Thursday, January 20, 2011

Downrange Bandit

Yesterday was one of those rare and special days at Makapuu. The kind that starts out cold, with no wind and no clouds on the range at all. The kind where visiting pilots show up and just fly way downrange like it's something we can do every day. We know better, but why spoil their magical impression of our flying paradise? I counted at least 31 pilots, including 8 visitors and 2 hang glider pilots. Of that number, 27 flew, with 20 heading downrange at least a little ways, and some quite a long ways. By my unofficial count, we racked up at least 333 cross country miles, which has to be some kind of record for one day.

I hiked up to Cactus with six visitors, and I fully intended to provide site briefings, launch assistance, refreshing beverages, massages, etc. What's more, I had promised Aron I'd take his girlfriend tandem when they showed up a bit later.

But the thing is, when I saw the Pod Brothers, Dave and Jorge, strap into their black ships and blast off like bats out of hell, I knew there was an urgent mission underway, and all my noble intentions went right out the window. Hey, Dave and Jorge, wait for me! It's me -- you know, your youngest pod sibling! In my excitement to follow them, I clumsily stepped on Mad Dog's wing as I inflated mine, and then once my wing was overhead, Gary yelled at me to abort, because I'd left my helmet on the ground. Doh!

Okay, slow down, take a breath, put on the helmet … now, pull up, and GO GO GO!

Suppressing my deep feelings of guilt for leaving all those nice visitors to fend for themselves, and for blowing off the tandem, I blazed over to hang launch to peer after my pod brethren Jorge and Dave as they rocketed downrange. At first, they didn't make it look that great. Maybe this was gonna be one of those beautiful duds of an XC day. But then it struck me that the reason they weren't getting very high was that they didn't have to! The conditions were working great and those guys were just gunning it!

As I was boating around above hang launch waiting for some kind of signal to follow the leaders, JK just headed after them. He wasn't nearly as high as I was, but he didn't seem to think that was a problem. That was the signal! I dashed down there with JK, taking comfort from that relaxed feeling I get when there's someone flying below me, at least initially. Soon enough we were thermaling together, and then Mad Dog joined us down at Greenwalls.

We all watched Dave and Jorge struggle to get around the Pali, and then Dave radioed back that there was no lift there. Oh, no. It was going to be one of those days where it seems great but it's really just not working properly. A beautiful dud. But then we saw them getting up over there, and I knew it was going to be okay. Definitely not a dud!

So we headed after them. But getting around the Pali is always a bit of a challenge. JK took the long and patient route along the back of the ridgeline, while Mad Dog took the crazy-like-a-fox route straight across the flat Maunawili valley under a perfect cloud line. Sheer genius! I followed him that way, and I think I was lucky enough to make it around first, while Mad Dog and JK had to regroup a bit to try again. That valley crossing is generally the trickiest one of this whole flight -- at least until you try to get past Hygienics!

At the same time, Dave passed us on his way back from there, sobbing audibly over the radio as he announced that he had to leave to go pick up Lani from school. Sometimes leaving in the middle of that kind of flight is even more painful than not even coming out to start it. I feel your pain, Dave!

When I got around the Pali, I spotted Jorge coming back towards me from the other direction. I was worried, and I asked him over the radio why he was coming back. But he wasn't on the radio. In any case, Mad Dog answered: who cares why he's coming back, we're gonna keep going! Then Jorge flew right by me and shouted out slowly and clearly: WHAT'S … THE … PLAN … ? I pointed downrange, and soon he and Mad Dog joined forces to lead the way. JK was still rounding the Pali behind us, and there was a mysterious visiting pilot who was in close pursuit. At this point I let the two leaders get away from me, forcing myself to be patient and work my way as high as possible before each transition, rather than succumb to the impulse to just chase them even if I was lower.

At the next tricky part, the Stairway to Heaven, I got high pretty easily as I watched Mad Dog and Jorge make their way over into Temple Valley. Then I headed across too, and as I reached the other side, I looked back to see the mysterious visitor right on my tail, zooming over the valley to join me. Now I was really curious. Who was that? I asked over the radio several times, but never got an answer. Whoever it was, he seemed to be pretty relaxed about this epic flight. A pretty cool customer indeed.

I kept hoping I'd catch up with the lead pair, but I still forced myself to work the lift and get as high as possible before each crossing. I found myself working the peaks behind Kahaluu with the mysterious visiting pilot, but after a while, I realized my silent wingman had turned back towards Makapuu. Who was that masked man? Would he really make it back?

Mad Dog and Jorge got behind the big pyramid, Puu Ohulehule, and Mad Dog announced that they were heading out to get in front of it. He made it, but then he radioed his concern that he'd lost track of Jorge! Neither of us could see any sign of our fearless leader. Meanwhile, I was pulling into the peak on the main ridge behind the pyramid, and I started to head towards it to join Mad Dog.

Then Mad Dog spotted Jorge, a little speck way over in Punaluu, emerging low from the deep trackless expanse of jungle that we call Boogaland. But he was high enough to get up again at Sacred Falls and continue. Wow! He ended up gliding from there straight to Pounders, finding no more lift in the light conditions down there.

I was feeling like my line was pretty nuts (as in, requiring more nuts than I really had), as I headed upwind in the lee of the monstrous pyramid, but Mad Dog told me to continue on that line just like he had done, and he assured me I'd find a nice leeside thermal to pop me up and over into the windward airflow. Wouldn't that be nice! The thing is, while it's very friendly for other people to promise us a thermal, we'd better be prepared for the consequences of not finding one. For me, that meant textbook rotor, and I found myself pounded down, down, down without mercy, into the valley below, and I set up a landing on one of the 4WD roads in Waikane.

As I folded up, I saw JK sailing overhead, 800 feet above me, the tortoise to my hare, slowly but surely making his way over to get around the foot of the pyramid and work his way up to join Mad Dog. A genius ploy. But he didn't quite make it around the foot, and he landed near the churches in Hakipuu. Mad Dog was starting to get low at the pyramid, so he headed into the massive Kaaawa Valley, hoping to get back up over there, but he ran out of steam and landed near the mouth of the valley. At the same time, Duck was squeaking his way into Kahaluu and making his way over to land at Kahaluu Regional Park, near the Hygienic Store.

Bill kindly drove out from his house in Kaneohe to pick us up. Jorge and Mad Dog made their way to Kualoa, where Bonnie bundled them into her van for the ride back to Makapuu as she finished her workday at the ranch, and then Bill handed us off to her at the Hygienic Store. We enjoyed some cold beverages as we debriefed each other about our heroic exploits. Massive Mahalos to Bill and Bonnie for the staged retrieve mission! And thanks to JK for the refreshments!

When we got back, there were still scads of people flying. I got to hear about all the flights everyone had made, including all the happy visitors, and I finally figured out the identity of the mysterious and silent bandit who had headed back from Kahaluu. It was Pete Reagan from Oregon, who has been in town to visit Jon Goldberg, but only thought to come out and try a flight on this special day. Pete is a frequent visitor here and a leading light of USHPA and his local club, not to mention an amazing pilot and just a really nice and unassuming guy. Turns out he had the longest flight of the day! We really gotta watch those soft spoken and mild mannered visiting pilots! Not because we're worried about them outflying us -- but because I think they have a lot to teach us. I should have been the one following him on that flight!

Here's my unofficial list of distance made for the day - I'm sure I must have got some of it wrong, so please correct me if you notice any mistakes or omissions:

Pete Reagan from Oregon: to Kahaluu and back, 35 miles
Leo (HG): to Kahaluu and back, 35 miles
Jorge: to Pounders, 28 miles
Maui Doug: to Likelike and back, 22 miles
Gary: to Likelike and back, 22 miles
Fireman Dave: to Likelike and back, 22 miles
Peter D from Oregon: to Pali and back, 20 miles
Summer's fiance Doug from California: to Pali and back, 20 miles
Mad Dog: to Kaaawa, 20 miles
JK: to Hakipuu, 18 miles
me: to Waikane, 18 miles
Duck: to Kahaluu Regional Park, 16 miles
Summer from Oregon/California: behind Olomana and back, 13 miles
Dave Goto (HG): to Olomana and back, 13 miles
Thom: behind Olomana and back, 13 miles
One eye Jim: to Puu O Kona and back, 9 miles
Reaper: to Olomana golf course, 6 miles
Bonnie: to Waimanalo Beach Park, 3 miles

I'm afraid I don't know what happened to Bay Area Bill. Maybe he's still flying!

And a list of notable firsts:

1st time back in the air for Jim after his long convalescence
1st time past Greenwalls for Duck and JK
1st time soaring the Pyramid for Mad Dog
1st time to Greenwalls for repeat visitor Summer
1st time to the Pali for repeat visitor Peter D
1st time to Likelike for Gary?
1st twilight XC to Waimanalo Beach Park for Bonnie
Not to mention many 1st time Makapuu flights for most visitors!

In addition to my pictures, I've included a picture from TJ, and a whole playlist of videos from the day shot by Mad Dog. You can watch the videos right here in the story, but it's best to watch them full screen! What a great narration he made. He sounds like Julia Child making a cooking show: just as calm as can be, even though the chicken has fallen on the kitchen floor. If I narrated a video, you'd hear the stress in my voice for sure. My narration would consist mostly of exclamations like "Oh my god! What do I do now???" Let me know if anyone else has pictures or video that should be included here. I promise I won't compare you to Julia Child.

What an amazing day, and what a pleasure to share it with so many unsuspecting visitors. Maybe they've brought that kind of luck with them - let's hope there's more where that came from!


Anonymous said...

First it was great to see Jim back in the air. I myself spent the morning crunching numbers for my afternoon tax accountant meeting. I found myself with about two hours to fly. I rushed downrange, half hoping it would be no good. But it just kept getting better and better. There were some big lulls where nothing was going up, 5 minutes later in the same spot everything would go up.

When i reached the Pali, it was do or die time, continue for an epic or fly back and do the pickup/dropoff/cpa meeting thing. I could figure no way to wiggle out of my terrestrial obligations.

It is kind of like waiting months for some 'hot' action, and after a few 'pumps', pulling it out, wiping it off and leaving. Nearly impossible for me, but i did.

It was awesome flying past all you guys in Maunawili, gliders everywhere, really magic considering the weather report. I flew straight back to makspuu, 3k' with no turns, just lifting off. Next time.

Fireman Dave

Thom said...

I missed this big XC by an hour. Launched out of manics only to get to Olomana and got up around 3200 and was freezing. Should have grabbed the Chamonix flight suit.

I ran into Jim on the way to Olomana he was coming back. It was awesome to see him back in action and heading down range on his first flight back.

There were so many wings in the air and all over way cool.

Thanks for the write up Alex made my coffee and my second cup too.

Duck said...

As always, great writeup Alex! What an amazing day. I am very happy you talked me into heading to MPU. I have wanted that flight for some time--love the photos and Mad Dog videos!

One of the HG passed above me as I was working behind Hygenics...not sure who...but, maybe the distance totals are even larger.

Congrats to everone for great flights.

p.s. On my vid from the day, Dave is the tiny white spec above Pu'u O Kona just gliding along as he raced Thom to the LZ.

Mad Dog said...

Definately a Fantastic Downrange drag race!Stopping only to take a few video's. Caught up to Big Al & JK but would have never reached Jorge & Dave if they did not turn around. I Talk little on the radio but after Alex watching Jorge returning he thought the end of the world was following him as I could hear his ever increasing stressful voice " Al's Quote" When I got around the Pali, I spotted Jorge coming back towards me from the other direction. I was worried, and I asked him over the radio why he was coming back. But he wasn't on the radio. In any case, Mad Dog. After his 3rd transmission to Jorge I came back to calm him, Focus Alex were pressing on... I owe him that one after the Julia Child narreration referance. He he.Next time I'll try not to drop the Chicken. Was great flying with all you Monkeys!
Special day indeed

MauiDoug said...

LOL Alex! Your narration comments really cracked me up :-)
Awesome coffee story, awesome photos, and awesome narrated videos Mad Dog! Just another awesome day at Makapuu!!!!
@ FireDave's comment, Dave was your hot action pumping up a kite or what???

Alex said...

Sheez, Dave, watch those hot action references, this is a family site! Not to mention it's indexed by google and online for all eternity! We don't want our site coming up for people googling for hot pumping action!

Waianae Jim said...

We really are fortunate to surf the sky and to soar with some of the best people around. Thanks to Reaper for lending me a jacket and helping me launch out of Manics. Must have done something right in a previous life 'cause I'm definitely screwing up this time around. It was great to get in the air again. Gotta admit I was a little jealous of all the downrange explorers - but how can I complain - I scored an hour flight after 120 days without any flying. That's right - 120 days - for all you junkies that are always whining about not flying after a couple days. I won't be out there all that much, foot's still too weak to hike too far (heck I'm probably not even supposed to be trying to fly yet, guess I won't tell the Dr. when I go for re-eval in two weeks). I'll be hoping for a few more Manic days while I'm still recuperating.

Unknown said...

What a great communal experience for locals and visitors - one that seems to happen very often with this club. Alex, another great narrative filled with wit and a keen eye for the experiences of not only yourself, but those around you. Congrats to my buddy Duck and his new personal best. Congrats to Mad Dog for so often being way out there. Congrats to the Peters from Oregon - my home. Jim, I arrived in late September just after you hurt yourself. I remember the concern from the club members and there talk (and action) to help in any way possible. It's just part of the beautiful soul of this club. Glad you're back - Portland Tim

Sharky said...

Wow...just wow...Awesome flights, awesome writeup, awesome video.

I'm blown away...

Good job guys!

@Mad Dog, from your vantage point from the back of Manoa. Just curious would it have been possible to make it to the Tantalus launch safely?

@OneEye! So glad to hear you got back in the air. Must have felt so liberating! Like breaking out of jail! :) make XC sound kinda naughty and dirty...LOL!

@ElPrez...Alex, your write ups never fail to amuse and amaze. Your chronicles of the exploits of the flying monkeys puts you in Epic Legendary Scribe status. I've taken to waiting till morning coffee to read your articles and this was epic...(thanks for starting that ritual Sidehill!)

Truly hope I get some airtime with the our special Tribe of Flying Monkeys today!


Mad Dog said...

Aloha Sharky, Winds were so light that day, yes very possible to go over the back & fly/top land Tantalus or LZ at Manoa Park. The thought crossed my mind but was going to be an epic downranger so not wanting to cut it short by hopping over there, I did not check wind on south side but most likely it was on shore in a southerly directon I bet. Always switch to & check NOAA radio freq. to be sure before you leap...Next time!

Anonymous said...

Hi Guys.

I'm writing from Brasil and When I saw the videos and the write up, only word to say: FANTASTIC !

I'm going to visit Oahu on the end of march and now, the priority of the short vacation are fly on this paradise.


JK said...

I'd forgotten about a short video I took after landing out on this XC. I hope you can ALL learn from it!