Monday, September 26, 2011

Take the Thermals and Run

There are some days when you just know that the flying will be good. Gaza and I woke up all nerves and excitement, packed up our gear, picked up Jorge and headed to Makapu'u. The clouds were looking perky, the winds light and variable, and Jorge was breaking down the strategy for us, “Jou have to ride the thermals to the top and then run, dude.” And I was thinking, okay, today is the day, I’m going cross-country.

Now I have flown Makapu'u many times, but between the time-suck of architecture school and the summers away on the mainland, I have not had the time, or the luck, to be at Makapu'u on a day where I had both the right winds and sufficient chutzpah. But when we pulled into the parking lot at the lookout, it felt just right. There were already pilots in the air, pilots on deck at Manics, and Frank was on the radio telling us that we could go anywhere. Jorge got his gear and was off the hill in a flash, followed shortly by Alex, who proceeded to show off his amazing kiting skills - dancing around near the lookout, to the delight of the tourists. Scott followed with a successful launch and I was ready to go. Just as I was about to pull up my wing, Gaza called on the radio saying he had hurt his knee. In an effort to avoid the crowd, Gaza had attempted to launch out of Lazymans - not an easy spot. In one misstep on the rocky terrain, he had twisted his knee and was down for the day. Luckily, he’s not one to hold anyone back, and he encouraged me to go on without him.

I launched and made it over to the hang gliding launch, where four other pilots were trying to work the patchy thermals well enough to make the jump back to Puu Kona. Jorge and Scott were already back there, leading the way. I worked and worked at those thermals, but was unable to get any more than 1500 over the Iron woods. Three times I attempted to make the leap, only to get low, run back and scratch to get up again. I watched Duck and Gavin successfully make the trek and I was determined. I finally lucked out, got a thermal that took me to 1700, and I thought, this is my chance. I headed out with that little bit of extra height, and found a thermal along the way that took me to Puu O Kona.

Now, I was told later that this turned out to be a tricky day to do this type of flight, because it was rowdy air, with only pockets of thermic lift. Being my first time back there, I didn’t realize this. I was rocking and rolling, and to be honest – I was stressed. It seems like a good strong thermal always elicits two responses simultaneously in my brain: ‘Wahoo’ and ‘Is this a good idea?’. But I rode with it and slowly worked my way along Green Walls, to the Pali and beyond, finally getting flushed just behind Hygienics. Along the way, I was able to relax enough every once in awhile to appreciate the lovely terrain, the plants looking like green fur waving in the wind, reflecting golden light in waves of pattern. Or the amazing view of Honolulu when high above the Likelike – and the snaking staircase along the ridge by the H3. Truly, we live in a beautiful place, and who gets to see it quite like we do?

I was fortunate enough that Gaza came to pick me up in the random field where I landed and we made our way to Maui Doug’s kiting spot, where Jorge and Scott landed after their amazing flight. They were there with Alex, recounting the day. We all lounged in the field, enjoying the glow of a good flight and watched as Duck and Joey made their way to Pyramid and wondered if they would dare cross Booga Booga. But it was late afternoon and the lift was shutting down, so they made the wise decision to come back and land by us. It was a personal best for me as well as Joey and another amazing flight for the others. We all headed back, tired and hungry, and saw Allan and Bonnie working the last of what the day had to offer on their own cross-country adventure. Nobody can say that the flying monkeys miss a good flying opportunity. We certainly made the most of an epic day.

Click here for full-screen version of this video!


Alex said...

Hooray, Laurel! You certainly do have chutzpah, probably a nicer term than what we normally call it. I was so impressed with you and all the other guys flying in those conditions. Wow.

I only took a couple of mediocre photos from the ridge at Makapuu, but I've linked one of them into your story just to give it some visual interest. If anyone got a nice downrange shot I'll definitely add it in, just let me know.

Robin Sutton-Brown said...

SD Robin: I did not have the Chutzpah or the time to do the XC with you today, but I sure enjoyed joining the gaggle at the start. I got some great views of you lined up along the ridge heading north. What a great day and I am so happy to have been there with you. It is back to San Diego for me but I hope that if you are in San Diego that I get a chance to return some of the hospitality I received from all of you. Thanks, Robin

Thom said...

Wow Swan, Thanks for story right before shut eye. Could not wait till morning and glad I didn't. you did awesome. Someone said they could hear you screaming with glee when hooking into a thermal and then saying "oh (something)" when falling out.

I like the call sign 'Swan' and you did fly with a Duck so kinda fitting to secure a good call sign.

Thanks again for the write and I am always bitching for more so keep it up.

Oh, Not sure what Chutzpah is but boy you got Gorilla B@))z.

Duck said...

Such a great write-up! One of my clearest memories of the flight was you trucking along the back ridge as I was getting spanked at Olomana. I wish Gaza hadn't hurt his knee, but thanks for chasing and waiting for Joey and I to come along two hours behind you guys.

This was one of the hardest days we have had in some time and I am happy to have made it to the Pyramid. I just posted a vid that hopefully can go along with the story. My last shot was a 360 of the island. Not a cloud in sight.

MauiDoug said...

Congrats Laurel, great flight and great story, I really enjoyed it!
Hope to see you in the air soon ;-)