Tuesday, November 23, 2010


For the third day in a row, a teeming multitude of pilots thronged to Makapuu to take advantage of the light trades and sea breezes, classic wintertime conditions, conducive to casual sweet soaring but also to serious downrange missions. A half dozen visitors boosted our pilot count for the day to somewhere over twenty, which must be some kind of record for a weekday, let alone a Monday.

Cloudbase wasn't high, but the development was sparse enough to allow a safe passage along the range. Mad Dog, Scot and I managed to fly to Kahaluu; Thom survived a rough landing in a yard at Haiku Plantations, although not without onsite attention from several three-letter emergency crews (EMS, HFD, and HPD); Don and visitor Ruaraidh landed at the Pali Golf Course, to the very vocal consternation of the course Marshal; and Allan pulled off a successful round trip to Puu Konahuanui. Later on, others enjoyed smooth sunset sessions to Greenwalls and back. (Thanks to Kevin, Duck and Yolie for providing retrieves and beverages to the outlanders! You guys rock!)

My day started with a 6 AM text message from Dorothy as she was taking the kids to school. One word: moonscape. I knew what that meant - that's what we call it when we have these clear and calm winter days with no clouds in the sky, and the Koolau range is transformed into a long ridge on the moon, a severe and airless wasteland. Although apparently today there were also some cute little orographic cloud blankets covering the tallest peaks. Telltale signs that there was actually still an atmosphere available to fuel our quixotic quest for distance.

Scot and Mad Dog had spent the morning priming the chatterbox for a big XC mission. I was excited to test out my new wing on a big adventure like that, even without the two upper B lines I had accidentally snapped the other day. (Apparently they aren't actually necessary, because it still flies great. Maybe I should snap off the matching lines on the other side.)

But by the time I headed out, the Koolau range had clearly returned to earth, with a developing bank of clouds obscuring many of its tallest peaks. I wondered if I should turn around and head home to cut my losses. (Like I would ever do that.)

I picked up visitor Ruaraidh (pronounced Rury, or like brewery without the b) in Kailua, and we arrived at Manics to find a sizeable launch queue, just as early birds Mad Dog and Allan were conveying their fond farewells over the radio. "We're outta here, leaving Ironwoods and heading downrange." Darn it! I resisted the frantic impulse to jump the queue by launching from the parking lot, and instead I patiently watched Scot, Don and Thom launch, and then I helped Ruaraidh off. But that's where my patience ended. Larry and Alison showed up, and I'm sure they would have liked some advice and help, but by then I really had to go. I mean, I really did. Meanwhile, Sandy, John and Dave Z hiked up to try their luck at Cactus launch.

Ruaraidh and I quickly joined Thom and Don at Ironwoods, and without wasting any time I led the charge to follow Mad Dog, Scot and Allan. Cloudbase was super low at Ironwoods, below two grand, which made me think perhaps we were going to be shut down. But further downrange, the cloudbase ended up being a consistent 2,500 feet. That's better than two grand, but normally I would say that's still not high enough for a safe downrange mission, because you can't ever get as high as you'd like to comfortably consider some of the longer transitions over vast unlandable tracts of jungle.

Sure enough, when we got around Puu O Kona to Greenwalls, we encountered a frustrated Allan on his way back, retreating from the low cloudbase to wait for some cloud clearance before going further. I passed him and kept going. Maybe it was the new wing goading me into an uncharacteristic move, but I threw caution to the wind and just sped after Mad Dog and Scot. Damn the cloudbase, full speed ahead! Under this new wing I was definitely feeling like I had speed and glide to spare. In fact, the wing turned out to be some kind of parasitic alien puppet mistress, burrowing into my cerebral cortex and making all my flying decisions for me, and compelling me to man up with my little half a ball.

So under the dominion of my new alien brain, I callously left my compatriots behind to try and catch the leaders - I didn't realize it at the time, but this move would condemn me to a solitary and lonesome flight between the two groups. I never caught up with Scot and Mad Dog (in the air, anyway), and the other guys never caught up with me. It would have been nice to have a wing or two around to reassure me about my XC decisions - there's nothing like a few wings far below to fill a pilot with confidence. Of course, we always need to remember, even if there are wings in the air around us, we are still the only ones responsible for our own flying decisions. But when there really are no other wings around, that point is pretty obvious.

I rounded Puu Konahuanui without too much drama, and rode cloudbase past the Pali lookout. I was stressing about the low clouds, but thankfully they never really threatened to suck me up and over the back of any ridges. But then I overheard Mad Dog and Scot saying they were having a super tough time working their way up at the next major crux of the mission, the lofty Puu Keahi A Kahoe, home of the Haiku Stairs and the Omega Station. I heard Mad Dog say he was giving up, and leaving that peak with only 2,500 feet, lower than he'd ever left to make the crossing of Haiku Valley.

Apparently he and Scot must have made it across, because they were nowhere to be seen when I finally got there. And Mad Dog was right - it was hard to get up there. Really hard! I worked for what seemed like an hour, trying to find anything to lift me above two grand. I tucked into every nook and cranny along that ridge, searching for any crumbs of rising air, but in vain. I kept trying to convince myself to give up, to just land at the safe and familiar waypoint of Kaneohe District Park. But somehow my new partner convinced me to fight that impulse, and I continued to work random light scraps of lift, trying to keep myself in the game just a bit longer.

After an eternity kicking the trees along that ridge, I decided I really wasn't going to get any higher than a paltry 2,200 feet, and I limped off across Haiku valley, fully expecting that I'd probably have to turn back halfway, and burn a quick exit to the park. But to my immense surprise and relief, just after leaving the ridge, I felt myself lifted by a distinct rising column of air out over the valley, and I began to turn circles like my life depended on it. This was the first real workable thermal of the flight. I got up to 2,500 or so before I left the thermal, worried about drifting too far back into the valley. I crossed to the other side, arriving lower than I'd ever been at that corner, and once again searching every nook and cranny of the terrain for lift. I didn't find much, but I managed to creep around the corner into the still and shady air above Temple Valley.

I was ridiculously low now, and I was dreading the thought of having to make my first landing at the cemetery down there. But then my second guardian angel appeared, another perfect thermal rising up a short distance past the huge scary transmission lines I had just crossed. I turned many desperate tight circles, and succeeded in riding that wonderful creature to cloudbase. I joyfully radioed down to Scot and Mad Dog that I would soon be joining them at the park where they had landed. But I have to admit I was still nursing secret hopes to make it further, to Kahana, or beyond.

Those hopes buoyed me up and across a few more ridges and valleys, but the lift definitely seemed to be petering out over here, and I was feeling wiped out by the stress and effort that had carried me this far. Eventually I let myself relax and turned back to head out to the huge park where those guys were folding up. I zoomed in to join them, skimming over the grass for a crazy long glide on my landing. I unplugged my now dormant alien mistress, and then shared some laughs and man hugs with the boys, while we folded up and fished for rides over the phone.

What an amazing and surprising day. I have to thank Pete and Rob for my new extraterrestrial partner - I look forward to many more sessions under her commanding influence.


Duck said...

Nothing like a symbiotic alien mistress to work up your half ball!

Alex said...

Now all I need is an alien pod harness (to keep our little hatchlings warm), and a robot navigator, and soon I'll be charting the most remote trackless moonscapes! I have the former on order, but I'd love to give your robot navigator a try sometime, Duck. You'll have to show me how that thing works - I'm not great with robots.

Duck said...

While not as fun as your symbiotic alien mistress, the robot comes with an optional catheter attachment (you get to chose the hole based on Acro or XC and the days conditions) which allows for full autopilot. The only thing you need to watch out for is terrain! LOL!

Puka Wai said...

I submit that your new wing is just a wing, as indifferent to your fate as mother nature herself. It is much more likely that the symbiotic alien mistress you describe just hitched a ride to these islands in the box containing that new wing, just like most of the other alien, invasive species now found here.
Your unplugged and dormant mistress felt abandoned and did not wait very long before finding another cerebral cortex to wrap itself around. Perhaps due to abandonment issues, she was not feeling very symbiotic, more along the lines of parasitic as she interrupted rational thought and drove me to leave the friendly cliffs of Makapuu for the first time and head towards my doom in the rotting jungles of the Koolaus. I found myself flying along greenwalls in sparse lift to the vacuous environs of sink beyond Aniani Nui ridge. Fortunately at this point i realized what this horrid creature was doing to me and made a hasty retreat back across the now much closer ridge and menacing power lines near there. It seemed like a good idea to hurl that fiendish invader at those lines and let saner thoughts guide me away from the clutches of the jungle below to find a suitable landing spot in the far hinterlands of Waimanalo while I still had enough altitude to do so. After hiking every road in Waimanalo, I finally found the highway near the God factory, and soon thereafter was spotted by Scot as he was driving home and then kindly made a u-turn to give me a ride back to the LZ. Mahalo Scot!
Beware, I have a feeling that that evil creature did not get entangled in the power lines and is till lurking about to ensnare the next unwary sky-explorer.

Thom said...

I am ok just cracked my pride and back is a little sore. Got a ride out to the road by Mr. Deeds and then an instant pick up from Duck then a refreshment hand off from Ike on the way back to MPU.

If you are ever landing in a decent sized back yard in a grove of trees remember to leave hands up and brake only when you need it. Only dropped from 6 or 8 feet but now I am out for awhile and presently listening to all healthy Monkeys fly by house.

Have fun, go far be safe.