Thursday, February 02, 2012

From Golf Course to Golf Course: 32 Miles

The last day of January started off a little overcast, so down to the Ala Wai Golf Course I went, for a quick round of golf. Very light winds made for a nice 1 over par round on the front 9, then a 7 over on the back (blew up a bit), for an 8 over par 78 finish! A great day already! That's when I noticed the main range had cleared up to reveal crystal blue skies, and the base of what clouds there were looked to be 5,000 feet or higher. So off to Makapuu I went, for a 3 pm launch at Cactus.

As I was on Cactus, I looked down the range, and it was so clear, I thought maybe I should have driven to Kahana, as I had told Alex I was going to. He had reported thermic climbs to 3,700' above Sacred Falls. It was light and a bit east at 75', so Cactus was perfect, 10-12 mph, really choice. But I was the only one there, so I scouted the conditions out very carefully before I leapt into the air. I climbed up quickly at 3 pm, knowing my thermic window was dwindling fast. I was up to 2,500' over Ironwoods within minutes of launch: the gun sounded, and the adventure started. It was a very fast cruise in an east direction to Puu O Kona, where wispies formed high above, and up I thermalled to 3,700', not even close to base! Now the real adventure started, with choices to dirt me or take me to my dreams. No clouds over Olomana, so I thought, no, too east for Greenwalls, but at this altitude the glide to the cloud street behind Olomana was an easy visible choice.

Arriving still high, not losing anything on my way downwind to the ridge that leads out to Olomana from Greenwalls, I hit the super high cloud street, and got more great lift. So out and under this only massive dark cloud, I moved forward to Olomana, almost halfway, to stay out of the clouds, and then on bar I cut the corner to the Pali, which was, again, at this angle, downwind and fast! In less than 30 minutes I was climbing at the Pali, and still thinking my window of opportunity was closing fast, so onward I sped with no time to waste.

It was an easy cruise to the ridge behind Hygienics, on the main Koolau range, but I got there in the low angle of the sun's rays that were only hitting the farthest leeward spines that jut out of each bowl toward Kaneohe Bay. On the way I had to strategically find those last booming thermals of the day, each bringing me back to 3,700-3,800 feet, each time I was thinking that was the last of the day, I would get lucky and find another in the same place on the next bowl! Wow, what a test.

Now in Waikane/Waihole Valleys, the sun met its demise, and shade hit the kingdom below in its entirety. It was just the very, very light northeast flow to sustain me aloft now, but at this altitude of only 3,200', lift was okay. I started my next big bowl crossing to the ridge behind Triangle peak. After just 1 minute on bar, always looking around at conditions and theories to progress, I thought: What! Are you crazy, crossing in these super light conditions, to a ridge that far back, in the start of Booga Booga Land, with no possible LZs? In that same place, not long ago, I had to sidehill land in waist high bushes, so as not to ditch it in 300' tall trees on a small ridge jutting out. So I turned around immediately, with my tail between my legs, and ran back to the last ridge I was on, behind Maui Doug's Kite Beach in Waikane valley, and tanked back up to 3,200', again very slowly.

It was 5 pm now, and I thought, what a great late evening flight so far. Let's be safe and head in to dirt at MDKB on the coast. From 3,200', the penetration of 14-16 mph, hands up, told me that very light conditions abounded. As I relaxed, I was quickly noticing that halfway to the kite spot, I was still stinking high, due to the excellent forward penetration at 2,500 feet, so the wheels in my mind went back into full swing. When is enough, enough? Probably never! But we need to make sure we always give ourselves more than 3 ways out, as when we get there, 2 of those brilliant choices may turn out to be very worthless.

So I started angling to the church at the foot of the ridge that comes off of Triangle peak, on a more downwind and faster line. I always drive by that church, and I've thought many times that it would be an acceptable LZ. My main intention was to cross the corner of Kanoehe Bay and dirt it on the tiny sand bar jutting out at Secret Island, so I could visit Bon Bon, but wheels in my mind always come up with new plans, second by second. Which way do I go? Which way do I go? Still high enough! Almost over the church. (What is high enough, anyway? The answer is, high enough to hit those 3 different LZs we chose.)

From 1,500' over the church, I thought it would be a waste to land on the cool sand bar, because that would be way too easy. Always in my mind was the angle of the wind on the water, east-northeast to northeast, hitting the ridge out from Triangle peak at 45 degrees or better. Okay, let's dive in, and downwind I went on bar, pulling into the foot of the Triangle at 1,200', knowing well that I had many pasture options on the other side. But to my relief, a very light scratching climb was accomplished, and after a long and low hard-fought save, I rose up to the top of Triangle peak (Ohulehule), with lift now growing immensly from a HUGE dark cloud growing very high above!

Talk about lucky! I had been going in to land and be safe, and then I went and pushed the limits to the extreme. Not really though, since I always had more than three LZs at hand even from low. Back up to 3,000+ feet over Triangle, I was chatting it up over the radio with the consortium at Kahana. I told them I would be there soon, and I raced on through Kaaawa Valley with blazing speed, using the lift under the dark cloud street from in front. I skyed out behind Kaaawa school, and rounding the corner in front, I bee-lined it from 2,700' to the Kahana back peak, arriving with 1,700' in a super light end-of-the-day breeze, with Maui Doug scratching his way up to join me from below. Being the Mad Dog that I am, and knowing the realm below was already in dusk, I reached 2,300' and then blazed off straight to the rear section of the Sacred Falls back peak without him. There, the lift was still amazing for dusk, but at 2,700' I was blinded by the last rays of glimering hope. It was now almost 6 pm, and I went on final glide, with Alex in tow on the road as my retrieval buddy and cheerleading team.

All the way down the coast with the light tailwind, I had great speed, 25-32 mph. As my angle changed, I crossed above Hukilau beach at 800', and in zeros and even a bit of beeps, I continued to Malaekahana planning to land there. All the way, in zeros. Still amazing enough, but now Alex was rooting me on to shoot for the golf course! At the end of Malaekahana, I still had 400', and it was clear I definitely would make Kahuku golf course! Arriving there at 200', I turned into the wind, 32 miles from Makapuu, not wanting to stretch the extra half mile out and then have to walk back to Alex at the clubhouse.

32 miles is my longest XC straight line distance on this island! (I did a 42 mile out and back years ago.) I was stoked to have been greeted by my good friend Alex, with bevvies and poke. Wow! Big Mahalos to Big Al for the retrieve back to Kahana, and to Kauai Joe for the long haul back to my 4Runner at Makapuu. What a long and lonely flight. Mahalos also to all the many pilots who saw me while they were driving, or from their houses, and chirped in to keep me company on the radio and give me moral support!

Aloha All,

Mad Dog

PS: The next day was another epic downranger, with Lake in tow, and we both had a blast, with again a high base day and plenty of lift. But this time it was a struggle into the stronger due north flow, and we landed 20 miles from Makapuu at the base of the ridge coming out from Triangle Peak. I pulled into the ridge at 500', but got no lift at all so low in the bushes, so to the church parking lot I went, and Lake hit the 4WD roads in the back of Waikane valley. Again, huge Mahalos to Scrappy, who chased me down from his house and took Lake and me back to Makapuu.

Till next time! A hui hou!


Alex said...

What a great flight! It was fun chasing you down after you passed us at Kahana, and egging you on to go just a little bit further. Thanks for writing this up and sharing with us. Next time I just hope you bring your camera!!

Thom said...

Rats, I had to work this day. But at least I got to hear you on the radio while I did.

Mad Dog i guess you had a hell of a Birthday week.

Congrats Again on another personal record. oh, and thanks for the story. Maybe someday you will teach Ike how to write, now that would be a record.

JaysonB said...

This is the type of personal flying report that should inspire and educate all downrange hopefuls!

Great job MD - on both the flight and the write up!

MauiDoug said...

Awesome flying and golfing! Thanks sensei for the educational write up and sharing your xc thought process. Wow your wing is fast, l tried to catch up but you were gone! Happy birthday again and great to see you got yourself the perfect gift a personal flying record! Awsome! :)

firedave2 said...

Chris, way to read conditions, go it alone, and milk the waning day. No friends on powder day!

Duck said...

Way to go Mad Dog!