Sunday, March 25, 2012

Happy Birthday, Ray!

The forecast today was not looking great. But there were signs that we might get a nice window in the afternoon. Everyone was excited about Ray's birthday party at Thom and Donna's place, but we also had hopes of sneaking in some airtime. Ray and Thom had similar hopes, but the preparations for the party claimed their full attention. I was busy most of the day with Logan in town, but I was hopeful that the late session would deliver the perfect window.

Sure enough, the entire afternoon turned out to be perfect. At Kahana, Woody and Jim were the first to figure that out, followed by a few others. After dropping Logan off at home, I arrived at Kahana to find five gliders in the air: Skydive Mike, Woody, Bill, Bonnie, and Jim. I was sure I had missed the best part of the day, and I was in a panic to run up and score a little scrap of airtime for myself. I hiked up north launch with Duck and Ginny, while Joey, Ginny's son Allen, Harvey and Australian visitor Anthony hiked east. As we hiked, Bill made the first bay crossing attempt, and it definitely looked like a good plan. Duck and I launched from lower and upper north launches at the same time, tying our flying fates together.

A gaggle of pilots plumbed the late afternoon lift over Kahana for an hour or so, trying to get high enough to start a bay crossing. I followed Duck out front, and as he continued on a crazy line straight out over the ocean, I banked right to try my luck crossing the bay. Meanwhile, Bonnie was also heading over the bay, on a super wide line. I arrived over the Crouching Lion with just enough height to pull in and work my way up. Bonnie came in low and hovered over the Lion for quite a while before bailing out. That was her best crossing ever. As I worked my way up over Kaaawa, Duck and Bill tanked up at Kahana to follow me across. Duck took a ridiculously wide line, way out over the reef, in some kind of convergence lift, making it all the way around above Swanzys. Bill almost made it on a more traditional line, but he ended up retreating to the beach.

As Duck and I pulled in over Kualoa, we could hear Fireman Dave at Lanikai and Frank at Makapuu on the radio. Wow! Three sites flown at the same time. We were having a 25 mile wide radio conversation!

Duck and I considered our options as the sun dropped behind the mountains. We could continue on towards Kaneohe, or land in the nice grassy lawn at Kualoa, or return to Kahana and possibly continue past it. Our decision was complicated by the fact that we were freezing our butts off, despite being esconced in toasty pod harnesses. We opted for the third choice. Except we didn't return to Kahana at all: we tanked up super high at Kaaawa, close to three grand, and headed out over the ocean, completely bypassing the ridge at Kahana.

Gaza was the only one still in the air over there, and he kindly offered to pick us up if we landed out somewhere. We weren't sure where we were headed yet, so that was a welcome offer. But as we pulled in to the Punaluu ridge in the gathering gloom of twilight, we realized we were almost out of time. The most interesting option at that point would be a return to Kahana. At at very least we could land at the beer store in Punaluu. Duck zoomed to the back of the Punaluu ridge to bench up high, and I followed him. It was super strong and north by that time. I had lost feeling in my face and my wrists, the only parts exposed to the frigid north wind. And the rest of me was feeling pretty chilly too.

We raced the fading reflection of sunset across Punaluu Valley, barely squeaking our way around the rhino horn and into the darkening airspace above Kahana, by now dotted with street lights, and with a river of headlights rushing around the bay. This was Duck's first "chronic" bay crossing: the flattened triangle from Kahana to Kualoa, then to Punaluu, and back to Kahana. We landed on the tiny strip of beach down there, in near darkness, after about three hours in the air. There's something special about making a cross country flight and returning to where you parked your car. We celebrated with Harvey and Gaza and then headed home. Sorry we didn't make it to the party, Ray! But you were definitely in our thoughts all day. I hope you'll be right alongside as we fly our next mission!


Thom said...

Ok, dont give up your day job as President, that was scary I was thinking of the Marilyn Monroe version to the President, must have been the scotch.

It was painful looking up at Lanikai Ridge watching Dave and I knew I would be hearing stories of KNA flights.

Welcome Duck to the "Chronic Club".

I had to take one for the Team. Sometimes hanging on the ground with a few friends is better than being in the air with ALL you buddies.

Dam that scotch it twisting everything up.

It's Time to Fly, Leave the Scotch, Get Your Gear and Go!!!

Bon Bon said...

cracked up at the birthday song... nice.