Friday, October 23, 2009

The event of the year...

It is 10:30 in the evening and its pouring cats and dogs outside. The mood is commanding and if ever there was a time to tell a great story, then it is now. Beyond my balcony the rain is coming down in such thick curtains that it creates a sense of mysterious wonder; a wonder about life and a wonder of how it is possible for all that water to be up there, falling from the sky. And the noise! It is deafening. The sound is so over powering that it seems to penetrate to the bone; the watery vibrations opening the senses, casting the magic that is necessary for a good story. And if that story just happens to be true then so much the better…

“Now remember, if you are scared just throw your arms around me and hold on tight. For one thing it will let me know you are still there and what you are up to!” I was smiling while giving Tori a briefing of the flight to come. Her short ok and light smile was moving. I sensed she was completely comfortable placing her life in my hands and that privilege lifted my spirit.
“Let’s go.” She added with a gentle tone while her voice carried an urgency bordering on the light hearted. There could be little doubt, she was having fun.

Unlike Tori, I was full of apprehension. It had been growing steadily since the time we left home and all the signs that fed my eyes did little to calm my unease. The clouds that were drifting over the mountains were south west – a direction notorious for turbulent conditions around the airport yet we rolled down the runway and sailed into the air and for the first 500ft there was not a bump in the sky. Then down below but clear as day I saw the first bit of dark. A bit of ruffling of the sea surface that grew more intense by the second. Full of trepidation I watched the ruffling turn into hard ripples knowing that above it was a big bump in the sky. I was prepared for it but whoa!!!

There has just been a great flash of lightning outside. For a moment it lit the curtain of rain in front of the balcony flat and it’s awe-inspiring. There’s the thunder… It does not bode well for tomorrow.

Hhhmm? Whats that? Oh, the story! Well…

So I saw these ripples turn into moguls, yet I was ill prepared for the violent shock on the control bar when we hit the updraft. I had to knuckle down and pull in hard to get the nose back to a normal flying position. We banked right as I tried to fly away from the turbulence but of course by now it was everywhere. We had broken through the bubble of calm and climbing past 1000ft we were being shaken by the mixing air. Of course at this stage there was no turning back. The safest place was to get as high as we could, above the turbulence caused by this 2500ft mountain. “Whoa!” I shouted over the intercom. “Its rock n’ role time! Yea ha!” It was a brave effort on my side to role with the blows, to make Tori feel comfortable and just to get myself into the right mood to prepare for action. After all, we were far above the ground in a little bit more than a flying deck chair which was hardly the type of aircraft you want to be in when preparing to battle the elements. “Are you ok!?” I shouted.
“Yes! This is fun!” she shouted back in her usual positive and light hearted frame of mind. Knowing her it was hard to say if she was ignorantly happy or just sarcastically clued-up. Turning around I was greeted with her usual sweet smile - it gave nothing away. Lingering my look she quickly gave me thumbs up. How I longed for that ignorant bliss!

For twenty minutes we flew through the shaking air. 20 minutes that made me take in signs that I did not like. 20 minutes of rising concern so that by the time we flew clear of the turbulence I was as tight as a ball. My knuckles were white and there was no denying it - I was scared. Ironically, the calmer air offered me little reprieve; I knew that in order to land we had to go back through all that stuff!
“It’s windy up here.” Tori said with gay abandon.
“It is a bit.” I replied while keeping my tone light and marveling at her bliss. The last thing I needed was for her to notice my fear. I had enough to occupy my mind.
“There’s white caps down there.” She added with admiration while I looked down at the sea wondering how I had gotten us up here in the first place.

Now don’t get me wrong. It is certainly not dangerous to fly where we are. Here the wind was a soothing 10-15knots and being on the wind ward side of the mountains, it is really no problem to fly in at all. Going back to the runway was. There the big mountains churned up the wind, mixing it with the strong lee-side thermals making flying more than just a wild roller coaster ride. I knew it was going to be a bite on your teeth and hang on for dear life kind of landing. (How I can do without them these days!)

Boy! It is raining hard outside. And the rumbling! Like I said, it demands distraction!

Ok. The story...

Every minute my stomach seemed to cramp up. It made me think back of what I had eaten even though I knew it had nothing to do with that at all. I could not remember the last time I was so scared and my eager glances for hope at the dark dancing ripples on the water near the airport did nothing to sooth my concerns. After what seemed like ages we made our way back to a little bay from where I figured it would offer the shortest route over the mountains, through the turbulence and back to the airport. Of course Tori had been having a ball. I played along but my stomach was churning up the juice – there must have been enough acid in there to burn through iron!

“Is your safety belt on tight?” I asked.
“I’m not going anywhere!” she said full of joy. Up to this point I had made light talk about the bumps and once again the tone of my voice gave nothing away – it remained lighthearted and cheerful. My mind of course had not stopped doing a myriad calculations, weighing options and even philosophizing that sometimes it really is better to be ignorant. A lot better. I envied Tori sitting on the back seat.

“Whoa!” I shouted as we flew into such a strong down draft that it made the flying wires slam tight. We had experienced negative G’s and that meant nothing good! My eyes were bulging while I scoured the water surface near the end of the runway. We were still 3 miles away but from 2000ft they were clearly visible and I did not like what I was seeing. The down drafts were causing large windy eddies along the water at the edge of the runway. In my mind they were nothing but foot prints of dark evil swirls as they left gouges on the water, dancing in wild abandon, waiting to lure us into a gamble with death.

Up to then I was able to control my fear to a large degree. But there was no denying that my fear was increasing and that my calculations were swaying in favor for a precautionary landing on a beach; the lure of smooth and calm air associated with these landings becoming better by the minute. Though it had always been a consideration it was only as a last resort – things had to be really drastic before I would go for such a move.

“This is fun!” Tori shouted while all I could say was a questionable, “Really!?” while I wondered how it had been possible that there really had not been the slightest little itsy bitsy teeny inkling of a thought that had crept into her tiny mind, suggesting that we could actually die here. I dared not look around – by now my eyes would give away my fear, besides I had my hands full at controlling the bucking little orange plane.

The gusts were severe. The power of the forces transferred through to the control bar was immense and I had to use all my strength to try and keep us flying in a straight line – more or less! Again we flew into a down draft that left the stomach hanging. The wing wires go slack while we fall, momentarily weightless before, “Wham!” the wings would jerk up, suddenly full of air again while we were pushed into our seats. My fear had reached breaking point. I had had enough and without as much as a second glance I turned the plane around while heading for calmer air.

“Enough is enough!” I shouted over the intercom. “We are not going to land on the runway Tori. It is too turbulent down there. We are going to land on the beach where it is nice and calm and smooth…” and having said that I was flooded with a sense of relieve. All the tension left me with effortless ease and I was so happy…

“We are going to land on the beach?” Came her reply from the back seat and to my surprise, she threw her arms around me, holding on so tight that I could not help a chuckle.

It’s true! :-)

Boy! The rain is relentless! I wish you could experience a tropical down pour. It does wonders for the soul and such sweet sleep. I am going to bed now…

Wish you were here!

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