This morning offered southerly wind of moderate strength and minimal gustiness. “Let’s go look at the edge”, Ben said before I could strap into my harness. We walked over and I took it in.
“Yours if you want it,” he remarked matter-of-factly.
As the nature of this morning’s lesson plan became evident I felt a familiar nausea creep in, not a bad one, but rather what I have come over the years to think of as the sweet spot of nausea, an electric intensity and hyper awareness that is slightly unpleasant but well short of dry heaves and indicative of my being appropriately dialed into the stakes at hand. We walked back to our vehicles where Ben pulled out some new “equipment” and attached it to my harness.
I hooked into my harness, connected the wing, then walked over to an area a little shy of the edge. I practiced reverse inflations and kiting while Ben helped another student get ready. The inflations felt natural like they had for the first time yesterday evening which inspired confidence. After about fifteen minutes, and under Ben’s close supervision (to include one last chance equipment check) , I spun forward and began creeping up to the edge with the wing swaying gently in the breeze. At 0856 I made the go decision.
For perspective I took some photos near the bottom of the hill at the end of the day. My launch point was slightly to the left of the flag at the top of the hill about a fifth of the way into the frame.
After traveling into the wind roughly with the hill’s fall line for a few moments I began banking rightward to follow the contour of the hill. I maintained an aiming point of the far end of the hill while waiting to clear an oncoming pilot passing inside and then adjusted my aiming point to the distant turbines.
As I approached the end of the hill I began banking leftward for a ~135 degree turn to establish a base leg for which the bright blue Porta Potty would serve as aiming point. I had to work hard for this turn and I recall it being the most intense moment of the experience. A little ways into this leg I heard the radio crackle and Ben say “this should look familiar”. I rode this leg down to a reasonable distance from the ground and then swung rightward for the final approach aligned with the wind. After my flare I recall landing in a trajectory slightly flatter than I wanted but nonetheless smoothly enough that a gentle trot was all I needed upon contact. I was initially too gobsmacked after touchdown to remember to keep running to maintain inflation for a clean turnaround and deflation, but… minor detail. I needed a sufficiently long moment to ponder what I had just done that I almost missed the cart ride back to the top of the mountain.
For reasons too numerous and complex, maybe even for me to fully understand unconsciously, I felt quite emotional on the return trip.
When I reconnected with Ben at the top I blurted out “I can’t think of a more amazing experience in four decades of living” which he made a point of immediately tapping into his phone for the official transcripts. As I reflected on what was likely in second place I came up with my first multi-pitch outdoor climb from a decade earlier in Utah but I did not speculate on how distant a second that might be.
“What do you want to do next?”, Ben asked. “I think ‘do nothing’ might be a good idea,” I mused as I drank in the view from the top and reflected on what I had just accomplished. “It’s good not to be greedy,” he replied.