- Mission Statement
- NEW Super Clinic
- Rat Race/Sprint
- Registration - All Events
- Pilot List
- Travel Information
- Volunteers / Wind Techs
- Rule Book
- Flight Suits
- Rat Race Blogs
Reflections of the Rat Race by James Lee
As a pilot with less than two years of experience, I was really attracted to the Rat Race for the mentor program. (Gail, thanks for taking the time to explain it to me and T, thanks for the encouragement.) Last week has to have been one of the more enlightening experiences I've had since I've been paragliding.
I was initially pretty apprehensive having taken my first XC flight only the month before, and my airborne GPS experience, still devoid of having navigated a single route. Brett Hardin gave a great GPS presentation the opening evening and shared a bunch of tips and pointers that I found myself using throughout the entire competition.
The following morning on launch, my mentor (Greg Kelly) ensured that I knew how to program my GPS and discussed strategies on how to successfully complete the task. We talked about where to "tank up". Where to poise one's self for an optimal start. I heard strategy on racing as well as insights on every other aspect of flying from some of the top pilots in our sport. Over the course of the week, I was exposed to insights on flying that represent hundreds of paragliding-years, of experience.
Concepts of weather that didn't seem to click for me in the past, are clearer now after having watched them, and experienced them and then discussed them with pilots that were able to provide insights that could only come from thousands and thousands of hours of experience.
Perhaps other competitions are more focused on who's going to win but the overall atmosphere I experienced at the Rat Race was one of sharing and learning.
If you're interested in learning about the potential of another aspect our sport; if you're interested in broadening your skills as a pilot; I whole heartedly recommend that you come and experience this comp. If you're apprehensive about 100 other pilots whizzing around your head, come volunteer and experience the environment. If you DO plan to participate, be comfortable flying your wing. Be comfortable flying your wing in the company of others. Come with a maneuvers course or two under your belt. You may be tasked to fly in conditions you've never yet experienced and if you're not comfortable with them, be prepared to admit this to yourself.
For me, this was an experience unlike any other.
PS: I also made a ton of new friends from around the world and a couple of pilots had some boo-boos.
© 2007 Wil Brown, as first published in Hang Gliding & Paragliding magazine.
My name is Wil Brown, I am 17 years old and I have been paragliding since I was 12. From my perspective, going cross country is what most paraglider pilots consider to be the sport’s most valuable facet. It is the most sought after step in the evolution of learning to paraglide, and Woodrat Mountain is a perfect place to take that first step towards the new world of XC. With moderately sized mountains down to the large green grassy valleys, it is a very forgiving place to fly. It’s a place where bad XC decisions will land you in a friendly farmer’s cow pasture instead of a sketchy postage stamp lz or the median of a highway. These are just some of the reasons why Mike and Gail Hailey, organizers of the Rat Race, picked Woodrat Mountain as the location for this introductory competition.
My first ever XC flight was at Woodrat in the Starthistle Flyin prior to the start of the second Rat Race. It was nothing special, but I remember how intimidated I was by leaving the home LZ and going off to land somewhere I’d never been before. I’d done lots of thermal flying but I’d never left the nest. I’m sure every one can remember their first XC flight and the apprehension they felt at watching their perfectly good landing zone slowly slipping away. Once it’s gone, however, you begin to understand what it is that XC junkies are so stoked about; the climbs, the views, the freedom. It’s an experience that you can’t wait to share with every other pilot you meet. Competition lets pilots do just that. The goal of the Rat Race was to let relatively new pilots experience competition/XC flying for the first time without feeling alone in a field of expert pilots.
To help newer pilots, Len Szafaryn started a mentoring program which paired up an experienced comp pilot with someone who was new to the scene. The mentor and the protégé would meet up on launch to talk about the day and evaluate the task at hand. The program also includes lectures at night on important competition topics. Different pilots gave the lectures on topics like speed to fly, scoring, or just general racing technique and decision making. I found the program to be very helpful during my first comp and I am thankful to all of the mentors for encouraging the newer pilots to fly further, faster.
This year’s fourth Rat Race stayed true to its roots as an introductory comp while at the same time accommodating its growing popularity. It is now the largest competition in the United States and the hardest to get in to. This year it filled almost immediately with many pilots on a waiting list. The first three years had near perfect weather with only a few no fly days. This year turned out to be a little disappointing due to low ceilings and rain throughout the middle of the comp, but tacked on both ends of it were two spectacular days of flying.
The day before the comp was the best flying I’ve ever experienced in Oregon. The cloud base was right around 7,500 feet, which isn’t extraordinarily high for Woodrat, and the thermals weren’t the strongest I’d ever felt their either. But all the climbs were smooth and the lift was consistent everywhere. I spent all day cloud surfing with my father and others. We flew out to Grants Pass, which is about fifteen miles northwest of Ruch, and came back to land in the LZ. The whole route was scattered with other pilots taking the same route and enjoying the warm up for the comp.
The first day of the comp looked promising from a visual and metrological stand point. Cloud base was forecast to eight grand, the wind wasn’t going to be much of a factor, and each pilot had excitement smeared across his or her face. During the pilot meeting a few of us gasped at the length of the task set. It was a 42 mile task (70km) and lots of us had never flown more than twenty or thirty miles. I’d personally never made goal before and had been a competitor in the previous two Rat Races, so I’d had my chances. I wasn’t the only nervous looking pilot either. I could see lots of newbie’s like me fumbling with a GPS or sidling up to a group of seasoned comp pilots talking about the task. The atmosphere always makes me a little jittery, but it’s a good feeling and I can always relax by reminding myself that I’m just there to fly.
Woodrat’s dual launches off the north and west side ensured an expedient launch for all of the 130 participating pilots. There were lots of gaggles prior to the start but right before it all of the pilots slowly merged into one giant gaggle. It was probably the largest gaggle in U.S. history and most certainly the largest I’ve ever flown in. The start was an entry cylinder a few miles away so the gaggle broke up and took off across the valley towards it a few minutes prior. The course took us out to Grants Pass, back to Woodrat, then out towards Ashland for goal. 45 or 50 pilots made it which was surprising because it was a fairly ambitious task.
I was absolutely stoked to make goal for the first time, even though I was one of the last ones in. I came in over the last ridge looking for the LZ when I heard my dad screaming “Yeah Willy.” I missed being a part of the picture of all the pilots that made goal, but I’ll never forget the memory.
The next day the weather turned on us. We went up to launch to evaluate the days conditions, but had to come back down with our tails between our legs. We were forced to pursue other activities. The weather only got worse on Wednesday. The forecast looked like another day of hackysack and Frisbee golf to stay occupied. Thursday looked abysmal too, but several pilots got to fly off launch into awaiting cloud suck…I’d never seen so many pairs of big ears before. All of our hopes were shot and some of the competitors had already left. The forecast for the last day didn’t look promising so most of us expected a one day competition.
When we arrived at headquarters on Friday there were patches of sun poking through the thin cloud layer and there was once again hope in pilots’ eyes. It seemed that at best we’d get a short task in before the winds picked up in the afternoon and then go party at the headquarters. The task committee called a perfect task that resulted in a valid 1000 point day. There were fewer pilots in goal on the last day, but everyone was just excited to fly after sitting in the rain for three days.
The winner of the day and the competition was Bill Belcourt. Bruce Goldsmith took second in the competition followed by Hayden Glate. The beer kegs rolled out at the end of the day and everybody, except me of course, unofficially toasted their brew to two good tasks. Mike, Gail, and all of the volunteers, had hosted another successful Rat Race and received a well deserved thanks for the opportunity they provided the up and coming comp pilots in the United States.
From: Toby Harris
To: Cascade Paragliding Club
Date: Wednesday, February 16, 2005 5:42 PM
I'm writing this to encourage you all to participate in The Rat Race, even if the idea of a "competition" bothers you. Besides learning a great deal in a very short time, you'll fly your best, have a great time and rub shoulders with the best pilots in our sport.
I know a whole week is difficult for some to manage, but do try. It's worth it! This will be my third Rat Race. I'm already signed up and can't wait to spend time with old friends and see some new ones. I know my friends Sam and Jan Crocker will be down from Alaska and a lot of folks I've met will be up from California. Those who have participated in it, love it. Ask Steve Forslund. I've never seen a bigger smile on his face that whole week.
This is the best run, best organized, best orchestrated event there is in the Northwest. Whether you finish in the top ten or dead last, you'll have a great time and you'll be come a better pilot too.
Come join the party and fly your fanny off! (And quite frankly, some of you have some fanny you could lose).
From: Sam Crocker
To: Cascade Paragliding Club
Date: Wednesday, February 16, 2005 6:23 PM
This is one awesome event that everyone should really try to get in on, its a real blast!! Lots of fun and exchange of skills, tips and experiences...
So sign up today and get set for some fun!! go to www.mphsports.com