I realized that today marks one month since starting in earnest this paragliding adventure subsequent to resettling to Utah. What a month it has been.
After giving my knees a couple of days to recuperate (but also bashing my shin in a mild mountain biking crash) I welcomed a promising forecast and headed to southside for some aerial frivolity. Ultimately the wind proved sufficiently strong and gusty that, in concert with some rust, my first few inflation attempts were a hot mess, though not so dramatic as my final one on my previous day (no cars were harmed in the making of this episode). After a lot of frustration during which I wondered if I would get my act together I eventually had an inflation that left some nice skid marks and stabilized. Managing a tandem wing in this kind of wind provides a lot of challenge and I appreciated Ben’s nuanced approach to letting me struggle as much as possible without failing to make it to the ledge for a launch.
Once I got going I was really in for a treat. For the first time in my training I found a confluence of wind and skill that allowed me to execute a figure-eight traffic pattern and attain a soaring altitude substantially higher than my launching altitude. I performed several laps that brought me maybe 100 feet over the top of the hill and offered some solid practice on executing turns while negotiating traffic and maintaining a safe relationship with the hill. I got my first opportunity to feel how releasing brake pressure under the right circumstances could not merely extend a glide but allow me to strategically climb to much greater heights to avoid obstacles and other pilots.
At some point during my circuits Ben offered the observation that I appeared to be performing two ninety degree turns instead of a single smooth 180 degree turn. I thus began holding my turns more steadily and then bleeding off some bank maybe 20 degrees shy of turn completion in a way that felt familiar from my powered flight training. This felt so much better. What a sensation to be gently but surely tugged around by the wing. So addictive.
Some part of me wanted to stay aloft forever in a Zen state while all my worldly troubles faded to a distant memory. Certainly the wind was happy to oblige but after maybe 15 minutes of this I aimed downhill and began soaring toward the road at the edge of the parking lot. It was surreal to still be so aloft by the time I approached it. As I reached the road I banked ~135 degrees leftward to begin cheating back toward the hill, then briefly adopted a perpendicular track, then swung rightward perhaps ~225 degrees until I was aimed at the training hill, then finally banked 90 degrees leftward to acquire my final approach in the parking lot. It all felt so natural. I planked my body to extend the “landing gear”, said “not today” to an assortment of cross-gusts, touched down respectably close to the aiming point tarp on the ground, made contact with a speed and gait that allowed a handful of strides to stabilize the wing, then spun around to deflate it. And, yeah, I pulled the wrong cable and deflated it a bit lopsided because by this point my brain had melted.
What an amazing experience. What a sense of reward coming on the heels of so much work. I have so much to learn, so many things to perfect, but the return on investment has really surged in the past couple of weeks.
This evening the northside seemed to have some potential but in the end it couldn’t quite deliver. Ben asserted that I was ready for a launch from that side, having demonstrated my spot landing abilities, but the wind was weak and fickle, and my skill at exploiting such conditions sufficiently marginal, that this will be a milestone for another day. How ridiculously privileged I am that this is what counts as disappointment.