Run Down

It’s Saturday morning and we are up even earlier than Friday. After rushing and arriving at the training hills late on Friday, last night I set the alarm for 5:30AM to give myself an extra half hour to get ready today. I also packed what I needed to bring the night before so that what I have to do this morning is less.

Now that the alarm is chiming in my ear, I am wishing I hadn’t set it so darn early. But, I get up and get moving. I am ready early. Really early. Like a half an hour early–the exact amount of time earlier that I set my alarm. This is called an over-correction in hang gliding lingo.

But, since I am ready to go, i find additional things to do with the extra time while Pat, who slept an hour longer than I did, finishes getting ready. I get the GPS set to the correct address today, for example, to ensure no repeat of yesterday’s fiasco. When Pat is ready, we gather up our bags of stuff and head down the hall.

We make it to the hills plenty early. The only instructor there is Mike. We’re pretty sure he lives there and that it’s impossible to arrive before him. He tells us to each get our own Falcon. This is a good start–we have realized that we get more flights in when we each have our own glider than when we share. On the other hand, I’m a bit nervous still about assembling my own glider, worried that I’ll miss some vital step. But, I get my glider together and perform the pre-flight check without any problems. As it turns out, Pat is going to share his glider with another student in his weight range. The two of them and I are ready to go at about the same time. We load up a glider and take turns driving to get both gliders up the hill.

I am excited about flying today. I feel like I’m finally getting this down and that I’m going to make big steps forward towards learning to land on my feet. When I take my first flight, I do take big steps forward, but only literally. I run down the hill with that glider on my back taking bigger and bigger steps as I go over the ridge and down the slope, but the glider doesn’t lift. I drag that sucker all the way down until it is going faster than I am and it flops me over onto my belly on the ground and drags me across the grass. This is exactly how my first several runs went when we were in ground school back in August. I am thrown.

Fortunately, the instructor, Lauren, is extremely observant and can tell me exactly what went wrong. Her first question to me is, “How was that?” I tell her I feel like I just went back to ground school. She asks me where was my target and I have the ah-ha moment that I had forgotten to pick one. She informs me that I was looking at the ground the entire time. A phrase from motorcycle safety school pops into my head, “if you look down, you go down.”

Feeling confident that I now know the root of the problem and that my next flight will take me back to where I was yesterday, I line up and pick a nice, high target and try again. I end up running even faster down that hill, but with the same net result. When Lauren and I have our next recap, I am pretty sure that this is not my fault. I ask if the glider is too small for me, if I’m hanging too high in the frame, I blame the hiking boots I’m wearing on the hill for the first time. Lauren breaks the news to me: she assures me that I was doing the exact same things wrong yesterday but that I could get away with it yesterday because I was in an over-sized glider and there was wind. Today, I am in the appropriately sized glider and the air is depressingly still. Nothing is going to get me into the air except me performing correctly.

I am determined. I run down that hill again and again. Ten times in a row I drag that glider down the hill and it drags me across the field. I am getting so frustrated I want to quit hang gliding for good. This is when Lauren suggests I change gliders. She says that while maybe it’s cheating a little to go to a bigger glider, there is something to be said for not being so frustrated we you learn. I decide to give it a try.

My next flight, I launch successfully. My joy in hang gliding is restored. The feeling of the glider picking me up off the hill and raising my feet off the ground instead of me racing it down the hill and losing makes me giddy.

Through out the morning, I am reflecting on my own learning. I realize that my brain went all the way back to no function during my first run–I had no recollection of what happened during the run. Then, I gradually started to become more aware of what happened in each flight, I started realizing, for example, after the fact that I’d taken my eyes off the target. However, I couldn’t prevent myself from making the same mistake over and over again. I’m a little depressed by this realization. I thought that I would start where I’d left off in terms of being more conscious during the launch and flight. I am reminded of when I used to do triathlons and how I expected my times to get better each race without accounting for differences in the wind, the course, the temperature. I suppose i have learned skills specific to a given set of conditions and not the more general skills that allow me to adjust.

While I recognize that I am a slow learner when it comes to physical activities, I really didn’t think I was this slow. In the ad for our lesson package, they claim that you will learn how to land on your feet and earn your beginner rating in the number of lessons included. Here we are, already into the next package and I’m still trying to learn how to launch. This does not make me happy, I question the wisdom of upgrading our lesson package again and of contemplating launching from the mountain.

But, now that I have launched, I want to make sure I leave with the feeling of being airborne in my head, so I fly two more times. I lift off without too much difficulty and end feeling like maybe I will eventually catch on after all. The one thing I know for sure is that I do not want to run down that hill ever again! I am already feeling how sore I am going to be–there is nothing that can make a person feel as run down as running a hang glider down a hill over and over again.