Monday, January 18, 2010

Catching The Sidehill Express

The Sidehill Express pulled in as I was standing on Crazyman’s station at Makapuu. I heard earlier that the train was not in service today due to preparations for Mad Dog and Jeanine’s wedding reception party later that evening. The conductor then boomed out…. “Next stop…. Green walls…. All aboard!”

“Count me in!” I replied, as I was getting ready to launch. Both Sidehill and myself had smooth and lifty launches and quickly made our way over above hang launch. It was a high cloudbase day at around 3500’ with 10 mph ENE winds aloft at three grand. I was amazed as how easy it was to get to two grand so fast as the train was pulling out of Makapuu station. I remember thinking to myself, “This could be an epic flight today!”

Thanks to the trains engineer all I had to do on this flight was to be the caboose. I seemed to always be just one crossing behind and a bit lower every time I saw the front of the train. It’s very inspiring and confident building to see your wingman going up on the other side of every crossing. I thought to myself, “Wow, Sidehill is really going for it!" I don’t think his handle fits anymore! Today he has definitely earned a new handle if he chooses. Thom is now only a written test away from his P3 rating. So does he also get a new handle as well? I’m thinking maybe Iceman, or Maverick, or “GC” for Grande Cojones. But I totally support Don’s new handle for Thom…”XC”

Before I went on glide at each crossing I would tank up and get as high as I could. I would then hear the words of Sensei Mad Dog in my head say, “Always have a good bomb out picked out wherever you are!” So I was flying with one eye on my course and one eye always scanning for a user friendly LZ.

I now realize that I can tell how smooth a flight is according to the number of photos I am able to take. I deleted a bunch of shots and still had a bunch of shots left over. The flight was smooth and euphoric for me. I only had a couple of wake up calls with turbulence that reminded me to stay focused and always be ready for anything.

The most amazing part of this flight for me was when I was crossing the H3 gorge. I hit some major sink and was going down really fast. I turned out to face directly into the wind while I was sinking. I looked down and didn’t see any user friendly LZ’s. “Uh-Oh”, I heard my brain say. Then it hit me like a gust front! My wing shot back behind me farther than I have ever experience. I went hands up and was saying to myself, “Just relax, this is really good, this is huge lift!” I waited about three seconds ready for a frontal surge but it didn’t come. I cranked a hard turn and started to circle. I just found the biggest fattest thermal of my flying career. I was inside this massive smooth thermal for about ten turns and with each turn I could see the H3 getting smaller and smaller. This thermal took me up to cloudbase for the first time of the day. A huge sense of relief came over me as I now could look down once again on the whole Koolau Mountain range.

Wow, for a moment I thought I must have still been dreaming, because I was actually experiencing one of my countless flying dreams.

I finally caught up to the front of the runaway Sidehill Express as it was circling at the edge of Booga Booga Land. It was there I was most fortunate to get a shot of “XC Thom” flying straight towards Kahana Bay. XC then tested the waters down the Koolau Spine and reported back that it wasn’t working back behind the Pyramid as he flew back to where I was. It was still working nicely above Puu Kaaumaka.

XC then said, “Let’s tank up here and make our way to the front of Puu Ohulehule (The Pyramid)”. We topped out at 3200’ feet, about five hundred feet above Puu Kaaumaka.

The train then pulled out again to go on glide to The Pyramid. I noticed that he was sinking quite a bit and I decided to hang back and try to get even higher than 3200’. I hunted and hunted and soon discovered that I was now getting below 3200’, so I went on glide as well. It was about 5:30pm and the lifty boaty day was now overcastted with clouds and totally blocking any sunshine from hitting the ground. Shortly there after I hit sink. I was hopeful that I was going to find another massive thermal to help ease my nerve endings. I was in steady sink the whole way towards Puu Ohulehule. I didn’t even feel a hint of a thermal. I now heard those words from Sensei Mad Dog pop into my mind! “Always have a good bomb out LZ picked out!” Well, I was now looking and not seeing anything very friendly. I realized that I still had a long way to go just to get out of Booga Booga Land. I looked ahead and watched The Pyramid grow taller and taller. I now was getting low enough that I could see the palm trees as still as could be. I realize that the wind had backed off and The Pyramid might not be working. I could see XC almost there, but he was still sinking as well.

Then I saw it! A decent sized green square hopefully within my sinking glide ratio. In that moment I decided to only focus on that tiny little green square. As I got closer I saw a bigger green square just a bit further away. The only things that I didn’t like about it were all the power lines that I would have to cross before I got there, or even if I could get there! I knew I had to make a fast decision and decided on the closer smaller square with less power lines. I arrived above my hopefully user friendly LZ with three hundred feet to spare. I noticed all the motionless trees and knew I was going in hot. I realized that the green yard was right next to a large net covered Olomana Orchid Farm in Waikane. I made a mental picture of my landing approach to set up for my full speed final set up turn. I came in hands up to keep my air speed. The LZ came up really fast as I banked my turn into the yard. I quickly realized that I was running out of LZ and cranked a smooth yet hard left banked turn to avoid flying into the fence. I realized I needed to turn even harder to avoid flying onto the Orchid netting. I had now almost completed a 360 when I saw my left wing tip touch the ground out of the corner of my eye. When I saw that I flared as hard as I could with a full wrap. My speed quickly slowed and I lifted my legs for an airbag landing. “Poof!” I was down with a super soft cushy landing. I was so stoked that I just successfully avoided flying into anything solid.

I quickly ball’ed up my wing, tossed it over my shoulder and climbed over the farm style fence. I radioed “XC Thom” to let him know that I was down safe and encouraged him to keep going. I could now see him successfully working his way up to the top of Puu Ohulehule. It was a few minutes later when the retrieval crew arrived. Thanks so much Ray, Jim and Ginny. While we were all chatting we could hear and watch “XC” connect the next dot. He was now going up at the Kuuloa Ranch Ridge. We all knew then that he was going to make it to Kahana.

Sensei Mad Dog then came on the radio and said that he had a visual on him as “XC” was crossing the Kaawa Valley. I could hear the radio commentary as “XC Thom” flew over the top of Crouching Lion and soared his way up above the Rhino Horn. XC still had just enough light to go for Pounders, yet he decided to land at the Kahana LZ. The Sidehill Express had to make just one more stop at the Safeway to get goodies for Mad Dog and Le Peste’s wedding reception party back at home. Congratulation again to Chris and Jeanine for your celebration of love for each other! What a great party Donna and Thom! And what a cool award by Reaper!

I am honored to have been the last passenger on the Sidehill Express as the new train in town is now called the “XC” Express!

Congratulations XC Thom! I’ll be your wingman anytime! What's next... Makapuu to Pearl City? J

Much Aloha, MauiDoug

PS. Click Here For Slideshow


Anonymous said...

Maui Doug, awesome write up, I would love to get some of the pictures.

I followed you to lift several times during this XC too. Apparently I should have had you with me today, I am going to have to learn how to read those wind a loft sites.

Thanks even more for the pick up after my OTB.

I am going on stand by for a bit, but I will be up again.


Alex said...

Great story and pictures, Doug! You guys both pulled off an amazing adventure. I like your train metaphor. Locomotive Thom? Loco Thom for short?

Thom said...

Loco, that pretty much hits nails it. Thanks for that Alex.

Stupid is as Stupid does.

Brazilian Ray said...

hahaha, I like LocoThom! he is "loco" for paragliding!!
great story and pics!! keep'em coming!
Brazilian Ray