Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Winding Roads

In the quest to realize our unique connection with the land, the sun and the air, we are often destined to trace a long and circuitous path to an unknown destination. And along our journey to understanding, an uncertain prospect of success can sometimes foster a greater faith and determination. Yesterday, three ardent seekers set out on a long and winding road in hopes of catching just a fleeting glimpse of enlightenment.

On Tuesday morning, by all accounts, conditions were perfect at Makapuu, if not for cross country missions, then at least for sweet, effortless airtime. What better excuse to blaze out in a new and contrary direction? The numbers were looking quite promising for the opposite corner of the island. And I have been nursing a burning desire to rediscover a legendary fourth launch spot out there.

Many of us know about the precipitous perils of the Kealia launch, the duplicitous doldrums of the climbing wall launch, and the windswept wiles of the pasture launch of Kuaokala. But few remember that two crazy pilots once launched from the ridge accessible from the gated paved road to Peacock Flats. I can barely remember it myself, and I was one of them! The truly crazy one was Troy, the instigator of many historic harebrained escapades, but he has long since moved away. Troy and I learned to fly together 14 years ago, and he is still pioneering new crazy launch sites in Southern Oregon. Troy was the same guy I once followed up the boulder-strewn ravine to the pasture launch many years ago.

I know that Duck and Gaza share my deep fascination with our mysterious northwestern peninsula, and I was gratified to share their company for this adventure. It turned out that Duck was on his own mission of rediscovery, and rather than paragliding gear, he brought his mountain bike, in an effort to reconnect with memories of long forgotten biking exploits. He led the way as we ascended the endless asphalt trail to the plateau of foothills flanking majestic Mount Ka'ala.

As is common in situations involving great pain and suffering, I had somehow managed to repress the memory of that ridiculously long, twisting, tortuous trail. The western sun bakes that black road into a molten river of heat that boils your dripping sweat in the air before it hits the pavement. After a long hour of slow but continuous climbing, we were still trudging up unending switchbacks along the flank of the ridge. I was dead certain at that point that this was never going to be a popular paragliding launch. But having come this far, I was even more determined to make it work, at least for the second and last time in our paragliding history.

We finally reached the top of the ridge, and from there we cut away from the road to find an open spot from which to launch. This part was all strangely familiar. There was a green shack at the cutoff, and tall California grass along the ridge to the launch area. A lot of it. After what seemed like another hour of trying to find the best pig trail through that tall grass, we found an open area that I was pretty sure was our original launch area. It was not as far to the front of the ridge as I remembered, and I wasn't sure about our chances for gliding out of there if we didn't get up right away, but at least we had nice cycles coming in from the left side of the ridge.

I volunteered to go first, considering I had so much more experience at this site. But my clumsy launch was not confidence inspiring, and I got pretty low in the ravine before catching a decent ride out of there. Gaza immediately got on the radio and announced that he was hiking down. I thermaled along the front of the foothills into what I can only describe as the best conditions I've ever flown out there, all the way to the point and back. I may never hike to that launch again, but I sure want to fly those conditions again! As the afternoon wore on the sky cleared up and the thermals just got fatter. After that epic hike I didn't have the stamina to follow them up as high as I should have, but it felt like a day we could have reached Ka'ala from there.

As I was heading out of sight, Duck returned through the tall grass to the green shack where he had left his bike, and he coasted down to the highway in about five minutes, to enjoy the first beer of the day. Meanwhile Gaza blazed a new steep descent directly down to the lowest switchback of the road, saving himself probably an hour of trudging down the baking asphalt. That's probably the route we should have taken to get up there anyway! After I'd had my fill of frolicking with the sailplanes, I finally landed on the beach in front of the polo fields near where we had parked. I ran out of battery on my GoPro before landing, but I was at least able to capture the epic hike and most of the flight.

Thanks to Duck and Gaza for the camaraderie. I couldn't have asked for more stalwart and cheerful companions on such a demented undertaking. And although this launch site didn't live up to my untrustworthy memories, I still believe that there must be other sweet launch spots we have yet to discover out there. Here's to the next adventure!


Thom said...

Like the saying goes,"Somebodies gotta do it."

Thanks to Gaza, cause I know Alex would not have wanted me on that mission. I have been lead to places of that i would never launch from and then have to trudge down the trail. Dave's 21 as I remember was horrifying. Scot actually launched after Dave's wabbled launch, he shouted down I will never do that again. I turned and hiked down.

There must be more launches found out there. Especially with our morphing weather patterns that are banning us from long flights at our usual spots.

I think with the exploration of new launches out there, we may just some day be tagging Mt. Ka'ala. I want to be there for that.

Your efforts are to be commended, even though it took an old spark from a Crazy Troy mission to get this done, it will make other adventures less painful I hope.

Gravity said...

Troy had a scooter he could ride up on, and then strap to his harness for the ride down.
Hike, Ha!

firedave2 said...

That must have been a terrible launch if Gaza would voluntarily hike back down, i am a hiker and would still take my chances hucking for a good flight.

Alex said...

Dave it wasn't just the launch that spooked Gaza, it was the glide I needed to get out of that ravine and into clean air. It was just too deep along that shallow sloped ridge, and the airflow was light and squirrelly.

Pete, Troy did buy a scooter with that in mind but I don't think he ever ended up testing it out there. I think it actually may have been too steep. The time he and I launched there together I think the gate was open for some reason and we got a ride at least partway up.

Alex said...

This article and video were concocted from two separate days of flying and footage. I created a mash-up of both days just as an early April Fool's prank, and a fun way to play with video storytelling. I'm sure some of you wondered how come it turned into a beautiful blue sky day as soon as I launched!

So what really happened was that me and Gaza and Duck hiked up the Peacock Flats road and we looked all over the top of that ridge for any place that seemed worth launching, and we just couldn't find any. Between the lack of open cleared areas on top and the lack of airflow, on a day that we knew was blowing strong on the beach, and also the lack of good bomb-out areas, it just seemed like a marginal and sketchy way to get airborne.

So Gaza and I hiked down together, blazing a shortcut down to the first switchback on the road. The flying footage is from a couple weeks earlier when I hiked up with Kaaawa Larry and Maui Doug, and I flew around by myself with the sailplanes for hours in perfect thermal conditions, venturing eastward almost all the way to the Peacock Flats road.

I hadn't done anything with that flying footage because Larry's heart attack on that day overshadowed the fun flight. But I'm glad I kept the footage and finally put it to good use. Duck and Gaza suggested I come up with a good story to match the effort we expended on that hike and this was it. Hope no one is offended that I exercised a little creative license!

firedave2 said...

At least that explains why Gaza would have ever hiked down, he had company. We are so gullible. Good one.