On the sixth of January in 2022, with a couple of simple sledders at Point Of The Mountain’s southside, I broke an unintended weather-driven one month flying slump that had been increasingly stressing me out but which with the benefit of hindsight I can now see as a blessing in disguise.
I had, you see, found out on the first of January that I had nabbed a slot in a Colombia paragliding tour a couple of weeks hence to which my succession of reactions approximated “yay!” (I get to go!) quickly followed by “fuhhhhhk!” (I haven’t flown in forever!).
I didn’t yet appreciate that a month-long break was just what I needed, a respite from continually rubbing at the wound of a festering fear injury, and I couldn’t yet know that the tour would throughly rekindle a joy I had cruelly lost nine months earlier.
Fast forward to November of 2022. I buy a new wing (Gin Fuse 3 37m) and harness (Advance Impress 4 L). That act feels like a huge milestone, a concrete recommitment to the sport of paragliding, and I’m stoked to take my flying to the next level with fresh gear. Annnnnd then I don’t fly at all in either November or December because the weather was garbage (unless you like skiing!) and a zany end-of-year push with work projects eclipsed what few opportunities to fly existed…
Fast forward to yesterday, the seventh of January in 2023, and I find myself in a different yet all too familiar situation, wondering if I’m going to be headed back to Colombia not just really rusty but also with a bunch of untested gear. The forecast had seemed ideal but after a very brief window first thing in the morning (that I missed!) a thick fog rolled over the hill and then the winds got very strong. As the day played out the conditions stayed crack-a-lackin’ and so when I realized my window was closing I made my way to the bottom of POTM-SS with the thought I would kite up from there and at least get in a simple sledder that would, if nothing else, let me test out basic gear geometry and wing-feel. And so I slogged across a mud and water filled lower parking lot and setup for the slip-and-slide of an only slightly less gross “Training Hill” kite-and-fly.
Eventually, growing weary of the mud-and-slush fest and sensing a continually weakening wind, with low expectations I made one final reverse inflation and went for a launch, with the succession of thought bubbles looking roughly like…
“Man, it would be great to finally get a first flight on my Fuse before leaving for Colombia in a week.”
“Ugh, so much water, slush, and mud.”
“Well, here we go, at least a sledder will let me test some things.”
“Hrm, maybe this will at least be an extended sledder.”
“BWAHAHAHA! Look at all those people down below me.”
“Ok, don’t be an idiot and get blown over the back because your wing has a sink rate to make others jealous.”
“Ok, my wing wants to stay up forever, but I’m getting cold and it would be nice to still feel my feet and hands when I am trying to land.”
There were a few interesting moments…
I recall being toward the west end, staring off into the setting sunset, blurting out “ohhhhhh myyyyy gawwwwwwd” while laughing like an idiot and adopting a stupid grin, followed by an admonition from some part of my brain that felt like “enjoy yourself but don’t bliss out”. In general aviation good practice stipulates “sterile cockpit procedures” when below a certain altitude and/or within a certain distance of an airport. When engaged in “ridge soaring” in free flight you are spending that entire experience within the danger zone and are well advised to be game-face-on the whole time.
On maybe three or four occasions, riding 100′ or more above the next closest pilot, I got slapped by substantial turbulence, punctuation marks amongst what was otherwise butter smooth air. First you feel it, then you hear it, then (if you’re doing it right) you see it. On each such occasion I felt my neck snap backward and my eyes swivel upward, my hands and hips responding before I could consider things consciously and then evolving the approach as I received visual data. On one such occasion I perceived that I had caught my wing wanting to frontal and then saw it snap backward in my field of view. I responded by throwing my hands upward instantly to prevent oscillatory drama. How wonderful to feel that your body and mind are seeking the right data and responding judiciously in a timely fashion.
I never felt fear, per se, just a deep and undivided focus on the task at hand. I know of no other activity so fully absorbing. To fear flying while your feet are on the ground is healthy. To fear it while in the air, though, is debilitating and dangerous, a sign that you need to fix something.
Last year, as I prepared to go to Colombia for the first time, I was full of dread, wondering how I would roll a giant boulder over a hill, wondering if it was even possible. Today I am focused instead on fine tuning an assortment of details. What a difference a year can make.
In times not so long ago, on my Nova Bion 2, I struggled with kite-and-fly scenarios such as the one described. With some regularity I would feel my toes getting tugged off the ground in a not entirely voluntary transition to flight and then I would fail to insinuate myself into the lift band. Yesterday, however, everything just flowed naturally and played awesomely.
What made the difference? Was it a more skilled pilot? A pilot in a better head space? Better gear? Newer gear? Just dumb luck? We don’t get to know. We never get to know. We tell ourselves stories about why things played the way they did but in the end it’s likely all just Narrative Fallacy. Thus ever we struggle in ignorance in all of life’s matters.
Press on anyway…