Saturday, April 07, 2001


Hang glider pilots are a pretty egotistical bunch. When the conditions suck and a gang of pilots is just sitting around launch shooting the breeze, hoping, usually in vain, that things will get better, the conversation often turns to wings: which ones go fast, which ones are hell to land, which ones kill more people than others. And more than likely, someone will mention paragliders. The consensus is usually the same: Pretty and convenient, but slow, uncontrollable, and deadly when flown even a little out of their limited window of capability. "Bag wings" they call them, condescendingly. Well, being often attracted to pretty and convenient, I've thought about flying paragliders -- and now I find myself with a friend and roommate urging me on and providing equipment. Off to launch...

Jim, his friend Ed, my friend V, and I went out to fly and got shut down by winds that were either too strong or in the wrong direction. So we're sitting around, "parawaiting," and Ed decides it's a good chance to do some "kiting," which is flying the paraglider wing from the ground. I gave it a shot and it was a bit like wrestling with a forty foot aerial jellyfish with an attitude problem. But I've flown two string kites before and it wasn't that different, so I had the wing up and flying OK, enough to encourage me to want some air under my feet. The wind died down a little and we went back up to launch. Still blowing way to hard for me to want any part of it, but Jim figured he and V would be OK on the tandem, so he set up. Ooops. Forty foot parachute in a twenty MPH wind, with stronger gusts. Heh, and he asks me to hold him and V as the safety anchor as they get ready.

"Sure." I say.

Next thing I know the wind hits like a daemon, a wingtip inflates, and all three of us are off our feet faster than I can blink. As I'm flying over the rocky ground, holding on by the fingers of one hand, I have just enough time to think about at just what altitude I should let go, leave the party, and let Jim and V fend for themselves:

"Well, I'll be letting them down, or rather, up, if I just let go right away."

"And V, what will she think if I just let her butt go bouncing along the ground?"

"Not very chivalrous."

"Fuck chivalry, I want to live!" "OK, OK, keep holding on -- but ten feet above the ground and I'm out of here, girl's bruised butt or no."

Funny that I found myself contemplating ethics, social repurcusions, and anything other than immediate personal safety as I was getting uncontrollably dragged across the ground at high velocity. Odd creatures, us monkeys. Anyway, the gust abated and we all came to a stop. "Gee, that was fun." "Yeah, can we do that again?" We packed it in and went home with our ration of adrenaline.

You'd think that would have turned me off paragliding, wouldn't you?

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