Thursday, March 4, 2010

A long interlude

I haven’t blogged in a while, and that’s because I’ve been busy with work, and also nursing an injury.

In December, I traveled to Nepal to learn paragliding, and right after I returned to Singapore, I purchased my new wing in January and went on my first flight after leaving paragliding school. It didn’t go too well, to put it lightly.

It’s not possible to fly in Singapore, which makes paragliding somewhat of an inconvenient sport. The closest place to Singapore to fly is this little town in Malaysia called Bahau. You can watch Malaysian pilots flying there in this Youtube video.

Bahau isn’t an easy site to fly for beginner pilots. The top of the hill is relatively small and steep, and winds can be very strong. On the day that we flew, we took off only after four o’clock in the afternoon.

The bigger problem however, is the lack of suitable LZs. There are three possible LZs at Bahau: back on the top of the hill itself (which requires top landing skills most beginners lack), the foot of the hill which is another smaller hill which is decidedly not flat (and pilots risk tumbling over the top of that hill and getting into trouble), and two school fields quite a distance away, behind the hill and in the town of Bahau itself. The school fields are relatively large and ideal for landing, except that getting there requires the pilot to attain enough altitude to be able to glide into town, and the fact that the schools lie downwind behind the hill means pilots risk rotors and turbulence while flying there. Pitch control is absolutely essential.

In short, none of the LZs are very suitable for beginners. And any pilot will tell you the most dangerous parts of flying are take-off and landing. I was warned prior to arrival at Bahau that it was not an easy site to fly. I was a new pilot, flying a new wing, unfamiliar with a new site. Probably not the best situation to be in.

Take-off was ok, with some assistance, and Bahau was a ridge soaring site, so I got some practice benching the ridge. When it came time to land though, I was in a dilemma. Which LZ to choose?

The two friends I had travelled to Bahau with were both more experienced pilots than me, and both had headed for the school fields to land. I was the last one still on the ridge. Top landing was out; I had no practice with that. It was a choice between the foot of the hill and the school fields.

Just prior to take-off, one of my friends had informed me that a previous pilot on the most recent excursion to Bahau had badly sprained his ankle landing on the uneven surface at the foot of the hill. 2 torn ligaments apparently. That was enough to sway me towards the school fields, which were large and flat, despite me being unsure of whether I had sufficient altitude to attempt to reach them (I wasn’t flying with a vario).

I could do large and flat; that was what I had been trained for.

To mitigate the risk of not having enough altitude to glide to the school fields, I decided to follow the ridge, which ran sideways. I thought that would get me closer to the school fields before I needed to leave the ridge and lose ridge lift.

But what I hadn’t counted on was that I started rapidly losing lift as I flew down the ridge, which became progressively lower.

That was a bad situation. I was too far from the low LZ, too far from the schools, and I vacillated between just trying for the school fields anyway, and turning back onto the ridge to try to regain lift.

In the end, I returned back onto the ridge, but the damage had been done already. The window to climb above the ridge had closed. I was permanently losing lift, unable to climb, and would either have to glide down off the ridge into the trees (Bahau is surrounded by trees, which is bad), or try to land onto the ridge as quickly as possible.

I chose, or rather, the situation turned out, into the latter. I crash-landed hard in a tree stump on the ridge, my knees and ankles buckling on direct impact. Kind of like landing feet first after jumping off the second storey. That stopped me from flying off the ridge, which was a good thing. On hindsight, it probably wouldn’t have been so bad if I had braked harder on the control lines before crashing. That would have reduced the momentum and impact sharply. In fact, I might even have gotten away without ANY injuries if I had done that.

As it was, I got away with one badly contused ankle and some superficial scratchs. No broken bones (I had X-rays done).

That was one helluva harrowing experience, and not one I would want to repeat anytime soon. 

Still, I’m not giving up on paragliding. It wasn’t so much the dangerous nature of the sport as the bad decision-making on my part that time. I can deal with the bad decision-making. It takes time and experience, but I can deal with it.

And that explains why I haven’t been blogging for a while. 3 weeks of MC and another 3 weeks of no physical activity and lots of catching up to do at work. And I’m *still* not back to normal. Dorsi and plantar flexion of the ankle are giving me issues. Jumping is still painful. I haven’t gone running in almost 7 weeks. Highly irregular for me. But I’m getting better, and hopefully should be back to normal activities soon enough. 

1 comment:

auntielucia said...

Hmm, cldn't u have blogged while on MC?