Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Curse of the Missing Pine

I tried to extend my lucky streak yesterday, but I should have stayed home. With a couple hours of free time, I found myself alone at Mariners, on what I knew was a perfect thermic day, but unable to shake a growing feeling of dread.

Somehow, all the confidence that I had mustered over the past few days of thermalling at Makapuu was deserting me now, and I was consumed by fear and doubt, my usual nemeses. Perhaps I was being punished for the smug tone of my last article.

I've never actually had a great flight at Mariners, and in fact I've had some terrible ones. My most recent memory there was from around a year ago, where I top-landed after a brief flight to avoid the little squall that turned out to be a torrential all-day downpour. But I knew that Jetflap and Frank and others have had some stellar flights there recently, and the conditions really seemed right for a good day there yesterday. My time was limited though, and my deadline was creeping closer as I stood up there feeling the thermal cycles and nursing my anxiety.

I decided I was just feeling too uneasy to launch by myself, so I waited a while until Doug and Jeff showed up. Doug volunteered to be wind technician, and Jeff and I helped him lay out. After an effortless launch, he caught a very strong cycle right away, and cranked hard into it, riding it up over three grand in a heartbeat. Before we knew it, he was specked out at cloudbase and heading towards Hawaii Loa ridge. He reported strong stuff with sharp edges, and added in his customary understated way, "I wouldn't call it a relaxing ride!"

So of course I let Jetflap go next! I helped him lay out and launch while I watched Doug racing around at cloudbase, and asked myself what I was doing up there, if I was too chicken to fly. Just after Jeff launched, Jorge, Reaper and Quentin showed up, and Jorge offered to help me lay out and launch. I admitted to him that I had been too scared to go earlier, and he said something nice like "Don't worry about that, just remember you're up here to have fun." I guess I really did need that reminder. And by then I noticed that Jeff wasn't getting any horrible monster air, and in fact he was meandering around at ridge height quite peacefully. And Doug had returned from Hawaii Loa and was boating around high in the sky.

By this time my time was almost up, and I knew I wouldn't have long to fly. But I had finally steeled myself to launch, and I figured that even a quick flight would help restore my flagging confidence. So with Jorge's help I set up and took the plunge. It turned out to be one of my worst launches in recent memory, with the wing coming up sideways and out of control. I think Pete might have caught it on video - that's surely one for the blooper reel.

Somehow I got into the air anyway, but then I noticed I had a full twist in one riser. That just figured! But after checking it out for a minute, testing my brake and speed bar, I concluded that it wasn't a huge problem, and I headed down the ridge to see if I could catch some thermals before I got too low. I felt plenty of bubbly lift there, but I just couldn't hook one properly, and I soon found myself sinking out to the park below. At least I would be on time to pick Logan up from school. I answered a call from Dorothy during my ignominious descent, as she was picking up Amelia, and she said she'd head Logan's way later as a backup measure. But I figured I could make it in time, especially since I knew Quentin had very graciously agreed to shuttle my car down to the park so I could scramble out of there.

But as I approached the park, I had another sinking feeling: where was my car? After I landed I realized they must have changed the plan for some reason - Quentin had left his truck down there instead. Doh! I threw my gear into his truck, and raced back up the hill to get my car, watching Doug and Jeff and now Jorge soaring above the ridge as I drove up the back. I stuffed my gear into my car, and raced back down the hill, fighting the traffic to Logan's school. But by the time I got close, Dorothy called to say she was already there picking him up herself. Ouch.

Really, this was just not my best day. Maybe one day I'll beat the Curse of the Missing Pine. Or maybe I just had to sacrifice myself in order for everyone else to have good flying there. I heard there was a lot more great flying after I left. And Dave had an interesting flight somewhere nearby. I'd love to see some pictures or at least hear the stories.


firedave said...

Alex: We must have flown there on a different day ( though I did see your car parked there), by the time I got up there a half dozen or more pilots were in the air. I got off the hill last and took a short ride to the back of the valley and then top landed next to Doug. The rest of the gang was already post-flight beering at the LZ.
As far as getting spooked for flying, it happens to everyone sooner or later. When you do get your game back and you are feeling one with your glider it will be that much sweeter.
Hawaii Loa ridge looked great all morning, but by the time I finished working at 3:30 the wind had died and gone more southerly and that launch faces SE. I probably should have set up on the other side of the ridge, but there were a few light cycles teasing me. I forward launched off a nice lawn and proceeded to sink out to Niu Valley Intermediate, I could even hear you on the radio talking to Doug. It was good just to try somewhere different, it just needs better conditions like it was in the morning.

If the wind stays light and from unusual directions I have even more new sites that I can try. Even if it is only for a sledder, I get a kick out of flying new places.

Alex said...

Thanks for the sympathy and kind words, Dave. I know I'm not alone in feeling occasionally nervous. But I notice than many of our best pilots (you foremost among them) seem basically fearless, and that seems to serve them well, as long as their skills are up to it. I've seen you and Doug and others happily launch into air that is clearly spinning like a clothes dryer, and you either fight it out or calmly land and laugh it off.

The rest of us are hobbled by varying degrees of anxiety that we have to work to keep in check. I'm sure this is true in many walks of life, not just flying. I just hope I can minimize the effect - I've seen it snowball to the point where it prevents folks from enjoying any of their flying. I do wonder what it would be like to be as fearless as others seem to be. Perhaps I can get some hypnotherapy to convince me I'm really Bruce Goldsmith on a long tropical vacation from the comp scene.

firedave said...

What is the line: Fear makes you sharp, panic can kill you.
I mean if you really think about it, how many times did you think you were going to get an airborne ass kicking, and it never materializes. I just have acquired the sense that no matter how bad things get I can keep my glider somewhere above my head, if I can't I'll just toss the parachute, no biggie.

Even so, I have to admit that flying with other pilots makes me push my limits a little more, rather then when I am alone. I guess flying alone holds another kind of thrill for me.

So I think you just focus on conditions and flying, rather than the what if's of what could happen.
So don't worry, because worrying doesn't help anything, and have fun because that is why we do it.

But when you do figure out how not to worry, let me know how you do it. I worry about stupid stuff all the time, flying is just my escape into the moment.

sandy said...

Dave, for me it's more like -- how many times did I think I was going to get airborne and I got an arse-kicking instead?!? Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, thrice, .... I'm a damn fool for you, paragliding.

However, from the armchair of my living room, I felt pretty certain that I would have tried launching on Sunday at Nanakuli the way you described the conditions. Or maybe I just misinterpreted what you said since *you* didn't launch. I guess you're no fool :-)