Friday, March 13, 2009

The End of the Earth

I sincerely apologize to anyone who opted to forgo the long mission to Makua based on my last chatterbox post. (I had posted that it was too strong and gusty and we were hiking down.) It certainly was strong and gusty on top, but what I forgot to add was that visiting pilot Jonie showed us we could launch from halfway down the hill, and five pilots ended up flying there all afternoon. When conditions are gloomy, I generally feel like I have plenty of time to make a post, but when conditions turn unexpectedly good, scrambling into the air seems to take priority over posting. I really need to reverse that trend.

The forecasters had called for moderate northwest conditions, so San Diego visitors Jonie and Matt headed out to the North Shore early, to wait for it to turn on. I headed out there around lunchtime, to check it out for myself. Just as our visitors had reported, it was not blowing northwest at the North Shore, but due west, and it was very strong. As I got out of the car to feel the nuking westerly wind at Sunset Beach, I heard a voice asking "isn't this a little strong for you guys?" It was Skip, a North Shore paraglider pilot and kitesurfer from the early days, who was on his lunch break from a painting gig. I hadn't seen him in a hundred years. Skip Van Winkle! What a tiny island we live on.

Back to the quest for airtime. Where do we fly when it's due west? Only one place: Makua. The veritable End of the Earth. The farthest point from anywhere else on the island. The only place we know that works in the most rare and fickle wind direction of all. It's always a hard call, since we have no reliable sensors out there to tell us what the wind is doing, and it generally takes a couple of hours to drive out there and find out. Makua only gets flown once every few years. I can't remember when I flew there last - 2004, maybe?

I had my heart set on flying the North Shore, but I reluctantly agreed to meet Jonie and Matt out there at the End of the Earth. Two hours after leaving my house, I arrived out there to find that the conditions seemed just about right. Could it really be a Makua day, after what, five years of waiting?

The other thing about Makua is the hike. Launch is on a small hill in front of Makua Valley, with a nice grassy bowl that looks like it would be a quick hike. But it's not quick. There's no trail, so you have to just blaze it yourself every time, a steep ankle-breaking half hour to the top, through high grass and hidden rocks and boulders.

Matt and I manfully hiked up to the top, and Jonie took his sweet time following us up there. While we were hiking up, Brazilian Ray zoomed by on his motorcycle, honking at us, bound for the huge film shoot that was going on at the beach, right there at the mouth of Makua Valley. I was worried that we might mess up their movie, so I called Ray to check - he said he didn't know, but he could ask them. No, no, that wouldn't be necessary - better to ask forvigeness, &c. But Ray encouraged us to just fly and enjoy ourselves. Thanks, Ray! That was exactly what I needed to hear.

By the time Matt and I decided it was a bit strong and gusty up on top, Jonie was already headed back down to try a lower launch spot. Matt and I saw him huck off from a midway point, and we scrambled over to try it ourselves. Visiting pilot Carson from eastern Washington arrived shortly after that, and hiked up to the same spot. I was second to launch after Jonie, but both of us landed after fairly short flights, because the army of rain clouds offshore was sending out scouts to either side of our position.

But it cleared up right away, and both Matt and Carson quickly took to the air. Jonie convinced me to try and kite my way back up the hill for a relaunch, but as I reached the incline I found myself constantly stumbling and falling down in the tall boulder-strewn grass, as my wing took large collapses in the swirly air, and finally got massively snagged in the haole koa. Oh well. I threw the wing over my shoulder and hiked up to a new midway point, laid it out and launched to join Matt and Carson in the air. Jonie hiked up shortly afterwards, to an even lower takeoff point, and Scrappy showed up and hiked to a different spot. We were launching all over that bowl.

I flew for quite a long time with Matt and Carson, and we explored the air in both directions, across Makua Valley and across the other valley towards Makaha. It seemed like we could easily go places, but we were worried about the gathering storm that was still brewing offshore. It didn't seem to be marching toward us very fast, but several squalls had made ground to either side of us while we were up there, so we weren't inclined to test our luck. Cloudbase was super low, probably about two grand.

By the time Jonie and Scrappy were ready to launch, the wind lightened up considerably, and me and Matt and Carson gradually sunk out. Jonie hiked down, but Scrappy stuck it out, determined to get into the air, having already attempted several launches. His wing was folding over in the light wind, and I heard Jonie say he wished he could hike up to help. I said, yeah, me too. Wait - what was stopping me? I rushed up through the boulder-infested undergrowth, reaching him just in time to hold his wing up for a perfect cycle, and he executed a textbook launch, soaring up to cruise the bowl as I hiked down. After he landed a short while later during another lull, we all headed to the Kapolei Chili's for a debriefing over a round of Presidential Margaritas. Cause, you know, I'm the president and all.

Thanks to Jonie for showing us it wasn't too strong and gusty after all. Thanks to Ray for the encouragement, even though he had to work while we were flying overhead. And thanks to Chili's for the tasty Mexican beverages.


JeffMc said...

Nice pictures Alex. Hopefully, we won't have to wait another 4 or 5 years to fly Makua again!

Gravity said...

Dang it, looks like I missed some good wind chasing. stupid golf is getting in the way. I was golfing at Ewa village, and Scrappy showed up for some work on the tower. He said you guys were checking the North Shore? It was absolutely NUKING in Ewa beach? I just wouldn't believe it if I didn't see those cool pic's, Alex.
Nice one!!!
Looks like there's a new bunch of 'Cowboys' in town...


Brazilian Ray said...

I was kidding about asking them.... Flying is more important!! we had to shut down filming and the director was going bananas: parasailers from hell!!!! no, not TODAY!.... can somebody shoot them?! no, not with the camera, your moron!

haha, just kidding now.... I told them I could get in touch with you guys if necessary and they said it was ok, they were not looking up that way ;)

it was quite painful to watch you guys getting high while working :(
but I was happy to see every safe and enjoying it!
Brazilian Ray