Thursday, June 4, 2009

Ed Goes Paragliding: The Movie

Coming soon to a theater near you! Look for it on DVD, VHS, Beta, Laserdisc and Those Little Movies You Make By Drawing Pictures On The Pages Of A Book And Flipping The Pages Really Fast™!

In my last post I promised I would get this up "soon". So, here it is. I'll post the video first, then I'll write some stuff that, hopefully, will be at least somewhat relevant and interesting. I figure the video is the exciting bit, at least for me, so you can watch that and then, if you feel like it, you can read the stuff I wrote. My apologies to those of my regular readers (yes, it's hard to believe, but, for reasons that are beyond me, I seem to have a few regular readers) who have already seen the following video elsewhere.

Here's the video!!!!!!!! (Some of you may know about the significance of the excessive use of exclamation points. Some of you may not. If you don't, I'm sorry, but I really am not at liberty to explain. The best I can do is say "read Terry Pratchett!!!!!!!!!!")

My last post was about the trip itself. In this post I am writing about the flying that occurred during the trip. Many people have asked me if I was scared to do this. It's a simple question, but the answer is not so simple. I will try...

Before I left home I was excited, but not scared, to go paragliding. Once we arrived at the site, as I looked down from the top of the hill, yes, I was scared. It was difficult for me to imagine running off the top of that hill. However, Bill, my friend and instructor, was very adept at preparing me for what I needed to do. After two days of training on the ground, which included a couple of small "flights" of a few seconds or so, what scared me the most was the possibility that the weather (wind speed and direction, mostly) would not allow me to fly. Once it was time to attempt a real takeoff, I had enough of a feel for what it would be like that it didn't feel dangerous anymore. Don't get me wrong, I was not under the illusion that I had become an expert. Far from it. Further, I was fully aware that there was potential (mostly due to pilot stupidity) for bodily injury and/or death, but I was confident in the fact that Bill was a meticulous, experienced and knowledgeable instructor who also has a superb safety record, that he had prepared me very well for the site and conditions that we would be dealing with, and that he would not put me in a situation where I would be taking any undue risks. He has, in the past, turned down his fee and refused to let students fly because he felt it wasn't the right thing to do (they were not ready or they didn't have the proper attitude to fly safely) so I felt pretty certain that if Bill thought it was time to fly and I felt it was time to fly (and I tend to be pretty cautious about such things in my old age, unlike my wild and reckless youth when I was, like many young people, nigh invulnerable), then it must be time to fly.

Prior to beginning training, looking at the hill, I tried to imagine what it would be like to run off the hill. In reality, or, at least, in my reality, after the hours of practicing technique, it no longer felt like running off the hill. The best description I can give would be something along these lines: One's normal frame of reference is one of connection to the ground, or being part of the ground. If you jump into the air, you feel disconnected until you are in contact with the ground again. During takeoff, what I experienced was a smooth but rapid shift of my frame of reference from being part of the ground to being part of the glider. Rather than running off the hill and jumping into the air, letting go of the ground, from the moment I began my run the glider began to support me, and the glider lives in the air. The ground simply, very gently, went somewhere else. Or, to put it another way, the ground was like a train that I had been riding for a long time. I had gotten off the train and the train was leaving the station. It was really quite easy and not scary at all.

[Of course, I said "very gently", which was what it felt like at the time, but I had a number of rather dramatic-looking bruises afterward. I don't even know for sure when I got them, as I was only aware of the task at hand during training and takeoff, but they were all located where the harness straps were in contact with my body (upper thighs were the worst - all purple, puffy and ugly, but there were also bruises where the chest-strap crossed my torso and where the "risers" made contact with my upper arms.) I suspect they were mostly inflicted during takeoff practice and, to a lesser extent, takeoff itself. How? Well, this is what takeoff is like: When you begin your run, the glider is just a limp assembly of fabric and lines lying on the ground and attached to your harness. You run as fast as you can, with the risers crossing over your upper arms, holding the "A" risers in your hands to bring up the leading edge of the wing first. Once the leading edge begins to come up, the cells of the glider fill with air and it becomes quite solid. At this point, the glider is perpendicular to the ground and feels like a solid, immovable mass. Imagine trying to pull a tree out of the ground by tying some lines to it, attaching them to a harness and running as fast as you can away from the tree. When you reach the end of the lines, imagine the jolt you feel. Unfortunately, that tree isn't going to come out if you stop there, so don't stop. Keep running. Now pull up another tree using the same technique. Repeat for a few hours a day for two days. I think that's where the bruises came from. Once the wing comes up overhead, there is much less resistance to your forward momentum, but those first few seconds are fairly, umm, let's just say forceful.]

While ground handling, Bill remarked several times that I was catching on quickly. The problem was, I didn't know why, or what, exactly, I was doing right. After a while, I made a few mistakes, which, believe it or not, gave me more confidence. For one thing, the mistakes helped me to understand what I had been doing right. It also seemed like something that had to happen sooner or later, so I was pleased to find out, while still on the ground, what happens when things go wrong. I suspect that my many years as a folkdancer were a big help in this regard. Bill continually reminds you that the glider's job is to fly and your job is to run and do what the glider wants you to do. You can't win if you try to fight the glider. All the feedback you get from the glider about what you need to do is tactile. You can't see it very well when it's directly overhead, so it's important to be able to feel what is happening with the wing. Much of this is also true of folkdancing. When doing line dances from Eastern Europe, couple's dances from Scandinavia, etc, you learn to function either in a line or as a couple, and you have to rely on feel and balance and move accordingly. Ground handling with the paraglider felt an awful lot like dancing. The glider pulls you in a certain way, so you need to respond accordingly, sort of thing.

When you're taking off, as you run you feel less and less weight on your feet. Next thing you know, you take a step and your foot doesn't touch the ground. You see the ground falling away from you. Then, at some point, you look down. All you can see between you and the ground is your legs dangling beneath you, useless for the time being. Wow.

That's my convoluted and rambling answer to a brief and simple question. Maybe there's a future for me in politics. Vote for Enriched Geranium! He can say nothing for a long time! (Paid for by the Committee to Elect Enriched Geranium.)

To anyone reading this who has an interest in learning to paraglide, I heartily recommend contacting Bill at Flyaway Paragliding. You may need to travel to Colorado or California, but plane tickets can be pretty cheap. You'll have a wonderful time and, if the weather gods smile upon you, you'll get a chance to do some flying. You'll be in the hands of one of the best in the business.

Once again, I'd like to say thank you to Ms. Geranium, my mother, siblings, daughter, and, of course, Bill for the trip and the flying instruction. Now I just need to find a way to do some more of this.

1 comment:

Suzy said...

Once again, you're welcome! Very interesting explanation of the process. I still don't want to do it, but I hope you get a chance to fly again. Funny writing, beeteedub.