01 Mar Seasons in Flight – Part 1
Though it was five years ago now, I can still remember the day so clearly; perched on my toes on the side of that mountain, hands clenched into white knuckled fists, knees hugged to my chest, my gaze anxiously flitting back and forth between the several thousand foot drop in front of me and the man sitting next to me, as I internally questioned my sanity and decision making ability.
What was I thinking, being up here? Sure, I was the girl who had dreamed of flying for as long as she could remember. And yes, I was the girl who had started a flying club in elementary school and convinced all her friends to jump out of trees and run around flapping their arms, certain that one day they’d figure out how to take flight. But I was also the girl who never drank alcohol, unless it was an airport bar at 7:00am, where I could be found tipping back shots just to force myself to get on a plane. I was the girl who clutched her neighbor’s arm until nails punctured skin on take off. I was the girl who stared, eyes glazed and unblinking, out the airplane window the entire flight, certain that any moment might be her last. Flying had always been one of my greatest dreams. But it was also one of my greatest fears. It was terrifying! So why in the world had I agreed to launch off the side of a mountain supported by nothing more than fabric and strings? I was obviously an idiot.
As my tandem paragliding instructor went over paper work and explained the procedures of the flight, a nervous lead-filled pit dropped into my stomach and I knew I was about to make a terrible, terrible mistake…
Best. Mistake. Ever.
The moment we left the ground, all of my fears suddenly disappeared, overwhelmed by both the sheer exhilaration and perfect peace of the moment. There were no rumbling wheels, whining engines, or uncomfortable thrust pushing my head back into the seat. There was only wind, and sun, and birds. And me, flying right there beside them. There was a mountain range below, an ocean in the distance, and an entire beautiful earth spread out beneath my feet. To be thousands of feet up, in the open air, was so incredibly beautiful and surreal, that I knew instantly I would have to spend time there again…and again…and again…It was exactly as I had always dreamed, and within minutes of launch, I had already decided that I was going to take lessons and learn to fly on my own!
It was a few months after that, before I was able to officially start taking lessons, and I think I spent most of that time with my chin tipped skyward. And when I wasn’t dreaming about the sky, I was learning about it. I read weather and paragliding books, and spent hours kiting a friend’s old, beat up glider on the beach. By the time my first lesson rolled around, I was feeling decently confident in my knowledge and kiting skills, and so ready to take that next step back into the air!
Funny then, that the first time I stood poised to launch on my own, on top of a 400′ foot hill in Colorado, it was my confidence and readiness that disappeared this time, overwhelmed by all of my old fears. I could no longer picture how amazing that first flight had been. All I could see, was myself stepping off the hill, and plummeting. For some time, I simply stood there on launch, staring at the ground below and shaking in my harness, completely terrified. Eventually I gave up completely, trudging off to the side and collapsing down against a boulder, tears rolling down my face. I wanted to fly – it was my dream! – but I just couldn’t do it!
After giving me a few minutes to dry the tears, my instructor ambled over after me, offering reassurances. We chatted for awhile about my options, before deciding that maybe I shouldn’t worry about flying that day, and instead, just get comfortable kiting my wing on launch.
With the pressure off, my fears retreated, and I was able to gather myself together and start kiting. I was still on radio with my instructor, and after a few minutes of silently watching me, he began giving instructions, asking me to demonstrate various skills. My months of practice were evident. I was able to walk side to side and back and forth across launch, all the while growing calmer and more confident as I easily kept the wing overhead in the steady, gentle breeze drifting up the hill.
“That’s awesome! Great job,” my instructor encouraged, “Now can you turn and kite facing forward?” No problem; I had practiced this too! I deftly turned 180′ to the left, immediately dropping my chest forward and lifting my arms up and back.
“Perfect, perfect, that’s fantastic!” He said, “Now take a few steps…”
I moved a few short paces down the slope, feeling fairly proud of myself as I automatically adjusted the brakes and the direction of my steps to keep the wing centered. After feeling like a complete failure earlier, it was nice to show off the fact that I was decently good at something.
“You’ve really got this down, Katie. That’s great! Now…RUN!”
“RUN! RUN! RUN NOW!”
It was a trick! He had tricked me! Part of me couldn’t believe it. At the same time though, some other part of me knew this had been the plan all along. Maybe that’s why I didn’t hesitate to listen. Or maybe I just realized, that if I didn’t run now, before all of my fears could come rushing back, I would never, ever get off this hill. Either way, I ran. I threw my weight forward and ran and ran, until suddenly my legs were still running, pedaling in mid air, but the ground was giving way, and my eyes were growing wide, and my heart was thumping like a drum in my chest, and I. Was. Flying…