Jumping Off Over Jacksonville on a Wing and a Prayer: The Applegate Open Parasailing Competition Set to Take Flight
Perched atop the Rogue Valley world on Woodrat Mountain in Jacksonville, as often as every 15-seconds, onlookers can catch the site of 180 brave paragliding pilots flying off into the wild-blue-Applegate-open-yonder from June 15 – 22. Ground-level viewers are also welcome to enjoy the landings, paired with fresh food truck treats from Off the Bone BBQ and Wok Star, Longsword Vineyard wine, and rocking tunes from Danielle Kelly Soul Project and Sweetgrass Original Roots Music.
Gliders, hang gliders, paragliders—what’s the difference? No structure. Hang gliders have rigid frames, gliders have full fuselages, and paragliders have a parachute-looking “wing” controlled by a series of color-coded cords allowing pilots to maneuver through the air. Another big difference is a paraglider can fit into a backpack, so when you land you can pack it up and catch a ride home in a car or on public transport; try doing that with a hang glider.
Paragliders utilize some of the same methods for loft as birds. In fact, pilots will look to birds to find the otherwise invisible thermals. A thermal is an upward, columnar current of warm air created when the sun heats the earth and the changing difference in temperature between the ground and the air creates convection as the heat rises. Being mindful of these thermals is the difference between a short flight straight down to the ground and a joyful breeze through the upper atmospheres.
Birds could also be the difference between a peaceful flight and getting shredded, as paragliding pilot Dan Wells explains, “In Australia I’ve been attacked by eagles several times. They have a particular eagle over there that’s very territorial and if you get near their nest, they’ll attack your wing. Sometimes they just play and they’re good for watching thermals, but other times it’s kind of like you’re in a dog fight. You have to keep them from getting above or behind you. You’re turning, they’re turning, until you wind up landing and the eagle flies away.”
The Applegate Open is the reincarnation of the Rat Race, a paragliding competition which had been running for 15 years before the organizers retired. It had given paragliding pilots the rare opportunity to compete in their sport. Applegate Open creators Dan and Mary Beth Wells felt, “If we didn’t step in and do the event, we were afraid there wouldn’t be any competitions in the U.S. at all. The Applegate Open is one of only two competitions in the US which determine the national championship team, so it’s a big deal for pilots,” relates paraglider pilot and event patriarch, Dan Wells.
Although the sport was originally created by mountaineers needing to get to the ground below in a hurry, these days it’s all about staying aloft and enjoying the view, “I guess a good flight is if you’re up for an hour or and an hour and a half and then you know, the longest flights, you fly cross country. You can be up for as many as 12 hours. You can legally fly from sunrise to sunset. Long-distance flights, like 500 kilometers, can be done with prevailing winds and good thermal production,” explains Wells.
In the early days of the sport, “Retrieve Coordinator” Mary Beth Wells would drive from the launch towards the goal where she thought pilots may have landed, and do blind callouts over the radio, as it is her job to find the pilots who were forced to land before getting to goal. Wells explains, “We would just drive out towards the goal and on the radio I would be calling out ‘Woodrat pilot, this is retrieve’ and by the end of the week, my voice was shot. But now it’s much more targeted and that’s also much more fuel efficient. Something else that happened last year, which was really awesome was because people read some of the articles about the event, when they saw a paraglider walking along the road with their pack they picked them up and gave them a ride back to HQ.”
June 15 – 22