Well, today was not my best flying day by a long shot. Let me start by getting the task details out of the way - I don't remember what the task was. I actually bombed out after about 30 minutes of scratching - I ruined my pretty good score this day. But this is not the story I would like to tell; actually I don't want to tell what happened at all but I am going to anyway.
Everything here has been going really well - launches, landings, task, etc. and from that I have gain more confidence in my flying skill and well... maybe I have gotten a little more complacent having lost sight of safety and some basic things I learned from my Jedi Master Joe Greblo.
So here is what happened. The weather forecast was for moderately stable air and we were launching from EMU launch which is a path cut thru a forrest of 50ft tall Eucalyptus down a hill - so basically you have a path off the hill thru a forrest that is about 30-40 yards wide. I launched just fine, flew out a little ways and hit some lift just to the left of the path and pushed out a bit to milk it and flew a little ways to see how big the thermal was, it was decent lift and I thought I should turn in it. I looked to down and to my left to see how much clearance I had from the top of the trees and felt I was good (I did not realize how much the hill sloped) so I started a right-hand turn. Just when I started the turn I looked down and saw that I was still above the cut tree path and then got dumped out of the thermal. I looked over my right shoulder to see where I was in the turn and was immediately horrified. I said really loudly "oh shit" (people on the ground heard this) because I was certain I was not going to make it out of the turn and was pretty sure I would hit the left bank of the tree path. I couldn't believe this was going to happen - I really thought I was going to plow into the trees. So did everyone on launch. I knew I had screwed up but I was still in the glider and still flying...I knew I had to fly the glider. I was scared but didn't freak out and push out or anything. Instead I pulled in a bit for speed and banked a little harder. I actually steered the left wing of the glider in between the tops of two trees and my base bar cleared a third tree top by inches... seriously... inches... I could have grabbed the tree.
It really scared me and I thought for a second I should just go land the glider but instead caught a 700fpm up and started circling and thinking about what had just happened. I got to 7000ft and was just flying around under a cloud amazed that I had escaped the trees.
Here is what I came up with very simply. I feel like I got the best instruction a person can get in modern hang gliding from Joe Grebo and all I could think of is Joe's instruction for immediate post launch procedure. Safety, strategy, then comfort. Very basic. I went straight into strategy and it was nearly a disaster.
After the one good climb to 7000ft. I didn't find anymore lift; I scratched for about 30 minutes and landed (flying under power lines that showed up as I was on final - I looked like Seabass at Ojai). I had the biggest smile on my face even though I knew I had just wrecked my score. I just looked up at the mountain and thanked God that I was not being hoisted out of that tree.
I probably scared every Koala bear in the forrest.
Everyone on launch saw it and I was called out in a humorous way in the pilot meeting the next morning and got the opportunity to talk about what I learned. Respect the danger and don't get complacent.
This comp. has several novelty awards given out at the awards banquet on the last day and because of my mishap I was nominated for several. The Koala Award, Boots with Roots Award, the "No shit, there I was " award, and the most prestigious of them all the Cock-up award. They even considered creating a special "Cock-up Koala" award just for me.