Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Retrieve

Okay so I finally have the time to sit down and actually write about Fridays adventure. I kept hearing about all of these crazy retrieves that people have here in Texas, and now I finally have one on my own! Though I would be lying if I was this positive about it the whole time it was happening...

So Friday looked like a great flying day, but there was a threat of thunderstorms to the North (storms almost always come down from the hill country). And boy did we ever start seeing those thunderstorms as of about 5pm, and they just kept getting darker, closer, and getting more lightening. The 15m class was the last to start, and Nick had started on the later side, so he ended up getting chased down south by the storm and couldn't make it back through, hence the land out. The same thing happened to quite a few of the guys who started later on in the afternoon; they all got cut off by these massive storms rolling through. Ironically though, while they got an inch of rain up in the North, not a drop of rain hit Uvalde and the surrounding area. And so it was at about 8pm that the phone rang and we got the spot tracker message that Nick had landed out about 35 miles outside of Cotulla. He said he had landed right nest to the El Caballero ranch airstrip ("caballero" being the Spanish word for "cowboy")For those of you who don't know Texas, Cotulla is a very small town to the south of Uvalde kind of in the middle of no where, so 35 miles outside of there is very much the middle of no where. It was going to be an interesting retrieve that's for sure because it was about a 3 hour drive one way. Because we knew it was going to be a difficult retrieve and we don't really know Texas, Christina and I enlisted Conrad to come with us, which would end up being a saving grace! He will probably run away screaming if I ever ask him to help with something again though...

It was about 8:15 when we finally left the field, trailer rolling and GPS programmed with the coordinates and headed off South. And I know better then to blindly trust a GPS (technology often fails me...) so I had pulled out a good old fashioned road map and checked to make sure that it was sending us to the right place, which it was. Good right? Nope. While Conrad had a nice nap in the back, I dozed off for a bit too and somewhere along way the GPS coordinates got changed to ones across the border in Mexico. So it started sending us to Mexico. And know when we figured it out? When we were in Laredo, about 50 feet from the border crossing and the GPS was telling us to go through. Yep that was not our finest moment. We finally got the trailer turned around and in a parking lot thanks to Conrad's excellent trailer backing up skills (for lack of a better term) because we had been stuck on a one way entry into the border crossing. I was trying to reprogram the GPS to the proper coordinates but it kept saying we had to go to Mexico, so we put it on a time out and punched the coordinates into the GPS on Conrad's iPhone, which thankfully knew where we needed to go. Good news! Bad news; we had gone over an hour to far south. So our nice little detour down to Laredo had just added 2 hours to our already long trip, it was going to be a good night.

Eventually we made it to Catulla, and headed out into the wild to track down Nick. It was really spooky to be driving around there because there is nothing other then a few oil drill camps and the odd ranch; it's completely silent and pitch black other then the few lights from those places. We started getting close to Nick at about 12:45am, but we were starting to have to drive on little back dirt roads through ranches to get to him. Thankfully the first to gates we needed to get through we open, but our luck ended there. It got to a point where every single road we went down ended in a massive padlocked gate, and we were just driving around in circles. Insert Conrad's trailer driving skills again because making a 3 point turn on a single lane dirt road in Texas bush with a 20 foot trailer is not exactly a walk in the park. It was so frustrating because we had Nicks coordinates, and we could see them on the iPhone on google earth, but we couldn't get to them. We tried all the roads we could to get to him but we couldn't get through. And you don't want to be cutting the locks on gates in Texas that's for sure.

Meanwhile poor Nick had been sitting in his glider for hours, alone and in the dark with God only knows what roaming around in the fields. We got a message from him at one point that scorpions were circling the glider, just incase it wasn't already exciting enough. At this point we had been driving around for so long trying to find him that we were running out of ideas, and realized it was time to call back to Uvalde for help. It was about 2am at this point, and we were down to less then a quarter tank of gas (that last has station we passed 40 miles back? yeah we should have stopped at it). Fortunately our ID badges had numbers to contact the contest headquarters on and we got through to a fellow Canadian  Brian Millner who would help us get out of this pickle. We also had support coming from Ed who we had been keeping up to date and was waiting up for us to reach Nick. A phone call from Headquaters to the Uvalde Sheriff got them in contact with the Sheriff of the area that we were in, who managed to get in touch with the ranch owner of El Caballero (who's gate we needed to get through). All this took a while though and we had gotten to a point where we couldn't afford to waste gas driving around, so we stopped and got out to look at the stars. Because we were so far away from any light pollution, it was so clear that you could clearly see hundreds of stars, the milky way and even a handful of shooting stars! Okay well I only saw one shooting star, but Conrad sure saw a bunch. It was a nice little break from the stress of the whole ordeal to just lay down on the hood of the car and get lost in the sky for a minute. Then thankfully I got a phone call from the ranch owner saying he was sending his son and a ranch hand to open the gate for us! He just had to call their phone enough to wake them up because it was almost 3am at this point...

I don't think any of us had ever been so happy to see a set of car headlights coming at us on the other side of a gate before. And plus it had gotten a little spooky sitting in the pitch black in front of the gate for a bit waiting for them to show up, all those opening scenes of horror movies start to play through our mind. I almost had a heart attack when some kind of little animal scurried across the roof of the car, much to Conrad and Christine's amusement. I startle easily on a good day but stick me in that kind of situation and I'll jump a foot in the air at anything. Oopsies? So the ranchers son and ranch hand lead us back into the ranch and to the airstrip, which just like he said, Nick was on the other side of the fence from in a soft field. Seeing Nick and the glider come out of the darkness was such a massive relief at that point, we finally found him! Ironically enough he hadn't landed at the airstrip because he was afraid of getting stuck behind a locked gate... the airstrip gate itself wasn't locked but the ranch gate sure was... What are the chances? We got the glider de-rigged and back in the box in record time, and thankfully didn't have to unhitch the car to use it's headlights because the ranchers stayed and shone their truck lights on the glider and trailer for us. They were such good sports about the whole thing, especially considering we had woken them up at 3am. All said and done it was just before 4am when we finally pulled out and started the drive back home. And we did have enough gas to make it back to Catulla and the nearest gas station! We did not however have an American Visa card to be able to pay at the pump (the station was long closed for the night), so it was Conrad to the rescue (again!) with his american credit card. Since everyone else had driven at that point, I volunteered to drive the 2 and a half hours back to Uvalde, but man I sure could have used to tooth picks to keep my eyes open. But we made it back all safe and sound, just as the sun was coming up at about 6:15. People were starting their days, and even coming to rig their gliders, just as we were getting home and wanting to go to bed... It was a pretty sunrise though, even though it was the second one I had seen in one day because I had been up at 6:30am the past morning! I took a picture of the clock in the kitchen when we got home, it was 6:25 I believe, but I can't seem to find it. I had completely forgotten to take any picture of the revive until then! Which I'm actually quite sad about. But I've got the story so I don't mind not having pictures quite as much. And so we went to take a brief nap before having to get up and going back to the airport for flying that say, the rooster going off at the house next door that I usually wake up to actually lulled me to sleep...

And so there it is, my crazy Texas retrieve! The rest of the story about what Saturday was like after all that will be included in my sum up of contest days 6-10 that I'll put up either tonight or tomorrow. And I'll be cleaning, cooking and helping with anything I can for the rest of my time here to try and make this up to Conrad, because while he was an invaluable help, I owe him big time for getting him into this adventure! Oh and I forgot to put in before, just as we we leaving he and Christine went out to check something on the trailer and low and behold there was a rattle snake curled up, head up, right there next to them. Scary right? We had just been walking all over the place there in really dim lighting taking the plane apart... Nick and I were both quite happy to have been in the car.

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