Tuesday, April 17, 2001

Daydreams



The weather forecast clearly stated: "Strong winds," "Approaching storm."

"Lets go fly!" says Jim.

Why oh why do I find it so hard to refuse that which is so obviously threatening to my health and sanity? Have my genes determined that after a million years of evolution they simply want to go no further?

"Sure, I'm up for it."

We piled the paragliders into the Suburu and headed for Daydreams. It's a beautiful spot. Absolutely breathtaking. The ridge rises directly from the edge of the lake -- pine trees and rocky peaks stretching out in both directions to surround the blue water in a cold embrace.

We met up with Hanza and Keith on launch. They were both pretty high already, without having left the ground. But they were suited up and ready to go. Hanza launched first, an experienced if somewhat reckless pilot flying the fastest paraglider on the market. Then Keith got his kite up and went. Then Jim and I climbed into our harnesses, took two steps under the wing, and up.

The paragliding experience was a lot like hang gliding, so I didn't deal with any of the shock of the new that most first time paraglider pilots probably get. But when I took the controls it was obvious I wasn't in Kansas anymore. The beast was about as responsive as a twenty year old deaf arthritic mule. I'd pull the toggle, and hum a little tune to myself before the thing entered a turn. And, of course, the pitch control was even worse: pretty much non existent.

But, man, what a view. And it was comfortable, sitting in a cushy little chair a thousand feet over the lake, looking out over everything from a perch in the sky.

Hanza flew over and bumped wings with us a few times. I was freaking -- as this would be catastrophic if performed in a hang glider, but is apparently a common form of playful antagonization amongst paragliders.

We flew around for an hour, and it was damn fun. So much fun that we didn't notice the wind picking up.

Keith, in a decent but not so fast paraglider, was scratching for the landing zone, a small beach edged by tall trees, but not making much progress. We saw what was going on then -- basically that we were spending an uncomfortable amount of time unable to beat the headwind, and in grave danger of getting blown backwards over the ridge and into big big trouble. We made a bee line for the LZ. Only, I think bee's tend to make faster progress -- we were crawling.

Keith wasn't going to make it. All the options were bad: pine tree forest everywhere, residences scattered here and there between trees, busy highway, lots of power lines -- none of them particularly friendly to anyone wanting to land on them. Keith descended towards a tiny boulder strewn field adjacent to the highway. We watched from the air as we contemplated our own bad options and scratched for the LZ. Keith was about fifty feet over the deck when his wing did a very unhappy dance. It folded over a couple of times, bunched up, and helicoptered violently -- stuck in a rotor spinning off the nearby trees and structures -- as he consummated his flirtation with the earth.

We hoped he wasn't too badly injured, and contemplated our coming fate.

It was so close I get cold sweats just thinking about it. We barely made progress -- tucked in and toggled out, maxing speed at 25 against a headwind occasionally gusting to 30. But we were getting there. Only, according to the glide path we were on -- we were going to come down either on the shops or the highway. Bad bad bad. But we got a puff of lift coming over the trees on the inland side of the highway, and headed for a gap in the trees with the hope of making the beach.

I thought we were toast. Gonna hit a rotor off those trees, get wrapped up in the lines like a bug stuck in spaghetti, pendulum of a snagged tree branch and get hurled into traffic from thirty feet above the road. But we made it through the gap, barely a couple of meters between wing tips and branches, passed over a basketball game in progress, and touched down on sand with ridiculously little room to spare.

We were happy to be alive, and knew exactly how close we had come. Damn lucky. So instead of massive injuries, we got a beautiful flight and even our picture run in the Tahoe World News:

Next week I fly solo. ;)

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