by Russ Brown
I went to sleep last night in my usual way, imagining I was circling in lift.
Smooth, wide lift.. higher,... higher.....z zzzzZZzZZZZZZZZZZZZ
I pulled up to the Elsinore LZ and noticed something was different. There's a comfy clubhouse (!) in the LZ equipped with an actual BATHROOM! Also, the license plate tags on all the vehicles say "04".... Hmmmm.
Just then, Marc Whisman greeted me. He was wearing a USHGA cap and matching t-shirt.
"Hey, Russ! I haven't seen you in a while! Good news! This is now a USHGA-regulated site! Let me show you around..."
He pointed east to the Ortega Oaks Market where we buy our beer.
"That's now the Exxtacy factory. Turns out that a couple of years ago the
kickbacks to the Russian mafia got to be too much, so they left the Ukraine and bought our LZ! I would say they saved the site, but it turned out not to matter much since Bill Gates' tragic death last year. You probably heard that he left his entire estate to the Koscis Site Fund."
"You don't say..." I mumbled.
"Let's get you set up with the latest in instrumentation," he said, handing me
what looked like a half-size Palm Pilot computer. "Let's just enter your USHGA number here. There. Listen, they PAY YOU a minimum of 5 bucks a flight to fly with this on your basetube!"
I weighed it in my hand. "You don't say..." I mumbled.
After launching I pressed the terminal's "on" button. A window popped up on the full-color active matrix screen: "Press <Enter> for first-time instructions, else <backspace>"
"I don't need no stinkin' instructions," I thought. But as I went for the backspace key I was bumped by a bubble and accidentally hit Enter. "Doh!"
The instructions scrolled up.
"Welcome, Russ Brown, to the Gates Foundation's Elsinore Micrometeorology Survey. Although no known technology can yet see thermals, the scientists here at the Gates Foundation have designed this device to mark and catalog in real-time any lift that you find. The database created from a multitude of these terminals, coupled with data from a grid of over 5,000 windtalkers will provide a valuable endowment of knowledge to future generations of hang glider pilots. Thank you for participating as one of our micrometeorological surveyors."
"This is a Differential GPS radio tracking device accurate to within 2 cm. Your mission is simply to find thermals - the terminal will automatically send your flight data to our mainframe's database. By flying with this unit, $5.00 will be deposited in your personal bank account. In addition, every thermal you find will be rewarded with cash based inversely on how many other pilots have found that same thermal.
"For example, the Elsinore house thermals are presently worth $.0001. Certain thermals 2 miles across the lake are presently worth from $2.00 to $6.00. The best thermal found within the last 3 months and within 50 miles of launch was a $2000.00 beauty caught just ahead of the shear in a canyon North of Anza Valley. Truly a trophy thermal."
"ARRRRRGHHHH!" I screamed. "Shit! I almost flew into that guy! I better get my nose out of this monitor and fly! Say... I know a spot where I'll bet no one has been. Man, I could make some real dough today with a little luck..."
It began turning into a near-epic day. One pilot is reporting getting to 8,500
MSL and heading east. I rush to catch up. My goal is to work my way 40 miles east to a spot on Southern California's largest mountain, San Gorgornio, where I think I can find a thermal worth 2 thousand bucks, easy. Maybe 3!!
I snag thermal after thermal over the flats. I see about 10 other guys racing
around. Wow! I just hooked one over Perris worth $4.50 and my bank account is now up to $19.80! This is like stealing!!
An hour later I'd squeaked over the Lamb Canyon badlands and was entering prime thermal hunting grounds. San Gorgornio was looming ahead, still capped by snow, and protected by 2 foothill ranges. I aggressively flew into the desolate grasp of the first range and was greeted by the sweet sound of my cash register, ah, I mean my vario. A $26.00 thermal, not bad! But I was after bigger game.
Alone now, I pushed ever deeper into the mountains. There was no way I could glide out now, I was committed. $150.00, $225.00, the obvious spine thermals must have been worked a few times before. I needed to glide in deeper. My drift clued me that there was a chance I could find a lee side thermal off a granite face inside a box canyon I spotted just a mile deeper in.
A $340.00 thermal allowed me the altitude to glide over a lone windtalker on the ridgeline and into a tree-studded canyon. A little voice in the back of my head was yelling at me but I knew the big one was now within reach. Closer, closer, I was now nearing the granite face. The air was getting turbulent. It better be here... BOOM!! A 200 fpm lifesaver!! I looked down at my terminal and read... $10,000.00!!!! I now had $10,893.00!!!
"YEEEHAAA!! I'm rich! Now I can buy a new Exxtacy!" I screamed. Climbing back over the ridgetop, I slipped out of the lift and back to safety of the valley. Just then I realized I had made a mistake in my excitement. I HAD ANOTHER RANGE TO CROSS. I should have worked that lift longer... but now I can't get back! No problem, I'll go back to the thermal I worked in this canyon just a half hour ago. But something was wrong. The wind had changed and the thermal wasn't there now!! I was getting lower, lower. I've never had to make a tree landing... shit!! I need lift!!
Something flashed on the terminal which caught my eye: "Based on windtalker and temperature data, there is a 95 percent probability that thermal number 4510 will be working. It is within your glide range. Cost to you: $3000.00. Press <Enter> to accept."
"What??!! This thing is now CHARGING ME?!!" I said, "I'll be darned if I'm going to give up a brand new super-rigid wing just to find a thermal!!"
I refused with 'backspace' as I zoomed over to a circling bird. "C'mon baby!! This is my last hope!!" The damned hawk started flapping just as I got close and now I was really sweating bullets. There was nowhere to go and I was more than desperate.
The display flashed: "Thermal 4510 within your glide range. Cost to you:
$11,000.00"!! With no other alternative, I pressed 'Enter' and arrows on the
monitor immediately directed me to thermal 4510. Instantly my panic subsided and I worked the 50 fpm lift to the top, my concentration so intense that I momentarily forgot about my lost money, and my vanished dream of a new glider.
45 miles away, back at the clubhouse in the LZ, the laughter was subsiding as the pilots who landed in the regular LZ, merrily drinking beer, turned away from the big screen map of glider icons. The last XC pilot had safely landed for the day, another newbie that had just learned an old lesson: he may occasionally throw you a bone, but the little guy NEVER wins against Bill Gates.