Women Hang Gliding Festival

Today is the last day of the biannual Women’s Hang Gliding Festival at Lookout Mountain Hang Gliding.  We thought long and hard about whether we wanted to participate or not.  In the end, we decided not to because we figured it would be crowded on the training hills–crowds on the training hills mean fewer flights and less progress.

Instead, today we will drive out to the mountain launch in the hope of finally seeing someone take off from there.  We have been up to the mountain launch at least 5 times now, but each time, the wind has been blowing the wrong direction and no one was launching.  We’re hoping the wind will be with us today.

We take our time getting going this morning–after all, it is a Sunday morning. When we get to Trenton, GA, the closest town to the flight park, we’re both hungry and it’s almost lunch time.  We decide to stop for a bite to eat.  Where to eat in Trenton is always a question.  They have a lot of fast food choices and handful of family places, but we’ve not had a lot of luck with the places we’ve tried in the past.  Today, we decide to give the one Italian joint a try.

Perhaps they have good pizza, but we made the mistake of ordering pasta.  It was edible, but that’s about the best I can say about it.  The manicotti was over cooked and had the texture of something that had been cooked, frozen, and cooked again.  The sauce really had nothing going for it other than that it was wet, and the salad was entirely made up of iceberg lettuce that had seen better days.  The most amazing thing was the sweet tea.  I mixed half a glass of sweet tea with half a glass of unsweet tea and it was still too sweet.  But, we got through the meal and on our way with full bellies.

When we arrived at the mountain launch, it was about the time of afternoon when we’d expect to see hang gliders setting up.  No hang gliders in sight.  We look at the wind sock and sure enough, it’s a tailwind.  Having studied the first 3 chapters of the beginner hang glider’s training manual, I now know why this is so important.  While one might think a tailwind would make things easier because it pushes the glider along, a tailwind actually creates negative airspeed over the wing, which prevents the glider from lifting, which is very bad indeed.  So, hang gliders, because they rely on the wind and the wind alone when launching from the mountain, do not launch in a tailwind.

However, there are lots of aerotows going up this afternoon.  With a plane creating the airspeed needed for the glider to lift and an open field that lets the plane change the direction of takeoff according to the wind, aerotows are not so wind-direction dependent.  We stand and watch some of the gliders and I shoot, trying to capture both the gliders and the amazing fall leaves.  Unfortunately, once again I am shooting in the early afternoon and there is both sharp light and distant haze to make me wish I’d gotten there earlier.

A woman standing on the observation deck with two cameras around her neck walks over upon seeing my big lens.  She says she’s jealous of my lens.  We end up talking to her and her husband for several minutes.  Turns out they do people’s taxes for a living and only work from January to April.  The wife has gotten into photography of late, but it seems the husband is not so keen on the amount of money she’s spending on equipment, even though it appears she’s buying less expensive lenses.  She talks about wanting to start shooting portraits for money and how much she enjoys “making pictures” (this Southern expression has always thrown me, but when you think about it, it probably makes more sense than saying “taking pictures”).

The husband starts complaining about the expense again–he says, “I bought her that camera for $1000 and then she wanted another one so I bought her that one too and it was another $1000.”  I commiserate on the expense of good equipment and comment that the lens I really want is $12,000.  He turns to Pat and says, “I bet you said no to that!”  Pat and I both laugh at the notion and Pat says, “It’s her money.”  I say, “I said no–I’ll never be able to justify that expensive of a lens.”  I find it interesting that the husband has shared with us that he and his wife run their tax business together, yet he seems to think that their income is his income.  Even more interestingly, he assumes every man makes all buying decisions.  I feel sorry for the wife, although working 4 months of the year does sound fun.

We spend a little time in the hang gliding office before we head down to the landing zone to watch aerotows take off.  First, we talk about the different training packages and what would make sense for me given that I really don’t want to launch from the mountain, but I’m enjoying the training hills.  Then, we schedule coming out to the training hills next weekend and Pat takes a sudden interest in how much hang gliders cost.  This catches me off guard.  We learn that he and I could potentially share a glider and that a beginner glider starts around $3000 new.  I watch Pat’s face as he looks at the gliders the instructor points out to him on their website and I try to determine whether he is seriously thinking we’re going to be buying a hang glider or not.  I flash back to the months, even years, of getting rid of possessions in an effort to simplify our lives and try to imagine how a hang glider fits into this picture.  But, I let him look without comment.

Next, we drive down to the landing zone and sit for a while, watching aerotows.  For the first time, we see someone on a tow line that’s on a winch rather than an ultralight.  We’ve seen winch launches on TV before, but didn’t know this park had a winch.  The glider gets about 50 feet in the air before releasing and then comes back down and lands immediately.  I assume this is part of an aerotow training package.

We watch several tandem aerotows take off, and I practice focusing manually with my long lens with the extender attached.  I quickly learn that panning with an aerotow and manually focusing at the same time are not possible for me.  I’m not able to see clearly enough to tell if I’m in focus or not through the viewfinder and I can’t use live view in the LCD while panning.  I go for a small aperture opening in the hope of having enough depth of field to cover the difference.

After a while, Pat is bored and I have so many shots of hang gliders that I’ll be at the computer for hours, so we decide to leave.  As we drive out, we spot a flock of wild turkeys across a field.  Pat pulls over and I get out of the van slowly and grab my camera and tripod from the back.  By the time I get set up, another car has approached from the other side and a woman with a point-and-shoot gets out and starts walking towards the turkeys, spooking them.  I get only two quick shots in before they take flight and I have no time to make any adjustments to better capture them flying.  I make a mental note (not for the first time) that I really need to find a class on wildlife shooting or I’m going to end up always shooting landscapes.