Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Keep Your Enemies Closer

Over generations, countless pearls of wisdom have been handed down; guideposts through this labyrinth of trials & errors that we call our lives. Some of them, “Do unto others as you’d have done unto you,” and “What goes around, comes around,” seem pretty self-evident. Others, “A stitch in time saves nine,” might make you think, “What the heck does that mean?” (By the way, it means “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”) So . . . repack your parachute before you need to throw; and realize that cockroach larvae have eaten big freak’n holes in your silk!

The Mark Twain in me loves these little chestnuts; accepts them as gospel.

The scientist in me is driven to test these hypotheses; as I’ve tested the gospels.

I’ve recently spent two days testing one age old proverb: “Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer.”

Of course, as any good essentialist, I should define my terms.

Friend: One whom you know well and regard with affection; one who is not hostile toward you.
Enemy: One who feels hatred toward you, intends injury towards you, or opposes your interests; a foe.

Saturday was one of the best flying days in recent memory. The wind direction was great. The wind speed was great. Cactus was working well; if a bit strong. There was an entire gaggle of USHPA members boring hole in the sky; bags & bones. Cloud base was high and getting higher. X-C veterans and X-C wannabes were foaming at the chinstrap, waiting for someone to commit to “The Mission.”

That’s when it happened: Slicing through the HAM radio chatter was the announcement, “I am conducting a Cross Country Clinic, in five minutes.”

If this had been me proclaiming my intention to lead & teach the masses, at worst, I would have been met by scoffs, jeers, and laughter; at best, multiple polite offers to “take a rain check.” However, this was Doug Hoffman. (Yes. I said Doug was offering to lead everyone downrange on what was certain to be an exciting, challenging, and extremely educational experience.) Whether you’re a long time flying buddy of Doug’s, his former student, or you’ve simply admired his X-C exploits from afar, you knew this was an opportunity you did not want to miss.

“Count me in!” “Me, too!” “I’m coming!” “Wait for me! I'm launching right now!” “Don’t leave without me!” “Holy crap! I gotta get my wing out of truck!” “I’m coming, too!”

The goslings were lining-up.

I. A nationally recognized X-C comp pilot that offers to guide you downrange: FRIEND – keep him close.

The troops fell into formation behind our admiral: DHV 1-2’s carrying P-2’s; DHV 2’s carrying P-4’s; DHV 2-3’s carrying tandem instructors; even racing-pod-clad instructors, brandishing pristine Comp Wings, set off on the Waimanalo leg of the trip. It was a beautiful sight; lift everywhere.

II. Gentle updrafts that carry your wing smoothly downrange, above ridge height: FRIEND – keep it close.

Did I mention that there was lift EVERYWHERE? ‘Cause there was lift EVERYWHERE . . . until there wasn’t.

You see, all of a sudden, pilots were being flushed out of the sky like . . . well . . . like the brown & smelly-kine-stuffs that you might expect to see being flushed.

III. Rapidly descending column of air pushing you dangerously close to the tree shrouded boulders in the back of a valley: ENEMY – do not keep it close.

Fortunately, I’d snagged this big friendly thermal and was forging a corkscrew path to the center of this colossal cottony cumulus; heading towards Olomana. Doug, ever watchful of his charges, encouraged me to make the jump to Green Walls while he and the rest of the armada fought the malevolent sink at the back of the valley.

IV. Rapidly ascending column of air pushing you joyfully close to a soft, fluffy-white cloud: FRIEND – keep it close.

I arrived at Green Walls with nice, consistent lift and awaited the rest of the expedition; S-Turning my way along The Wall. Apparently, the aforementioned sink held greater malice than I’d suspected, because as we prepared to push out of the valley, in order to jump over the Pali Highway, only four ships remained: Me, out front; two visitors from Maui bringing up the rear, one of whom was making his first ever cross country flight (pulling-off super-low saves, without a vario!); and Doug, darting back and forth between us, making sure we were all safe and sound.

This section of the trip always constricts my sphincters. Between the ridiculous headwinds, booming thermals, and nauseating rotor boiling off of the peak of Olomana, it usually becomes an exercise in chasing your wing around the sky, pumping-out crumpled wingtips, and B-line stalls. Not this time though. On this trip, the only hazard was a big grey cloud that attempted to Hoover us into the stratosphere. Big ears & speed bar was sufficient to stay out of The White Room (or would that be “Grey Room?") and eek our way out front & around to the Pali Lookout.

V. Overpowering cloud suck that causes you to lose visual contact with the ridge & your flying buddies: ENEMY – Do not keep it close.

VI. Speed bar at the ready: FRIEND – Keep it close.

The rest of the trip was amazing and wonderful, but aside from making goal (ice cold beverages at the Hygienic Store in Kahaluu), it was uneventful.

Hillery, my lovely wife and walking incubator, was kind enough to be our para-driver. Everyone should have a Hillery.

VII. A wife that will drive from Honolulu to Hygienic’s just to retrieve a bunch of sweaty, smelly, paraglider pilots – hopped-up on adrenaline & Samuel Adams: FRIEND!!! – Keep her close!

Sunday was a virtual carbon copy. I’d skipped church, Congregation of the Cross, so that I could worship at The Congregation of the Cross Country. I’d made a couple of probes into Waimanalo, but it didn’t feel quite right. So, I did my best to entertain the tourists while I waited for the skies to clear. The gaggle was growing . . . lawn darts and para-panties abound.

Jorge made his way to the back of the valley and was making it look easy with his Ozone 6907. I figured, if an ACRO wing could do well, my Mantra M2 (built for cross county), should pull its own weight.

I know . . . I know . . . just because Jorge can do something, doesn’t mean a mere mortal can do it. But, I was inspired.

Thermals were big, friendly, and active. Making Green Walls was deceptively easy. I say “deceptively,” because when I arrived, I found the opposite of thermals. (see: III. above.) Jorge came to visit; climbing above the wall and playing in the breeze like a dolphin on the bow of a sailing ship. I spent the next thirty minutes trying to get to ridge height: More Like Jorge.

Prior commitments forced Jorge to head back to the Makapu’u LZ.

VIII. Anything that keeps you from flying cross country on perfect X-C day: ENEMY – Do not keep it close.

Alex promised to join me. But, at the last minute, he developed “issues” that put him on the Makapu’u LZ.

IX. Bowel & Bladder distress that forces you out of the air: ENEMY! – Do not keep it close.

Lonely and tired, I headed down The Wall and started planning my jump to the Pali.

Do you recall me say me saying something about “nauseating rotor” and “sphincters tightening?”

There are fifty-nine cells making-up the small Mantra M2; forty-four of which suddenly disappeared (the entire left side & ½ of the right side.) This is the point when you prepare yourself to find the red handle and rehearse your greeting to the helicopter pilot that you expect to be meeting, as soon as someone drags your sorry butt off of the ridge.

X. Turbulence that rips your wing out of the sky, just inches from the serrated edges of a lava rock wall: ENEMY – Do not keep it close.

S.I.V. clinic, step-by-step, instructions rushing though my head, I prepared to stall my way out of the imminent spin that was to follow. Except . . . the six square meters of fabric still projected overhead didn’t even rotate twenty degrees before a skull rattling “POP!” broke the sound barrier and I flew away from the impending crash site.


XI. An X-C wing that loves you as much as you love it: FRIEND! – Keep it close.

Aside from 20,000 S-Turns and a few very low saves, it was a relatively uneventful trip to Kahaluu. I was about to call Hillery and ask her if she would come out to Hygienic’s and pick me up, visions of Boston Lager dancing in my head, when I hear Joey’s voice asking me where I was headed. Without hesitation, even though he was pressed for time, he pointed the Hummer H-3 towards Kahaluu and carted me back to Makapu’u.

Mahalo Nui Loa!!

XII. Folks that will go out of their way to help you out: FRIEND!! – Keep them close.

On the way back, we noticed another group heading downrange. I didn’t like the conditions back at the Pu’u, so I decided to run retrieval for the second shift.

Fireman made it look easy (of course.)
Scrappy made his first Hygienic’s trip (well done!)
Alex scored a field goal on landing (Dave . . . please, post the pic.)

So . . . there you have it:
Seven FRIENDS – all to be kept as close as possible
Five ENEMIES – that I NEVER want to see again.

The empirical data is indisputable:
"Keep your friends close, and keep your enemies as far away as possible.”



Anonymous said...

bob said:

Pete, for those of us who couldn't be there last weekend, thanks for a great and entertaining writeup of the events. Wish I'd been part of the gaggle.

I should leave it there but curiousity has gotten the better of me. You mention in your article, and I quote
"This section of the trip always constricts my sphincters."
Just wondering,...... how many do you have?????
Thanks for a fun article.


Suicide said...


Thanks for asking . . . and since you asked:

There are over 40 different sphincters in the human body; some of these sphincters are microscopic in size.

I'd love to discribe each an evey one; it's location, purpose, and nerve supply . . . but, that is beyond the scope of this comment.

If you'd like, I can e-mail you a very informative essay.


Anonymous said...

Bob said:

Jeepers, guess I should have taken a biology class in high school.