This morning, I finally, FINALLY did it.
I WENT PARAGLIDING!
Yes I know, this shouldn’t be a big whup. But you’ve gotta remember that I signed up and paid for a paragliding session LAST OCTOBER! Trouble is, paragliding is dependent upon the whims of the wind gods, and whenever I tried to schedule my session with Kay (of Peak to Peak Paragliding), they threw a hissy fit. Then a long, crappy winter set in. Then I was the recipient of that nasty lung/ribs injury and had to take time out to heal.
But today the weather was gorgeous and I got to fly.
Here are the basic facts about paragliding:
1) It ain’t a cheap sport.
2) Getting to the launch site can be a real bitch.
3) Once you’re take flight, it can be a remarkably serene experience.
4) When you land, it’s a good idea not to come down on a cactus.
There were a few of us in the paragliding group this morning. We met beside a highway at the base of some foothills west of Denver; and that’s where we left most of the vehicles and took only two in a drive up a winding road along sheer drops (a couple family members of other flyers had come along only to watch and would drive back down).
It seems that before the guard rails were installed along that road cars would regularly tumble over the edges and crash in the ravines; only a major effort involving helicopters lifting out those wrecks cleaned up the landscape.
We parked near the top of a hill and went the rest of the way on foot to an unmarked slope that serves as a launch site. That’s when I got to find out what it’s like to hike up a long, very steep trail with a 45-pound paragliding pack on my back. I paid $175 for his experience, I kept reminding myself as I panted and strained and my calves turned to jelly.
It took the three pilots only about 15 minutes to set out their three chutes. I was going on one of the two tandem flights. Before I knew it, I was strapped into the gear, Kay was strapped in behind me, and we were trying to run hard and fast down the slope. Trying is the key word, because in seconds I was throwing my weight against the dragging power of the rising chute.
And then we lifted up on the wind.
I felt weightless. Once we were airborne and I was sitting in the harness’s soft padded seat, I seemed to be as heavy as a dandelion seed. The hill and houses and roads spun lazily below us as Kay steered right and left and away from the hill, and had me moving right and left with her. “Throw your butt cheek into it!” she commanded when I didn’t go in either direction far enough. It’s not often you hear those words shouted at you.
A couple times I could see far below what looked like the partial debris of a wrecked car in a ravine, or maybe it was a smashed paraglider. That made me a little nervous. But most of the time I felt serene and almost, in a fleeting way, powerful. After all, I was up there hanging on the wind and having a blast while below me earth-bound cars and people were scurrying about, oblivious to the fact that I was silently and literally looking down on them.
Unfortunately, there were no strong thermals for Kay to steer us into, which meant we couldn’t get enough sustaining lift and the flight would last no more than ten or fifteen minutes.
We landed in a field just beyond our original parking area and near the highway. In what seems to be my natural inclination, I landed on my butt instead of my feet, yet it was still a remarkably gentle landing. I also managed to avoid the many little cacti sticking up out of the weeds and brush.
Would I paraglide again? In a heartbeat. But between lessons and the equipment, we’re talking about $4,000 to $5,000, and I absolutely don’t have that kind of money. Not for fun stuff.
More relevant to this blog is the question, Would Layla paraglide? Absolutely, both for fun and because it’s a brilliant way to get into a sealed-off forbidden area. Of course, she could do the same with skydiving, but there’s a tradeoff: she wouldn’t need thermals, but the plane she jumps from can be heard from the ground. So the circumstances would dictate which type of flying she must use.
As for me, I can finally say I’ve done both skydiving and paragliding. And that feels really good.