Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A Brief Glimpse of Summer

The following true story has already been shared with a few local pilots. I am trying not to embellish it further with each retelling - but let this be the final version. It features idyllic summertime scenery in the cold heart of winter, death-defying feats of skill, agonizing disappointments and sacrifices, and nubile young women baring their heaving breasts in the crashing surf ... wait ... what? Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself - let me back up a few days.

The third of what would become five fabulous days of unseasonable tradewind flying, magically called forth to Oahu from the unlikely frozen heartland of Indiana by visiting pilot Alan Abair, dawned clear and bright. Alan had arrived on Wednesday, and immediately rushed out to Makapuu to reap the result of his dark magic, but on that day only Frank was able to discern the flyable window, launching for a late flight in light northerly conditions from Cactus and landing at Manics. Sometimes that naval intelligence makes all the difference.

On Thursday I flew with Jeff and Jim from the north ridge at Kahana under a steely grey sky, but a couple of short chilly flights failed to sate my powerful desire for a solid day of flying. At the end of the day, Kona John left Alan and others who were waiting at Makapuu to join us at Kahana, and after hiking to high launch on the north ridge, he earned serious good karma by hiking back down in the rain to avoid what he knew would be a challenging launch in light conditions, followed by a sled ride from the farthest launch at high tide.

But this third day, Friday, promised some surprisingly consistent conditions for this time of year - the forecast was for light to moderate tradewinds, with a dry atmosphere. I was hoping Kahana would work, although the winds were straying a bit to the easterly side of perfect.

Here I should say straightaway: One-eye Jim will be the tragic hero of this epic tale. He took the entire day off to dedicate himself to finding some quality airtime. Arising before the first light of dawn, he journeyed from his remote western home in Makaha all the way to the farthest eastern shores of Makapuu, only to find the conditions too strong and east. He continued his quest by pushing on to the sparkling sands of Lanikai, but was disheartened to find strong conditions there as well. Finally he circled all the way around to Kahana, arriving at high launch just as I was starting my hike. Then from the trail I cursed loudly in disappointment as I saw him sink past me towards the beach. I stopped at the low launch anyway, thinking I felt cycles that might somehow get me up from down there.

I inflated my wing in a light cycle at low launch, but too light to take seriously, so I kited the wing up to mid launch, where I felt just enough wind to give it a try. I launched and made a couple of passes, barely gaining any altitude, but it was just enough to top land at the very bottom of high launch. From there I again kited my wing up to the highest launchable spot, and took off once more into a cycle that was finally good enough to truly lift me up and away. What a lot of work that was! I should have paid better attention to Jim's example and hiked all the way to the top. But I guess it was fun exercise.

I flew all around the ridge, enjoying the scenery and dreaming of a cross country flight, flitting in and out of the wispy trade clouds high above the sunny scene below. I hoped Jim might consider coming back up, and I wondered if anyone else would come out. To my relief, Alan and Jeff arrived to join Jim at the LZ and they all hiked up to high launch, and soon afterwards I landed up there to take a break and check out the launch conditions. I might not have been so eager to come down if I'd had any idea how hard it would be to get back up.

Over the next hour or more, I tried to take off up to a dozen times, but the cycles were super light, and each time, after a few half-hearted passes, I ended up sqeaking in a landing back on launch, or just below. Finally, we started to feel the beginnings of some nice extended stronger cycles, and Jim and I both launched in quick succession. But the cycles proved short-lived, and poor Jim sunk out a second time, followed soon after by Alan, as I barely made it back to launch for my final toplanding of the day next to Jeff. As Jeff and I watched the other two guys landing, we realized that we were starting to feel a genuine solid increase in windspeed, just as Jeff noted the first appearance of wind lines in the bay. We hucked off and soared up and away in the best cycles of the day.

We quickly got high enough to make the decision to scoot downrange. As we were leaving, Nightshift was arriving at high launch for what would turn out to be one more sled ride in conditions that had once again become very light. Jeff and I were greeted with incredibly light thermals at the Punaluu ridge, and we scratched around for quite a while trying to get established on the front of the ridge. I left there with a ridiculously low 1,300 feet, but somehow managed to float lightly past Sacred Falls Valley to get established in better stuff on the other side. Jeff worked valiantly to save himself from an even more ridiculously low position, but finally threw in the towel and landed in a nice field below the Punaluu ridge. From the Sacred Falls ridge, I sailed on to the ridge behind the shopping center in Hauula, where I tanked up for the final glide to Laie Beach Park, better known as Pounders.

As I descended above the treeline at Pounders, I felt the usual strong airflow, and I slowed down in it to scan the beach for a good spot. The tide was high and there were tons of people down there on this sunny afternoon, so it warranted a careful look. Suddenly, directly below me in the surf, a shapely girl in a zebra striped bikini looked up and spotted me, and after shouting out "Yeah, baby!" she suddenly lifted her top to briefly expose two blinding white flashes of sunlight. I recklessly delayed my landing approach another few seconds to descend for a clearer view, coming perilously close to the treetops now, and I was stunned when she raised her top to blind me yet again. I was going to crash for sure!

But at the last second I somehow managed to tear my gaze away, and I set up an improbable last minute flare right on the tiny strip of beach in front of the crab pond. I kited my wing over to the grass and put it down, as the zebra girl sauntered up to me with a smile. Panicking inside, I held my ground and awaited her bold introduction. But she just said, "I thought you were Jake." Oh. Strangely enough, I knew exactly who she meant - Jimmy's crazy skydiving buddy. Stupidly, I replied, "Nope, I'm not Jake - but thanks anyway, that was amazing!" Of course I meant the flight -- the flight was amazing. Every last inch of it. I don't really know if the girl's name was Summer, but it makes for a good story title. A close second was a somewhat less poetic suggestion from Alan G: Laie Girls Gone Wild.

Thanks to Jim for coming to get me and Jeff. Especially after the long tough day he'd already had. What a good sport!

The next day would see a gaggle of pilots flying another light easterly day at Kahana, including Alaska Jack, as well as Frank up at Makapuu again. But Sunday would finally be Alan's chance to truly take advantage of his magical Indiana summer weather spell, as over a dozen pilots joined him at Makapuu for a dawn patrol flying session that would last all day, from dawn to dusk. Thanks for the great weather, Alan! We all needed that.

After Sunday's flying I joined Ginny, Nick and Jim at the Greek Marina for a wine-fueled feast - thanks to Jim for the tasty fermented beverages. I was already halfway home before Ginny called to remind me that I had left all my gear in her car from earlier. Doh! She passed it on to Jim, who is now holding it for ransom, I mean holding onto it for me. Thanks, Jim! As I sit at home now, hiding out from the cold, windy and wet weather that Alan left behind, I'll be dreaming about catching another glimpse of those sweet summer days!


firedave said...

What a great hook. I had to read the rest of your post to see where it was going.
You should have told 'Summer'," I'm not Jake, but I have the Fatman right here!"

Anonymous said...

Ah, so naval intelligence is Frank's secret! It figures, my navel is as dumb as a stump. But I'm sure "Summer" has some fine navel intelligece somewhere around those blinding flashes of sunlight..

Anonymous said...

maaan, that's the difference between boys and men. when i fly to Pounders, I get called stupid. when the big dogs do it, they get bright "summer" flashes !!
nice one Alex !! :)
hope it warms up for you guys soon !
cheers, Czech