Walt and I had been working the lower end of Ivanpah well below the bush line when we stumbled upon the first mark of our Out-N-Back adventure and downed gear to reconnoiter. As we studied the clue that would lead us to our next mark, the winds shifted to what would be a very close reach along narrow trails to where we thought the second mark lie. We felt we had achieved some degree of success worthy of reward and the day’s heat was beginning to take its toll so we opted to head back to cogitate on the true meaning of the cryptic clue over a Cold Beer and a Damn Ham Sammich. This turned out to be an incredibly fortuitous decision as the winds intensified and the lines of my 3 meter Core where singing the song of impending doom all the way back to camp. With help from the shoreline, we managed to down and stow gear just as the winds began hitting peaks of 40+mph. The fine dust had infiltrated past the seals of cooler leaving a fine coating of grit on the contents so we decided to forgo Sammiches for the moment, snatched up a couple of Fat Tires and made a dash for cover inside the marque tent to enjoy them.
Thunderous only begins to describe the sound level inside the tent as each gust pelted the walls with gravel and forced the tail flaps off the ground allowing billows of dust inside. The air was dense enough to chew and we began to wonder if there was such a thing as shelter from such a merciless beast. Through the window of the tent that faced the playa we watched in horror as Stephan walked into the gale with a handful of blue ripstop and some handles. Insanity, pure and simple, this was about to very ugly and I had a box seat for it all.
In one smooth motion, Stephan loosed the ripstop, grasped the free handle and leaned hard on the brake lines as a 5m race wing snapped to shape at the ends of 7.5m lines with an audible pop and began snarling and lunging at the wind. I’d never witness such a feat of bravery and what I felt was intense stupidity in all my travels but my worst fears where quickly allayed when Stephan plopped down in his race bug holding the kite low and squirt off across the playa like wet melon seed, brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Within moments, Mano followed suit with the same style and grace and soon the two were making passes on two wheels at break-neck speeds and performing intricate maneuvers in tandem as I’d not seen successfully executed solo in stable conditions let alone these sorts of gusty, treacherous winds.
No one will argue the fact that those two are absolutely fearless and in many respects, at the top of their game with no real apogee yet in sight. But, for me, that moment when I realized I had been looking at traction kiting all wrong, that there was a whole new aspect to the game I had not yet considered.
The level of precise control and responsiveness short lines can provide seems to encourage me to experiment far beyond what I’ve been comfortable with in the past in terms of gusty conditions, wind speed and kite size. I find myself putting up far more wing, thinking more on buggy position to the wind rather than monitoring the kite and enjoying rides in nasty, bumpy winds that used to leave me wishing for clearer air. I will caution that it’s never a good idea to buggy without personal protective gear, particularly a top quality brain bucket and top quality gloves because flying short lines can build a false sense security that will not serve well when flying longer line sets. Yet and still, flying oversized on short lines has become my game of choice and I’m still exploring the possibilities.