Saturday, February 16, 2013

Special Days

Our expectations have been lowered during this truly stingy winter season of flying, so it was quite a surprise to score two consecutive stunning days of great flying weather, just in time for a couple of our most seasoned pilots to celebrate their special days with a host of paragliding friends. Thom notched a half century and I am one year behind, but days like these make me feel like we're drinking from the fountain of youth. Or whatever we're drinking seems to be working. Here's to the beginning of a fabulous mid life crisis of flying opportunities!

Thom's birthday dawned eerily clear and cold, and he sped out to Kahana with high hopes for a cross country mission. Woody and I met him out there and we hatched plans for world domination. Or at least a bay crossing. But the lift turned out to be quite capricious, so when I got a chance to cross the bay I took it, leaving the others behind to take their chances. It was a gorgeous day with almost no clouds, and I crept up to almost three grand over Kaaawa in the strange mercurial bubbles of lift. They weren't thermals, and they weren't ridge lift. They felt more like convergence, although I could never quite figure out the exact shape and extent. But it was sure fun trying!

After a quick jaunt to Kualoa I returned to Kahana to top land in front of some incipient squalls, just as a huge second shift of pilots was showing up to help us celebrate Thom's special day. For me it was the end of a fun but solitary flight. Thom pulled off a beautiful top landing right after me. A dozen pilots hunkered down on both ridges until the danger had passed, and then we all took to the skies for a brief hurrah just before another band of threatening clouds amassed out front. Everyone made a mad dash for the landing zone at the same time, but Woody was down there directing traffic and keeping the beach safe for democracy.

As we were all speedily folding up before the rain started, someone asked where Duck was. Oh wait - he never landed! We scanned the skies - no sign of him. And no response on the radio. I figured he must have either crossed the bay or turned tail to Punaluu. I gambled on the second choice and peeled out of the parking lot to go find him. Hopefully he wasn't getting blown backwards into some terrible predicament. I turned the corner to find him happily turning circles above the Punaluu ridge, oblivious to our anxieties, and thinking of going further. Relieved, I followed him to Hauula, and he was wishing there was enough daylight left for an upwind leg back to Kahana. But wisdom prevailed and he landed at Hauula so I could get him back to Kahana in time to toast Thom's special day with some cold beverages.

Roll call: Alison, Howie, Caroline, McStalker, McJohnson, Motorhead, Duck, Bonnie, One eye, Don, Jai Pal, Max, Thom, me, Woody, Drew, and maybe a few others.

My birthday dawned cool and still with high sparse clouds. Could it be another special day? I took care of a few e-mails and then declared it an emergency holiday, hoping for some company. Thankfully Thom was still hungry from the day before, and he rushed out to join me, along with Woody and others who were trickling in a bit later.

The atmosphere today was completely different: it was light and thermic, with big fat columns of smooth lift that were easy to turn in. Oh you sweet fat things - where have you been all my life? We never get stuff like that around here. I was turning and turning perfect circles across from Woody, straight up to cloud base over Puu Piei, close to three grand. From there I took a direct line straight to Kaaawa, where I found more big fat bubbles of rising air to lift me up to cloud base at three grand again.

I headed to Kualoa to wave to Bonnie slaving away down below, and to wait for Thom and the others to join me before continuing on to the Pyramid and possibly further. Of course I had dreams of Makapuu in my brain. I always think about that trip, and I'm always waiting for just the right day, but this seemed like a pretty good candidate. And someone had planted seeds of ambition in my mind the day before with a long diatribe on how people who fly hot comp wings need to be owning the entire Koolau range every day.

Finally Scot showed up at Kualua just as I was reaching cloud base there at three grand again, and I took that as my cue to lead the charge further uprange. I dashed back to the Pyramid and found myself in some pretty strong and rough air, moving in every direction but not really going up. In hindsight I think the valley approach would have been a cleaner route. Finally I connected with some very strong rising air currents, and I was hoovered straight into the clouds without even turning. Well, that didn't take long. So much for a leisurely tour of the Pyramid.

I charged out of the wispies towards the back range behind Waikane. I got there at about half the ridge height, worried that I might not find anything, but I was soon turning in a sweet little thermal above the massive trees at the base of the mountain. But before long I found myself getting hoovered again, straight up without turning, and barely penetrating. My vario beeps had turned into a solid high pitched scream. Or maybe that was me screaming. My wing was bucking around so actively that I couldn't even watch my ground track - I was staring straight up and working the brakes like a madman.

Finally I took the chance to engage some speed bar and get the heck out of there. I crept slowly across Waikane Valley to the next ridge above Hygienic, and once again I was rewarded with a hoover ride to cloud base. At this point I realized it had turned into too strong of a day to continue, and I decided to play it safe and creep out front to Waiahole Beach Park. But I got there with plenty of height, and I was so relieved to be alive that I started to feel ambitious again, and I headed back to the Pyramid to see if I could make my way back to Kahana. I pulled in low but started to go up right away, just as Duck arrived at the top of the Pyramid after having made a mad dash through Kaaawa Valley. Wow!

But the Pyramid was just a nuclear reactor by this time, and we both had enough before very long at all, so we snuck back out to land at Waiahole Beach Park (Maui Doug's Kite Spot). Then Scot and Thom and Motorhead flew out from Kualoa to join us there. We were five very happy pilots. And then Colin happened to drive by just in time to give us all a ride back to Kahana. Thanks Colin! Duck and Thom treated me to all the cold refreshments I could hold, which is quite a lot, and finally I rushed home just in time to prepare a Valentine's Day feast for my sweetie. Now that was a special day.

I have video from both days, and I think Duck might have some too. If this next windy spell keeps up we should have plenty of time to edit our masterpieces.

Roll call: Jai Pal, Woody , Colin, Drew, Robin, McJohnson, Motorhead, Duck, Bonnie, Scot, Luis, Joe, Max, Thom, me, and probably a few others.


Thom said...

Thanks Alex,

I had delusions of heading off to New Zealand for my 50th which got squelched to a possible outer island then even that became a dream.

I guess flying on our B-Days with a barrel of Monkeys would have to do and it did. I got that shot in the arm of Sky-alis, that will have to surfice for what looks like many days of strong winds.

I have really got to practise my top landings more.

I have to stop crying when crossing the big pond to MDKS I had plenty of elevation.

I hope we do make this begining of the second half one to remember with epic flights and even longer tales.

Thanks to All for my 50th day and especially to Donna, she bought me an Aspen4 for my B-Day.....good way to fire up some epic flights!!

Looking forward to the video.

It's Not Time to Fly, so Get Your Gear in Order. Be Ready!! It's Going to be an epic year!!

Waianae Jim said...

Nice story as usual Alex, I wasn't there for Thom's day though (other than in my imagination). Glad you both got some air time for your special days.@Thom - I'll take your old Aspen 3 since you don't need it any more!

Alex said...

Thanks for clarifying that, Jim! It was hard to remember the roll call from the first of two busy days, but when we talked about it, somehow Thom and I both pictured you being there! Maybe I can green screen you into the video... :-)