Monday, May 04, 2009

Two Cherries In Two Days!

Well, actually three cherries if you count that this is my first blog story. I’ve dreamed of soaring at Makapuu ever since I started my PG training with Dexter and the Maui crew almost one year ago. I’ve pulled over at Crazys many times to watch the launching and soaring.

I remember one day meeting Don, Frank and Jetflap all making their launches look so effortless. The three amigos were so friendly and welcoming to my curious questions. Don and Frank launched and went so high so fast. Then Jetflap launched and did his most entertaining low in the bowl thing. Every time I drove away I thought to myself, “No frickin' way! Those power lines are way too close! Man, that is so crazy!"

This sport for me is about learning to face my fear and to experience the joy waiting just below it. I remember once hearing, “Face your fear and it will disappear!” I was in a plane crash with my family in my Dad’s Cessna 310 twin engine back in 1984. Four of us walked away from the mangled flaming wreckage that day, my Mom, Dad, Ben and myself. However, my Dad and his flight instructor Ben had many serious burns on their faces, arms, backs, and hands.

So, ever since then I have had a fear of flying in small aircraft. I would do it, but I always had a really sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I knew that the sick feeling was fear. I don’t mean to get side tracked with my plane crash story, but I needed to point out one of my core issues that I am working on to heal! I’ll share the plane crash story in full on blog posts to come. Stay tuned!

Now back to my first Makapuu cherry popping flight from Crazymans launch. I have been saying to myself in almost a state of procrastination, “I’ll just keep flying Kahana until that perfect Makapuu day comes!” Well, the perfect Makapuu reports were being posted on the chatterbox this past Friday. Yet, I was hoping to fly Kahana and knew Alex was hiking up to check it out. I called him for a report and Alex said, “Ya, it’s not working. I just did a sledder and I’m now heading to Makapuu. I’m hearing the perfect reports from others and heard Cactus is working!” Thanks Alex for your words of encouragement to help me face my Makapuu procrastination. I knew today was the day and thought I would be launching from Cactus.

I arrived at the LZ to see at least six wings in the air. The conditions were indeed perfect. I spoke with Jetflap as he was repacking his gear to find out that it was too windy up at Cactus. I was bummed and thought I wasn’t going to fly. Jetflap then said, "I'm heading back to Crazymans for another flight." I replied, "I've never flown Makapuu before and I was hoping to fly from Cactus for my first Makapuu flight." Jetflap responded and said, "Crazys is working perfect right now! If you want a launch assist, I’d be happy to help you!” I felt a lump in my throat as I said, “Great, I’ll follow you up!” Then thinking to myself, "Face my fear and it will disappear!"

I arrived at Crazymans to see several pilots waiting their turns. I saw Simon from Switzerland and the TAF all checking it out. Everyone seemed to agree that it was the perfect day to launch from Crazys. Jetflap then most calmly said to me, “Hey, let’s get you launched after everyone else so you won’t have any added pressure of feeling rushed!” “Thanks Jetflap!” I replied. That was the perfect thing for me to hear. I immediately felt a sense of relief. I could watch several others launch and really get a good idea of the flight path and how to work the lift to get me up and over these power lines.

I then heard RT the commander of the Telluride Air Force give his squadron the site briefing. It was his squadron's first sortie from Crazys as well. I also paid close attention to what he said as he reminded everyone to do their pre-flight checks. He then pointed out how to work the bowl. He also informed us that if necessary you could do an emergency landing on the beach below. However, there is a liquid landing fee due to the guys in the tower.

One by one, Simon and I watched the entire TAF launch. First RT launched his tandem wing and easily found lift as they quickly soared high above the high voltage wires. RT’s perfect launch showed us the way. Simon and I are both new P2 pilots and were sharing our thoughts with each other as we watched the TAF all have successful launches. We both knew we could do it too!

It was then my turn to launch. Jetflap oversaw me as I set up my wing and built my wall. The wind was steady at 10mph. I looked to make sure the airspace was clear over at the lookout. I had my A’s and C’s in hand and was ready to go. Then I heard Jetflap say over the radio, “Hey, it looks like you have one of your brake line over your risers!” I immediately stopped and looked to see that something was wrong. I dropped my risers and started over. Yep, Jetflap was right. My right brake riser was twisted over my A’s. Thank God for Jetflap's eagle eye! Reaper just then pulls over to offer some extra support and encouragement. Thanks so much Reaper for your LZ tips! Now I have another item to add to my pre-flight checklist. Make sure my brake lines are clear and not wrapped around my risers. It sure felt good to clear my brake twist on the ground instead of on my first power line pass.

I reset my risers and built another wall to make sure that all of my lines were clear of pressure knots and twigs. One last glance behind me for air traffic and to make sure the overlook was clear. By now everyone was high up working the main ridge. I did my radio check with Jetflap and launched. My wing came up very smoothly and it felt like a perfect amount of wing pressure. I made a brake check to stabilize my wing for a moment and then turned to launch. My wing tracked a little to the left and faced directly into the NE winds. I took my seat and heard Jetflap’s voice guide me into a right hand turn towards the roadside ridge face. I immediately felt lift as I tracked towards the Manic’s lookout area. It was so comforting to feel consistent lift the whole way.

Once I was above the lookout, I was so relieved to feel the steady upward sensation. I followed the flight path of the previous pilots and steadily gained altitude. I was so grateful to have Jetflap’s eyes on me the whole way. I then heard him say, “Now you are high enough to cross the road and to start working the Cactus ridge!” A rush of adrenaline came through me as I passed over those menacing power lines for my first time. I looked down with the hope of getting more lift up against the Cactus ridge. Sure enough as I got close to the ridge I started going up again. “Great job, you're looking good! Enjoy your flight!” was Sensei Jetflap’s last radio communication. I responded, “Thanks so much Jetflap! I really appreciate your help!” Then I heard a POP! It was the sweet sound of a cherry! I was UP at Makapuu for my first time!

I soared around for an hour and just felt the pure joy of this most AWESOME sport! As it came closer to my eventual landing, I started to pay close attention to the landing patterns of others. I wanted my first landing to be right where it was supposed to be. I made my approach and landed on the upper portion of the LZ. I kited it in the rest of the way, turned and braked my wing to the ground. The feeling of total exhilaration overcame me. I felt the pure rush of joy fill my whole being. About one minute later, Simon came in for a perfect landing. Then one by one all of the TAF landed. Ginny gave me a hug and told me she did her first Crazy’s launch today as well. Congratulation Ginny, Simon and the TAF. It was a very jubilant post flight celebration with lots of icy cold refueling taking place.

The next morning, I woke up and headed straight to my computer to check the most important things these days, wind speed and wind direction. You know life is good when the simple things like the wind matter most. It looks like another perfect day developing for Makapuu. The next computer check was the chatterbox. It sounds like the early birds are making their way up to the Cactus launch. Frank was using that “P” word again. I jumped into my van and headed straight to Makapuu for my first Cactus launch.

I arrived at the LZ to see four people already in the air, two hangliders and two PG’s. I pulled out my wing to shake out a minor bit of leftover sand in the trailing edge that I noticed during my previous flight. Maddog was just finishing up setting up his gear for the Cactus hike and asked, “Hey, I’m hiking up to Cactus do you want a ride?” “Yes, great!” I answered as I finished repacking my gear. I tossed my pack into Maddog’s car and we headed up to the lookout parking lot.

The first thing Maddog did once we arrived was to stand on the wall and check out his digital wind speed at the Manic’s launch. He turned to me and said, “Hey, I think it’s perfect right here, right now! It might be too windy up at Cactus!” He was so helpful in pointing out a lot of the tell tale signs to look for at Manic’s. Maddog then said, "I'm going to give it a go and see how it's working!" I told him that I was unsure if I was going to launch, but I wanted to see his flight path and hear his feedback.

I watched Maddog pull his wing up and kite it for about ten seconds. The whole time he was kiting he was describing to me his thought process out loud. He said, “Ya, the first thing I like to do is kite my wing, get her under control and see how she feels. If I don’t like it, I’ll pull her down. If she feels good, then I’m good to go. She feels perfect so I’m going to launch now!” Maddog’s wing was totally under control and he took about two graceful steps forward and was up. He gently tuned right and was going up the whole way. I heard him shout back, “It’s perfect!”

Wow, how cool is that. Within about thirty seconds he was way high above the lookout. He then called me on the radio and said once again, “It’s so perfect, I’ll keep my eye on you if you decide to launch!” “Thanks Maddog!” I responded.

Just then Nick and JeffMc arrived. It was perfect timing, because I think I would have passed if I didn’t have the extra ground support. Nick and Jeff helped me lay out my wing. I’m really glad they were there because a fluky gust came through and they both grabbed my wing as it came up against the power pole. Thanks guys!

I settled into my harness and did my mental pre-flight check. I pulled her up and braked to reverse kite her for a few seconds. All of the lines looked good and the wing pressure felt firm and stable. I then turned and took a couple of focused steps and felt liftoff. I gently eased back into my harness and turned to the right. I felt lift the whole way. I turned back at the same spot as Maddog did and came back above the overlook. I was still going up.

Thinking to myself, "How AWESOME!" I made another tack back out towards the lighthouse and kept going up. I followed the same flight path that I did the previous day and headed across the power lines towards the Cactus ridge. “Great Job Doug!” JeffMC said over the radio as I could see him start to lay out his wing below me as I crossed above Manic’s. “Thanks guys for all your help!” I gratefully said. Then I heard another POP! It was another cherry! Two cherries in two days!

I soared all up and down the main Makapuu ridge for the next two and a half hours. I took as many photos as my memory card would allow. Fortunately, I only had room for around ten photos. It was a blessing in disguise, since I really needed to stay focused on the occasional bullet thermal. I know it was a light thermal day, but for a newbie, I really got a good chance to work on my bump tolerance.

It was high noon and I was getting sun baked and thirsty. Now I know why you guys all have camelbacks! I was thinking about heading in and to make up my mind for sure I got rocked by a couple of strong back-to-back bullet thermals. I decided to head in and watched Maddog’s approach. He made a perfect landing and I noticed that he turned in on final just above a white canopy on the beach.

I then learned a very valuable lesson about object fixation. I was so focused on that white beach canopy that I found myself almost landing on it. I realized way to late that I had totally misjudged my landing approach. I landed on the beach five feet away from the white beach canopy. My wing then gently found the top of the only tree in the entire LZ. The joy I felt this time was more like humble respect for this sport and a gratefulness that I didn't land on the beach canopy!

Jetflap came over to my aid once again with a big smile on his face. He helped me slowly get my wing out of the tree as he said, “Don’t feel bad! Tree and water landings are a part of paragliding. It’s not if you are going to do it, it’s when!” Wow, that object fixation thing really works. Now I know to focus on where I want to go!!!

Thanks again Jetflap for your pre-flight and post flight assistance. Thanks Maddog, Nick and JeffMc for showing me the way off of Manic’s launch. Thanks Alex, Joey and Jim for the inspiration and motivation, and thanks Reaper for the LZ landing pattern tips. Once again thanks to everyone for all of your help, advice and support! I greatly appreciate all of your guidance and wisdom!

Wow, I just realized one last thing, I just had two flights with zero hiking, how cool is that!

See you in the air real soon!

Much Aloha, MauiDoug


Anonymous said...

Welcome to the wonderful world of Makapuu Maui doug.


Anonymous said...

I can see you truly have a love for flying...Cant wait to be back up with ya brother!


Alex said...

Thanks for taking the time to share your perspective with us, Doug! It's great watching you expand your horizons in a methodical and safe manner. I look forward to reading about many more milestones in your flying career.

Waianae Jim said...

Great story Doug ! There's still plenty more chances to have many more of those experiences, especially with your positive, thoughtful and yet playful attitude. Looking forward to lots of more great flights with you in the future.

Maui Jon said...

Dougie! Nice work, now we can soar together when I come over to fly! See you in two weekends...

Maui Jon

JeffMc said...

Great job Doug - on the launches, the landings, the story, and the pictures!

DaveZ said...

Congrats Doug!

I really enjoyed your story, because I too have been dreaming of flying Makapuu since my first paraglider flight 2 years ago. I grew up in Hawaii Kai and I used to ride my dirt bike up to the hang glider launch and assist, back in the late 70's.

I hope to make it over there this summer or fall (hopefully with my P3) and get up there.

Cheers from California.

MauiDoug said...

Thanks everyone for your possitive feedback I really appreciate it. See you in the air real soon!