Monday, October 27, 2014

Cross Country Etude

A great cross country flight is like a symphony: a long and epic creation, a rich and expressive narrative of struggle and heroism, with many players contributing. But sometimes a cross country flight can be like an etude: a humble but intense study of a particular technique, one crucial thermal, one challenging transition, a tiny exercise that is not just practical but beautiful. Today James and I practiced a classic duet of bay crossing at Kahana, in a brief window of sweet but easterly conditions.

One Eye Jim was first on the scene, hoping for an early window to vindicate his heroic struggle the day before, having hiked down after waiting out the lightest of conditions. He ran into visitor David, from Scotland or Australia or one of those kinds of places, who sagely decided to wait down below for the report. But the report wasn't good: too strong. And Jim hiked down for the second day in a row. Now that's a heroic struggle. Not to mention a sign of good judgment and character.

That's about when I showed up, and I met Jim and David at the LZ. I signed David up with a 30-day temporary USHPA membership. He asked what he owed me for that. I said, nothing, we don't charge, this form only costs me $3, but if you insist, I guess you could buy me a beer if you have a good flight. He graciously asked what kind I like, and I think I mentioned Torpedoes. He smiled and returned to his vacation bungalow in Punaluu to wait for a better day.

Conditions backed off to a nice level shortly after that, and while the radar showed some horrible stuff coming in, it looked like we might be able to sneak in an hour or two of flying before it got close enough to matter. I found long lost aviation enthusiast James on the LZ, and we headed up together. James is the most positive and ebullient pilot I know. He's not just high on life, he's tripping on it. And it's always a blast to share that trip with him while getting some airtime. We launched from low east, and climbed quickly to 2,500 feet above Puu Piei, slightly above cloud base. We were laughing out loud up there from the sheer beauty and positive vibes, before I struck out on a heading to cross the bay, with James close behind.

So now comes the technical part of the etude. What line to take, and what tempo to play at various points. When to pull in, where to work it, when to retreat if it's not working. It was pretty east, about 110 on the sensor, with a brisk windspeed, so it was going to be interesting. I blazed across on half bar most of the time, tracking a pretty wide line, with James trailing behind. As I approached the far side I needed full bar to get much penetration. I turned in over the Lion and started looking for lift, but it wasn't working there, so I continued, getting lower. As I approached Hidden Valley, about as low as I could imagine getting there, I found myself in some broken lift that was pushing me away, offshore, pretty hard. I almost headed to Swanzys at that point. James was high over the Lion and he said I wasn't making it look good enough to follow, so he turned back and landed soon after that.

But I dug in. If I lost a foot I wouldn't even make Swanzys. So I concentrated on the slightest hint of lift wafting up the lowest little ridge coming out from the shoulder of Hidden Valley. A tremulous wisp of lift. I flew in and out of it, gaining a foot on each pass, slowly eking my way up the shoulder in a lentissimo chromatic scale. I was climbing, but barely, and I kept thinking I was going to get some whack from the offshore cycles I'd felt as I came in here. Thankfully that never happened, and I finally scaled the shoulder to soar over the top, where I got a good view of the massive rain systems bearing down on us from all sides.

It was time to land before the air got too weird. Woody reported light rotor at the LZ, but he said James had no trouble with it. Well then, I couldn't very well chicken out with a Swanzys landing after hearing that. So I blazed out to sea and then around into the bay, throwing my wing around as energetically as I know how, finally bumping and dropping right over the heads of a scowling pair of latecomers, Steve and Drew, before arcing around in the keyhole and barely getting my feet out in time to tiptoe right up to Woody and Margot. Whew!

I kited to the grass, and as I was laying out to fold up, I was surprised to see David had come back. He handed me a mysterious brown bag which I was overjoyed to see contained a rack of my favorite cold bottles, and I shared them with Drew. The wind died off and went practically catabatic at that point. We watched rainbows light up the horizon, below huge towering clouds with dark bottoms, and we marveled at the gauzy curtains of rain veiling the Kaaawa ridge line. A dramatic ending to a surprisingly nice flight.

Great to see the other Steve out there kiting, as well as Matt and Anne and Andre and Yagi, and anyone else I may be forgetting.


Thom said...

Ok, I didn't hit refresh last night so I'll take the blame for JJJ's rant this morning on the Chat.

Thanks for the story and we are going to have to get some new names for all the Steves. Andre and Yagi??? I guess I gotta get my ass out there and fly too!

Thanks for the read.

sandy said...

That post was music to my ears!

(or rather my eyes and my mind's eye I suppose!)