Spectator

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.

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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!