Monday, December 06, 2010

10 miles downrange

I'd been sure today would be good for flying, but it dawned easterly and gusty out here this morning, so I began to consider other options. But somehow Duck and Jeff were convinced that we'd have an afternoon window at Kahana, so against my own best instincts, I told Dorothy I'd have to take a rain check on taking her and Logan to that matinee of Harry Potter.

Sure enough, by around 1 pm, we started to get some decent sea breeze type of readings from Punaluu. So I loaded Logan's new kayak on the car, in hopes that Dorothy might bring him and Amelia out later on to join me after I got a little flight, and I headed to Kahana to meet Duck, Jeff, JD and LeeAnn. I ran up the hill with JD and launched fast, in nice light cycles from upper launch. I figured conditions were likely to either turn off or turn back to super east, so I wanted to get up and out of there as soon as possible, and maybe squeeze in a quick downrange mission.

As I was working my way up, Bill arrived and hiked up to join us. I soon found myself a lot higher than usual over Puu Piei, about 2,900 feet, and I called down to those guys that they needed to hurry. I actually called down several times, and threw in my altitude each time for good measure. Someone has to fill Mad Dog's shoes when he's not around!

The day was turning into a surreal cloudless moonscape, and I was seriously chomping at the bit to get started. I couldn't believe they weren't all up there with me already! I realized that we were looking at a rather special day but I didn't think it was going to last long. I heard Thom and Scrappy (with his brother Steve) on the radio announcing their arrival, and I saw Allan arrive at launch and set up. Ginny called me while I was up there and I told her to scramble on out, because the good stuff was going fast.

Finally JD got close to my height, and I heard the magic words over the radio: I'm ready when you are, Alex. I shot out of the barrel, directly from Puu Piei over to the back of the Punaluu ridge, and JD followed on the front line. He soon decided he wasn't finding much lift down there, and opted to play it safe and bail down to the Punaluu beach while he knew he was high enough to make it out. I was sorry for JD, and sorry for myself to be left alone over there.

So I was very relieved when Duck and Bill came over to join me. I felt myself noticeably relaxing - seeing gliders below me always has that effect. But they weren't down there for long. We soon worked our way up together above Sacred Falls to about three grand, and Bill took some crazy fish-eye shots of us up there. We could see Pearl Harbor, and the Waianae range, and Kaena Point. The view was amazing - my poor phone camera was struggling to make sense of it all, with the sun hanging so low over that vista, but I still forced myself to take a few shots. We could hear on the radio that things were lightening up quite a bit at Kahana, and it sounded like guys were struggling to get up from launch. I think we may have barely escaped in time. Maui Doug was the last to come over from Kahana, arriving way down below us and patiently working his way up.

Duck was consistently getting higher than me up above Sacred Falls, and I couldn't figure out how he was doing it. Whenever I saw him take a nice gain, I'd head over to where he was, only to find myself a few hundred feet below without anything good to work with. Must be that darn Sport 4 and its auto-centering. Finally he said his R2 unit was telling him we had Gunstock on glide, so he began to head that way, directly over Sacred Falls. Right at that moment, I finally got a decent boost, to my highest point at about 3,150 feet, and I happily followed his lead, but when he saw my height advantage, he turned back to work his way up for a better start. I was sorry not to have someone ahead of me to act as a lift marker, but I continued on, flying right over Sacred Falls towards Gunstock, and settling in for a very long glide.

From this point on I was basically alone - Duck and Bill and Maui Doug did eventually follow, but they were a ways behind, and I never saw them again during the flight. I was hopeful that I could make Gunstock Ranch as Duck had suggested - it wasn't obvious from the usual inane babbling of my own onboard wetware flight computer. If I could make it there, this flight would match my best ever from Kahana, one I'd made under my old wing a few months back, on a magically light and thermic day with Scot.

This day was not very thermic at all. We were rarely turning circles in columns of rising air, but more often just riding waves of buoyant lift, trying to max out the crests and avoid the troughs. After making a few obligatory turns above Suckers Hill in Hauula, I surfed the sea breeze to cross behind Laie, looking down to PCC and BYU and the temple, and eyeing the big fields of Gunstock ranch beyond as they rose into my field of view. It soon became clear that I would make it there as Duck had calculated, but then I realized I might actually make it significantly further. The onshore crosswind was becoming a bigger factor, and I was a bit worried about being blown inland and off course, but I added a little speed bar to try and stay on course.

At this point I was trembling with excitement. Would this be the day I finally get to fly to Kahuku? I've dreamt of it so many times, visualizing my approach to the golf course, like Marathon Mark's Makapuu record flight from long ago, or into some random corn field back there, like Doug's most recent Makapuu record flight. I could just make out the Kahuku High School playing field - wouldn't that be an awesome LZ! Should I go for it? My crappy old onboard computer was sparking and beeping incomprehensibly, so at this point I had to rely on manual targeting. I clenched my teeth and aimed for the high school. Oh God, please, please keep me aloft just a minute more!

After a suspenseful minute or so, I realized I was just barely going to make it to Kahuku - I got a few bumps here and there, not enough to turn in, but enough to slow down and surf. The wind was becoming quite a noticeable tailwind by now, and as I drew close to the high school playing field, I suddenly realized that it was actually situated in a bit of a hole, surrounded by trees and buildings - perhaps not the best LZ in this much wind. I could see the motion of the palm trees swaying down there. I arrived over the baseball field, excited to actually have made it to Kahuku, but worried now about where to land. There was a practice going on below. Time for a really quick decision. I eyed some open fields a bit further on and I decided I had just enough gas to make it out that way. I could see the new wind farm ahead and inland to my left, not yet operational, with the huge wind vanes ominously still.

I realized I was heading past the hospital, and I suddenly heard the sound of a helicopter. Oh crap! Was I flying through a medevac emergency? I looked around but couldn't see where it was, so I just tried to focus on picking a landing spot. I considered staying to the left of the highway towards the wind turbines, but thought I had just enough height to push out towards the shrimp ponds. I ended up getting some turbulent and swirly tailwind boost on my way in, and I made it past the first few ponds towards a little oasis of dry land next to a sewage treatment plant, and landed just downwind of the filtration tanks. Ewww. But I was so happy that I didn't really mind the smell. This was my most epic Kahana flight ever and it wasn't too stinky at all. Not only did I fly past my furthest previous outlanding at Gunstock, I also flew past my longtime goal of Kahuku, to a spot I'd never imagined reaching!

I called JD, and he said he and LeeAnn were already headed my way. Hooray, not only an epic long flight but a quick retrieve! With beverages! Thanks, guys! I climbed over a stone wall to get out of there, bruising my knee in my excitement, and trekked down a long paved driveway to meet them outside another locked gate at the highway. We cruised back to find Duck patiently hiking along the road from where he'd landed at Gunstock, his furthest flight ever from Kahana as well. We continued on to find Bill and Maui Doug at Pounders. When we got back to Kahana we found some new faces there: Pete, Bonnie, Ginny, and visitor Janos. Dorothy and the kids were just leaving - they'd arrived in my absence and taken the kayak out for some runs in the nice swells, but they were already getting chilly. I stayed behind to celebrate a bit with my buddies, and then followed them home.

I checked my landing spot on Google Earth, and figured out that I landed exactly 9.75 miles downrange from Kahana. But forget that - I'll always remember it as a clean 10 miles. I probably could have squeaked out that last quarter mile if I'd been willing to land in a pond and be a shrimp snack. I guess the next downrange milestone from Kahana for me will be Turtle Bay or even Sunset - on a more thermic day I bet it's possible. Guess I'll just keep on dreaming.


Thom said...

President's Flight Log getting more and more interesting......where will he go when the pod arrives....hmmmmmm.

Great job guys I should have gotten out there just a little bit earlier.

Puka Wai said...

Wow! Awesome flight. So the King of Kahana has overrun and annexed the kingdom of Kahuku and is setting his sights on the distant lands of the North shore, strangely reminiscent of another well known Alexander...

Doug said...

Nice one!

That was definitely further than I went :)

On my flight I got a short climb over BYU that was drifting deeper than I wanted to commit to hiking. After landing it occurs to me that we tend to head for the coast when we get low vice staying over land that is more likely to produce thermals. To make Sunset, which I think is totally doable, you will have to find that crease just deeper than most of our comfort zones.

I'll be home in a week, save some l&v for me.

Thom said...

Holly Crap,

The XC God will be in town in a week, Hope we are all ready.

I am taking the week off if not just to witness another historical flight in HPA history.

JeffMC will finally get someone to NAN too.

Welcome home Doug !!!!!!!!