Friday, October 22, 2010

Tantalus Therapy

You guys all know I have issues: deep-seated anxiety issues. I'm probably the scaredy-est cat in the club. Even after 11 fun and accident free years of flying, I'm often just as scared as I am excited to fly on a given day. But my fear issues are always at their worst when I'm considering a flight at Tantalus. I'm always torn about Tantalus, torn between abject terror and overwhelming desire. Maybe it's because I crashed there during my 14th flight ever, all those 11 years ago. Or maybe it's just because I need serious therapy. Well, yesterday I got some much needed therapy there.

The way I look at it, Tantalus is like the bastard spawn of an unholy congress between Diamond Head and Nanakuli. Thermaling over a dense urban cityscape, launching and landing right back where we take off. I don't think of XC when I'm at Diamond Head, for all sorts of good reasons, and I feel the same way about Tantalus. I know plenty of more ballsy people than me feel differently. In fact, the three townies flying with me yesterday were excited about making some distance over the urban jungle. But that was the last thing on my mind. My favorite part of flying there is taking off and landing over and over again, and generally staying local over the lush hillsides surrounding Manoa Valley. I don't like the idea of heading far from the ridge over such a dense collection of big buildings, flying over highways, or into an air traffic corridor. But maybe that's just me and my issues. I'm chicken like that.

So I showed up there yesterday around noon, and it was feeling really mid-day strong and thermic: cycles of 12-15 mph, with no lulls in between them, just a constant, gusty flow. Mad Dog soon joined me up there and he was super excited, but after talking to me a while, I had him just as scared as me. Sorry to harsh your buzz, dude - you're probably better off just leaving me alone in my nervous funk the next time you're up there with me. But we knew Jorge was coming up within an hour or so, so we chilled for a while and waited for him, hoping he'd fill us with confidence. Or at least launch first and be the wind dummy.

By the time we saw Jorge drive up and park, we realized that the cycles had mellowed considerably. We wondered what to tell him when he arrived to find that it was perfect, and found us just sitting there. All we could think to tell him was that, well, the thing is, we were gay. Mad Dog dropped that bomb, but Jorge was fine with it, he said he understood completely. He was like, whatever, dudes - it's time to fly.

Jorge checked out the air and said it felt like it would be rock and roll. That's not what I wanted to hear. Dave showed up soon after that, and he said, yep, it's gonna be rough, boys! Oh, why did he have to say that? Then some guy at the lookout said, you guys have big balls. He said, maybe all you guys have three balls, like some genetic mutation that allows you to jump off mountains like this. I told him I actually only have one ball compared to these guys, or maybe even half a ball.

Jorge launched first and made it look easy. His wing was wiggling around a lot, but that's just how he flies it. But of course I was petrified. And Dave was talking smack as usual, which never helps my state of mind. I kited a bit, trying to feel out the cycles. Dave and Mad Dog were making fun of me, like I wasn't gonna fly, but just kite around up there, as if I was too scared, which of course I was.

But somehow, after kiting for a few minutes, I forced myself to man up with my little half a ball, and I actually launched. I went practically straight up, working some very nice thermic lift up and over the antennas. From my high vantage point I watched Dave and Mad Dog launch, and they worked the lift around the launch area for quite a while. I got up fairly high over the back, took some nice pictures, headed out over the valley, took some more pictures, started to sink, came back back in, worked it a bit longer, then fought my way down through some strong cycles to topland. I waited for Jorge and Dave to follow me in, and we all watched Mad Dog for a while. He was up for quite a long time. Finally he toplanded too.

By then it had grown relatively smooth and mellow, which it often does later in the day there. Jorge and Dave took off again, and started working their way up again. Thom showed up to say hello, on a quick break from work. I launched and landed about 10 times in the perfect mellow cycles, milking the perfect conditions on launch for all the therapy I could get. Finally I forced myself to leave to pick Amelia up from school, about as late as possible. Sharky showed up just as I was leaving, and Frank radioed that he was on his way up too.

What a great session of therapy for my issues. And I'm hoping for more today! Maybe after enough of that kind of therapy, I'll evolve past my issues, and I'll be a balanced and relaxed pilot, like the rest of you guys - even at Tantalus.


Anonymous said...

I just burst out laughing in my cubicle reading about you "manning up with your little half a ball"! One of the best articles I've ever read!

Anonymous said...

Alex: I agree one of the best articles I've read. We all have our launch demons. I could relax, since I had 3 wind dummies ahead of me. I heckle to motivate you, after ten years of flying I have a pretty hood idea of how you operate, remember Boogaboogaland?

Toplanding Tantalus regularly is a recent development, so I still fly the get up and go somewhere thing.

After you left, Aron rode his bicycle up from UH with his wing on his back, just as the lift died, I told him to take a sledder to UH with his bike on his back.

Good Stuff

Fireman DAVE

Thom said...

Thanks Alex this was one of the best.

we should actually go through these stories and get the Published.

"The Monkey Chronicles"

Sharky said...

Great story Alex! I must not even have half a ball!! Heck I'm the king of no balls when it comes to launches.

Man when I first came and was helping Mad Dog launch though, it felt really sweet and straight up the hill.

Mad Dog almost had me kiting and thinking about taking up Mad Dog's offer of a ride from Manoa Elementary if I launched and couldn't top land....and then the wind shifted and came from up valley and nixed that thought really quick...LOL..instant shrinkage.

Awesome watching you guys fly though!


Anonymous said...

Alex, Its the same feeling Flying "Pololu Valley" or "Puu Anahulu" here on the Big Island... Great story ! Prey to the wind Gods ...We would give a sacrafice to the wind Gods,,, and "you go first" ... now some of our favorite places to fly!
Find Peace in the Air

Nick Johnson said...


Really great article. I feel the same way about Tantalus.


P.S. You're the only person I personally know that can get away with using "congress" as a verb!

Gravity said...

Great story Alex. I'm with ya man,nothing like being in the air wishing you were on the ground, than on the ground wishing you were in the air...

That sucks that I drove to my Contractor's board meeting at 8:30 am and after an unanimous decision, I received my Hawaii Contractors license approval(Thanks Big Bob for the motivation).
Then I drove all the way home to find out that Tantalus was flyable.

That's what sucked!

I wish I had done the driving NOW!