Our Team in Rieti

Our Team in Rieti
The US Team and Crew




Monday, July 7, 2008

Some Insights from Mark

Welcome to my second blog. Today is Sunday July 6 and It's been so busy during the practice days that I haven't been able to sit down and write, but now Quay Snyder (my crew) is here and I have a little more time.

Today is the rest day before the first official contest day tomorrow. Final preparations like updating databases, weighing gliders, getting badges and taking naps are the order of the day. All the teams will march in some kind of parade through town later this afternoon. Of course, the weather looks good, with a few scattered cu's and good visability. The pictures we send just don't show the real beauty of this place.

Now a few more of my impressions of Italy, and then about flying. The people are extremely friendly and helpful. Twice, after trying to communicate with non english speaking Italians, they searched an entire store to find someone who could understand what I was saying. It's like a challenge for them and, when they find someone who speaks even marginal English, it makes their day. While activating my cell phone, I had to talk to the Italian shop owner in Spanish but, in most cases, just plain old crude sign language in the form of gestures along with some body English is enough. We've all had a good laugh about our experiences.

Lastly, I'll touch on the food. Richard told me that after he was here last year, he couldn't eat "American" Italian food any more. I can easly believe that because the food is unbelievable. The sauces, the pasta, the meats are all elevated to a level of taste that I, as a lover of Italian food, have never experienced. I've been told that this region of Italy is known as producing the best olive oil. Trust me that, even when I write this, I have a smile on my face because it is outstanding. Amazingly, it's inexpensive too.

Now, to the flying. This is one incredible place. I can confidently describe it as the ridges of Pennsylvania on a double dose of steroids.
The mountains rise to between 6 and 8000 ft, with smaller mountains, ridges and valleys in between. Very often, we have flown below the tops of the mountains but, more accurately, we fly below most of any given mountain. We can be ridge soaring 3000 ft from the valley floor, looking up at 5000 feet of mountain above us. It's truly awe inspiring and, it can be disorienting.

This is a place that changes daily and even hourly depending on the wind. Wind is a key element here because some areas will energize with only a 10 degree shift in a wind of less than 10 knots. Every valley has its own distinct weather characteristics, too. In the short time that I've been here, I've seen cloudbase change 1000 ft in less than 3 miles. If that's not enough to peak your interest, there are regular seabreeze convergences and thunderstorms too. It's a very challenging and exciting place to fly! Much more can be written but better that I tell you in person some day.

As for landing places, it's probably even more challenging. The area can be broken down into places that you can land, places with some landing options, and places with no possible landing option, aside from damage and injury. Two days ago, we had a briefing just on landing options, and it was sobering.
Some of these places are not for the unskilled pilots. Smallish fields are the norm, uphill landings are probable and in many cases, the pucker factor is off the scale. In some areas, we fly as we do in certain places at Ridge Soaring, from landable field to landable field. In his daily blog, Richard will tell you about some landout incidents that have happened so far.

After launch, we're usually towed to the "hills" south of the airport. Where I come from, they're mountains. From there we transition to Terminillo (pronounced like a double L is in English, instead of the Y sound in Spanish), the larger mountain to the East of Rieti. (see pictures) From there we get as high as possible and start on course. That all sounds easy but sometimes it's tricky, again depending on the wind. Yesterday, I did ‘S’ turns up one smaller mountain until I had enough room to circle, then thermalled to my start height.

Yesterday, we had a course to the south, to a turn area, then to another area in the North, then home. I went out with about 10 other gliders, including Georgio Galletto and his teammate, and Sebastian Kawa, a world champion. Conditions were mostly blue until the far south of the task area, and the winds were such that ridge soaring was unlikely. We all just dribbled out and took whatever short climbs we could get and, about 15 miles out, the group split up. I was able to get to a place that usually has good thermals but, of course, didn't. While searching, the rest of the group passed about 200ft overhead and we all went for another sure place. This time it worked and we were able to reach the clouds and run into the turn area. On the second leg, we took a climb to cloudbase, ran a short convergence line, then headed for the mountains again. As before, conditions were weak and we tiptoed to Terminillo, where things picked up some.

After this, I got a bit overconfident and left a thermal that would have taken me to the turnpoint and at least most of the way home. A while later I found myself at 1300 ft on a small ridge with a K-13. I was able to work up and get home, but it cost me lots of time and, in the end, I was 5th out of only 9 that completed the course. It was one of those difficult days that learning comes from.

As I write this, it's 3pm and I have some loose ends to tie up. Because of the pace of the contest days, I'm not sure when I can do another blog, but check back, and watch the results. Richard will have some daily reports.

You're supporting a good team, and we're determined to do well here. Speaking of support, I do want to thank all of you who have supported the team effort. Without your help a contest like this wouldn't be affordable. It's truly a privilege and an honor to be here and to be supported by so many friends at home!


Just a quick update. We just finished the opening ceremonies and let the games begin. All the local politicians gave their welcome and “vote for me” speeches followed by a Grob doing aerobatics. Some pictures are or will be included.


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