High Flying

For today’s triple play, let’s start with hang gliding. On the big training hill, there are 7 tests to “clear,” which means you get your Novice license and you can fly off the mountain launch.  But, if you don’t fly off the mountain for 4 days straight, you have to “re-clear.”

Today, Pat will re-clear and I will continue my endless quest of clearing for the first time.  Yesterday, I learned they mis-counted my total training hill flights:  they missed a page.  At the rate I’m going, I will have about 160 flights by the time I clear for the first time!  They don’t give you a trophy for that; they just charge extra.

After successfully completing one more test today, I’m pretty much spent.  Pat re-cleared and left for the mountain early on, but the wind prevents him from flying.  He picks me up and then we head over to the landing zone where we each get a tandem flight.

For the second time, I hook in with an instructor and we are towed above 2000 feet, literally into the clouds.  But this time, I’m not as mentally paralyzed.  The instructor gives me control and I fly us all the way to the landing (except for those moments when it appears I’m going to kill us both).

Flying a tandem glider with an extra person in it is completely different from flying solo.  It’s good to experience the altitude though–and to have 12 minutes instead of 12 seconds to practice.

Next, let’s talk about Tisen.

Two new things happen at the training hill today.  First, while Tisen has stopped chasing wheels, when I carry my glider he dives at my legs, grabbing at my pants and pinching my skin.  When I set the glider down, he stops.  When I pick it up, he starts again.  He doesn’t seem to be able to associate my legs with my body when I have the glider on my shoulders.

Second, when Pat leaves, he calls Tisen down from the big hill by squeaking his favorite ball.  He was at least 100 yards away and he ran down the hill to get that ball.  The power of a squeaky toy!

In the car later, Tisen starts carrying his squeaky toys up onto the seat in the min-van.  I cannot help but snap a shot with my iPhone.

This leads us to our final subject, Photography.

The pictures from the tandem flight were taken by a small Olympus point and shoot positioned on a mount on the wing.  The camera was set to take a shot every 10 seconds.  This was not my camera, but an add-on service the flight school offers.  Frankly, I can’t tell much from the photos and they all start to look the same after a while, but it is kind of cool.  I am definitely going to wear sunglasses so I don’t have to wear the school’s protective eyewear next time, though!

Turns

Our plan is to fly on the big training hill in the morning, with Pat re-clearing for his first mountain flight.  Then, we will go up to the office, Pat will complete the one remaining written test he hasn’t done yet and get the required chalk talk on his flight plan.  Finally, we will each take a tandem flight to learn how to recognize our altitude in preparation for our first mountain launch.  Then, we will return Sunday morning and Pat will fly off the mountain.  I get nervous thinking about it.

While this plan all sounds grand, the weather forecast has not looked promising.  I have been crossing my fingers that the predictions will be completely wrong.  Here I am, up at 5:30AM on a Saturday morning, standing on our balcony with a cup of coffee.  It feels like it’s close to 60 degrees.  The wind is whipping up, although we’ve found the wind on our balcony is no predictor of the wind on the training hills.  But the rain is holding off.  The clouds even appear to be breaking up a bit.  I decide maybe our plan will work after all and continue getting ready.

We start off on time–pulling out of the parking lot at 7:02AM.  But as we make our way down the road, lightening appears in the sky.  We drive to the hills anyway, arriving  in time to watch the storm blow across the field.  At least we didn’t set up any gliders.

Now it’s Sunday morning and it’s a rerun of Saturday.  With one major difference–this time we have a new foster dog, Tisen, who will join us.

Today, the weather is semi-cooperative.  I start learning how to make 90 degree turns.  Pat, however, isn’t feeling well and, after his first flight, drives for me until I call it quits after an imperfect landing.  I was coming in fast and hadn’t bled off enough speed when I started to flare the glider for the landing.  This caused the glider to swoop up into the air.  While this is scary, it’s not really dangerous because the glider will act as a parachute and set you down relatively gently as long as you lock out your arms.  However, at the last second, I dropped my arms, causing me to impact the ground harder than I’d like.  I also somehow managed to hit my knee with the control bar when I landed.  Given that my knee was hurting before I decided to whack it with a control bar, it seemed like a good time to call it a day.

Pat, feeling better, got in two flights before the wind started getting crazy.  We went up top for him to finish his test and get his chalk talk and discovered, at high altitude, there was no visibility and crazy winds.  No tandem flight today, either.

But that’s OK.  When it comes to learning to fly, I’m happy to wait for good weather.

The Big Hill

It’s Sunday morning and 5:00AM.  We are flying today.  In fact, today will be my maiden voyage off the big training hill.  While most people might not celebrate this milestone, this is such a momentous occasion for me, I cannot help but get excited.  It has taken me 53 flights off the small hill to get to the big one.  I am sure I’m am getting close to a flight park record.

We take Lucy, our foster dog with us to the training hills.  She has been dying for an opportunity to run around and the training hills are the perfect place.  When we arrive, she literally runs a few laps around the field just out of sheer joy.  It reminds me of our girl, Katie, who used to jump in any body of water we got close to and swim laps just because she loved being in the water.

There are 4 of us flying today.  3 of us are re-clearing for the mountain and have already taken several mountain flights.  I’m not part of that “us.”  I’m the only one who has never flown off the big hill before.  When I get up to the top, I decide to go last in the rotation.  I want to watch the others launch before I take this on.  The big hill doesn’t look very intimidating from the ground below, but from the top of the hill, it might as well be the mountain.

My stomach does a flip as I look down across the field below.  For a moment, I consider going home.  But I remember the feeling of being lifted off the ground the first time.  The joy the memory evokes helps me find a little courage.  Everyone assures me I will like the big hill better than the small hill–it’s easier to launch because of the vertical drop.

Ironically, it’s this vertical drop that worries me so much.  What happens if I don’t launch before I reach the drop?  But, I go ahead and hook in when it’s my turn.  I go through the hang check, my stomach getting tighter.  Pete, the instructor, talks to me about just flying straight and level.  He makes it sound easy.  He assures me I will launch.

I pause, do my pre-flight mental check, channel David Hasselhof, push my shoulders back, stand up straight, and call “clear.”

I hear Pete behind me, reminding me to walk, jog, run.  Then, I am airborn–really airborn!  I cannot judge how close I am to the ground.

My glider starts to turn and I try to correct.  I get the glider straight just in time to feel the ground effect and realize it’s about time to land.  I get my hands up and flare, landing on my feet and walking away as the glider floats back down to my shoulders as Lucy comes running over to check on me.  All I can think is, “I want to do that again!”

Graduation Day

Today, I went to the hang gliding training hills.  It was one of those days that combined ridiculous mistakes with unexpected successes.  Although I had my share of spills and chills today (see video), in the end, I passed the required test of successfully executing 4 Hang I flights in a row.  This means I move to the big hill.  Not the mountain yet (thank goodness!) but from the bunny hill to the big hill.  It’s a momentous occasion.  As my instructor said, I’ve worked hard for this moment.

I pause and think about this for a moment.  I don’t believe I’ve ever worked so hard for so long on achieving a novice skill level in my life.  This is a point of pride–to have stuck it out for so long just because it was fun.  I let go of my expectations, goals, and frustrations and just had fun.  Had I done anything else, I would have quit after the 3rd day out on the training hills.

As it is, I’ve flown down that baby hill so many times, I’ve gotten attached to it.  I can tell stories about the community on that hill.  The women who inspired me to keep trying–especially one who told me she’d been coming out for over a year and was still learning to land on her feet (she’s been coming out infrequently).  The student who was 60 years old and learning to hang glide for the first time. The dogs who have accompanied me through my journey from ground school.  The instructors who insisted it was OK to be on the slow plan.  Even the view from the hill of the mountain ridge, the big hill, the trains, the deer that would occasionally wander by.

All of it together kept me coming back.  And now, I find myself attached to that small hill.  As I ride the Kubota over to the big hill, I find myself actually tearing up a little.  This catches me by surprise.  I’m confused as to whether I am sad or overjoyed.  Having never given much thought to this day, not really believing it would ever happen, I find myself unprepared for the sudden emotion.

I perch on the edge of the big hill looking down and am amazed at how much bigger it really is.  I look across the training grounds and realize that while I have been enjoying the journey instead of focusing on the destination, I managed to arrive at the destination full of wonder and excitement.  This is a new lesson for me after a lifetime of holding so tightly to goals that I squeeze the life out of them.

The wind doesn’t cooperate today.  There is only one direction to fly off the big hill and we decide today is not the day for my first flight.  As I head back down, I am neither disappointed nor relieved.  After all, it’s taken me 5 months to get here, I’m in no hurry.