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Aug 16

Written by: Sara and Seth
8/16/2011 8:36 AM 

Because some of us have to go to World's for hang gliding in Italy to fly, eat mouth-watering pizzas and drink fine wine (jealous), and others of us have to go back to Colorado for a month of reconnecting with friends and family in the high alpine summers of the Rocky Mountains (okay, that's not so bad either), I found myself back in Missoula, Montana last week after almost 5 solid weeks of not touching a hang glider.

By my last training hill session pre-vacation, I was starting to feel better about the task at hand... which was not unexpected as the instruction and learning process to date had not only been pragmatic, but also enjoyable.  In about four sessions at the hill, I'd gone from the bottom of the hill speed workout sessions reminiscent of high school athletics (but more fun):


To the more rollercoaster ride runs from the top of the hill...  

With plenty of this inbetween...

And thankfully none of this (knock on wood):

Luckily, if ever there was a sport that benefited from visualization practices, hang gliding seems to be it!  Long gone are the days when the thought of flying doesn't cross my mind when I look up at the sky, and the nights where I'm not flying around in my dreams.  The mantras that you ingest in life come to you from the things repeated over and over to you, until they're being repeated over and over IN you... your body AND your mind recognize it as the thing you should be doing.  And with hang gliding I've noticed exactly the same.

This year, I've had two incredible instructors this year teaching me to fly. Because of Jeff's patience and practiced calmness on the training hill, I ended up not having that many more sessions after getting back to Missoula.  Calm up top, power below, gaze outward, wings level, nose down, light touches, small adjustments... It all came back pretty quick!

Last Thursday morning, I got "dismissed" from the training hill, and the plans for my first foot launch began to evolve for the weekend.  And amazingly enough, what was nerve-wracking to me all of a sudden wasn't the idea of foot launching, but actually the thought of flying!  Would it all come back to me?  Would I remember how to set up my landings?  What if I couldn't see which way the flags were blowing?  What would it be like to land the glider somewhere else besides Wallaby Ranch?

Rather than freak out about it, I realized that this week had taught me some really great lessons in the power of muscle memory and mantras... and that probably, without too much struggle, I could pull these both out of the ethers from my experience at Wallaby months ago.  Lucky for me, my time learning to fly has been nothing short of "well-documented", so I spent a solid bit of time looking through photos and GoPro shots from the Ranch that might trigger in me anything that would enhance my memory around flying.  And to that end, I did find quite a few clues:

Malcolm Jones... the voice of reason in my head.  The one that tells me to "Be on it." 

My first tandem flight, and initial lessons with Malcolm, that reminded me of all the time and repetition put in to flying before I even had my first solo, let alone thermaled for the first time.


My first ground school sessions under the massive oak trees at Wallaby Ranch, where I learned about speeds to fly, thermal formations, wind directions, landing approaches and towing techniques.


Notes from ground school with Mike Barber - which were a combo of diagrams and one liners that I found hysterical.

Even better than the photos that reminded me of the technical side of things, were those that reminded me of how it felt to be at the ranch and let a new sport and new community in to my life:


How it felt to see the ranch for the first time during Wills Wing Demo Days.


Working out the early morning kinks in the body as the mist and fog settles in to another beautiful, buttery, blue-skied day. (aka... "Gettin' burly early," as I've learned.)


Getting to know and respect the rockstar qualities of everyone on the ranch... especially the tug pilot, Paul... and knowing how cool it was that at the other end of the day, when everyone was tired of talking about flying, we'd all pick up instruments and jam together.


Celebratory rides on golf carts...


That followed first solos...


Celebrating new anniversaries (4.11.11!!!)


Enjoying simple passtimes.


And getting air time however you can.

It's hard not to look back on that month at Wallaby and not feel immediately elated from the whole gift of an experience... And thankfully, it's just as easy to realize that the flying - for me, at least - is linked as much to my own childhood dreams of flying as it is to the community that supports me in learning how.  How cool is that?

Needless to say the first footlaunch ended up going just fine.  While my nerves tried to get the better of me at launch on Tarkio, resulting in hang glider calisthenics (up, down... up, down...), Jeff Shapiro, Chris Gibbish, and Seth Warren were the perfect companions to have along: fellow pilots, mentors and friends.  I might have blacked out for the first few seconds of the launch, but the familiar feeling of being airborne snapped me right back to the moment - clarity, calmness and bliss.  The fly down was all too short, but as the sun set on our LZ and we celebrated with beers, I couldn't have had more appreciation for the people in the last few months who have lifted me up, and for the sky that has held me there.


Tarkio, Montana.


Seth Warren getting the cameras ready in the LZ.  His system was to set up one in the LZ, drive up to the launch, put two cameras on my glider and one on a tripod, fly off first and get to the camera in the LZ, and then film me launching.  THAT is extreme filming... talk about dedication.


Seats of honor in the back of "The Charger," the little-van-that-could that drove us all up to launch.


Standing on launch... and standing some more... Contemplating life and good times.


Finally in the air, and the first time in this harness!  Loved it.


Gliders were broken down and loaded on The Charger just in time to watch the last bit of color dash across the sky.  Gotta love the Big Sky state :)

Copyright ©2011 Sara and Seth


8 comment(s) so far...

Wallaby Ranch

Sara, You probably don't remember me, but I had the pleasure of meeting you when you were at Wallaby Ranch. I am one of the Connecticut guys who were there your 3rd week. I'm glad I found you online because I have to tell you a little story I didn't get a chance to tell you at Wallaby. On Thursday of your 3rd week there, I was in front of you on the launch line and you were telling me how awesome Colorado is and how I should go there someday. Do you remember? Anyway, about a half hour after I launched, I was sinking out over the south side of the field, down to about 1000 feet and getting frustrated. That manic-depressive side you talked about in your recent article was definitely beginning to lash out. Then I happened to notice you about 200 feet to the west of me shooting up like a rocket over the orange grove. Mind you, I've been flying for 20 years. And I thought to myself, "Now look at that H2 chick making me look bad." But in a moment of shameless greed for altitude, I, the 20-year veteran, followed the lead of the 3-week old infant pilot and shot up to 5200 feet! An hour later I landed a few miles away in a cow field (totally irrelevant, but the cows kept moving and messing me up). It was an awesome flight! I tried to find you on the ground later that day to tell you about it but I couldn't find you, and I left for home the next morning. But I owe you a thank big thank you for a great save and for my best flight of the week. It was a pleasure sharing the sky with you that day. You are a talented pilot.

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