Saturday, February 25, 2017

Why I Love Kuratake in Winter

I love my home area because it keeps delivering days like today.  Meteo winds were NW, and at the SE-facing takeoff, the wind was all over the place.  Today I was flying by myself, so I hiked up from the bottom, arriving at the launch around 11:30.  The wind was all over the place with occasional strong gusts.  Thermal clouds were forming actively, throwing most of the south side of the mountain into shade.  Unsure whether I could find lift while getting flushed down the shady slopes, I waited for a change in the shade and wind conditions. Evidently it wasn't going to happen, so I gave myself about an hour of flying before work, taking off at 12:30.  No big loss if I bombed.

Wind record for the launch (courtesy of our excellent FreeFlightWX weather station).  Upper graph is wind strength, with the red zone starting at 12 knots.  Lower graph is direction, with the green zone centered on SSE, facing down the slope.
I nearly lost it right off the start!  I picked up a weak thermal which drifted SW, a good direction toward a big leeside lift that usually sits near the ridge on the left of the image below.  But, blew apart in the wind at ridge height, leaving me with a difficult decision: the house thermal was completely shaded, whereas the valley to the north was in the sun but usually doesn't yield lift.  Sinking fast with no time to think, I tried for the house thermal but only found more severe sink.  So I did a 180 deep into the valley, a move I have never done before.  I couldn't shake the catabatic wind, and it looked like I was going to lose it!  But at the last opportunity, I picked up weak lift low on the slope.  A little higher, a better thermal coming from the other side of the ridge.  And, off to cloudbase!

Conditions were great high up: either 3-meter lift or 4-meter sink!  I was able to do the rounds of the Kankai Alps ridge, and the entire Kuratake massif in the time remaining, encountering some unexpected winds on the way.  For example, every time I caught a thermal on the south side of Kuratake, I drifted in a different direction!  One can never get tired of conditions like these.  It's the same place, but the air is so different minute to minute that I might as well have been flying straight-line XC!

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Big Deal with the Backpack

Everyone says how much more difficult it is to walk distances with the pack.  Some X-Alps athletes have said that they hadn't trained with the pack on enough, and suffered during the race as a result. I was planning to start training with my pack starting in March, but today also seemed like a good day to take my paragliding gear for a stroll.  So I walked this 22 km course in 3h:40, or at 6 km/h average speed - the same speed as I have been walking without the pack, more or less.  The course is mostly on paved roads but also included hills, forestry roads, and even some trail.  Yet, the hike did not seem any more difficult at all than hiking without the pack.  Maybe the bottoms of my feet felt it a bit more than usual, that's about it!

Perhaps my training so far has toughened up my legs.  It's a good sign, I hope, letting me know I am doing the right kind of training.  In any case, I'll be doing a lot more walking with the pack from now on.  Now, if I could only find a good pair of shoes!  In spite of purchasing several pairs of hi-tech trail-running sneakers, these are the only shoes I can walk in without some serious blistering occurring.  They are about 4 years old and have just about had it!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Another Tandem Fest!

This Sunday was a day of great weather sandwiched between many impossible days!  With serendipitous timing, tandem hopefuls once again converged on Kuratake.

Outstanding conditions set in from unusually early in the morning, and 10 AM saw us already soaring high over Kuratake with Matty.  It's been a while since a tandem has topped out over the summit, and we were also able to do a nearly one-hour tour of the entire massif: Yahazudake, Komeyama, Oniiwa.  What a flight!

Julio was next for another amazing flight: topping out again, flying for nearly an hour and, for the first time ever, top-landing the tandem at Kuratake!

Two more flights followed, and I'm sorry for forgetting to take pictures in all my excitement ๐Ÿ˜ž Besides the mental workout, after more than 3 hours in the air of aggressive maneuvering of the tandem's heavy controls, my arms felt fairly cooked!  And as the usual apprehension before taking off dissolved into the elation of the purest form of flight, my passengers kept me so busy engaged in conversation that thermaling had to be put on autopilot much of the time.  We watched and imitated thermaling birds, found a smoke-marked thermal that helped us make a low save, looked for movement in the trees below to find pockets of lift, talked about Kamishima's unique 'Colombian Necktie Thermal'.  From our high perch we enjoyed great views of the Goshoura and Shishijima Islands, Mt. Unzen, Aso, and even Kirishima and Kagoshima's Sakurajima.  We viewed Kuratake's bird- and plant-life from the air we also chatted about topics as diverse as physics, horticulture and, of course, the X-Alps!  Each flight was very different and exciting for me due to both the changing conditions and the different thoughts of each of my flying companions.

I can honestly say I've never had such active and positive engagement from my passengers before! That made the day really fun and enjoyable for me.  In fact, after it was all over, as Leanne and I made the last trip up the hill to drop off the tandem gear, I felt too excited just to go home, and so I grabbed my own gear and flew down the mountain, in the gusty and difficult west wind that was picking up, then took my headlamp and ran up the mountain and down the back-side in the dark for some X-Alps training.  And even after that, I still felt hyper!

Thanks guys for not only your material but also spiritual support!  Training for the X-Alps, although always quite enjoyable, can be a grind because of the duration and volume of grueling work one has to do, and other preparations such as sponsor and logistical work can also wear one down.  Every now and then, a little impromptu encouragement from others can make a huge difference, re-centering my psyche and reminding me why I am doing all this.  It really helps!  And, a special thanks to Mary-Ellen for once again helping to organize this day, for helping with out T-shirt design, and for the very constructive comments about further sponsorship and funding ideas.

Let's do it again!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Against the Grain - Another Great Training Ride

This ride heads generally south from my house, crossing 'against the grain' of the mountain ridges which in this area run generally east-west.  As such, it makes for great long-distance interval training, if that makes any sense.  On the way down, there is hardly any level ground; one is either climbing or descending, often steeply.  A good bit is on rough, even neglected dirt tracks.  The way back is almost completely flat and a scenic ride along the coast.

Google Earth overview.  Hondo town and my house is on the lower right (north).
 The south half of the mountain run uses a completely nonsensical "trunk forestry road" that chaotically threads through the hills from nowhere to nowhere, while simultaneously not even being close to the fastest way to connect these random points.  Such roads abound in Japan, where every road or other infrastructure that is actually useful have already been built decades ago, leaving the bureaucrats and construction companies with nothing to do but waste taxpayer money (and what remains of the environment) in this particular way.  Oh well, it's good for biking, if you don't mind the hills.  I did not meet a single car all the way down.

Here are the stats for the tour.  I like the sawtooth pattern of the hills; it's 1750 m of climbing in total. The first big hill is a test course for me - a rough steep dirt road climbing mercilessly for nearly 400 vertical meters in a distance of 3.0 km. I used to train here like crazy years ago before going to Denali, and my record then was 22.5 minutes.  I could do it today in just over 25 - not too bad.  The tour's total distance is 74 km, which took 4 hours and 35 minutes, with average heart rate of 135 bpm, and, ostensibly, 2117 calories burned, although I think the latter statistic is always quite a bit too low on the Garmin app.

Temperature hovered around 10 degrees today, but the sun's rays are getting hotter by the day!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

ParaWorld Article About Me!

The February issue of the Japanese paraglider magazine PARA WORLD carries not one, but basically two articles about me and my X-Alps project.  Many thanks to the staff and especially Kogai-san for taking the time and effort to come visit here in Kyushu to not only collect information for the article but give me invaluable advice about the race (he was the supporter for Japanese X-Alps athletes several times in the past, and will be reporting on this year's event as well).  Everyone's effort at the mag has definitely elevated by profile here in Japan and it's certain to help with my fund-raising efforts.  Once again, thanks a million!



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