Because thermals are invisible, a glider pilot learns to feel them. Getting lower, I sense a slight rising of the starboard wingtip, indicating lift to the right of me. Like an angler setting a hook, I roll into this upward-flowing stream of air, and UFO climbs like a homesick angel.
1 p.m.: Over Owosso X-ray Juliet turns home. The billowing cumulus clouds are tinged with silvers, grays, and all shades of white. Some have streamers of virga--rain that evaporates before reaching the ground--streaking downward. Other clouds have hooks that curl up. I fly under the hooks, avoiding the virga, and climb to 5,000 feet. I'm making good time, so I continue further north to Clare County Airport, well beyond Mount Pleasant. I spot a beautiful red-tailed hawk with a five-foot wingspan, thermaling skillfully.
She's certainly not hunting at this altitude. She's up here having fun, just like me. I keep her on my wingtip, and she guides me into the highest climb and the strongest thermal I've caught all day, taking me over 6,000 feet. Pressing onward, I say goodbye to my feathered friend and continue my journey.
2:45 p.m.: Over Clare County Airport, 140 miles from home, I turn south. With the wind at my tail, I can "bump and run," hook the thermals and keep going, without having to circle. Imagine Tarzan swinging vine to vine.