Tisen and I make it to the training hills.  It’s a mile walk in my barefoot shoes on rough gravel carrying about 40 pounds of gear, but we stop frequently along the way to shoot, so it doesn’t seem so difficult.

Tisen gets confused shortly after we arrive.  When a hang gliding student drives off on a Kubota, Tisen sprints across the field following him.  I don’t realize Tisen thinks I’m on the Kubota until he gets 100 yards away and shows no sign of turning back.  I call him and he hears me, but he can’t tell where I am.  A glider flies into the field about 10 yards from Tisen and he decides it’s me, running straight for the glider.  I call him again, hoping to prevent him from “playing” with the pilot.

Tisen hears me, but when he looks up, he sees a group of people and decides that’s where I am.  I keep calling him, hoping he’ll locate me.  He is now 30 yards from me and running from person to person, eliminating each as a possible me.  After he passes them all, I am the only person left.  I wave my arms high in the air and call again.  At last, he sees me.  He’s so excited, he practically knocks me down when he runs up to greet me.  Poor guy.

After I take a few shots of the training hills half wishing I were flying today, we walk to the top of the big hill.  I take only my tripod and camera with the 16-35mm lens on it.  At the top, one of the pilots asks if I’m selling pictures.  I laugh.  He says he was hoping maybe he could buy some from me.  I take his email address and tell him I’ll email some photos to him for free.  Now I have a client.

I take some rapid-fire shots of his flight, but the wide angle lens looking down isn’t the best view.  Tisen and I walk back to the bottom of the hill and I set up again with my 100-400mm plus 1.4x teleconverter.  I shoot my client a second time, but this time looking up at 560mm.  It looks like I’m standing next to him.

Unfortunately, I cannot pan and focus manually at the same time, so I only get a few good shots during the launch before he drops out of my frame and then I lose focus when I find him again.  This is exactly why I don’t ask for money to shoot people.

I pack up, load myself with all my gear, and Tisen and I head back up the road, stopping to enjoy the sun on more spider webs and the contrasting colors of bright, new leaves against dark evergreens.

When we make it back to the car, Tisen hops in like he wasn’t sure we were going to survive this adventure.  He’s tired.  Come to think of it, so am I.


Fledgling Part II

Recovering from a long day on the mountain.

Continued from Fledgling:

After breaking a down-tube on my first mountain launch, I have to figure out how to pick up my glider and carry it off the field.  I make it across the field and a couple of instructors run over to help.

All-in-all, I am not sure I’m ready to launch again.  But, back up to the top of the mountain we go.  I spend the ride back to the top hoping the wind has shifted.

But, no.  The wind is still good and there are plenty more gliders for me to break.

I set up the next glider with my hands shaking.

When it’s my turn, I am feeling nauseous.  I contemplate backing out.  But, I step up onto the launch ramp for the second time.  I get set, the instructor tells me the wind is perfect, I call clear and start the approach without hesitation.

This time, the launch is good.  However, when I look at the airspeed indicator, it tells me I’m flying too slow.  I pull in for speed, but the glider starts oscillating like I’m flying too fast.  I go back and forth trying to decide if the airspeed indicator is wrong or not.  Then I hit a small bump in the air.  My glider rises suddenly and then drops back down like a giant puppeteer has just jerked an invisible string.  I experience a moment of panic.  I start talking to myself out loud, trying to keep my wits about me.  I keep it together through a few more small bumps and find myself safely over the landing zone.

I have a repeat problem with suddenly being out of altitude.  As I start to make the final turn for the landing approach, I realize I’m too low and I square up the glider and roll it in instead.  No broken down tube this landing.

However, I do end up far from the breakdown area.  Gliders are really not meant to be taken for a walk.

The instructor who helped me after my first landing comes over and congratulates me.  He compliments me for my decision making.  It’s like a consolation prize–in spite of all my mistakes, I didn’t make a final, critical mistake.  I appreciate the compliment none-the-less.  Focusing on small achievements is, after all, how I ended up here one minuscule step at a time.

On the way back to the top, I experience a sense of disappointment.  I remind myself that my learning process has often been one step forward and two steps back.  I remind myself that I just launched from about 1500 feet higher than I ever imagined I would.  I remind myself that I stepped off that launch ramp, focused on the horizon, knowing that I could.  And I did.  I did something I didn’t think was possible until two weeks ago.  I launched, I flew, I landed, I survived.  Twice.  Maybe I’ll suggest a new T-shirt for the pro shop.

Waiting on the Wind


Saturday afternoon, we returned to the mountain launch  at the Lookout Mountain Flight Park.  We called first and learned there was about a 50-50 chance that the wind would quiet down as the sun got lower.

We stood at the top of the launch for the second time that day.  I stood on the steeply sloping concrete ramp and imagined the steps I would take to launch.  I even took the first few steps, pretending I was holding a glider on my shoulders.  I managed to get almost up to the “fall line” without getting gelatin knees.  Normally, being close to the edge of a precipice makes me feel faint.  Today, with my eyes on the horizon and the imaginary glider on my shoulders, I barely notice how close I am to the edge.

I feel invincible.

I hear my husband in the background, “Careful–don’t forget you don’t have a glider!” He knows exactly what is going through my mind, having stood here himself more than once.

The windsock doesn’t turn my way.  It continues to blow “over-the-back,” as they say.  In other words, a tailwind.  Launching in a tailwind is not an option.   We hang out on top of the mountain for an hour, walking Tisen in the woods and watching the sun get lower in the sky.  But, the wind only gets stronger.

We return home.   I’ve been cleared to launch from the mountain 3 times now, but this is the first time I’m disappointed the weather kept me grounded.

The next morning, we get up early and head on over to the mountain again.  Now that I’m ready to launch, I want to launch.

On the way, I do a calculation.  I have done approximately 150 training hill flights of 7-12 seconds each, or about 1500 seconds of total flight time.  So, in exchange for 150 landings (the part that’s hard on my body), I have gotten 25 minutes in the air.  By comparison, I should get at least 5 minutes in the air in a fledgling flight off the mountain launch.  That means I only have to land 5 times to get the same amount of air time I’ve had to land 150 times for in the past.  My knees are also excited about the mountain launch now!

But, alas.  The wind is no more cooperative Sunday morning.  I stand poised once again on the ramp, visualizing my flight plan.  We even go so far as to assemble a glider and have it ready to go just in case the wind turns around.  But, by the time of the morning where the valley is in the sun (an event that can make the wind change direction), the wind is still blowing the wrong way and far too strong.  Even the tandem flights that are towed up are grounded.

We return home disappointed for the third time in a row.  But I retain the feeling of excitement anticipating that first launch.

Tisen wags his tail listlessly on the drive home as he cuddles Minnie Teddy.

Ready for the Mountain

I hop out of bed Saturday morning looking forward to hang gliding.  The weather is supposed to be perfect.  Even more exciting, I had an epiphany on Thursday that I am ready to go off the mountain.  Oddly, I don’t remember why.

We arrive at the training hills and get up on the big hill as quickly as possible.  There is a gentle headwind that makes launching an absolute breeze (I know, bad pun).

I have 3 fantastic flights.  I launch strong, control the glider well, and land on my feet like I have been doing this for a long time.  Since I”m on about my 150th launch, maybe I have?

Then, the wind that is supposed to be calm today starts to misbehave.  It picks up speed and strength and starts to cross.  When it’s my turn, the instructor has decided we will wait for a calm cycle so we can fly back down to the setup area, but no more flying today.

I wait and wait.  Then, the wind calms slightly and stops crossing.  I call, “clear” and start the approach.  I’m 3 steps into the approach when a crosswind grabs my glider.  I run to my target and try to straighten it out on the ground, but the wind carries me off the hill–I am airborne and headed for the trees.

I attempt to turn, but the glider doesn’t respond to my inputs.  For a split second, the thought, “I could actually die doing this” pops into my head.  Then I say to myself, “DON’T PANIC!” (yes, this is an exact quote from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”).  Instantly, the magical words that have been drilled into my head follow: “Pull in for Speed.”  And this, my friends, was the moment when I knew I was going to be OK.

Not only today, but on the mountain.  Because in a moment when my brain might have completely frozen, I gained control and was able to turn the glider away from the trees.

But my ride wasn’t quite over.  As I approached for landing, the wind picked me up again, lifting the entire glider.  I was a bit torn on whether to pull the nose down again this time since I was awfully close to the ground to try to pick up speed.  I compromised by pulling in the nose slightly and then pushing out just a little as I got close to the ground, managing a nice gentle landing on the wheels.

Ironically, I came out with fewer bumps than when I walk from the bedroom to the bathroom.  Maybe I should just do dangerous things all the time?

Tisen came running down the hill to greet me a few minutes after I’d started carrying the glider to the break down area.  I’m not sure if he was afraid he was about to lose his new mommy, but he certainly seemed happy to see me in one piece.

No photos or video from today, so I’m afraid this is a re-run:

Here’s a new one of Tisen doing Yin and Yang with Pat:

Accidental Goal

I achieved a goal today I’ve been moving towards almost by accident.   I earned my Novice hang gliding pilot rating and am allowed to do my first mountain launch.  The funny thing is I’m almost disappointed. It seems improbable if not impossible that I am now licensed to fly a hang glider off a 1600 foot mountain launch.  How did that even happen?  I am reminded of a quote that we have all probably heard that goes something like “half the battle is showing up.”  I guess I kept showing up.

The good news is, now that I have purchased unlimited training hill flights, I can return to the training hills as many time as I want before I go off that mountain.  It’s comforting that I don’t have to choose between going off the mountain and giving up hang gliding all together.

While I had a good day on the training hill and came away with little damage, I still had a few rough patches.  One of the tests required is a speed test.  On my first speed run, I had a great time.  It all went well except when I realized it was time to flare, I discovered I was already so low to the ground that the belly of my harness was dragging the ground and I was so horizontal that my legs were still up in the air.  In this position, raising my arms over my head to flare the glider did absolutely nothing.  The surprise of discovering myself on the ground made me burst out laughing (3rd flight in video).

This little boo boo turned out to be far preferable to my next flight.  I did a repeat speed run and, over compensating for the previous flight, flared too soon.  When I pushed up my arms, the glider ballooned upwards for what felt like a good 20 feet.  I panicked.  And then I was in a state of confusion–I did the worst thing, which is let the nose back down.  It was just a split second and then I pushed upwards again, but it sent me and the glider back down to earth a lot faster than either of us would like.  Be sure to listen for my scream in the video–it’s a little hard to tell what’s happening because of the fisheye effect of the lens.  Fortunately for me and my already sore knees, I landed flat out on my stomach.  (I love the part in the video after I land and I’m under the glider and crawl out making all kinds of ridiculous noises.)  Fortunately for the glider, it’s a training glider built to take a lot of abuse.  Both of us walked/rolled away uninjured.

I finished on one last, perfect flight, turning 90 degrees and landing near the breakdown area.  At this point, most students would be rushing off to the mountain launch.  For me, it was a good time to call it a day.

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!

Head Banging Hang Gliding


Ah.  Another Saturday, another 5:30AM alarm, another drive to Lookout Mountain Flight Park.  Today is supposed to be a big day.  Pat will re-clear for his mountain flight, we will each do a tandem flight with a real hang gliding pilot, and then I will try to set aside my fears enough to play photographer while Pat jumps, I mean, flies off the mountain.

The gate to the training hills is already open at 7:40AM.  When we get to the parking lot, it’s nearly full.  Between the crowd and the newly formed stream running through the breakdown area, nearly every semi-dry area for set up is occupied with a glider in some stage of assembly.  We feel like we’re behind schedule.

Once my glider is assembled, I decide to carry it up to the top of the big hill instead of riding up on the trailer–I need to warm up my legs.  It’s quite a warm up!  I’m sweating and out of breath by the time I get to the top of the hill.

I do not fly well today.  I manage to do a 90 degree turn successfully and start working on reversing 45 degree turns (you turn 45 degrees to the right and then 45 degrees to the left in one 10 second flight).  I keep messing up my landings and end up banging my head a couple of times.  Thank goodness for the helmet.

Pat re-clears in three flights.  By mid-morning, I’m spent and have only passed 3 tests.  I don’t know who’s more tired, me or Tisen.  He’s been running up and down the hills all day and both of us are gimping.

We head up to the office to check in and see if Pat will be able to fly.  They send us down for our tandem flights immediately because the wind is picking up.  By the time we get there, the wind has a mind of its own.  A lone pilot bounces around in the wind, trying to land.  She gets dropped and picked up by the wind, creating the impression the glider is on an invisible string and someone up on the mountain is playing with it like a yo-yo.  We won’t be doing any tandem flights and Pat won’t be flying off the mountain today.  We head on home, me relieved.  I’m not sure I’m ready to watch Pat go off the mountain launch.

When I review the videos from today, I have to laugh.  On several flights, the helmet cam tipped over and filmed my face.  Because of the stabilization in the camera, it gives the appearance that my head is perfectly still and everything is moving around it.  For some reason, you can’t see when I hit my head, but these are funny enough (at least to me) I thought I would share a couple of rough landings from this view.  I also threw in a regular video just for good measure.  Enjoy!


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.

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.

Pain in the Neck

The alarm goes off at 5:30AM even though it’s Sunday morning–I have to remind myself we’re going hang gliding.  I get out of bed feeling stiff and sore.  My right shoulder and the right side of my neck are especially sore.  I move my head gently trying to loosen things up.  Then, I get the coffee brewing and start on my morning routine.

When I lean over the sink to wash my face, the entire right side of my neck goes into muscle spasms.  I can barely hold my head up long enough to rinse the soap off my face.  My shoulder is likewise screaming–stabbing pain shoots down my right arm.  I reach up with my hands and hold the weight of my head in them.  Carrying my head, I walk into the living room and, as carefully as possible, lay down on the floor.  With the weight of my head supported, the pain lessens.  Instead of feeling like someone is stabbing me in the neck with a slightly dull knife, I feel like the stabbing has stopped and now I’m just in pain.  I lay there and think, “Oh. I am not going hang gliding today.”  Apparently I paddled my kayak unevenly yesterday.

I manage to get up off the floor after about 10 minutes, get a cup of coffee and move to my office chair where I can prop my head on the headrest.  This feels good, although I’m still very ouchy–I try not to move my head in any direction that offsets the weight of my head from directly over my neck.  I drink my coffee with my left hand so as to prevent using my right shoulder by accident.

Turns out my eye-hand coordination is even worse with my left hand and I dump hot coffee down my chin, onto my shirt and into my lap.  I’m in too much pain to worry about it.  Since I’m wearing dark fleece, I figure the stains won’t show much.  I wipe my chin off with the back of my hand and keep sipping coffee.

Pat gets up and I explain to him what’s going on.  I decide I will get ready to go just in case by some miracle my neck rights itself by the time we get there.  If it doesn’t, I will drive the Kubota and tow hang gliders.  If it does, I will fly.

The hardest part is putting on shirts over my head.  But, I need multiple layers to stay warm driving the Kubota, so I suffer through.  I pull on my down jacket before pulling on my rain jacket.  My rain jacket is still stained from the mud I drug myself through last Sunday.  I make a mental note to wash it when we get back.

The drive to the training hills is so uncomfortable I worry that I won’t even be able to drive the Kubota.  But, given that there won’t be any traffic passing me, I won’t have to worry about looking over my shoulder before changing lanes, so I think I might be OK.

It’s still in the 20’s when we get there.  The sun is rising, but the almost full moon hasn’t set yet.  I attempt to take a picture of the moon hanging just above the horizon over the small hill.  I have only my iPhone and I use a camera app with zoom.  Unfortunately, I guess I don’t know how to save the picture from this app because it disappears on me.

I help Pat assemble his glider by reading the directions to him so he doesn’t have to put his reading glasses on.  I don’t even attempt to bend over to do any actual assembling.  So far, as long as I turn my whole body when  I want to look at something, I’m doing OK.

When the first pilot is ready, which turns out to be Pat, I pull up the Kubota and let him load his glider.  When we get to the top of the hill, I hold the nose while he gets down and picks the glider up instead of taking the glider off the trailer myself.  I won’t be carrying any gliders today; that much is for sure.

I make several more runs back and forth picking up 5 more gliders and students.  By the time I’m done, there are already 3 students at the bottom of the hill waiting for a ride back up to the top.  One has given up and is walking his glider up.  I circle around and start picking up students and gliders and driving them back up top.  With 6 flying and a 7th on his way, I can’t seem to keep up.

By the time the 7th student looks ready, I need to use the facilities.  I hand the Kubota over to Pat to drive while I walk down to check on the last student and use the outhouse.  With everyone off on the hills, I opt for the woods over the outhouse–much more pleasant.  Then, I get on the four wheeler to tow the last student out to the hill.

I’ve never driven a four wheeler before.  The angle is bad for my neck, but not so bad that I’m not going to drive it.  The shifter is like a motorcycle–down at my left foot.  The other student keeps telling me to raise it up to put it in gear.  I keep telling him I can’t find the clutch, but he can’t hear me.  What should be the clutch doesn’t squeeze like one.  I finally turn around so he can hear me and he informs me that there is no clutch.  I’m a little confused as to why it has a shifter like that with no clutch, but sure enough it works.  The accelerator, however, is like a waverunner–a tiny little lever that you push with your thumb.  When I push it, I have trouble accelerating gently and I jerk the trailer hard.  I’m sure that student number 7 is wishing he had just driven himself up by now.

As the wind starts to pick up, there is a pause in the flights.  I actually get ahead on picking up students.  I make it to the bottom of the hill and sit well out of range so I can watch Pat’s next flight.  Pat is now learning to land on his feet.  I’ve only gotten to see one of his flights so far today, I’ve been so busy driving.  I watch him soar off the hill, speed up, slow down, and then flare.  He still has too much airspeed when he flares and he balloons up a bit too much, then drops the nose (which you’re never supposed to do) and, remembering, quickly brings it up again.  In the end, he lands on his knees instead of his feet, but not hard enough that he gets hurt.

When I pick him up, he’s disappointed that I saw his crappy landing instead of one of his good ones.  I’m disappointed that I couldn’t get my iPhone out in time to get a video. He’s happy I didn’t.

At the end of the morning, I’m actually tired from driving the Kubota.  But, what I notice is that my neck and shoulder feel considerably better.  Instead of laying around feeling sorry for myself, the activity not only kept me distracted from the pain, but it seems to have loosened up some of the tight muscles.  I still can’t turn my head far enough that it would be safe for me to drive on the highway, but I’m glad that I came out.