Sunday, December 24, 2006

Joining the Over-the-Back Club... Sorta

Thursday, December 21st, 2006, 3:45PM

Checking the weather from my computer at work, I see that conditions seem to be shaping up out at Makapuu for Cactus launch to be working nicely. Time to go! By the time I get out to MPU at 4:20PM JetFlap is already soaring the eastern Lighthouse Ridge. "Hmm, must be good conditions, but maybe borderline for launching / flying the Pali", I reflect. Winds are very light at the MPU overlook; little breeze is detectable at Crazy Mans. In the LZ the wind is due east @ 8MPH, with the wind socks pointing just past mid-way between Flat Island (Kaohikaipu) and the lighthouse. I hear Frank Highsmith on the radio getting ready to launch from the Lighthouse ridge. He reports the wind straight in at 12-14MPH. Since it is getting late and I don't know precisely where to set up over to the East, I opt to give Cactus a try. It's only about a 20 minute walk from the LZ, and besides it is my favorite place to lauch out at MPU. Yes, I like it even better than Tomato Patch, Bob. Wise guy. Anyway, it should work O.K. in a light easterly.

I arrive at Cactus at about 4:45PM, and my wind meter shows the breeze to be coming in steady at 9-11MPH. I set up in the grassy area on the west side of the little bowl, and soon my wing and I are up and off into gentle but steady lift. I climb up to the top of the ridge and notice a glider high above the old hangie launch. "Must be JetFlap", I guess. But where is Frank? I soon learn that IS Frank: JetFlap had already cruised over to the main ridge, gotten high and jumped across to Koko Crater, all while I was setting up and launching from Cactus. Stealthy, that JetFlap. Reaper comes up on the radio and starts discussing tactics on how to make the jump from MPU to Koko Crater with Frank. I listen in. Sounds reasonable... conditions look good... I don't have enough altitude yet, but I'm still climbing nicely. My heart begins to beat much faster as I realize I'm actually CONSIDERING joining JetFlap and Frank in a jaunt over-the-back. YIKES! Over-the-back and a (mini) X-C, all in one go. Heady stuff for a chicken of the sky like me to contemplate, who has never before left the safety of steady ridge lift for the unknown. And weren't we always warned against flying the leeward side of the ridge? Heartrate going up faster than my altitude I begin to seriously consider the situation. Wind speed light. Direction pretty much due east. No clouds. Unlimited visibility. Reaper standing by with a truck to retrieve my sorry butt should I land out someplace strange and unfriendly. What better conditions could one ask for? By now Frank has attained 1800 feet or so, and is flying east along the ridge. I'm at 1600 and climbing over the peak near the old hangie launch. As I look on Frank turns right and heads towards the south shore. He's committed! Will he make it? Reaper made it sound like a sure thing given Frank's impressive starting altitude of 1800+ feet (I heard such descriptive terms as "nose bleed" and "Space Shuttle" used by Reaper in describing Franks altitude), and so it proves in the end. Frank makes the trip look easy, covering the approx. 1.5 miles to Koko Crater in under 5 minutes, while losing only 900 feet of altitude. My heartrate increases by another 30% as I think to myself "Maybe even I can make it on a day like this!". By now I've attained an altitude of 1750 feet and am nearing the recommended turn point at 3 poles. Frank, Reaper and Jetflap are all sending words of encouragement over the radio; the seductive siren voices of peer pressure. As I fly in line with the southerly ridge that runs from 3 poles to the golf course, my heartrate jumps another 40% as I give in to the Dark Side, turn right and head off over the back.

EEEK! OVER THE BACK! How many times had I been warned in training to NEVER go over the back of the ridge and risk a pummelling by the dreaded rotor washing-machine. Suicide has told me tales of his experiences in the lee that would curl your hair. But on a mellow day like this, and at 1700 feet, the air is smooth and quiet as I cruise over what is normally forbidden territory. Is it just my imagination, or is my ground speed unusually slow? Hell of a time for the batteries in my GPS to pack it in. YEOW, my rate of decent is up to 300FPM! That doesn't last long though, thank God. Back to a more sedate 150-200FPM. Mind working overtime scanning for alternate LZs, just in case. The golf course looks good. So does that sports field. And that guy over there has a nice front yard... paranoia can be useful sometimes. 2/3rds of the way along the southerly ridge Reaper counsels me to head straight for Koko Crater, which I immediately do. Now, instead of crabbing a little east to follow the ridge I'm flying more downwind and I put on some more brake to reduce my rate of decent. The Crater now looks as if it is actually drawing closer (finally!), and after the farthest "zero-lift" glide on Oahu of my short flying career, I arrive in the lift band at Koko Crater with 735 feet of altitude. I'm in the lift again! I DID IT! I made the jump from Makapuu Ridge to soaring Koko! ALRIGHT!!!! Elation. Rapture. I've joined the Over-the-Back Club, and you know what? It was FUN in a masochistic kind of way. Thanks to Reaper, Frank and Jetflap for excellent advice and encouragement. Sometimes it is >>>good<<< to give in to the Dark Side. Perhaps one day I'll do it again!?!

Fair Winds,



Nick said...

Nice article Russ,

Great job! I'll have to add that to my list of things to do. Now I have one more potential XC buddy in the future. I did accomplish one milestone and almost another landed at Manics right next to my car. Almost put another PG dent into it...

The other "almost" milestone is when I tried to "Hi five" a tourist on the lighthouse overlook platform. The air was severe smooth and I was below the platfrom climbing nicely to it. About 200 ft away and below I leaned out from my harness and stuck out my hand and motioned to the crowd that I wanted to "hi five" them. I got a willing participant to lean out and reach for me, but I missed him by only 5 feet! I even tried my tried my tried and true flapping technique to lose lift, but ended up too high to make contact! I did try to make amends by transitioning to a nice big wingover right over the crowd. Fun times.

Thanks Russ for the article and it puts scrappy's evil pic even further down the screen..yippy!


firedave said...

Lured into a hit of adrenaline, carful Russ it is addictive!

Brazilian Ray said...

great job! both the flight and the post! what's next? flying to turtle bay?!?

Gravity said...

That was great watching you guys, and it does take a bit of commitment to jump over the back. Good job, Russ. Welcome to the "OTB Club".

sandy said...

Nice Xmas present to yourself, Russ! Yippee! (and to us! thanks for the article :-))

Bob said...

Yup, there you go, the first sign of the apocalypse-Russle OTB.
Wow Russ you are a very entertaining writer. I especially like the part of the guy having a nice front yard. Well done lad. I know you don't give yourself enough credit for how good of a pilot you are. Heck, you kite almost as much as Alex. (Maybe more). Well done. Now I just have to try to emulate you. Perhaps my next post will be titled
'Chasing Russell'