Elysian Fields of Soaring
Even a Welsh poet might grope a bit, trying to capture in words all the sensory delights of soaring at New Castle, Virginia - emerald home of the Blue Ridge Soaring Society.
Nestled among the ridges at the very head of the Shenandoah Valley, this jewel of a gliderport literally has everything. Excellent ridge soaring whenever there's a vestigial breeze... thermals that have been clocked up to 1,000 feet per minute... even substantial wave activity when the winter fronts come howling across the Appalachians and the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains. Gold altitude gains have already been achieved by BRSS members; Diamonds are predicted by the hopeful.
The favorite ridge runs southwest from New Castle all the way to Tennessee. Actually, there is a system of parallel ridges, two of them forming between them the unhappily named Sinking Creek Valley, which has offered informal landing facilities to many a ridge-runner who ran out of air.
My own first off-field landing in my first sailplane, a Ka-6CR, occurred some 55 miles down this ridge from New Castle, owing to a sneaky shift in wind direction. But that 50 minute ride at better than a mile-a-minute hooked me permanently on cross country soaring as a way of life.
New Castle International, as it's known to the in-group, not only has glorious soaring on it list of assets, BRSS also rejoices in an icy, gurgling run known as Craig Creek, which divides the airport from the highway - and must be forded by one and all, contributing a good deal to the sense of isolation as car and trailer emerge dripping onto the airfield.
The creek is occasionally stocked with trout, according to local legend. After one numbing swim in these waters, it was my view that the poor fish probably freeze to death on impact.
There is also a cozy clubhouse - an ancient frame farmhouse that has been remodeled and expanded to include a kitchen, bar, living room with stone fireplace, a couple of bedrooms and a larger bunk room where vast gaggles of bodies can be stowed for the the night when occasion demands. One wall is covered with relief maps of the whole...
Anyone who soars knows lovely secrets unfathomed by his fellow man. But until one has soared at New Castle, he has not yet lived the rich, full life. Thus, I gratefully salute Lanier Frantz and his colleagues of BRSS, who had the wit to develop the Garden of Eden, and the generosity to share it.
Soaring America (1971)