Tuesday, December 13, 2005

First-Time Jitters

I've heard it happens to the best of us, even after years of flying. The Jitters. Bad vibes. The willies. Butterflies. Whatever you want to call it…I'd done tandems with Fireman Dave and Leo. I'd done 27 flights on Reaper's "Sanford and Son" inspired tow rig. Up to this point, I had experienced nothing more than mild apprehension before taking any new step. In fact, in nearly every case, I think I was pretty gung ho. But "Oh, Nelly", was I nervous sitting up on low launch at Kahana on Saturday.

Kahana – Saturday 12/10

You see, I'd been prodding, begging, hounding (some may even say "stalking") Pete for a week with only one thought - my first solo flight. So when Pete called me Saturday morning, and said that TODAY was indeed THE DAY I was… PETRIFIED. What?! You gotta be kidding me... I've been waiting months for this - what the heck is going on? I sat there on launch for about an hour, watching Alex make it look easy. (Note to beginners out there: when you see Alex do 3 or 4 touch and go's, launching backwards, and smiling for the camera the whole time... it doesn't mean it's necessarily "easy")

Fellow newbies Randy and Claude, as well as Ken were up there with us too. Ken was launching his brand new... well, EVERYTHING, I think. Brand new wing. Brand new harness. And, darn it, if his flight suit didn't look crispy too. But seriously, shoulder injury and all, he made it look easy and had some reassuring parting words for me before his launch.

Greg and Chopper Dave had already been circling around; Dave in his new Skywalk Poison. I hear chatter over the radio like "smooth", "lots of lift", "great air", "hurry the hell up and launch already" (OK, the latter was from my subconscious, but you get the picture). What was I waiting for?!

So, FINALLY, I get the kukuis to do my own launch under the trusty eye and radio guidance of Pete. He assures me I'll do fine and I even start to believe him. I take a couple of deep breaths, wait for a cycle, and I pull up the wing. It comes up straight. I check it with my brakes to slow its forward movement. I turn around and make, dare I say, a good clean launch. Holy crap - I did that?! Sweet! Jeez - that wasn't that hard after all. What was the big fuss about?

So Pete starts directing me through some figure-8's to acclimate myself in my first solo flight, and of course to begin gaining some lift up the ridge. No more than 3 or 4 minutes into the flight, I swoop toward Pete, whose standing on launch, quickly lose about 20 feet of altitude and head unceremoniously toward the terrain - destroying 2 or 3 innocent rubber trees that were clearly not asking for it. CRASH, CRUNCH, CRUNCH, SNAP, CRACKLE, POP - touchdown. Not a scratch on me! (And as a bonus, Pete has the whole thing on video and Claude may have snapped a few pics!)

Well, that sure took the jitters away! In fact, now I was pissed. How dare the earth come charging at me like that?! I thought we had a good thing going… You stay out of my way, and I'll stay out of yours… Damn you gravity!! Let's get it on!

So Pete, Alex, Randy and I start bending branches and pulling lines and manage to get the wing free less than 30 minutes later, with no rips, no frayed lines, and with only a couple of leaves in the cells. Back to launch I go. This time I launch, get away from the hill, and UP UP UP I go! I begun what could easily have been a 2 hour flight - but then the bumps came... With even the slightest twitch of the wing, I just tensed right up. "That's going to take some getting used to", I thought. OK, "baby steps" starts to sound like a good motto in my mind. Get down to that beach. I was up for maybe 40 minutes or so. Pete and Alex radio me down to a butt-first landing and probably the most satisfying ice-cold refreshment I've ever had. THANKS GUYS!!

Makapu’u – Sunday 12/11

Sunday morning comes and Pete calls for Makapu'u. I think I asked something like, "Pete, dude, are you sure? OK - but where are we launching from?" ([crosses fingers] "not tomato-juice, not tomato-juice" I silently chant)... "Tomato Juice" Pete says... "Ummm, Cool" I say. (gulp!)

Actually, I was much less nervous on Sunday. I was still somewhat nervous, of course, but I felt it was a bit more warranted this time. At Kahana, it was more unexplainable fear and doubt that any first timer might have. But sitting up on Juice, my concern was much more specific... My wing would only be what seems like a few feet from the power lines when I pull it up, and I then I have to turn right and deliberately fly close to and above them for the first minute of flight while I hope and pray for lift. Failing to find that lift, my options were: power lines, power lines, road with oncoming traffic, power lines, or a beach full of tourists (if I can make it over the power lines). Did I mention the power lines?

I'd watched quite a few launches here, and you all make it look so easy. Pete had already done 2 tandems by this time and knew the conditions well (the 2nd of which had hurled on him - ewwwwww!!). I watched visiting pilot Mark Lukey make a perfect launch, and climb rapidly over our heads. Easy. Pete assured me that it WOULD be easy, that the lift was great, and that I could do it. Pete was absolutely right. The launch was smooth, and with Pete talking me through every step, I was up over those power lines and high above launch within 30 seconds. He made me feel like a pro. Within 5 minutes I was at the top of the ridge and those power lines were a distant memory. No regrets whatsoever – man, that was fun!

So there I was circling, and zigzagging up the ridge and beyond with Mark, 3 hang gliders, and soon enough Pete with his newest student Chris in his 3rd of 5 tandems that day. The little bumps didn't bother me nearly as much as the previous day, and a couple of times I was quite relaxed and even (gasp!) enjoyed myself! It was absolutely fantastic up there. I stayed up for maybe 45+ minutes and came in for a landing - Pete helping me from the air, and Cliff from the ground. I overshot the LZ by about 50 feet, but still made a nice safe landing on the sand dune just beyond the road.

I should have run right up there for another flight, but by the time I got back from a first-timer beer run, the wind had picked up significantly and Bob and Pete were heading for Crazy’s. Oh well – I was happy to crack one open and just watch the experts show me how it’s done from a truly advanced launch site.

I was happy to take Monday off, just to let it all “sink in”. Man, what a great weekend!! THANKS sooooo much to Pete, Alex, Randy, and everyone for all your help and encouragement out there. I can’t wait to get back up there!



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