For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.
Leonardo da Vinci
I have wanted to hang glide since living in Chattanooga, Tennessee, during my undergraduate years. I used to drive up to Lookout Mountain Flight Park and sit on the running ground where gliders would take off and imagine what it must feel like to fly.
Ironically, I have a fear of heights.
Even now, as I type this securely from my kitchen table, my hands are sweating.
However, I decided once long ago, upon discovering this fear as a kid when I was palm-sweaty, climbing to (what I thought) was the tallest slide in the universe that I would conquer this fear…as it was a silly fear to have in my book. Since then, I have hiked straight up the side of rocks in Yosemite, rappelled and rock climbed all over Tennessee-even yesterday free climbing, hiked the trails at Machu Picchu (yes, 10,000 feet above raging rapids) and even this little story about hang gliding.
Some very amazing and adventurous friends who also traveled to Peru this summer went hang gliding and could not stop talking about it prior to our booking of the flight. They went on and on and on. It rebirthed that desire in me to fly. So, that very afternoon, we booked our tickets.
And that very afternoon, I pushed my fear aside.
The day came, and we set out. It was fall, and beautiful in Tennessee. It was crisp, not too cold and the sun was shining in the sky. We took off and arrived at the top of Lookout Mountain just in time to watch this man fly off for his very first solo flight. He was nervous, and his instructor pep-talked him for a long time. He also had an entire crew of family and supporters there to see him off…that’s not stressful at all. We joined the supporters and waited. He did it. And the result, total peaceful soaring through the sky to the field below. I was in awe.
We went inside, signed away our lives…if we fall and die, we couldn’t sue, etc. And then got prepared to drive to the bottom of the mountain. For a starter tandem flight, you are pulled behind a little one seater plane and lifted to 2,000 feet where the plane disconnects from the glider and you soar alone, glider and all.
At the bottom of the mountain, you spend time watching a training video and putting on your very stylish gear…including a helmet and a gigantic apron looking thing that harnesses into the glider. A flight instructor comes over, you are matched up and walk over to his glider. At the glider, you lay down and the pilot hooks you in and hooks you into him. In front of you, the tiny airplane revs up, and you fly across the field and up! I remember not being scared, just in awe.
(Insert sweaty hands and weak knees here…)
As you fly up and up and up with the plane, things get smaller and smaller and you realize, it is just me, this guy who I just met who is talking about beer a lot and this piece of material and wire up here. Holy $&!+. At 2,000 feet there is a ‘pop’ and you are released from the plane, and the soaring begins.
In the flight instruction video, you are told that you will be given a chance to fly and taught how to fly. You pull in on the bar to go fast and push out to slow down, to turn right, you shift your body right and the opposite is true to go left. Everyone of my crew that had been hang gliding got to fly the glider. Everyone, but me, that is! (Pretty convinced he knew my hands were sweaty and that my choice in words kept him from letting me fly…I couldn’t have hung onto the bar if I wanted to due to my hands dripping with nervousness!)
But, I did it. I flew 2,000 feet above the ground in a contraption made of flimsy material and wire.
And, I will do it again.
There isn’t much that I can say to describe the feeling, except that you must go and experience it for yourself. My guide had been flying for 19 years and told me it still is amazing to him. He still loves it every time he gets up and flies with someone. You soar. You float, you dive towards the earth, you rise up again. It is truly the same as when the birds fly.