Monday, March 23, 2009

A good day at Kahana

Friday was a very good day. I woke up and called Alex, the King of Kahana, who said he was on his way out at Kahana where good conditions were happening. After taking care of a couple errands, I did the same.

First launch was from north launch after hiking up on very sore legs (this was day three of much para-hiking). Alex and his wrestler son were on the ridge just to the east. I launched and began scrapping for lift as Alex gave some instructions. I came in really close from the left, without a lot of lift, crabbing right, and top-landed on that east ridge. Honestly, I didn’t really mean to. I skipped mostly over Alex’s lines before a nice soft lay-down-in-the-vegetation finish. It was pretty funny. I described it as a muffed “carrier landing”, except that missing all the arresting lines was a good thing.

My next launch was from that dirt patch there on the east ridge. The next landing was crabbing to the left and upwind. It was successful though a bit hard. We all had to hide under trees from a squall that blew in. I bundled my gear up under a pine tree and joined Alex and his son under an autograph tree.

Launch 3 was from the same dirt at the east ridge. The roots there continued causing difficulty. Later in the day, Thom had some good ideas about putting in some grass. I would feel really good about helping with that project. Soaring back and forth I saw One Eye Jim and Stalker hiking up. Landing 3 was again crabbing to the left and up wind, but was too short. I made it over that pine tree and then landed just before some bush. Great, except my wing landed on the other side of it. It was a strong deja vu moment, oddly enough. Stalker came over to say “hi”. He kindly pointed out that landing on a horizontal surface is generally considered a better way to do it.

Launch 4 was from that dirt and those satanic roots yet again. Although the wind felt really north, Stalker, now in the air, advised that the wind was for sure on it’s way uphill just ten feet above me. I corrected my lay-out and launched. By this time I was tired and after a few practice passes without touching down, I landed on the beach. Brazilian Ray helped a bit on radio. The flag he had at the LZ was great. Ray and Thom and Night Shift were soon on their way up. I told them I would catch up and after hiking over to my car, drove to a store for a cup of coffee (I grew up in Seattle already) and a brownie before hiking up to east launch. Ray suggested putting my wing on the foliage just below the rock above the dirt, and Launch 5 worked really well that way, much to the disappointment of the devil roots. I made a top landing, after Night Shift and I didn’t find enough lift.

After the next rain, true to Stalker’s observation, some good wind followed and it was time to just soar for awhile. Stalker and One Eye’s narrative from cloud surfing above was just too engaging, what with all the rainbows and brockenspectres* and cloud shadows before & behind, and the terrific scenery that is up there. So after watching and filming Thom doing some of his first scratching for lift as directed by Night Shift, I launched #6 from above the dirt and set a good example for him. He must have noticed, because I heard him say “how did you get above me you bastard?!” or something to that effect. The winds seemed to pick up a bit, and the ridge lift near Rhino Horn was like an elevator. My vario didn’t shut up until I cleared 1,100 feet or so. I took a bunch of shots at altitude, before getting a bit cold and following Stalker down below to play along the ridges again, before a beach landing I could be proud of.

I got to watch Nightshift come in with a red position light hanging from his harness and a white blinking light on his butt, like a really confused reindeer. I had to see it to believe it. I hope to see him with lights at the ends of his wings in complete darkness like he does sometimes before he leaves Hawaii. He is an Air Canada pilot on a leave of absence to work the trans-Pacific 747 JAL flights.

Later, at Thom’s, Nightshift shared many humorous anecdotes of just how inefficient JAL actually is. They should move their headquarters to Detroit. JAL is getting a $2.5B bail-out from the government and if I was a Japanese taxpayer I would be upset. The Japanese pilots are great guys but are also both the highest paid and most unproductive in the world. They receive twice the pay of other pilots but only work 45 hours a month, if I remember correctly. (The gaijin pilots were all just let go as a bone-headed part of a much needed slimming down program. Nightshift stated that they were part of an operation that constituted 2% of company business but 4% of profits. Nationalism and making money do not go together.)

There are thousands of middle managers that do nothing but manage ten women, who actually do all the work without any need for interference from their “manager”. There is even a word to describe the status you get when you manage ten people. I don’t remember the word, but when you have ten people under you, you become a salary-man who cannot be fired and gets a 1% a year raise for the rest of your un-productive work life.

Japanese make-work is legendary. Nightshift described the amazing amounts of meaningless paperwork given to pilots. Why does a Narita-bound pilot need to review a description of Sapporo taxiway lighting repairs anyway? He actually witnessed the useless paperwork production site, complete with lots of cigarettes and genki drinks being consumed by workers justifying their wasteful tree killing existence by frantically producing more and more un-useful paperwork every year. In other words: we produced this many documents last year with this many pilots and now we have more pilots, so now we need to produce even more documents—never mind that very little of what we are producing is useful.

He described the “descended from heaven” informal public servant retirement plans (a bit of conflict of interest type corruption?) and make-work public works like bridges and roads to nowhere and the most dammed up and retaining walled country in the entire world.

I got to describe something strange that I saw while hiking cross-country in southern Honshu: robust concrete dams of creeks that were no more than a trickles with no sign of dry wash out in the middle of thick forest and who knows how all that concrete got there.

When a pilot taxies an aircraft in Japan there are five guys in their ubiquitous hard hats providing instructions. In America there is one. During training at headquarters they spotted a different guy each day running around with the same folder. He and other trainees began to follow the different guy each day and found him in stairwells smoking or hiding behind bookcases. You have to wonder what the real job title is. The pilots thought of one :)

The JAL stories went on and on. Japan is truly an amazing place and their incredible inefficiencies are just one facet, along with the delicious food and the refined arts and world influencing popular cultures and so much more. The closer you look at Japan the more different from America & Canada it seems. Nightshift is writing down as much stuff as he can remember before he forgets. I hope he shares it with me.

Nightshift had a story about tennis ball cannons made of steel beer cans and duct tape. That was our chance to make fun of Canadians. I described the wondrous American PVC potato cannons at my house that I built. Then we got onto pipe bombs, match head bombs, open palm firecrackers and other stupid things that boys make that we all so fondly remember. One Eye won the pissing contest, if there had been one, with a story of underwater upside down hockey in northern Maine. Alcohol and dry-suits and hockey sticks — a match made in heaven :)

I had the strangest dream that night, that vividly involved a snowman shaped character with red eyes and a green mouth, that jumped out, put a strobe in my face to blind me, and then shoved a rag into my face with something on it, probably to knock me out. I tried not to breathe and continued brawling, but that was that. Maybe the dream had something to do with paragliding, I don’t know.

The next day was blown out. Today (Sunday) the Trades are at 20 to 25 knots. I am sure glad I got while the getting was great!


1 comment:

firedave said...

James, Did you really write this or is this Wayne's pseudonym?