High pressure day, low humidity and temperature in the low 80s. Winds were 8-12mph on the ground from the northwest with mostly clear skies with a high cloud layer. Some cumulus clouds were visible in the far distance. We scouted around looking for a tow road that didn't have trees rotoring from the west. We eventually settled on the usual 7 Mile Rd, but a bit further up the road where a pond creates a natural break in the tree line.
Chris Caywood towed and I went up as a wind dummy. He kept a pretty low line tension as the tow was a bit turbulent low down and we expected sharp thermals from the high pressure. I hit a strong piece of lift around 800' AGL but decided to stay on till the next one. That happened around 1200' and I called for an early release. Hooked a turn and basically kept climbing at the same rate as when I was on tow. The thermal was a bit rough for the first 1000' but then it smoothed out and was easy circling to the top.
I carried this initial thermal over Salt Lick Point where a small cumulus cloud was continually forming and dissipating. I made one upwind leg to return to this cloud to top off before setting out on glide. Winds aloft ranged from 12-15mph. With the wind strength, I knew I could be patient and try to top out every climb while still making progress down course. I appeared to hit an inversion layer around 6000' which correlated with the Skew-T plot for the day. The steady climb at 2m/s would suddenly stop and just go to zeros, even as I circled wider to try and reacquire.
Each transitional glide would bring me down below 1200' where I was studying not only ground trigger points but also potential LZs. I was a bit frustrated that I couldn't hit any thermals part way down but instead seemed to only encounter them when I was on the deck. But the ground triggers I picked out seemed to work and I'd eventually find some zeros to work. This bought some time for covering a bit more ground and although the edges were ragged, these bits of lift would coalesce into a steady climb back to the top. The Kaskaskia River was a trigger point for one thermal near Evansville, Ill. My lowest save was along rolling hills when I dropped to 400' but a series of tree lines trapped enough warm air that I maintained until it coalesced on the uphill side of a small river bank.
As I past Chester, Ill. where the river valley switches from the Illinois side to the Missouri side, I got under the edge of a high cloud layer. There was a definite boundary between the open blue skies and this long, continuous cloud line. I stayed under the cloud side and in zeroes at around 5400'. Occasionally I would hit pockets of lift and take a couple circles before going on glide again. This pattern eventually helped me push through the inversion layer where the lift solidified again and I got up to a high of 6400'.
Towards the end of the flight, I had a strange encounter with some balloons. There was a cluster of balloons tied together and encased in a clear plastic bag. I thought I was flying straight downwind, but they were crossing in front of me from left to right. When I first saw them, they were lower than me. I started circling in some light lift, but I was watching these balloons each time I went around. They started doing large, slow circuits around a point in a counter-clockwise direction a hundred yards away. I figured if there was ever a sign of lift, that was it. So I left what I had and flew right through the center of the balloon circle. Nothing but sink. I took a few more wraps convinced something should be there as the balloons continued orbiting now above me. Moral of the story, don't leave lift! I later caught glimpse of the balloons and they had drifted back the way they had come and were even lower, I guess they can get spit out of thermals too.
As I approached the century mark, I started focusing on this arbitrary number more than staying patient and working the light lift. The direction the wind was pushing was towards areas of dense trees with fewer LZs so I had to start picking between ground triggers and LZs. When I figured I had enough glide to reach 100K, I stopped searching and picked a line with multiple LZs. As I made my base turn over a corn field, I could see the localized winds kicking up showing a thermal forming but I had already committed to landing and decided this flight couldn't end any better.
Nick, Chris and Chris' son, Justin, came out for the long retrieve. They were stopped in Sparta for lunch when I landed. Thanks guys!
Max vario 3.8 m/sec
Min vario -3.9 m/sec
Max alt (ASL) 1960 m
Min alt (ASL) 133 m
Takeoff alt (ASL) 133 m
Altitude gain 1827 m
Max speed 72.9 km/h
Mean speed 36.3 km/h
Max Distance 101.5 km / 63.07 mi
We are a group of paragliding pilots based in the St. Louis area.