Reserve parachutes and racing paragliders

June 2017 was a huge month for my progression as a paraglider pilot.

I drove to a small town in Oregon called Shady Cove to do my first SIV clinic. Simulated Incident in Flight clinics teach you how to react properly when your paraglider deflates, stalls, or gets in an otherwise non-normal situation. It’s essentially an advanced emergency situation training course.

The flights were held at Lost Creek Lake, just a little northeast of Shady Cove. This place is gorgeous. It’s lush with green trees, flora, and beautiful views.



Lost Creek Lake in the evening.


When you do an SIV course, it’s always over water in case you have to throw your reserve parachute. Reserves typically come down at 4-5 meters per second, so if you’re gonna hit something, water is better than hard ground.

Pilots are towed up behind a boat using a winch system. The boat driver can vary the pressure of the line to accommodate different sized pilots. As you fly, they let line out and eventually you’re a few thousand feet over the lake, ready to start messing up a perfectly flying wing.

The video below is of another pilot taking off and being towed.


On day two I was doing full stalls. When you perform this maneuver, you pull your brake toggles all the way to your hips. The location of your hands is also right next to the reserve parachute handle. After a couple of full stalls, I managed to wiggle out the handle and sure as shit the reserve parachute deployed! All of a sudden I was falling straight down towards the nasty lake water. Damn. Luckily, the boat drivers scooped me up quickly and my gear dried out over the next few hours.



An accidental reserve deployment put me in the lake!


The Rat Race paragliding competition followed the SIV course, but there were a couple days between to fill. My aunt was driving south from Portland, and was generous enough to stop to spend a few days with my on way through. We visited the Umpqua hot springs, made great vegan meals at the camp site, and shared life stories.



Umpqua hot springs in Oregon


Then, the race began. The Rat Race consists of three events: the Super Clinic, the Sprint, and the Race. The Race is for the top level pilot who has the skills and desire to fly at the highest level. This is the US National Championship. The Sprint is the every (wo)man’s race. It’s for the sport pilot who wants to compete, but have less stress and more overall fun. Lastly, the Super Clinic is for the lowest skilled pilot who doesn’t have the skill to compete in either, but wants to progress their abilities under the supervision of world class instructors.

I originally signed up for the Super Clinic because I thought the Sprint was way out of my league. I didn’t even know how to fly the local clubs baby races, for crying out loud.

Saturday was the first day of all three events, and was simply a practice day. The Sprint and Race had practice tasks, and the “Super Kids” had a site orientation and free flight. While I appreciated the site orientation, I could tell that the week was going to be rather boring. I flew around the local area, crossing valleys and exploring the near by Burnt and Rabies ridge.

Look, I can transition from peak to peak at this site, too. 

When I was flying from Woodrat across to Rabies ridge, one of the instructors got on radio and said they would fly with me for a little while. Sweet.

While on glide I took a few turns in a thermal I flew through and went back on my course towards Rabies. The instructor peeled off and went to another student. I guess I was doing okay.

That evening at headquarters, one of the local Salt Lake pilots asked me why I was doing the Super Clinic and not the Sprint. Basically, I have no proper instrument, I told him. I have an old Garmin GPSmap 60csX, a basic vario, and a cell phone. How am I supposed to navigate with instruments that aren’t made for aviation?

Behold, XCTrack! After a few sessions of bugging the scorers, they turned me on to this mobile app. All of a sudden I had a worthy instrument that would allow me to properly navigate and fly the Sprint. Fo’ free!

It took a couple days to really figure this shit out. On Thursday, I flew the entire task and was one of only three pilots to reach goal (the final waypoint and landing place), but I screwed up the start, so I didn’t get credit for any of it! Lessons were learned the hard way.

After that though, I was all set. I got this shiz. Sure as shit, I got first place in Friday’s task. Here is a GPS track log of my flight. Pretty neat.



A gaggle above Woodrat mountain, Oregon


The two week trip was a huge success. I’m a completely different (better) pilot, and I can’t wait to make more progress within this amazing sport.

See you at the top of the stack.