Sunday, October 9, 2011

All weekends should be like this ...

The last 48 hours were like a template for what a weekend should be.

Saturday morning, I woke up at 6:00 for a mountainbike ride down in Philly with Dr. Craig. We met up  at 7 at the Valley Green Inn, and decided to ride over the Belmont. The Plateau is a completely different ride than Wissahickon, so it was a nice change of pace, especially since its more singlespeed friendly. Craig and I ended up getting about 21 miles in before 10:30. I wanted to be home by 11 because Joanna had asked me to keep the afternoon free - she had something planned as a birthday present (my birthday is two weeks away, but she wanted yesterday free and wouldn't tell me why.)

Turns out it was because she didn't want to risk not having the perfect weather. Her gift was an experience, and it's one of the best gifts I've ever been given:


I've flown in many different kinds of aircraft over the years - a stunt plane in New Jersey, helicopters in NY and AZ, dozens of commercial flights, a few puddle-jumpers - but never a glider.  I've always thought they looked like a ton of fun, but I didn't even know there was a place in the area you could do it. Joanna found the Philadelphia Glider Council in Hilltown:


They run aeronautical orientation flights most weekends, weather permitting. And on Saturday, I took one of those flights. It was one of the most awesome experiences I've ever had!


The tow plane getting ready

The view from inside the cockpit pre-takeoff

The two plane pulls us to release altitude
The little white blotch in the center of the screen is the Power Plant way out in Limerick
After we cut loose form the tow plane, we headed southwest because another glider was circling above a flat area and that means there was a thermal in that general vicinity. We were able to lock in with him on several loops. Here, he's opposite us and about 200 feet below.
The view of the launch field from 3200 feet.
Ideally, the best gliding comes from brown earth that evaporates water easily. There is a lot of that land in Hilltown, PA.
Another view of the cockpit - this time after takeoff

Swinging back around above some Hilltown farms

Unfortunately, everything must come to an end. We land back in the field after a 25 minute flight
This was one of the most incredible things I've ever had the chance to do. The ride is nothing like a regular airplane flight. It's so much quieter, and your speed and everything else is completely dependent on how you handle the aircraft (manipulating uplift through turns, etc.) I had the chance to take control of the flight for a while. Despite the fact that there are only really two foot pedals and one joystick, it's not as easy as you might think. The turns up in the air require only very small movements of the stick and pedals, and overdoing it can put the nose really high or really low. And it's really all about feel, according to the pilot who took me up. I would love to learn more if I ever have the opportunity - gliding was an absolute blast! I'm very lucky to have someone like Joanna who knows me well enough to know this was right up my alley! She's the best!

The weekend continued this morning when I took part in one of my favorite organized road rides - the Central Bucks Bike Club's Covered Bridge Metric Century. It was a week earlier than usual this year, and that was fine by me. The one issue I've always had with this ride is that, since it starts down next to the Delaware River in Tinicum, it's almost always freezing at the start. A few years ago, I had to stop and warm myself up 20 minutes into the ride because I was so cold I couldn't stop shivering. This year, the starting temps were in the high forties - downright balmy by Covered Bridge standards! There was quite a bit of fog on the way out, but it burned off early and by the time I finished, temps were as high as 80! It was a gorgeous day! I had a few small snags. Despite having done this ride six times now, I still followed two other riders off the course in the first two miles, and ended up climbing Geigel Hill Road, a very steep hill, less than 10 minutes into my day. And then it took us an extra seven miles to get back to the course without doubling back. Didn't mind this so much - it was kind of funny that in order to find our way back, three locals and a guy whose lived in the area for more than a decade (that'd be me) had to rely on a guy from England to get us back to the course. Then about 30 miles into the ride, I had a huge blow out in my rear tire - it was a full-on explosion. And I was at the base of a long hill. Kind of a pain in the ass, but it happens to everyone and this was just my turn. Overall, these were minor inconveniences. I had a great time out there - probably the most fun I've ever had on this ride!

I was up with the sun so I could get an early start on the ride

The closer I got to the rider, the more the fog stacked up, and the temps dropped - but thankfully not as low as in previous years!

By the time I reached the park, the fog was pea soup!

The roads on the ride are well chosen for low traffic and beautiful rolling farmland scenery

Away from the park, the sun was our constant companion, and there wasn't a single cloud in the sky all day

The Covered Bridge Ride is a very popular ride - at each rest stop, you see tons of people 

And all those people are drawn by the chance to ride on roads like this ...

... with views like this ...

There's a reason it's called the Covered Bridge Ride ... this is one of five you ride through over the 63 mile option.

After the ride, happy for a great day on the road
So that's my weekend. Not bad, huh? If every weekend was like this, I'm not sure I could wait five days for them!

This week: vacation starts on Wednesday. I'll be off for a week and a half! Woo-hoo!

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