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June 22nd, 2010

This is my first entry in this (or any) Wiki. I'll start by telling you a little about myself and my desire to fly.

As a young girl I fell in love with the outdoors. My father was not the best man in the world, but we adored each other. He had been a Marine and a Lieutenant in the local police force (his father was chief of police) before I was born and a carpenter and handyman for the town's borough hall after. He taught me how to live outdoors and how to respect it as well. He taught me sports, camping and carpentry and how to get things done. He also taught me to brush it off if I got hurt and wasn't missing any important bits. He taught me how to be a boy.

My mother got me sailing and cello lessons, taught me how to read, to love reading and to love learning and slept in the car when my dad dragged her out camping. She dressed me up and taught me how to be a girl. I didn't learn that lesson very well, but she did a damn good job trying.

I spent many hours in the top branches of a big old dogwood we had out back that was taller than the house napping in the sun or reading a book. That I learned from my cats.

I have always loved anything that would get my blood pumping. Every year of my childhood parents took me down the shore to visit my mother's father and his wife. My parents always took me to the boardwalk where I would ride the roller coasters for hours. I always begged to go on the bungee jumps and tandem swings, but they were off limits. When I saw my first hang glider pilot flying overhead it took my breath away. I begged to be allowed to do that, but it was too dangerous, I was too young, it was too expensive, etc.

After my father died when I was a teenager I needed to find new sources of excitement for myself. As I grew up I discovered rock climbing, white water rafting, archery, guns (yes, I'm a 4'11" woman from NJ who knows her way around damn near any gun you hand her - you can pick your jaw up now), backpacking, taking zip line tours and other such things. Hang gliding was always in the back of my mind as something I would love to do, but I never really even thought it was possible. It was one of those unobtainable dreams like climbing Mt. Everest; unless you're wealthy and willing to dedicate years of your life to training for the mere possibility of getting to the top, it isn't really feasible.

In October of 2008 all of the activities I loved most were taken away. A man made a left turn right in front of me. We collided head on at approximately 40mph. I sustained a shoulder injury and had bulging in 6 out of 7 of my cervical vertebrae with some heavy spinal compression. I spent months on heavy narcotic pain killers and when I couldn't stand taking them any longer I started therapy with a chiropractor 3 times a week. 8 or 9 months later, the mind-numbingly awful headaches I had experienced since the accident abated a great deal and the chiropractor released me from his care. I signed up at a local gym and started exercising regularly, running and lifting light weights, doing yoga and I even bought new rock climbing equipment and started climbing again.

Several weeks into this all of my pain came back full force, like I had never even gotten treatment. The same treatments that had worked for me before now had no effect. I found another orthopaedic physician who put me on a new treatment regimen that seems to be working so far.

Several months later, each day is getting a little better and I’m slowly increasing my activity level and hoping for the best. Unfortunately I still cannot do many of the things I love doing most, so I started doing some research into what I could do. Hang gliding popped up and I started researching it heavily, following forums and reading any material I could get my hand... er, mouse on. I was blown away by the level of support, generosity and the overall quality of people hang gliding attracted.

Since I found out just how doable flying is the desire has been consuming my thoughts. I’ve been itching to get started but trying desperately to be patient so I can save up enough to be able to buy my own glider by the time I’m nearing the end of my training.

It is agonizing to think it may take months for me to be ready to fly. All the same, I’m going to make it a point to take the trip to the launches so I can watch and meet some of the pilots in person.

I'm fortunate to have a patient and supportive husband. He is presently gearing up to go into the Army as an Officer and so won't be joining me in my pursuit just yet. He wants to wait until he finishes Basic and OCS to start training. All the same, he's still my cheerleader ;)

I can’t wait till I get to match up my dream flights with some real ones, but in the mean time I look forward to meeting some of you this weekend or next.

Don't worry, I'll bring beer.

First Flight Lesson

June 27th, 2010

Saturday, June 26th, 2010 I took my first hang gliding lesson with Bryon & Justin of Fly High Hang Gliding in Ellenville, NY.

I got up before 05:00 and left my house a little after 06:00. I began my journey with my husband Ryan and we shortly found out that Google Maps lied. It was off by 30-40 minutes and more than 50 miles. The trip in total was over 200 miles and more than 3.5 hours.

By the end of the day I had cracked a toenail that I may very well lose, both of my ankles were swollen and bruised, I got sunburned and so bloody hot I was sweating in places I didn't know I had sweat glands and I've got some serious T-shirt lines going. This morning I woke up and found that I am sore all over - particularly in my neck and shoulders and back and legs and...


Worth every bloody minute of the journey and every bruise and ache I have. The short time I was actually in the air was even more incredible than I had hoped.

I could easily babble on about it, but I'll start at the beginning:

When we got there Ryan mostly hung out in the shade and watched (he did not take a lesson - he was my cheerleader for the day and my driver on the way home) while I filled out paperwork with a few other new students. The other students and I started our ground handling lessons and found out just how difficult it is to balance a glider on your shoulders and run like hell on flat ground. This wasn't even a true glider... it was a training glider that was modified to make it even lighter and easier to learn on.

Throughout the day the sun got hotter and the exercises got harder. When we progressed up to the training hill after a while I watched the other female student get a good start and take off for a nice landing at the bottom. After that one of male students went. He got a good running start and got picked up off the ground only to hold on for dear life to the down tubes and sink like a rock for a landing directly onto his crotch.

I volunteered to go next.

From a little ways up the hill I felt the breeze coming towards me and angled myself into the wind by checking the streamers out in the field. Bryon and Justin helped me balance the glider and get my nose to the right height while I took a deep breath and focused on the point they told me to use as reference. When I was ready I gave the requisite ready & clear. As I was running I tried to keep focused on the point I was aiming for as well as pulling with the harness and not pushing the tubes and how the glider felt and the angle of attack and making sure I wasn't gripping the tubes tightly and had them in the right position and about a million other things. A few steps in Bryon tripped and lost his grip and just like that I was airborne.

Just like that I fell in love.

I sailed up so my feet were about eye level with the instructors' heads and felt the complete and utter wonder at being held completely aloft by nothing more than some aluminum, fabric and air currents. I flew forward several feet and heard the flare command and obliged, which was difficult because somewhere along the line I had gotten my hands a bit far out in front of me. All the same the glider obediently lifted up, stalled and placed me gently down on my feet.

There is a distinct possibility I pulled a smiling muscle.

The wind conditions were far from optimal after lunch and I wiped out several times (as did everyone else). All the same it was fun anyway. I had a few more good sled runs and even landed one more great one.

We got to see a few pilots launch off of the mountain behind us, fly and land in the field in front of us. We saw it done wrong and we saw it done perfectly. We found out exactly what not to do and even saw one of the instructors launch and land with no hand controls off of the training hill (which helped the guys out tremendously... they were holding on for dear life). Launching and landing and handling the glider got easier as we went. Though none of the guys did terribly well in the beginning, by the end they were doing much better. We all teased, laughed at and encouraged each other and got to know each other better and made some friends. I think we all left with our heads placed firmly into the clouds.

At the end of the day I learned one last, very important lesson. When it was time for my last sled ride of the day, I had a bit of a cross wind and nothing coming towards me. We waited and waited and tried different areas but it soon became obvious that it wasn't going to get any better. I was exhausted and sore and hot, but went for that last one anyhow. As I predicted, I had almost no lift and wiped out hard at the bottom of the hill. It was not a good ending of the day but a bit later in the afternoon it occurred to me that it was valuable all the same. I learned the value of letting it go. I should have just said I wasn't comfortable with the conditions and just ended the lesson. On the training hill I suffered nothing more for this than a slightly bruised body and ego, but something like that could've ended with a serious injury if I had felt that I just had to get that one last flight in on top of a mountain.

In the end, I think I may have learned more from mine and everyone else's mistakes than I did from what I did right.

After the lessons were over and everyone left for the day Ryan and I hung around a little longer and met some other pilots. We even went to the club meeting at a local restaurant afterward where I was able to introduce myself to some pilots that I had met through and some of the pilots belonging to a local club. There was a pilot speaking on restricted airspace that unfortunately I wasn't able to stay for, but it was really great meeting everyone all the same.

I am more encouraged than ever to learn to fly and be a part of the hang gliding community. It is a great sport and has some absolutely wonderful pilots keeping it alive. No matter how hard it is to learn I understand the value of mastering the basics first, and no matter how discouraging it gets when things don't go as planned, I will always carry the memory of those first, precious seconds in the air to keep my chin up and my eyes to the sky.