Thursday, September 08, 2011

Zen and the Art of Cloud Surfing

Yesterday, Jorge called me and suggested that we could learn some interesting lessons by exploring the conditions downrange from Makapuu. I spread the word, and many acolytes flocked there to seek enlightenment from our favorite Zen Master. It turned out to be an exercise in patience, as we slowly climbed up above Makapuu to gaze longingly at the high clouds and the sparkling vista downrange. Jorge was hopeful that it would mellow out and glass off like it did the day before, when there was lift everywhere, and it seemed like he could have flown to Kahana without even turning. So today he came back with a skyful of eager students.

We arrived around 1 pm to start the session. After getting high in the thermic lift above hang launch, Jorge went to Puu O Kona first, and we all started to follow, but he soon turned back, saying it was too rough, and that we should wait until it mellowed out a bit, like it did the day before. "It is not yet time, grasshopper. The thermals are unripe and green, and there are no clouds over the valleys to assist in our journey." Jorge decided to top land at Manics and take a break, to save our energy and wait for the perfect moment to begin our journey. Wow. Just like in that movie where Bruce Lee sits down to take a nap when he's trapped in the cave by the bad guys!

I followed Jorge down and landed, as did Scot and Ray. Jon, our Zen Master emeritus, also flew with us for a while, but he had to land early and get back to work. Flash flew with us too, but he also landed to get back to work. Harvey landed with us as well. Allan was the only one who didn't land - he seemed happy to stay up over hang launch and work on his thermaling. He seemed like he was meditating as he made his turns up there.

We drove over to the Mexican restaurant to grab some quick nourishment. As we tried to decide what to order, Jorge saw Allan up over Puu O Kona, where there were finally some nice clouds starting to form. Allan was well over three grand. Our Zen Master ran from the counter and jumped in the car. "Guys, forget the food, we need to go now!" Apparently the training was to include fasting!

With a carful of hungry Zen students, we sped by the LZ where Duck and JK were suiting up. We didn't realize they were waiting for us, and they didn't realize we had passed them, until they saw our wings blasting out of Manics. That was the beginning of a very long afternoon of miscommunication and confusion.

Scot had to leave, and we were sorry to lose him, but then Jim showed up and launched just as we pulled in to Manics. Harvey elected to sit this one out, and he offered to follow me in my car. Since we both live in the direction I was going to fly, that seemed like the perfect setup. Except that he didn't have a phone or radio. But what could go wrong? Also, we knew Thom was working in Kahuku until late in the afternoon, so we had a possible retrieve for the guys that needed to get back to Makapuu.

The conditions were smoother now, really quite mellow, and also very northerly, like 20 or 30 degrees. Perhaps it was a bit too mellow and too north. The lift was certainly more widespread than before, but it was also fairly slow. We gradually made our way downrange, chasing the little grasshopper that had jumped the gun, and hoping we could catch him. Wait for us, Allan!

The good news was that there were finally nice clouds forming over the valleys, but the bad news was they were a lot lower than earlier. I found myself right there at Green Walls with Jorge, trying to stay with him as we made our plans. He suggested getting to cloudbase behind Olomana and then surfing the bottom of the clouds across the valley to get around Puu Konahuanui. A good plan, though I didn't follow it exactly right. I was worried about where the Olomana rotor might be, so I went further, venturing into the big low bowl, and then had to work my way up to cloudbase back there, right where the guys were working on the transmission lines at the summit. Jorge and I both reached cloudbase at about the same time, and we raced across the back of Maunawili to get around to the Pali lookout. We both made it with tons of height to spare. That was quite an enlightening transition. I have to say, I kind of like flying with my own personal Zen Master!

We waited a while for Jim, Ray, JK and Duck, as we slowly wafted up to cloudbase above the Pali. The clouds were low there but there was a nice big blue opening in front, where we could boat around awhile without worrying about getting sucked up or whited out. I think Jorge was definitely in a slow frame of mind, not rushing at all, and I was trying to do the same and match his pace.

Jorge warned the guys who were following that it was quite north, so their best tactic would be getting to cloudbase first and then cutting off as much of the corner as possible, as we had managed to do. But they weren't quite able to make that work, and we watched as Jim sank to St. Stephens below the Pali, and Ray sank down to the golf course. Right then I got a call from Scrappy who said he was on the bus and would be picking up his car at Castle Hospital, and he'd be able to drive retrieve. Great news. I directed him to look for Jim and Ray down there, and then reported on the radio that Scrappy was on the bus and could drive retrieve. Unbeknowst to me, at that moment Harvey saw Ray land at the golf course and picked him up. Harvey wanted to continue and follow me, but Ray told him Dorothy was on the bus and would be picking up my car at Makapuu to drive retrieve. So back they went to Makapuu.

Click here for full-screen version of this video!

Jorge and I continued on to the Stairway to Heaven at Puu Keahiakahoe, and behind us JK was able to get up at the Pali, with Duck somewhere behind. Lift was getting even slower, and clouds were getting lower. At this point Jorge said we had a decision to make. We could head back and make it Makapuu if we left right now, or we could continue and see how far we could get. But chances of getting very far were getting slimmer with the slowing lift, the dropping clouds, and the waning light. Allan was ahead reporting each transition, and I knew he was going for the Pyramid. I also knew that Harvey was chasing me in my car and I could just ride home from where I landed. Wouldn't that be great? So I told Jorge I wanted to continue, and he was fine with that.

We crossed Haiku Valley and pulled in behind Temple Valley, which was pretty dark and gloomy due to the increasing cloud cover. At this point we were scratching super close the ridges back there, in the lightest possible lift, examining each frond of the ferns covering those sheer green cliffs. Allan had not quite made it to Puu Ohulehule, so he'd turned back to land at Doug's kite spot in Waiahole. Jorge and I finally worked our way up to cloudbase in the back behind the kite park, around 2,500 feet, and we headed out on an oblique line to cross around in front of the pyramid on its low foot. We made it, and were able to milk the zeroes to remain at about 1,000 feet, but we couldn't seem to climb any higher on the pyramid no matter what we did. It was about 6:30 and I think we had finally just run out of lift for the day.

We went on glide for the kite park and landed there. Scrappy was there with Jim and JK, and Bill and Joey had also followed us over there after getting off work. Thom showed up with a case of very refreshing beverages and we celebrated as we watched Duck come in for landing in the last light of sunset with the moon overhead.

Dorothy and the kids stopped by on their way home from work and school, but I told them to go on home since I knew I had a ride coming. However, after a long time trying, I finally got in touch with Ray, and realized that Harvey wasn't following us, but they'd headed back and were flying at Makapuu again. Rather than wait in the dark for an hour at the park for Harvey to come get me, or wait for the bus, I told Ray I'd come that way and get Harvey and the car. At least I would have some debriefing time with my flying buddies in Thom's truck. We arrived at Makapuu to see the end of the last flying shift, as Bonnie and Nightshift both came in for landings during a little evening drizzle at the LZ.

Thanks to Thom for the beverages and the ride back from Waiahole. Thanks to Jorge for sticking with me and guiding me for the whole flight. Thanks to Allan for showing us it was working and firing us up for the chase.

We sure were offered lots of interesting lessons today. Time will tell whether we've actually learned them, but the road to enlightenment is surely a long and tortuous one. Here are some Zen koans for us to meditate on:

Grasshopper, do not chase the weather conditions from a previous day. Let go of your regret and your desire. Today is another day and it must be understood on its own terms.

Little cricket, do not rush off into the distance at the first chance. For every undertaking there is one perfect moment to begin. Be patient and wait for that moment. But if you miss that moment, do not chase the former plan - make a new one instead.

Do not make an upwind transition before climbing to cloudbase. Be patient, grasshopper. Only by surfing the clouds will you ensure a safe transition to your goal.

Grasshopper, do not think to wait for your friends, nor expect that they should wait for you. We all have our own path, and we are all flying our own flights, and sometimes, if we're lucky, we'll fly with friends for a while along our journey.

The wise pilot conserves his energy, and seeks nourishment when there is time for it. But if you see your buddy skying out, forget about the food, and just get your butt up to launch.

And finally, Grasshopper, heed this lesson well. He who offers his car to a dude who is willing to chase but has no phone or radio is a long way from enlightenment. Having an extra radio to offer your chase driver could mean saving a few hours of driving time.


Thom said...

I was really hoping that you guys would end up at Gunstock or at least Kahana. But it pleases me that you saved a more epic flight while I am in the air.

You guys completed point to points though, going from KNA to MDKS and then from MPU to MDKS within 48 hours. I know there were some firsts so Reaper should be in beer for quite some time.

Congrats and this was a wine read, actually I guess it could be a whine read as well......wish I was flying with you.

Mad Dog said...

Here's a Zen Koans for ya, If you never pull those A lines & then head down range_ U'll never know how far you can get! Good days are in your mind, but down range X/C flights are around the corner of Ironwoods. This thought comes to mind after the next day & flight from MPU wich was less than perfect with minimal lift that no one wanted to venture into the unknown...Aloha

Duck said...

Hell ya! What a great flight! I just posted my vid of the flight. I have never had to scratch like that on the main range.

What fun!