Sunday, May 15, 2011

Up, Up and…Down

Unless you have been sequestered to a hole in the ground for the last year or so, you are aware of the group coupon sensation Groupon.  I get a daily e-mail showing me the “Deal of the Day.”  A lot of it is for local restaurants or service industries, such as house cleaning, massages and car detailing.  Occasionally things come along that allow you to add a new experience in your life.  That day came along last fall.  My daily e-mail came to me enticing me with a beginner hang gliding lesson.  I couldn’t resist.  I clicked on the “Buy Now” and forgot about it.

About mid-February I got an update e-mail from Groupon reminding me to use the coupons I had bought.  On the list, along with a car detailing service coupon, which I am waiting for the pollen invasion to end before using, I saw the hang gliding coupon.  It had an expiration date towards the end of April.  I also had my China trip at the beginning of April, so I called and scheduled my hang gliding experience right after getting back from China.  That always sounds like a good idea before my trip, but after the trip I am usually so tired and worn out that I wonder what I was thinking.

The day came and I headed out past Mechanicsville to Blue Sky Hang gliding.  It was a cool, clear morning with a lot of dew on the ground.  I wondered how we were going to learn to hang glide when I couldn’t see a hill higher than 10 feet around.  All I saw was a wheat field growing and a long stretch of grass that was the runway. 

After watching Steve setup the hang gliders, I got fit into a harness and signed the waiver.  Then I signed some more, initialed here and there, signed a couple more places that mentioned that it was a hazardous sport, death was possible, blah, blah, blah.  Initial here, here, here and here, then sign at the bottom.  Out to the runway for ground school.  Another couple showed up partway through ground school and the explanation of how to control the glider in flight. 

Out on the runway, sitting next to the glider was a simple setup, consisting of a moped bolted to a small trailer with wheel chocks under the trailer.   The rear wheel was replaced with a spoon of cord that went all the way down the runway to a pulley and then all the way back to the hang glider.  This cable would then be hooked to my harness and the hang glider. 

After a little more instruction I was hooked up to the cable, lifted the glider then called “All clear” and started to run.  I only took about a step before the cable was pulling me and the glider down the runway as I was running to keep up.  Two steps and the glider was lifting itself.  A few more steps and my feet were treading air.  I was flying!  Or gliding as it may be.  Either way, I was off the ground and sailing through the air.  Now I’m going right, pull my weight to the left.  Now I’m going left, pull my weight to the right.  Now left, now right, now left.  I’m off the runway, here comes the ground!

Luckily there are wheels on these gliders, so if you don’t get your feet underneath you, the glider will land and roll without flipping.  And I was only about 5-10 feet off the ground.  Of course, the harness and my chest was a pretty effective mop to soak up the dew where I landed.

The other couple each took a turn and then I was up again.  There was an orange cone placed down at the end of the runway.  That was our target, our goal to reach.  I the next few hours I had several more glides down the runway.  One ended up in the wheat field, which held a lot more dew than the grass.  My last run I made it.  All the way down the runway to the cone.  I landed to the left of the runway, but I was at the end. 

After this experience, I have to say that people that learn to hang glide off cliffs are nuts, or suicidal!  The glider was much more difficult to control than I anticipated, and was glad they didn’t tow me way up into the sky and let me go.  If there is a sane way to learn to hang glide, this was it.  Was it fun?  You bet it was.  Would I do it again?  I’m not sure.  It would take a lot of lessons before I would be comfortable to be towed 500 feet up into the air and then released to search for the thermals that would take me up to thousands of feet.  I would have to be pretty committed to the sport and serious about learning it.  Was it worth it?  With a Groupon that took the price from $99 to $49, ABSOLUTELY!

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