THE north cliffs

THE is right. We see them every day flying Canoa, just a bit out of reach it seems. Canoa's most frequently flown stretch of cliffs totals about 15km and ranges from vertical sand cliffs to sloped leafless-tree-covered ridges, always with a couple hundred meters of beach in front. The north end of the ridge disappears into the sand at the edge of town and reappears about 10km later-only this time it emerges as a 200 meter vertical wall thrust straight out of the breaking waves. No beach. Following it's crest you will see it run out to a point another 5k's further on and then turn out of sight into who knows what. I never went there last year...I always figured that it just ended there...like when the earth used to be flat.

The first two days of the race on the main ridge were just a little too close for comfort with Mikey always 5-10 seconds behind and Raul as his shadow. Now, we had this sort of informal agreement to not use ballast...but take Mike's 200+ pounds and consider that I discovered Raul was using lead and I just figured I had to make things fair.

The only chance to run the north cliffs would be day 3, and we only do one flight a day and usually it's a late finish to the race. The first two days were so close that I had to finish at ten feet off the beach to keep Mike at bay. There was just no way to get back up from that height so I did some thinking the second night and this is how I am going to justify my role in the ballast war.

Anyway, last lap-last day, and I finally have about 30 seconds on Mike. It looks like I will finally be able to finish on the ridge next to the finsh line and get back up for a north ridge run. Our finishing order is set in stone so Mike decides on the same plan. We did a few passes, headed back south to get on the big ridge, and tanked up for the long glide over town to the north. Scott was ahead with a keel mounted video camera and the sun was getting low and giving some awesome light on the cliffs. We connected and, with the camera in mind, I ran the ridge under Scott fast and low with no beach in sight. Pretty cool stuff, it had me tense for sure. Then I pulled up, expecting to see the edge of the flat earth just ending right there...and I have to wipe the salt out of my eyes. There is the most excellent cliff running as far as I can see-totally vertical, an even 200 meters high all the way, bathed in evening sun, and a pristine beach running the entire length. The wind was on so what the hell...

We threw a little expression session at ridge height for the camera (which was out of batteries as it turns out) before gaining some exploring height. I decide tentatively to head north and see where the wind would take me. Cliffs turned to smaller cliffs, then to shallow hills with their soarable sections way back from the beaches. The going was slow with little lift but the ground speed seemed alright. Mikey had mentioned something about going around this corner a couple years back and turning around only to find he was beating a huge headwind to get back...I'm a rock star...I don't care!! What I didn't realize was that the coastline was angling imperceptlibly (to me) to the north east. Turning around at about 20 km north of the nearest retrievable landing area, my glider parked in the now super cross wind. Strangely enough the vario stopped beeping too. Add the fact that I had been cruising fast and low the whole time, and the beach below took on a much harsher appearance as I thought of the day(s) it would take to send a boat to get me, if sea conditions would even allow it.

An eternity passed while I crossed two gaps, all the time sinking and battling a head wind. Things were looking pretty grim. I stretched out, pointed my toes, and somehow got on the windward side of the next section of cliffs on a more favorably facing section and got into the comfort zone again. Mike laughed the whole time from his vantage about 200 meters above and a kilometer behind, fully aware of the hole I had been digging. It's amazing what a different night I would have had with 30 meters less altitude or if I had turned around 15 seconds later. As luck would have it, my night was spent drinking with friends and making new ones in Canoa on a hoppin Saturday night.

It was mildly entertaining to drift through town, laughing with friends and throwing back shots while thinking of my alternate self, the one with 30 meters less altitude on that north ridge run, who was now screaming at Wilson the volleyball on some forsaken beach.

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