A Very Blustery Day

We are running late.  I hate that.  I got up at 6:00AM in the hope of not running late, but it seems I needed to get up a half hour earlier.  We are running around frantically trying to gather up the last of our gear, knowing that we are now barely going to make it to the training hills on time.  We remember our bottles of water at the last possible second, grab them, and finally get out the door.

I set up the GPS in a hurry while Pat starts driving in the general direction.  We’ve been there enough times that the GPS should just be a back up.  However, Pat zones out and starts listening to it only to wonder why it’s taking us the way it’s taking us long after we’ve missed the correct exit.  As it turns out, I picked the flight park office, up on top of the mountain at the mountain launch, instead of the training hills.  This will cost us another 10 minutes at least.

We keep going because now it will be further to turn around.  Pat takes corners like he’s driving the BMW instead of the mini-van.  I bite my lip to stifle a scream.  We turn off before we get to the mountain office, saving ourselves a few minutes at least.  Then, Pat takes on the dirt road back to the hills with a gusto that should really only be attempted in an all-terrain vehicle–the road is full of pot holes big enough to swallow a VW beetle.  We do make it, but we are late.

Dan, one of the instructors, advises us to set up a condor and share it.  We are nearing the end of our weekend package, so there’s no reason for us to fly falcons, I guess.

We follow instructions and soon have the condor assembled, pre-flight checked, and loaded onto a trailer for a tow up to the hill.

We fly like never before.  I get airborne so easily, I’m sure that I’m almost ready to start learning to land on my feet.  It’s a great feeling to fly over the grassy field.  Unfortunately, the wind picks up quickly.  By my second flight, I get blown around in a cross-wind after I launch.  Although this is not particularly scary to me, the instructor calls it.  She doesn’t like beginners to fly in gusting winds.  She says it’s too hard to tell what we’re doing vs what the wind is doing to make it useful to us, not to mention the potential dangers.

I am left with the high of having flown.  Plus, I am prepared to take our first written test, required to graduate to the big hill.  This is a new milestone for me–I’ve not previously cared if I ever graduate to the big hill.  In fact, I’d grown convinced that I never would.  But today, I am full of myself.  I flew!  Not only am I excited about graduating, but now I have the fleeting thought that maybe, just maybe I could launch off that mountain some day.

We go into town and grab lunch after putting away the glider.  Then we head up to the top of the mountain and sit outside in the van studying.  Pat hasn’t done the required reading yet, but I’ve now talked him into taking the written test, too.  I’m reading the book to him because he didn’t bring a pair of reading glasses.   We make it through the 4 chapters covered in the test and then head indoors.

I finish the test in about half the time Pat does.  I do not suffer from test anxiety and I try not to go back and second guess myself when I finish a test.  Pat, however, not only has major anxiety about tests, but he also is not particularly well prepared given that I read the chapters to him.  But, we both manage to pass.  This emboldens us further and causes us to decide to take the dramatic step of upgrading our package to an Eagle Package.  The Eagle Package includes 4 mountain launches.  I, however, have been assured that I do not have to go off the mountain if I change my mind.  We get the full tour of the facilities and the orientation that we didn’t get when we signed up for the introductory experience.  We even get to see the repair shop and the sewing shop next door.  It’s pretty cool.

But coolest of all, when we go outside, there are two pilots waiting for the wind to calm a bit so they can take off from the mountain.  Finally!  After so many trips up the mountain to watch this event that I’ve lost count, we will get to see a mountain launch!

Unfortunately, in my rush to get out the door today, I only brought my worst lens.  Although the 70-300mm focal range will be good and the lens is light enough that I can usually get away with hand holding it, it mis-behaves on me frequently.  I’m sure this has nothing to do with the fact that I dropped it on a ceramic tile floor in Montana over a year ago and have yet to get it repaired.

As the first pilot sets up, I snap a few shots and then move down below the launch to try to get a good angle of the launch process.  The moment when he starts the launch is the moment my lens decides it doesn’t want to focus anymore.  And, of course, I have my camera set to not shoot if it’s not in focus.  I completely miss the launch.  Not only do I miss shooting it, but I miss seeing it because I’m so panicked over my camera.

I take a deep breath and fiddle with the camera until I get the lens focusing again.  I manage to accomplish this prior to the second pilot, Meg, launching.

The launch is every bit as exciting as I expected it to be, but much shorter.  The longest part is setting Meg up at the launch line with 3 people holding the wires of her glider to prevent her from blowing away prematurely.  Then, Meg, in her sock feet, calls, “Clear,” and takes 2 steps before she is airborne and tucking her colorful feet into her pod.  I stand in awe.

We watch the two of them soar back and forth along the ridge, gaining altitude from the wind rushing up the face of the mountain.  They look so pretty against the blue sky.  However, watching hang gliders after they’ve launched is not really all that exciting for me yet.  I suppose I don’t have enough knowledge to know what they’re doing up there enough to appreciate it.  In any case, we decide it’s time to call it a day for hang gliding and to head on back to Chattanooga in time to catch the Head of the Hootch.