Flying and falling: Hang gliding and skydiving [August-September 2004]

Soundtrack: Fallin and Flyin by Colin Farell and Jeff Bridges

My year for air travel was 2004. I was home for the summer and was dating this dream-boat of a guy who still to this day I think of whenever I see Michael Vartan. Katie Teddy came with us, which cracks me up because I think people forget sometimes that she's adventurous because she so delicate. We suited up in proper skydive gear, not because it made us safe but rather because it made us look ridiculous.

Skydiving isn't scary, not that I remember at least. The scariest part was when we reached 8000 feet and the one stranger on board the little plane we were riding up to the 13000 ft drop height FELL OUT THE DOOR. My tandem instructor and I sat closest to the pilot (furthest from the door) and I just about peed my pants when this kid literally dropped out the side of the plane, not realizing that he was actually training to be certified and part of that training required a jump at 8000 feet where the plane pulls the cord for you. Thanks for the heads up SkyDive Kapowsin.

By the time we made it to our altitude, the rest of us waddled to the door as if there was nothing to it and jumped out the door without time to think about it. 90 seconds of free fall goes pretty fast and doesn't leave much of a memory, surprisingly enough, so most of what I remember is sitting in the lap of my tandem for the five minute glide to the earth, him pointing out Mt. Rainier and his brother's house, me trying to not pass out as my equilibrium tried to catch up with my body. I had a pounding headache for a good couple hours after our hour plus ride home from Sumner making leftover lasagna at home all the more delicious.

Much more random (and exciting) was my turn hang gliding. Two days into the fall after I went skydiving, I had just moved into my first apartment outside the dorms and was playing solitaire on my computer in the middle of the empty living room when my sister called and casually asked if I wanted to go hang gliding. Easy answer. "Well alright. I'll be there in 30 minutes."

An hour later we were at the point of the mountain in Draper, UT with one of her Itex clients. Kelsie went up first and I sat a chatted with a homeless looking man who briefed me on the beauty of flying, that hang gliding marathons can last up to five ours, and how awesome it feels to go through a cloud. I mentally added "fly through a cloud" to my bucket list and watched Kelsie and her tandem make an easy landing.

Training was simple and repetitive. "Step, step step, jump. Got it? One Two Three jump. Let's practice, step step step jump." And don't flail about. Inching up to the edge, I drilled myself on my instructions, distracted by the fact that the entire glider was flapping furiously in the wind and that didn't seem like a very safe way for fabric to move on the edge of a cliff. My partner prompted me to get into Go Mode and we counted One Two There.... and my brain went blank, my body went limp (extra points for no flailing!), and wait, what? We're FALLING. DOWN. DOWN!!!!! GOING TO CRASH INTO THE HOUSES BELOOOO Ooohhh, wait, nevermind, he did mention something about how it took a minute for the glider to catch the wind and now we're safe up high (oxymoron?) and FLYING!

On a glider, you can simply glide along in the wind, steering loosely with the triangle frame you're strapped into, or spice things up. Pulling the bar towards the body, the bird immediately points down and plummets to the ground. With extended arms, we head back up, high into the sky. Out and in, up and down. Homemade roller coaster. Homemade FLYING roller coaster. You can also manipulate the bar to spin around in circles (not fun for brain or body). After thirty minutes of life as a bird, we inched back to earth and touched ground. I would go hang gliding again in a heartbeat, maybe even certify to do it on my own someday if time and money allowed.


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