By Russ Towne
When I was in my thirties a friend invited my sons and I to go with him to an introductory hang-gliding session. Ordinarily that would have been just about the last thing in the world I’d have thought to do, but he was a careful fellow. He said he’d checked it out and looked safe, so my son Brian and I decided to participate.
Our adventure started in a classroom. We were instructed on hang-glide basics, the gliders themselves, safety equipment, and how to safely use them. Then we were shown an inspirational video showing how easy and exhilarating hang-gliding can be. It looked like a wonderful experience. I was excited but nervous, and hoped the butterflies in my stomach would help to keep me airborne.
The instructors drove us to a field with a couple of small hills, one was perhaps only ten to twelve feet tall, and the other was two or three times taller. The hills created natural updrafts, a handy thing when hang-gliding. We donned our helmets and watched as the instructors unfolded and set up the hang-gliders.
We started from the smaller hill. A couple of other newbies went first. It didn’t look so hard! Then it was my turn. A jumble of thoughts swirled in my head, “Don’t screw up! This is going to be fun! I hope I have enough insurance! I’ve never had a broken bone before, but if I do break something I hope it’s not my neck! Man, this hang-glider sure looks flimsy! Would you butterflies please settle down, I’m trying to concentrate?!”
It was time. The moment of truth. I took a deep breath and stepped off the hill…and flew! It was exhilarating. The cool crisp wind brushed my face and gently whipped at my clothes as the ground rushed beneath me. I made a perfect landing on my feet. I loved everything about the flight.
It was so fun and easy I got cocky. I figured the next flight would be longer if I started from the larger hill. I mentioned my bright idea to an instructor, but he suggested I continue launching from the shorter hill for “a bit longer.” It proved to be a wise precaution.
My next flight didn’t go so well. A gust of air unexpectedly shot me an extra eight or ten feet into the air, and just as I began to get used to the higher (and scarier) elevation I hit a downdraft or air pocket and plunged just as fast downward. The ground rushed toward me at an alarming rate. I panicked and over-corrected. Bad mistake! I crash landed. Hard. And not on my feet. Let’s just say I knew it would be painful to sit down for at least a few days afterwards.
As an added bonus, my friend’s wife and mine arrived with our younger children just in time to see my embarrassing and painful crash!
My son flew like a bird and my friend flew well most of the time. For my remaining “flights” that day I ended up hang-bouncing, hang-dragging, and hang-crashing. I bounced like a rubber ball while being dragged across the field before crashing like a petrified rock. I did everything BUT hang-glide!
At the end of the day I wasn’t sure what was banged up more, my body or my pride. It was an experience I’ll never forget or ever repeat, but I learned and/or was reminded about several valuable lessons that day:
Getting cocky can be a painful mistake!
A wise man knows his limitations.
Hang-gliding is one of my limitations.
Not all adventures turn out well.
I didn’t give up in the face of repeated failure and painful crashes, but I also didn’t feel the need to go out and do it again the next day.
Panic often leads to painful results. (I just noticed that the first four letters of the words “panic” and “pain” are the same. Coincidence? I don’t think so!)
I greatly prefer to fly with a contraption that has at least one engine, and preferably four.
The pull of gravity can be painful.
An hour in a Jacuzzi with friends and family can work wonders on bruises of the body and ego.