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The Long Ride Home
Harold Peterson
August 01, 1966
Like dragonflies usurping a hornet's nest, the sailplanes took over Stead Air Force Base near Reno last month for the U.S. National Soaring Championships. Sixty-five of them lay beside the jet aprons, where signs still warned, "CAUTION: Keep Clear of Jet Exhaust, Min. Safe Distance 200 Feet." There were no signs to warn the visitors about deserts and angry farmers and hungry cows and quicksand, and there was no need. Sailplane pilots know all about such things as that.
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August 01, 1966

The Long Ride Home

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"Reminds me of the time I found George backed into a corner whipping at them with a branch," Ralph said. "The cows were licking at a wing—they like the dope in the fabric—and their tongues are just like sandpaper. They'll take a wing right off."

Someone recalled how three-time national champion Dick Schreder landed in a nudist colony ("this is funnier if you realize Dick is so pure-minded he won't even drink tea"). These little mishaps occur with some frequency, and there were many in this contest alone. One pilot fell into a Marine mountain-warfare training center, another into the Nevada State Minimum Security Prison. ("I mistook it for a school playground until I saw the gun towers," admitted Irving Taylor. "By then it was too late.") Don Fisher landed on an abandoned stretch of the first transcontinental railroad, close to the site of the Golden Spike and nothing else.

Story time had outlasted the wide, admirably empty desert and lasted into the irrigated outskirts of Yerington. "Did George ever hear any more from that farmer whose alfalfa field he landed in?" asked Jo-Ann. "That little man was hopping up and down." "No," said Suzanne, "and it was oats. I remember, because oats were growing out of the trailer for a year."

"Generally," Jo-Ann explained later, "people will sit you right down at their dinner table. But that man just wasn't going to let George out of his field. George finally showed him a nice gilt-edged insurance card. I guess the man thought he was going to get rich."

More often, J. Q. Public just burbles, "Whatsamatter, sonny, the wind stop?" That line or, "Hey, mister, what's in that funny trailer?" will draw a laugh from the dourest sailplaner.

George, especially economical with words in the air, broke radio silence to report that he had reached the turn-point at Hawthorne and was only 10 miles from Yerington on the return trip. Boehm crept homeward at 60.

"You know what some of that stuff that looks like dry lakes is?" asked Suzanne, nodding toward some inviting landing places. "Quicksand. Isn't that nice?"

The Austria had landed long before the Ford arrived back at Stead—so long before that Moffat had finished first in the 65-plane field. "All gravy," he said, expressionlessly. "I hardly circled at all. The trick is to make up your mind early what a day can give you and then settle for nothing less."

To the other pilots and wives, already lining up chairs along the edge of the hangar's shade to sip cool drinks, Moffat was fastidiously magnanimous. "Just luck," he murmured. "I was the last person to get to the turnpoint before all the lift quit."

"Almost everyone here is somebody you'd like to know better—and I'm picky," said Suzanne, driving to dinner for 10 after drinks and changes at the Moffats' rented apartment. "At home, in Elizabeth, we hardly know a single person, and that is the way we want it. We enjoy each other and don't need anybody else. But this is old home week. I go wild. I'm hoarse from talking."

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