02-05-18: Getting High

Thanks Dan Yates for taking this picture.

“You really should try it,” said Phil. “I don’t know, I am not sure I can get back down in time for my class tomorrow,” I replied. “Take a page out of my playbook and skip class.” “No can do!”, I exclaimed. But looking at the weather forecast for Monday, it looked so tempting. And there was a solid chance that I could sneak in, take a flight and be back in time for class. And another data point for our abstract of The Catskill Mountain Wave Project to be submitted on Wednesday would be really awesome. I had to do it.

Phil and I reviewed the weather. Skysight predicted good conditions early Monday morning, peaking sometime around 9:30am. Phil disagreed and the latest models showed that the front was clearing through a bit later. He figured that the wave would peak around 11am. I really had to be home by 2pm if I had any chance to make it to class on time. Decisions, decisions…

I pressed him hard to see when the wave would get started. We agreed that 9am it should work, even if it hadn’t peaked yet. And furthermore, unlike Skysight’s optimism, this allowed for the drier air to move in and clear out the wet air mass that trails immediately behind the front. We routinely have been burned by excess moisture this time of year.

Flash forward to Monday and I’m up and ready at 5:25am. By 7:45, I was at Wurtsboro airport. Steve Beer had very graciously agreed to crew in the morning. He couldn’t join me on this wave expedition because he had to get back to work, but enthusiastically offered to come, help me prep and ground handle the glider prior to takeoff. He had muscled with the covers for over an hour by the time I arrived and finally got them off. We got to work getting ready to fly.

45 minutes later, all systems were good to go and the glider was on the runway. Dan Yates got the L-19 ready and we were up in the air by 8:50, ten minutes ahead of schedule.

The plan was to tow the 25 miles North to the primary wave, located in the lee of Slide Mountain.

500ft into the tow, it was clear to me this was going to be a very different day compared to the last one. This was quite a rowdy tow! Evidentally there was rotor in the valley because both the glider and the towplane were thrown around quite a bit. It never got uncomfortable, but it certainly kept my attention. My eyes were fixated on the tail of the towplane.

Finally, we got to cloudbase (3,500ft) and climbed over the top (5,000ft or so). The air was completely smooth. Now I can get my Garmin out and guide Dan to where we need to go.

Along the way, we hit some wave lift. It was probably workable too! But in the interest of the research and the little time I had to fly today, I hung on. I hit go-to for the wave area predicted by Skysight.

It looked really odd ahead. The area of the primary really did not have that classic foehn gap. It was snowing right over the mountain and the clouds weren’t all that steep either. Where are we going?

Thinking for a second, it was clear that I could comfortably get out of there and back to Ellenville. But man this is a weird looking wave area. Don’t pull the cord yet, even if it is a waste, this would be useful information.

As we get closer, we hit monster sink. The L-19 was descending at 100 fpm under power while we were going 70 knots. Well I suppose there has to be strong UP somewhere? Looking ahead, I saw a really solid cap cloud over Slide Mountain. There’s gotta be something a wave coming off behind it.

Finally we were less than a mile from the predicted hotspot, I was still confused. But the air felt good and figuring, what the hell, I pulled the chord. 1.5-2 knots, not bad!

Solidly in the lift, I slowed down for the climb. Dan took a couple pictures of Greta, wished me luck and headed back. At this point I switched over to 134.3 and got in touch with Boston Center.

Daniel: Boston Center, glider N103GT is 17 miles west of Kingston at 7,400ft, climbing at 3 knots and remaining stationary.

Boston Center: Roger that and thanks for letting us know! Say again your position and heading…

And on it went.

The lift got better and better. Finally I was showing a solid 4 knots. Every couple minutes, Boston Center would ping me for my altitude. 9,000ft… 10,300ft, 12,000ft. The lift was unrelenting.

It only started tapering down around 16,000ft. By tapering down, I mean down to somewhere between 1-2 knots. By the time I hit 17,900ft, I had to push the nose down to avoid overclimbing into the Class A.

Subsequently, I started a long flat descent. Along the way, I explored various wave areas. When I dashed back to the primary, it was still working at 13,500ft. I also found wave near the south side of Rondout Reservoir, Ellenville Airport and good wave downwind of the Shawangunk Mountains. There it was around 3-4 knots at 11,500ft!

30 minutes later I was on the ground… just past 11am. By noon, the glider was buttoned up and I was on my way home.

Following my return back to earth and arrival back in the city, I had a quick bite to eat, changed my clothes and slowly transformed back into the city-dweller I normally am. 45 minutes later, I was on the subway, heading to the university.

Today’s class was The Physiology of Abnormal Behavior. The subject was the physiological underpinnings of substance abuse.

As the professor got going, he started describing some rather interesting revelations about addictive behavior. For instance, there’s strong evidence that nearly all drugs basically hijack the dopamine regulation in a particular part of the brain called the “nucleus accumbens”. Effectively, what drugs do is they mimic what are otherwise natural albeit unexpected and novel rewards.

This behavior is due to what’s called synaptic strengthening of neuron signalling pathways. Basically, when something good happens, this part of the brain says “let’s have more of that!” and causes whatever signals coming to be to be clarified and reinforced. It also causes learning, especially what environmental context caused the good thing to happen.

Furthermore, compared to natural rewards like dessert, this learning is a bit different with drugs. Instead of being a short, transient blip in the dopamine surge, drugs cause this super-heavy duty learning process to extend to weeks.

These changes in the brain have profound, long-term effects on motivation and behavior. Basically, is the conduit between the two. And the chemical changes cause a major and almost permanent shift toward such drug-seeking behavior.

As time goes on, the neurons in this special part of the brain start becoming more and more associated with certain kinds of rewards. For instance, a rat trained to self-administer cocaine will have special dedicated neurons that will start firing like crazy when they get cocaine. Same thing for water, food etc.

Studies had shown that this response will happen from other environmental cues. For instance, if you show a cocaine addict a video clip of a person snorting cocaine, their dopamine neurons go berserk.

Interestingly, while withdrawal distress in the immediate term, while unpleasant, is actually transient. Within one to three weeks, patients will detoxify and will physically be okay. The problem is that addicts are particularly susceptible to relapse due to changes in the central nervous system causing powerful cravings following 30-90 days without the substance. For instance, studies showed that in rats, the neurons that are especially responsive to cocaine become more and more prevalent. From 5 percent a day in the region studied after the training, to 17 percent 30 days later. Hence the really strong tendency to relapse.

Furthermore, while this neuronal sensitivity peaks 30-90 days after the last hit, it only very gradually subsides thereafter. In fact, sometimes this happens so slowly it effectively never returns to a healthy baseline. And the addict basically experiences intense cravings for the rest of his life.

Oh dammit, I am *high functioning*!!!!

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Thanks Steve Beer for crewing this morning, I really appreciate your help and it made this flight possible. Thanks Dan Yates for the early, long and rugged tow! Thanks Phil for the spot-on forecast. Thanks Boston Center for working with me today. And thanks Aero Club Albatross for providing me the glider of choice for this high-altitude exploration, the Twin Astir Grob. It was wonderful with its long wings and low sinkrate today.

Find the flight log here.