New Comp To Be Sanctioned:

The 2002 Pop Tart Challenge


By Murdoch Hughes

 WG Note: Murdoch wrote this partially in response to my article on flying in Zapata, it's here.

It was a cold, rainy, east-wind day in early November. One of those changing weather days, when the occasional lows slipping around the offshore flow would soon be blocked, promising to create a stagnant inversion in the coming daze. It would have us coughing and hacking while waiting our turn for an eventful launch in treacherous easterly flow, swerving around trees and if lucky, missing the greedy, green things, landing in the LZ way before the adrenaline-high had turned into the munchies.

Dreaming of flying, I waited for a break in the rain, and trudged the soft garbage out to the compost pile in the field, where summer's left-overs lay smoldering, like the itch to soar deep inside me. I raised my hopeless eyes to the sky searching for some magic signal that better weather skimmed the earth forty miles to the north or south. Even just a sled-ride, I whispered.

As if in answer, a gentle breeze shifted to the north, rattling the tall cottonwood's last dying leaves loose for their one and only swirling sled-ride to earth. A tear slid down my cheek (So what? It's poetic license, free-flight of fancy.) as I thought of those leaves waiting the entire flying season for that one brief glide to earth to be buried in the mulch below (at my age you start thinking about these things).

Hey, if those leaves could wait that long for a sled-ride, then by golly, I was going to enjoy mine. Maybe our sled-rides needed to be spiced up a bit. Something to get the competitive juices flowing. Sure, laying back in the harness for six to eight minutes, taking in the fantastic vistas was nice. Or maybe a short death-spiral, simulating the flight of dead leaves. These were to be appreciated, sure, but they couldn't sustain you for an entire winter.

An idea struck me with the strength of a leaf smacking upside my head (hey, it was a teensy first spark of an idea. Don't laugh, that's how the universe got its start). It exploded me out of the doldrums (read chores) and I rushed back into the house. Something I had read in Will Gadd's account of his record-breaking XC flight from down in Zapata,Texas. (Zapata means: "Ow! Ow! Ow! I just got another thorn through these darn sandals." This shouting is usually accompanied by a kind of Mexican folk dance where you jump around on one foot while holding the other off the ground with both hands, turning in circles. But since it gets really hot in the shade there, most people find it better to grimace and whisper, "Zapata" through clenched teeth). (Okay, for you fact-loving pilots, Emiliano Zapata was also the peasant who began the Mexican Revolution in 1910, and became their most revered, "Hero of the Revolution". It was a distant cousin who moved to Texas with a plan to sell cactus to northern gringos. He was a bit before his time. You can get lots of facts like this off the Internet if you search Zapata. Or you can save the trouble and make some up yourself, like I do.)

I found Will's article, which I had read several times already. I'd also heard him tell the story in person, with slides and everything, soon after he returned north still blistered from his world-record flight. It was a great story well-told, but there was one part that always grabbed me, and I skimmed the article, finding it quickly in his chronological report: "…At 12:00 I broke out my lunch of two Pop Tarts…" He enjoys one, drinks a Red Bull cocktail, and then disaster strikes - he drops the second Pop Tart!!! My god, the guy might have to land somewhere out in the thorny wilderness dancing the Zapata, and come up one Pop Tart short of making it back to a road. And then the darn Pop Tart goes and breaks his record for the day. How would you feel? He is so upset he: "…considers spiral-diving after the Pop Tart, but it actually gets a good glide going and zipped off into the distance, proving that about anything will go faster than a paraglider."

That's the part of the story that always grabs me. Hey, it's fantastic to fly 263 miles in ten-and-a-half hours, sure, but let's get real. There's a heck of an incentive to stay in the air, with a sea of thorns below and a billion poison creatures slithering  in a heat haze over 100º f. Of course you're not going to land. Hey, you could die down there. You'd have to be Red Bull crazed to fly Zapata in the first place, so while a world record is neat, most of us will leave it to those pilots who just have to have the sky all to themselves. Will Gadd probably was raised in a huge gaggle of Canadian honkers. You don't want to be flying behind those guys.

So how does all of this relate to sled rides in winter? Jeez, I don't know.

Oh yeah, Pop Tarts. I got to wondering what flavor they were, and would the cherry out-glide the peach, for instance? And how far did the Pop Tart fly? Caught up in some Texas nimbus, it could have been raining Pop Tarts in Georgia (they might even write a song about it). In fact there is nothing to prove it ain't still flying. Or it could have been shot down over Area 51, and George Dubious is having the remaining bits examined by a team wearing those Haz-Mat suits. "Well we now know its internal organs are like no living earth creature, and its blood is very sticky." (By the way, you think those guys are a bit worried now that it's come out that those suits can be penetrated by a new and improved form of baby powder?)

So here is the deal. I would invite some of my flying friends. This is the gang whose members have crashed in water, on houses, in trees, flying backwards, on dunes, and at night. One of them has done them all. They've launched upside down and in about every other disconfiguration you can imagine. Our motto is: "Okay, but you go first."  A winter Pop Tart Challenge would be just the thing to get us through the cold, rainy months ahead. We'd carry different flavors along on our sled-rides and drop them from the same coordinates and altitude. Our driver would be the judge, measuring both glide and time in the air. After we got a handle on the best flying fruit, we'd expand to include other classes of baked and deep-fried edibles. Maybe Twinkies and Hostess cupcakes against the best of the Pop Tarts. Or a home-baked class for instance. And a French pastry class. A competition class of custom designs, such as a string of Tortilla chips sewn together. Then we'd have a totally open class. Who knows, maybe some day we'd be coring in a thermal behind a really hot and spicy tortilla chip. It could save a life down in Zapata, if they carried snacks that when dropped, would ride along in cloud suck beside them. Or if they did sink out after dropping their Pop Tarts, with the technical information gathered on the Pop Tart challenge, they could punch in the coordinates and follow their GPS  to where the Pop Tart landed. After all, it took a gigantic bureaucracy to put a man on the moon. And isn't that where Pop Tarts came from?

So, in the morning I contacted the first of my flying buddies, told him my plan, and he very excitedly hung up on me. Then I emailed them all with a subject line that said: "Great flying predicted for the week-end." Of course they had to read that message. Soon we were laying plans to fly together. I'm bringing the snacks, I told them. I know that once we're out there facing endless sled-rides, the Pop Tart Challenge will be launched. Especially if I point out that we can eat the losers.

Next Month: Pop Tart Challenge Results.