Thursday, August 28, 2008

Not Paragliding

After roasting my jacket by the fireplace, it was ready to go out.  See, the paragliding website explains that while it's warm on the ground, it's cold up in the air, so you'll want to dress in layers.  And wear long pants; jeans are preferable.  So, I'm in jeans and a 3/4-length shirt, with a jacket and fleece vest along for the ride.

Here's what I eventually learned -- that's really the recommendation for the winter.  In winter, it is warm on the ground and cold up high.  In summer, it is warm on the ground and hot as hell up high.  This would explain why everyone around me was in shorts and a T-shirt.  Or even a tank top.

I get picked up by Rob, the Paragliding Guy (who has an annoying habit of calling me "Barbara," even after I corrected him twice).  Rob comes off like a surfer or skateboarder -- he says "dude" a lot and refers to other paragliding pilots as "brother" or "sister."  (He's on his cell giving directions to a woman he's never met who will be joining us.  He loses the call and calls back.  "Little sister?  You still there?")  We meet everyone at the LZ (landing zone) and pile into the van -- everyone leaves their cars at the LZ; then you only need one person to drive the van back down from the launch site, when everyone else flies.  There were four other people who were flying; I was the only one going on a tandem.  Two of the others (including Little Sister) were more-or-less novices, having just recently obtained their rating, so Rob did a lot of teaching and explaining about the upcoming flight.  Which was useful for me as I didn't have a freakin' clue about paragliding.

Paragliding actually sounds like a sport I'd love.  It falls clearly in the "adrenaline sports" category, but doesn't require much physical fitness.  Indeed, you can be pretty out of shape and paraglide.  Rob says it's 20 percent physical and 80 percent mental.  It isn't just "go where the wind carries you" -- there's instruments and steering and stuff.  He mentions that the best paragliders are engineers.  At one point, he's explaining to one of the new pilots how some complicated GPS works, and I find the combination of surfer dude delivery and techno-savvy content to be totally unexpected.

ANYWAY, from the LZ, we all pile in the van and Rob drives us to the "Alternator," our launch site.  It is a long drive.  Up a mountain.  Pretty much to the top of it.  My ears pop.  (I believe the phrase "3600 feet" was mentioned.)  We are above a layer of clouds -- it actually looks like a field of snow.  We leave the van and walk a few yards to the site itself.  Rob explains to the new pilots where they're going to go -- you're gonna clear this mountain here, then aim left over that one there, and so forth.  He points out the alternative LZ in case things don't go according to plan.  He explains that you shouldn't make this flight without bringing at least 3 liters of water, in case things really don't go according to plan, and you end up going down somewhere in the mountains, and he has to call Search and Rescue.  A small detached part of my brain tentatively suggests that I should be scared poopless at this point, but I decide I'm OK with it.  I'm going to watch all these other pilots go off first; then it'll be easy.  (Besides, with a tandem, I'll be strapped in there with Rob, and all I'll have to do is run for a few steps.)

Problem is, we don't have wind.  Well, we have some, but it isn't blowing in the right direction.  (One of the new pilots asks if we can't "take off to the West" since that's the way the wind is blowing.  Rob says he has the "take off to the West" waiver in the van -- which basically says Rob strongly advised you not to take off to the West but you handcuffed him to the van and went anyway.  The new pilot decides against taking off to the West.)  We find some shade and sit and wait to see if the weather changes.  It's hot as hell up here and they're all in T-shirts and shorts.  I'm roasting.

It is here where one of the others asks if I'm thinking of taking up paragliding, or if I'm just planning to do tandems.  I offer that I have no depth perception, and give a concrete example -- those two mountains that define the flight plan?  I couldn't tell you which is further away.  He concludes that, yeah, I probably shouldn't plan on flying solo.

The wind does not improve.  We pile in the van and go down the mountain to a somewhat lower launch point.  This one is actually scarier than the higher one, as it isn't a particularly long field you run down to take off.  In other words, Rob will be directing me to run toward the edge of a cliff in order to get this thing off the ground.  I again tell the nervous part of my brain to shut up.

But again: the wind is bad.  (They test the wind by standing in the launch site and holding their hands chest high, palms forward.  They look like they're reading the wind's aura or something.)  No wind. 

No tandem flight.  They're going to go over to the novice hill and work on their technique.  It's useless to me, though -- at only 220 feet, tandem flights last only a minute there.  Little Sister offers me a ride back to the hotel, and then gives me her email address, so we could drive up together if I want to try again sometime.  (All these people I've met -- so very nice.)

I still have my (unused) 30 day Affiliate Student Membership in the U.S. Hang Gliding Association.

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