I got in one vol-biv trip, although it’s a stretch to call it that. I flew across a small valley, landed high on the other side, spent the night, and flew back in the morning. It was definitely rad to do it, and as a shake-out flight it was helpful in thinking about what to pack, where to put it, and how much room I (don’t) have in my standard sit-harness.
If I had done just 1 SIV after that first crash, I probably would have flown even more. I took almost 3 weeks off in November and December just recovering from the last crash (where I cracked the helmet in the picture above, article on helmets here), and I flew scared for a few weeks after the first and second.
Still, I didn’t have the time or money for an SIV. 2018 was a tight year for making money, in part because I spent so much time flying.
I learned first-hand about fear injuries from those crashes, and how to heal them: Time and gradual re-exposure.
I gained lots of exposure to conditions at Blossom, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the latest crash, which came about as a combination of ignorance, hastiness, and overconfidence.
What should your takeaway be? Probably along the line of Mark Stucky's thoughts to Gavin McClurg on the Cloudbase Mayhem podcast:
Don't think "It won't ever happen to me." Prepare for everything. Chair fly (visualize). Be ready!
So that’s the crashes. What else did I learn?
Currency is key. Flying basically 1 out of every 3 days really helped me develop a feel for the air.
This idea of feel is at the core of flying well, but as far as I can tell can only be learned, not actually taught in a useful way. The only way to develop it is to fly, to fly as much as you can, and to pay attention to as much as you can.
My guess is that the more you can pay attention to each flight and learn from it, the faster you’ll progress. The currency you pay attention with is debited by fear, novelty, and the general joy of flying, so it’s easy to not learn much even if you fly a ton.
Looking back on the year, I had many flights and hours where I was just taken up with the joy of flying (or in the grips of fear) and didn’t learn as much as I otherwise could have because I wasn’t paying attention to learning & progression.
Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, I fly for the joy of it.
Still, part of the reason I fly is the joy in gaining mastery of a skill, and missed opportunities to progress shouldn’t be glossed over.
I did find that some phrases helped me develop my feel, many of them coming from Chris Cote.
“Does the air feel threatening to you?”
The idea of how I felt in the air helped with two things.
First, acknowledging that I may be flying worse if I was in the clutches of fear. A fair amount of fear in flying for me is non-rational; the wing won’t just crumple up and go away, the risers won’t break, going higher isn’t more dangerous, etc.
I’ve been in the air on the un-fun side of scared, then asked “Does this feel threatening?” and realized there was nothing concrete to be afraid of and to just “’work the problem", methods for mentally working the problem can be found here.
If I just pay attention to the feeling of the air, I can stay on top of it and progress much faster and more safely. If I remember to ask myself “How does the air feel?” prior to launch, it can really help stay way ahead of fear rising up.
When I take the time to think about it (and with that 1:3 day currency), the air almost never feels threatening. If it does, or even looks like it, then I don’t launch.
Second, the idea that the air can “feel” a certain way. Sure, I read about it in magazines and books and online, but it’s easy to forget to consciously feel the air when you’re in the air. As you progress, if you can remember to “feel” the air you’ll have more context to think about your experience and understand your flight once you’re on the ground.
“What are your risers telling you?”
This one clued me in to how kinesthetically sensitive I have to be in order to fly better. If I can’t feel the difference in my risers; which one is lifting, which one is dropping, if there's a pull to one side or the other, then “reading” the air becomes much more difficult.
We humans are so keyed in to using our eyes and ears that we forget to use our hips, our guts, and our butts for the feeling of going up or down or shifting out of balance.
Now, all this ignores one of the most important parts of flying, which is reading the weather. While I got *slightly* more conversant with weather, this is still a gaping hole in my flying knowledge, and something I'm psyched to improve in 2019.
Basically all I did this year was look at the Soaring Predictor Wind Grams, do a quick spot check on MesoWest, then head out the door. That ain't enough, and I only got away with it because San Diego has such consistent sites.
Being ultra stoked helps, and pestering everyone with questions on launch makes it more sure that they remember you, but even so…
Flying in the air is a solo sport. Our only real time to chat and get to know each other is on the ground. It’s not like soccer, or hockey, where you’ve got to learn everyone’s name and patterns of thought and movement quickly just to play the game. It took months before I started to know who was in the sky by which wings were up, or heck, got Arthur to say anything more than "Stay away from my wing." :)
Still, the things that take the most time are often those things that bring the most joy, and slowly making new flying friends over the course of the year was a highlight of paragliding for me.
A huge thank you to Josh Gelb for taking me under his wing on the car rides up to launch or club meetings, to Steve Rohrbaugh for showing me how to repack my reserve, to Chris Cote for the discussions on launch, to Sofia & Paul for bringing so much gentle joy to flying, to Ivan Guajardo for being so damn patient talking me through XC strategies, to Smiling Art & Mean Ol' Arthur at Blossom for being generous with their time & magazines, and to the long list of rad local pilots who have taken time away from their flying to help me progress. Thank you!
Here’s to a continually progressing 2019! I hope to see you in the sky whether it’s at my home site of Blossom or out on an SIV, or hell, anywhere the weather is good enough to zing into the wind and ride the sky.