Friday, December 10, 2010

Round Top Runaways

We enjoyed two consecutive flying days at Tantalus this week. Light southerly winds and high sparse clouds on both days brought pilots out to our most challenging site, or should I say, half a site - most pilots wouldn't consider it a full flying site since it's just a launch with no landing zone.

On the first day, Jorge and Dave both flew twice, alternately sinking to the road (or missing it and sinking into the cactus patch below) for one flight, and getting up in sparse thermals for the other. Not the most inspiring conditions for the rest of us, so we ran ground support and worked on our heckling skills.

The second day seemed more promising - the cycles were longer and more frequent. As Scot waited his turn, Mad Dog and I launched in quick succession, but we both felt like the cycle we had chosen turned out to be a bit of a leeside fakeout, just a little bubble tempting us off into a puddle of mostly sink. He dove deep along the ridge and ended up low in the pocket back there, below the corner of the road where it turns up behind the ridge and leads to the park.

I searched for lifting air out front, but in vain, so I turned back and sank downwind along the ridge below launch, then turned into the wind for my best chance to line up for the road, aiming for the roadside lookout where there was only one car parked.

But as I was lining up for the road in a strong smooth sinky headwind, rather than bank in toward the ridge to deploy my landing gear on the asphalt, I found myself gripped by a sudden irrational sensation of denial. As in, denial of reality. I thought to myself, this can't be happening. Surely I'm not really landing on the road for a second time in two consecutive flights from this place. I hate landing on this stupid road! It's the lamest place to land on the whole island, or maybe the planet! Surely I am going to rise again like Lazarus if I just continue around the corner into some nice smooth lift. Surely this is my lucky day!

Well, as you'll see, it was lucky indeed, just not in the way I had hoped. The air was smooth all right, but it was also pure sink. Now reality was starting to sink in - I had thrown away my only shot at the road. Wait - I didn't mean what I said before! I love that road! It's the best! I would be happy to land there any day of the week!

I turned back into the valley and sped downwind in a panic, far below that beautiful road now, racing towards Mad Dog, where he was fighting to find a scrap of leeside lift in the back corner. I had zero options at that point, other than to just try and get as far back along the ridge as possible before plowing into some trees that might not be too big or too poky. I forced myself to look up at Mad Dog, and not down at the trees below or the dense neighborhoods full of houses and powerlines, either from some residual sense of denial, or from fear of being sucked down by object fixation.

I made it to the spur below Mad Dog's location, and I was elated to note that I wasn't in the trees yet. In my elation, I made a final foolish gamble and left the ridge, even as low as I was, just hoping that I would somehow find a buoyant cushion of air that would extend my glide over the sunny neigbhorhoods below, all the way into the park in the back of the valley. Again, I avoided looking down, and just sighted along my toes which were pointed at the park in the distance.

Somehow, incredibly, I felt little pops of turbulent lift all along the way, just little blips, but more lift than sink in any case, and I finally sailed over the tennis courts and pool with just enough height to cross to the wide open baseball fields. Only to find myself bobbing up and down atop a fountain of turbulence rising from those fields. I wasn't going up, but I couldn't get down. I did some hard S turns and fought my way through that stuff without taking any major whacks, and finally descended below the treeline for a really graceful landing in front of a couple playing frisbee. The girl applauded. I breathed an enormous sigh of relief, although only days later am I truly able to appreciate the enormity of my luck on this flight. At the time I was just happy my new glider and I weren't strung up in a tree or in power lines, lit up like Christmas decorations.

But I was due for one more little complication. A police crusier pulled up just as I dragged my gear into the shade, and I walked over to see what kind of trouble I might be in. He said they'd got some calls from people concerned about a parachute skimming low over the neighborhoods. Mainly he just wanted to be sure I was okay. He was a super nice guy, thankfully. I pointed up at Mad Dog, who had finally hooked into the thermal that would get him established way above the ridge, and I explained to the officer how our flying works, and how we generally try to avoid coming down to the parks below, opting to land back on top whenever possible. Thom showed up, and after I apologized one more time to the officer for his trouble, I threw my gear into Thom's truck for a ride back up top, stopping first for refreshments at Safeway.

Now for the really surreal part of this story. When we came out of the store, we heard that Scot had launched and bombed straight to the same park I'd landed in. Oh, boy. So much for my assurances about how rarely we end up there! We headed back to fetch him, but took a detour to fill up with gas and give him time to pack up. Meanwhile a police helicopter had inexplicably pulled into formation around Mad Dog as he was boating around in the lift high above the ridge, and proceeded to fly several big slow circles around him in a very deliberate manner. It was quite disconcerting for us to see that, and also quite disturbing for Mad Dog. We happened to see the same officer I'd spoken with before in the 7-11, and we asked if he knew why they were interested in our buddy up there, or if he could find out, and he said he didn't know, nor did he have a way to communicate with the chopper, since it was a different division. Thom called his neighbor on the force and he said he had no way of finding out either.

Mad Dog radioed down that he did not appreciate the airborne escort, and he was planning to come in and land with us in the valley. But as the helicopter made a pass over Scot, who was folding up in the park, Mad Dog managed to set up for a toplanding, and he asked Fireman Jack to grab his gear and stuff it into his truck just as the helicopter came back to hover over the lookout. Mad Dog faded into a group of tourists with cameras, feeling like an international master criminal now, and to his consternation he saw the guys in the chopper scanning the parking lot with binoculars. Finally the chopper flew off into the distance, and Mad Dog radioed down to us that he'd had enough of this stressful police attention, and he was going to head home.

Thom and I drove back up top to find Jorge, Dave and Jack up there, and Allan and Scrappy eventually showed up, but by then the cycles had definitely switched over to the west side, so we just hung out for a while before I had go pick up the kids. What a strange day that was. I think I used up all of my luck escaping from what should have been a certain encounter with foliage for my poor decisions. And Mad Dog felt pretty lucky to have escaped from his brush with aerial surveillance. Now that I think about it, I noticed at Diamond Head the next day that he was cleverly flying a different wing. But that's the beginning of another story.


Duck said...

Great one guys! I wish I coulda been there to see it! From the looks of the radar you all MUST be getting a lot of work done. Sorry I missed the lightning storm, but if it is any consolation I am sitting here in DC at like 10 degrees. Lucky we life Hawaii!

Anonymous said...

Tantalizing Tail
glad the only foliage was in your salad.