Sunday, February 24, 2008

Tanta-less, Tanta-more, Tanta-lize

He didn’t just anger the gods, he REALLY pissed them off. After stripping him of his kingship, he was banished to Tartarus (The Underworld); hung from the limb of a very productive fruit tree; submerged to the neck in sweet, drinkable water; and left to suffer for all eternity. “Wait!” you say. “His hands weren’t bound. His lips weren’t sewn shut. He wasn’t blinded or made senile. He was surrounded by soft water and delicious fruit. You call that ‘suffering?’”

OK, here’s the thing: He hungered. Yet, every time he reached for the fruit, the limb of the tree would withdraw to just out of reach. He thirsted. Yet, every time he bent his head to drink, the water would recede to just out of reach. Need – burning need – forever unquenched; the object of desire forever just out of reach. The word “tantalize” originated from his name.

Tantalus – that fickle, seldom flyable (most often disappointing) little thermal site – seems intent upon living up to its name.

You drive up to launch (Yes . . . I said “drive up” . . . on Oahu!) You walk across the beautiful grassy knoll; a babbling brook of leaves rustling in the cycles of wind moving up from Manoa valley toward the big puffy cumulus fruits hanging overhead. You feel the need – the burning need – to grapple the core of one of these plumes and, hook in place, climb the circular path that allows you to intersect Apollo’s golden chariot. Unfortunately, somehow, as you contemplate fly-ability, the wind turns a little too cross . . . just out of reach; or, as you’re setting up, the wind blows a little too strong . . . just out of reach; or right after you launch, the lift gets a little too light . . . just out of reach.

How many pilots have paced about the Pu’u Ualaka’a lookout, gazing at Diamond Head in the distance, dreaming about unpacking his/her DHV-2? How many flight suited & helmeted pilots, after 30 minutes of sweating in the south pacific sun, patiently waiting on a good cycle, wasting batteries & patience, have begrudgingly packed up her/his rig? How many wings have been pulled from trees? How many cars have been dodged on the scary little road that serves as the only bomb-out? How many DL&R officers have chased after pilots, citation in hand? How many epic flights have been just out of reach?

Oh, sure, Fireman Dave flies there all of time . . . that doesn’t mean that a mere mortal, such as myself, has the skills, talent, or sheer dumb luck needed to hear the “ooo’s & ahhh’s” of the tourists that invariably gather to watch Icarus spread his wing. I’ve been up Round Top Drive enough times to know that, Tantalus is as much a lesson in humility & a warning against arrogance as the Greek Myth after which it’s named. Ask any senior pilot on Oahu, I’ll lay serious odds that he/she has a horror story to share; and a warning.

Alex and I stared at a layer of big puffy clouds coming in from the ocean. Oh, how beautiful they looked. A few hundred feet above said layer, another layer of big puffy clouds were rushing in to meet us from over the back of the mountain: Kai & Aina converging directly over our heads; cycles of big lifty air rushing at us, interrupting the constant light breeze rustling the leaves out front, only slightly cross.

You know how it goes, you sit there discussing the situation, analyzing the variables, sizing-up potential hazards, rehashing previous disasters, retelling adventure stories of epic-flights-gone-by: You scare the doo-doo out of yourselves. This is how we talk ourselves out of doing stupid stuff; like launching a paraglider into unstable conditions a thousand feet above paraglidivorous plants, with no visible (let alone “safe”) bomb-out, under the watchful eye of curious tourists.

There are only two types of pilots that attempt to fly Tantalus: Those who possess the rare qualities of wisdom & skill and those who possess the not-so-rare qualities of arrogance & ignorance.

A few additional pilots, Berndt, Jaro, and Bob, decided to join us. I went first . . . jokes about “wind dummies” and “strange fruit” and “road kill” swirling about my frontal cortex. Nervous? Who? Me? If you’ve ever found yourself dangling beneath a canopy, searching for lifting air, the most comforting feeling in the known universe results from the sum of the audition of “BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!” coupled with the equilibrioception of “going up!” (Yes, I purposely use big, fancy, college-boy words. I spent a lot of money on my vocabulary . . . seems a shame not to share with my friends.) Since I didn’t crash into a tree or careen into a moving BMW on Round Top, my compadres began to think it might be flyable. After about 25 more minutes of watching me reinforce that notion, by turning pretty circles in the sky, Jaro joined me.

Magus: A master magician; one who has truly mastered the Art. Whether you are describing his MACPARA Magus 5 high performance cross country comp glider or the way he used it to carve his way up to 4000 feet in just a few minutes, you would be correct in describing Jaro. I wanna be like Jaro when I grow-up.

The lift got light. So, I demonstrated a spectacular “da-kine-one-almost-fly-off-the-cliff-flair-high-roll-on-the-ground-kine” top landing.

I was feeling good about the flight; successful thermal flights always make me feel good. Fireman would say it’s due to an, “Addiction to the raised dopamine and serotonin levels (feel good substances) that I get in my brain while flying, hours after flying or pretty much any time I start daydreaming about flying.” I think its because its programmed into my DNA; I am genetically predisposed to fly (i.e., I must.)

Not long after I top landed the wind picked up again. Alex and Berndt launched and made it look good again; so, I set-up for flight number two. It was an epic two-minute flight: Prefect launch; five, maybe six passes over launch; textbook top landing . . . EPIC!!

In characteristic Tantalus modus operandi, the lift shut down. All of the pilots in the air top landed to cheers and ooo’s & ahh’s.

A memorable flying day was coming to an end. Of course, we wanted more, but "more" was just out of reach. That’s when we learned that Makapu’u had 2-3 MPH blowing onshore!

Light winds at Cactus! . . . Tandem-able! . . . Now, that’s TANTALIZING!



Nick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nick said...


Mesmerizing tale as usual. You should send it in to the USHPA mag.

P.S. That picture is classic!

-Fellow Zipper-suited God

Alex said...

Great story, Pete, thanks for sharing. I really appreciate the effort you guys take to make our website so interesting. That was the sweetest flying day I've had in a long time -- thanks for going first and showing us how good it really was. You certainly did some impressive flying up there.