Saturday, February 11, 2012

Cold Feet

Over twenty pilots flew Kahana on a chilly Thursday, and the mercurial conditions vexed many of them. Mad Dog and I were lucky enough to get away from Kahana before it got too challenging, and we criss-crossed the skies above Kaaawa and Kualoa before skating back downrange to Malaekahana.

It was cold. Really cold. I think we might have had record lows the night before. Like in the high 50s. The morning dawned crisp and clear and northerly, and I woke up with premonitions of bay crossing. Sure enough, the wind was about 18 degrees most of the morning. It started out pretty brisk. I put on my gloves and wrapped a neck buff over my face like a balaclava. And thank god for the pod harness that kept my lower half warm.

I crossed the bay right away, without even trying, and came back to see if I could get someone to bring some water up to launch. I would need it for my flight to Makapuu! Thanks to Gaza for bringing a bottle for me. I toplanded and tried to warm up a bit. I figured that with this wind strength and direction, everyone would soon be on the other side of the bay, and I'd be leading the charge to the east end of the island with a sweet northerly tailwind pushing us along.

Frenchy Yann was next to try the bay crossing, but he came in a little too far back, and got flushed to the fishpond. I relaunched, and followed Mad Dog across. This time it was a little trickier - the wind was turning more east. Uh oh. Maybe it wasn't going to be an easy day for everyone after all...

Mad Dog caught a monster thermal over Kaaawa, leaving me way below, and he headed back along Kaaawa Valley to the pyramid of Puu Ohulehule. But even as high as he had started, I saw him get flushed hard in the rotor behind Kualoa on the way back, and he got super low before he started to climb out on the other side of the pyramid. That looked like a close one. But obviously it was working great on the other side, and he blasted up to a stratospheric height above the pyramid.

From that lofty vantage point, he enticed me to join him. Come on, let's go to Makapuu! Well, of course I wanted to go. But I wasn't having the same luck with the thermals that he was. I wanted to dive back to the pyramid too, but I was much lower than he had been, and I didn't fancy my chances getting past that rotory sink zone. It's easy to dream big when you're on top of the world. But when you're stuck a thousand feet lower, things don't look so rosy!

Plus I was a little concerned about how brisk the day had started, and that anxiety has a way of sticking with me. And it just looked and felt like a very unusual and strange flying day. The sky was so clear, with very few obvious thermal clouds. There was just this cold and icy looking thin cloud shelf, high over the main range. And now our perfect northerly conditions seemed to be switching to easterly. So I demurred. If I could have lassoed a magic thermal to join Mad Dog in the stratosphere, I might have considered accepting his invitation, but from my cold and lowly perspective, it didn't look like a good option.

Disappointed but not out of ideas, Mad Dog decided to try and duplicate the Tour de Kahana I'd charted last year with Patrick Berod, when we'd tagged the pyramid before making a loop around the east side of the Kualoa ridge. I watched from Kaaawa as Mad Dog made his way around nicely, getting up from Kualoa in another massive thermal which drifted him high above Kaaawa Valley. I went around the front way to Kualoa, hoping to find a similar thermal and join him, but I just couldn't find it.

From there he drifted to Kaaawa and decided to eat the sandwich he'd thoughtfully packed, before making further plans. I flew back over there to join him, and watched dumbfounded as he ate his sandwich with one hand, both brakes in the other, while weightshifting his way up in nice thermic lift. It was all I could do to keep up with him, and I wasn't even eating anything.

We watched three pilots arrive below us in Hidden Valley, but it was so east by that time that they were really struggling to climb out of there. I've done that a few times recently and I sure know how it feels. Canadians Rick and Paul eventually bailed and headed out to land at Swanzys, while Jorge stuck it out for a full thirty minutes before joining them. Eventually Dave would try the same gambit and suffer the same fate.

High above the suffering pilots below, Mad Dog and I caught a super fat thermal together out of Hidden Valley, and it started to drift us over Kahana Bay. But somehow I lost it midway, and I watched as Mad Dog rose out of sight above me, as I searched frantically for any way to get back into that buoyant column, in vain. He rode that fat thermal back to the stratosphere, and crossed the bay and the Kahana ridge without stopping, heading directly for Sacred Falls. I had to sail back to Kahana on the low road and work my way back up at Puu Piei before drifting over the back to join him.

Finally we were reunited above Sacred Falls, and from there we plotted our downrange mission. Well, it wasn't much of a plan. Just get as high as we could and then go. We got a nice boost and jumped over towards Hauula, and we continued past the next ridge because we were too high to look for any ridge lift.

Then I saw Mad Dog start to get flushed just past Hauula. What was that all about? I veered out front to avoid the flushing, and found myself going up hard. I was in a massive thermal, and Mad Dog had blundered into the leeside of it. Thanks for showing me where that monster was hiding, Mad Dog! I rode it up to where the air was thin, and watched as Mad Dog limped his way to the hill before Pounders. I sailed high above, and watched him catch a little something on that hill, thinking he might actually get back up and join me. But that hill never works that well, and after a while he took what he had and headed across Laie.

I followed on a higher and deeper line, catching a few more nice thermals along the way. Finally I was starting to figure these thermals out, but it was a bit late - clearly the flight would be over soon. I watched Mad Dog set up for a nice landing at the far end of Malaekana, just short of the golf course, and I tried to decide what I should do. I was more than a thousand feet up, deep in the foothills behind the golf course, and I felt like I might be able to sail right over the wind farm and land at Turtle Bay resort with the sweet easterly tailwind.

But somehow I wasn't quite feeling the urge to see how far I could go. Maybe it was the same apprehension that kept me from taking Mad Dog up on his plan to get to Makapuu. In any case, after hesitating for way too long, I got too low to do anything but land right next to my pal, after almost five long cold hours in the air. Thanks to Kaaawa Larry for the retrieve back to Kahana!

One day I hope to follow through on both of the possibilities offered by this day: a flight from Kahana to Makapuu, and a flight from Kahana to Turtle Bay. Maybe I'll do both in one day. That would be over a 60 mile flight! I hope Mad Dog is right there with me. But first I just need to figure out how to overcome my cold feet. What's it going to take? Wool socks inside that pod?

Roll call: Mad Dog, Frenchy Yann, BC Jayson, BC Natalie, BC PMac, BC Paul McL, BC Rick, Owens DaveT, Kaaawa Larry, Gaza, Kevin, Woody, Dave, Jorge, BC Andre and Elena, Akami from Japan, Brent, Jim, Sharky, and Berndt. Not sure, but possibly Chili? And I heard Jason and Danielle on the radio, but that could have been from Makapuu...


Thom said...

First Cold Feet you dont know cold feet. It has been really cold here last few days, and I havent left Terra firma

When the day comes for the Turtle Bay KNA to MPU I hope I am there with my wool socks and over sized jock strap.

Thanks for the story all I have to live for here in solitary.

LMc said...

Spectacular photos ! Is that your iPhone in action ?