Wednesday, March 11, 2015
The blipmap today was super confusing. It looked light northeast, but it was bouncing off Kahana in a deep blue reflection. Like it was never gonna blow onshore there. But at mid morning it actually started to fill in, and Woody and I met there to try our luck with the super light and northerly flow. We had to wait for decent cycles on north launch. It was a challenge to launch and climb out in those conditions. The first challenge of many. The whole day we had no ridge lift, only thermals.
It wasn’t easy to get up very high, and I worked a while in disorganized air before calling 1,700 feet enough to cross in the northerly flow. And it turned out to be plenty. I climbed high over Kaaawa in strong grumpy thermals while waiting for Woody to get high enough to come over. But the flow below was dying off, and he was struggling to find any good thermals at Kahana. It took almost an hour. Meanwhile I got my okole handed to me multiple times in the very rough air high above Kaaawa.
Finally Woody crossed and thermaled up to join me at cloud base over Kaaawa, or slightly above. We played there for a while in the super rough thermals, reaching somewhere around 3,500 feet. Duck came out to the beach to watch us for a while and later told me he could see us banking up hard in those things and getting tossed around. Eventually Woody headed out on a wide line over the ocean to check out some whales before landing. He reported zero wind on the beach, gusting to 3 mph.
I had been hoping to hear something from the Makapuu crew, but the radio was silent. Except for a feminine voice that I didn’t quite recognize, saying something about working the wall and getting 300 fpm up. Then I realized it was Courtney on Kauai, flying a little XC from Kong, over 100 miles from me. I tried to call back but my radio was on low power and I don’t think she heard me. It’s always amazing to get a signal from that far away! I checked in with her later and she said she got a nice little XC flight, after reaching 2,800 feet or so.
Earlier in the flight, when I first arrived over Kaaawa, Thom had called for a condition report. I invited him to join me and Woody, but he said he was closer to Makapuu so he was going there to check it out. I said it might be a good day to hit the range, and he said, great, he’d meet me halfway.
I hailed Makapuu over the radio multiple times, but I never heard a peep in return. I had no idea if anyone was flying there or what the air was like. I was worried that it wasn't that great, and that's why I didn't hear anyone charging downrange. I wasn’t excited about heading to the back range by myself. But then a few things came together for me. After two hours of fighting rough thermals, I finally topped out around four grand. And right then Woody reported zero flow at the beach. What the heck. How often do I get the chance to try this?
So I closed my eyes and dove over the back to seek my fortune at the pyramid. It turned out to be working pretty well, and I corkscrewed my way up to four grand again, in a relatively well behaved little thermal. From there I rode the cloud bellies diagonally across Waikane Valley to connect to the main range. It was pretty strong and rough back there, and I only needed to stay a moment before I was plenty high enough to continue.
At this point I was feeling pretty beat up by all the rough thermaling, and I told myself I could always go land at Waiahole. But I wasn’t quite ready to give in. I continued on a bit and tried to thread the line between the rough stuff and the sink. Finally I got as far as Temple Valley before a big cloud bank overhead sucked me up and tossed me around in a way that made me lose interest in continuing my trek. I’m sure that braver hearts than mine would have soldiered on, but I’d had enough. I was ready to land after three hours of rough air.
I headed back, promising myself I’d land at Hygienics. But I was hesitant to call it a day, and I didn’t want to land in airspace, so I hedged my bet, winding my way halfway between the ridge and the shore. At the last moment I decided to try and get back up, so I dove for the ridge. But I was low. And I didn’t find anything. Crap! Now I would barely make Hygienics, if I was lucky. I cranked up my speed bar and beelined that way. And it looked like I would make it. Whew! Then I noticed a little flashing shape darting around the field. No. Could it be…? It looked like an RC plane dancing around in a crazy pattern.
But before I could land there and see if it was indeed Mad Dog twiddling his RC thumbs, I was broadsided by a nice strong thermal that was definitely worth turning in. I turned like my life depended on it, and climbed up from 1,000 to 2,500 feet, happy to be back in the game. But I was still done with the rough air. So I headed in to Waiahole, my favorite landing spot in these parts, but again I found a nice flatland thermal to carry me back up a ways. It seemed like a message to try to get back to Kahana. So I dove for the foot of the pyramid, knowing I’d be too low to get back to Waiahole, but figuring I could land at Coral Kingdom like I did recently. I came in low on the foot, around 1,000 feet, and it was barely working down there, but I managed to claw my way slowly up and back into the game again. Can’t keep counting on these low saves!
I topped out around 3,300 over the pyramid and charged through the center of Kaaawa Valley to pull around in front, and I knew I was going to make it back. Wow! I was elated. The air had been rough, and I’d wanted to land all along the way, but I’d just pulled off one of the most challenging flights I know: leapfrogging the pyramid in both directions. I’ve only hopscotched the pyramid both ways a few times before, and every time it feels like a huge accomplishment. And today’s mission was extra challenging because of the rough air.
Of course the most epic marathon challenge is to make it all the way to Makapuu before returning. No one’s done it yet, but I know we will eventually. A few have made it there but no one came back. Today just wasn’t the right day for me. The first two hours of ass kicking humbled my ambitions to a halfway mission. Temple Valley seemed like a fine place to turn around!
Speaking of halfway, where was Thom, my wingman who said he’d meet me at the halfway point? That place was a ghost town! Or where was anyone, on this gorgeous day of high clouds and rough thermals? Were they hanging out at the Makapuu LZ, wondering how far I’d make it all by myself, with not a sign of life in the sky, or on the radio? Thom told me later that he opted not to hit the range because all his instruments had crapped out on him, because he hadn’t remembered to charge them, because he hadn’t flown in so long. What? I flew in the roughest air I can remember with my little half an instrument! And what about everyone else? Too many tandems tired everyone out? It was the most surreal flight ever for me without any wingmen or radio contact.
But finally when I got back over Kaaawa I heard some radio chatter from Makapuu. It was Tim, giving Thom a hard time about being cold, and talking about Goto’s new wing, and Goto's old wing, and talking to Frank, and talking about some other stuff. But it didn’t sound like anyone was coming my way. So I headed in to land, after over four hours of battling gravity, finally giving in to her superior force. Duck met me back at the ranch for a debriefing session, and we saw a zillion wild pigs running around the place. And Mad Dog chirped in to the chat box to say it had indeed been him flying the RC plane at Hygienics, watching me flit back and forth on the range behind.
One day I’ll go farther than halfway. And hopefully I’ll have some solid bros along for the mission. But in the meantime, I guess I can’t complain about flying by myself to four grand, scoring a twenty mile loop, staying up over four hours, and ratcheting my bump tolerance up to eleven. I'll take what I can get with my little half sack of courage.
Posted by Alex at 2:35 AM