Friday, November 03, 2006

Getting ready

This is Eric. My Monday hang gliding instructor. Before we went up, I asked him to pose for a picture, and to please look as confident and professional as possible, so I could show my husband once I got home that he could trust this process. It seemed important to me, somehow.

This is how Eric responded, wringing his hands and saying something like, "Oh, man. I haven't done this very much. I sure hope I don't mess up. Oh, man."

His laid-back attitude seemed par for the course with most of the people I met who were regulars at hang gliding. Not that they didn't take safety seriously, but they just seemed to really enjoy what they were doing. And I can see why!

When I originally thought of hang gliding, I assumed I would be jumping off the edge of a mountain somewhere. While it seemed daunting, it also seemed like a wonderful thing to do. And while that is an option for trained hang gliders, it's not an option for beginners at Lookout Mountain. I did have to drive to the top of the mountain, go to the office, and read and fill out the necessary papers.

Which means I had to walk by the launch ramp. And to be honest, once I saw that, I was very glad that I wouldn't be jumping off it anytime soon! Here is the office, and you can see just the begining of the ramp to the right. (You can see "Lookout Mountai" etched in concrete.)

And here it is from the side. It's 1300 feet above the valley below. "Daunting" does not begin to describe the way I thought of it once I saw it. I've always been one to go pretty close to the edge of a cliff, but this ramp with its purposeful slope and no true "edge," put the fear of heights in me perhaps for the first time.

Much less daunting, then, was driving back down to the valley, onto a huge green field where everyone's feet were on the ground. I took a turn into the wrong parking lot, which led me to meet Walter, who is a friend of our friend Keith, an avid hang glider. And it turned out Walter, from Arkansas, knew Chris, from my hometown, who was there that very day. And when I met him, it turned out that he had actually done some remodeling work for my sister. Small world!

So by this time I was feeling pretty much in good hands already, making so many personal connections.

I watched an instructional video, filled out another form saying I understood various things related to what we would be doing, and soon it was my turn.

I had spent time thinking about what I would wear for this adventure. Since we were going 4,000 feet up, I knew I had to dress warmly. And I wanted to wear something that had some significance for me. And, yes, I wanted to look nice, because I had paid to have pictures made.

Well, the warm part mattered. And I was glad to have crosses from some special people in my pocket, kind of a way to share the experience.

But as for how I looked, it just didn't matter! You wear a helmet (of course, but I had never even thought about that), and they put you in this big harness that is rather complicated with wires and straps. I had to have help to get into it without falling over. As you will see in a picture yet to come, my attire hardly mattered (except for warmth.)

So, the glider was attached to an airplane by a long rope. And we were both attached to the glider by these harness contraptions.

People ask if I wasn't scared to do this. The truth is, walking up near the launch ramp was scary to me. But taking off from the ground like this, with this obviously not nervous Eric in charge, I didn't feel scared. Excited, yes. Eager, yes. A little nervous just not knowing exactly how it would be, yes. But it really wasn't scary.

Like many things in life, the not knowing was scarier than the actual doing.

Tune in next time for take-off.


Carolinagirl said...

It's great that you had the courage for this adventure. When my cadets head off to airborne school, I always tease them about keeping both feet on the ground. That's my preference on a daily basis. A few years ago, my sister decided to take-up sky diving. I'm not sure when the last time was that she made a jump, but that's something I'd never choose to do. Kudos to you for having the adventerous side to do something like this.

Sheila said...

Yeah, skydiving has never appealed to me. Especially not after Tuesday's "dive" with Rex. I like the gliding, floating, and being able to see things differently. It's a very gentle kind of beauty once you're up.

Lisa said...

So, where's the picture of you all gussied up and ready to fly? :-)

Sheila said...

Oops! When I wrote about that picture, I thought I'd post it. But for some reason it wouldn't let me post. It was late, and I didn't go back to check what I'd written.

I've edited the text now, and the picture will come, probably tomorrow night. I'm off to a women's retreat this afternoon.

Anonymous said...

You will surely enjoy the videos at

Sheila said...

Thanks, anonymous! The Rio de Janiero video is something. (If anyone else watches it, I recommend turning off the sound to get more a feel for the peacefulness of gliding.)

Lawrence Underwood said...


Oh, wait this isn't about skydiving.

Sheila, I'm thrilled for you. Remind me to tell you about my home-made hang gliding escapade that almost happened at Bee Rock. Or, then again maybe I should keep my lips sealed.