Sunday, September 02, 2012

Higher, Faster, Farther

Cross country flying on Oahu is a bit of an oxymoron. This is a small island, best known for smooth ridge lift, breezy trade winds and low clouds. In some years we can count the light, thermic, high cloudbase days on one hand. But despite the natural handicaps, many of us can't resist the challenge of flying away from the hill and seeking our fortune over distant ridges and valleys. Fortunately, with the latest generation of cross country wings, we're finding that strong wind and low clouds are less of a hindrance than ever before.

It definitely seemed a bit breezy on Saturday, but I headed out to meet the guys at Kahana anyway. It's always fun to try to get some kind of flight on the days we schedule our meetings and parties. For me it's always a nice reminder of the incredible privileges we are striving to preserve.

But with this new rocket ship I'm a bit pickier about the days I want to fly: this machine wants to go places, and it wouldn't be right to fly it on a day when I'd have to stay local and keep it low in the bowl. This day seemed strong enough, with enough whitecaps, that I almost didn't hike up. Jeff was on the fence as well. Woody convinced me that it was at least worth a hike, and five of us trudged up the hill with fairly low expectations. I thought there was a good chance I'd be hiking back down.

Woody launched on his smallish wing, and made it look pretty windy, staying low and buzzing around the hill with style. Jeff waited for a nice lull and launched next. I still hadn't unpacked, but Jeff was getting higher and penetrating okay, and it seemed like things were finally calming down a bit, so I laid out my shiny alien probe and launched out of there. At least I'd have a chance to play with my new live tracking app, now that I have a backup battery for my phone.

It was certainly easy to get high, although my penetration wasn't great up there. I got a bit more than 2,500 feet above Puu Piei and headed out to see if I could get around the Crouching Lion on a day as strong and easterly as this. This alien technology continues to amaze me: it was no problem getting over there. I headed to Kualoa, and tanked up there to head offshore and tag Mokolii islet.

While I was there, Thom and Don called on the radio to say they were watching me on the live tracking website, and they could also see me from Don's house with binoculars! That was pretty awesome. I just wish they had been watching me from a closer vantage point, like right next to me up there! But it was nice know people were enjoying the tracking.

I headed back to Kahana, veering way offshore at both Kaaawa Valley and at Crouching Lion, pushing nearly a mile away from shore before chickening out, probably the farthest out I've ever been. I don't know why, but I really enjoy that perspective. The wide angle lens on the GoPro makes it look even farther than it was.

When I got back to Kahana, there was no one left in the air. But Duck was on the radio and said he'd chase me down wherever I wanted to go. Always a nice offer! I got back up above two grand and headed down the coastline, aiming for Hauula and skipping Punaluu entirely. I don't think I'd ever tried that before. I tagged the condos on the shore in Punaluu on the way, and continued as far as my house, before turning inland to bench up on the Hauula ridge. I wasn't sure I'd be able to make my way back upwind on such a strong easterly day, but I was curious to see how hard it might be.

Well, it was hard. By now the wind had picked up again, and the sensor at Punaluu was reading 15 mph average. Normally I would not even hike if I saw that number. But I was already in the air and making slow progress back to Kahana. I barely made it to the Punaluu ridge, pushing speed bar pulley to pulley at the end there. I tanked up there in very strong ridge lift and girded myself for the final push back to Kahana. Again it was slow going, as I tried to scout for any hidden lines of lift in that strong headwind.

Somehow I scraped my way back around the corner to get back up at Kahana, completing my largest loop ever, spanning Mokokii to Hauula, not to mention some offshore excursions. After three hours in the air, and sixteen miles of point to point distance logged, I landed at Punaluu to take advantage of the nice grass there. Duck and Jeff were on hand to help out in case the strong wind gave me any trouble. Thanks, guys! We grabbed some refreshments at Chings and headed back to Kahana for a debriefing, before rushing off to Dave's for the meeting and party.

I'm not planning to break any records with my new vessel, or fly to any uncharted territories. I'm still flying over familiar ridges and valleys that I know from many years of tropical cross country apprenticeship. There are only so many routes we can fly on this little island. But with this new rocket ship, I'm pretty sure I'll be flying them higher, faster and maybe just a little farther.

Roll call: McStalker, Woody, Rodney, Jeff, Duck, Bonnie, Larry Mac(?), Sharky.

Tracklog here on Leonardo, and embedded below if your browser supports it.


firedave2 said...

Alex, The Hangys are probably wondering when you are going to take the next obvious step.

I am waiting for a test drive.


Thom said...

I am expecting farther. Kahana to MPU and back. Kahana to Nanakuli start that one with a one way but you'll have to find some grass in Waianae to land in.

If the ship ever launches from MPU, I could see a Tip to Tip Run, Koko to Kaena Point.

Start packing food and bus fare, you have done of trips in your back yard time to peek over the fence.

You know Mad Dog is going to be barking at your heals to go big.
It is time grass hopper go go go.

Then that will be a story!!!

JJ Jameson

Alex said...

It's important for each of us to understand and stay in touch with our own goals and motivations. My goals and motivations are pretty obvious.

I don't want to break records, or pull off risky decisions, or fly over unlandable wilderness, or test myself in the rowdiest strong leeside thermals. Nor am I motivated to fly farther or faster than anyone but myself.

I just want to enjoy safely challenging myself on fun flights with all my awesome flying buddies. I want to feast my eyes on the most beautiful vistas when the sun and clouds collaborate on their most dramatic lighting. I fly far for the chance to capture just a modest reflection of that beauty in my pictures and videos. My biggest goal these days is to blaze out a mile offshore and look back to glimpse our little island gleaming like an emerald in a setting of aquamarine.

But at the end of the day, I am really just looking for a nice grassy field to land in. If you are telling me Kaena Point has the best grassy landing zones, then step aside while I fire up my thrusters. Warp speed...engage!

sandy said...

I raise my glass to you, for your modest goals and your delightful accomplishments. Mahalo for sharing what you see and feel out there.