keep the wing from racing ahead of me.  It settles just above and behind me.  Alles goed.  I squeeze the throttle all the way and start letting up on the brake lines.  The front wheel starts getting light and then I feel the wing pull me up into the air by my suspenders.

The air is smooth and cool and crisp… and still smells slightly of cow.  As I climb the air freshens, no more cow smell.  The sky is grey to the north telegraphing the coming storm.  The sun shines bright red in the southeast.  Not high enough to warm me yet but high enough to hearten me.  The air is still dead calm, my trike glides easily through the air.  I head out over the San Joaquin river.  There are wisps of fog here and there on the river and in the farm fields on either side.  There is a man standing next to his truck parked along side the river, he is fishing.   We’re both having a good morning.  I pass over tractors slowly crawling along the fields.  Farm trucks meander down the roads, early morning commuters scurry around them on their way into the Bay Area.  I don’t share their sense of hurry suspended up here in the sky.

I take my hands off the brake lines and stow them.  I let the torque of the engine take me in a slow lazy circle back to the airport.  As I descend I feel the air getting cooler.  I drop through 500 feet, 400 feet, 300… 200 feet, my airspeed of 25 mph never changes.  I fly downwind, base, final.  I pull the brake lines about 5 feet off the ground and lightly touch down.  Still rolling I lightly squeeze the throttle to keep my speed up and keep my wing flying overhead.  I steer towards where I parked and as I roll to a stop.  I pull the brakes all the way down and my wing slowly crumples to the ground.

I sit for a moment and just listen to the metal in my motor make “tinking” sounds.  I unclip my reserve parachute, anti-torque strap, chest strap, leg straps, chin strap on my helmet.  I slowly shed the harness over my shoulders and stand up.  I toss my helmet into the seat.  Unclip the wing’s risers, and slowly coil the lines.  I stuff the wing back into it’s back and toss it in the van.  Load the trike back up on the trailer.

Sailors take warning.

I pause before driving away.  Alles goed.  Everything is still calm.

And now we await the storm.

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