Have you ever dream about flying?
. Not just about being a static passenger
, but about being you how's in control of the aircraft
. I have, but it was all so beyond my reach
, When was I going to be able to learn how to fly an aircraft?
NEVER. Until I found out about paragliders. A paraglider with all the extra equipment that you need fits inside a backpack and weights less than 30 pounds. You take your backpack and up you go a mountain or hill, once there you can unpack and prepare everything in 5 minutes, and ready you are to fly. And it's somewhat easy to learn how to fly a paraglider...
There isn't any other form of free flight more simple that paragliding...
First, you get inside of a chair (pretty comfortable, with support for your back and all the whistles of a complete chair) which also works as an harness, you have to adjust four straps; one for each leg, another one at your tummy, and the last one over your chest.
You then unfold the paraglider on the hill, it's not unlike a sky diving parachute, a pretty big nylon bag, shaped like an airplane wing, with openings on the from which let the wind in to fill the bag and give it the wing shape.
Despite the similarity, the design of a paraglider is very different from the one of a parachute. The parachute is made for going down, a paraglider is made for going up!.
A bunch of Kevlar lines are attached to the lower surface of the paraglider, you "hang" on them. All those lines connect to the risers. You can easily secure the risers to the harness using a couple of carabiners.
When you open the carabiners to get the risers inside, you can feel an adrenaline shoot starting to run on your blood. You also feel that anxiety which is always there just before you do something important.
When the risers are secure and you check for the second time that the carabiners are correctly closed, everything changes. You are so absorbed just on you, your paraglider and the wind, that nothing else matters, not even all the people which is with you on the launch pad.
You turn to face your glider, it's no more that a rag with pretty colors lying on the ground, on your back is the hill and beyond that a valley, you must be some 800ft about the valley ground level, the view is lovely.
You make sure that your paraglider is ready, you take in your left hand the lines that go to the front of the glider, and in your right the ones that go to the back. Your heart start to pump faster in anticipation. You pull with your left hand a little, the cells openings on the glider start to take air and fill it, you pull a little more, not much mind you, just a notch, just enough for the wind to barely get you glider off the ground, the glider inflates, it's not a rag anymore, now it's a sail. All your lines gets tense and you have the opportunity to check them. You look for knots, you look for little branches trapped, you look for tangled lines. There are a lot of lines, almost a hundred, but you check them all with just a sight hit. You let your glider to fall down to the ground again taking a quick step forward so the cell openings doesn't get closed, now your are ready for takeoff.
You detach the brake's toggles from the risers, one toggle for each hand, and check that actually the left brake is on the left hand and the right brake on the right hand. You take the risers again, your heart is now trying to get out of your chest, you want to be in the sky already, you're anticipating your launch. You feel no fear, you know that you can abort if you don't like something, if something is not perfect you just make your paraglider to drop on the ground.
You turn your head to the valley, you want to feel the wind, to measure it. You want to launch on the better moment of them all, the wind from the valley comes in thermal cycles, you want to launch at the beginning of the cycle when the wind is rising, you let the current cycle to die and wait for the next one. And the next one comes, you like it, you choose it to launch inside it, now the wind is enough for you to launch, but you wait a little longer, just a second, you check the hill below you, you want to make sure that the full hill is being hit by the wind. Yeah, the wind is moving all the trees, even the ones farther, this cycle is perfect, you choose to launch. Something inside your head goes click. If someone takes a picture of you in this precise moment, when you decided that the wind is right, you always came out with a full smile from ear to ear.
There's no hurry, you look at your glider, you shout "I'm leaving!" to those in the launch pad, you don't want anyone of them to ruin your launch by getting their gliders up in front of you. You pull with your left hand, this time stronger, this time is for real. The glider inflates and extends completely, it's a huge monster which obeys your quieter wish. You keep pulling, you don't let it to stop, the glider keeps getting higher, when it gets half way up, you no longer need to pull hard with your hand, you can also use your hips on the harness to pull, the glider keeps going up until it gets horizontal, perfectly horizontal and static on top of your head. You're happy, your glider is no more a rag, now it's a wing, a beautiful and huge 24 square meters wing.
You're still facing the wrong way, you turn around to face the valley with the glider on top of you, you're taking off!. You don't need the support from your legs anymore, you don't want to walk anymore, now you want to fly, you put all you weight on the harness, you want the glider to support you instead of your legs, you shift forward to get even more of your weight to transfer to the harness. The glider accepts you weight gladly. The inner air pressure inside raises with the weight your putting on, the cloth stretches completely and the glider surfaces looses all their wrinkles. The last thing you do on the ground is to push forward with you legs, you get away from the hill flying, you don't have that dropping feeling on your stomach, all your weight was already being carried by the glider, the only thing that you really feel is a very big liberation, you're not longer in the ground, now, you're flying.
You force your buttocks and your back on the chair and cross your ankles. You are pretty comfortable and you can stay like this for hours, your hands are raised at your shoulders level with the brake toggles in them. You turn to your right. First you shift your weight to the right side of the harness and pull a little on the right side brake. The glider obeys you immediately and starts to turn, you keep turning until you get parallel to the hill. The wind flowing from the valley is forced up by the hill, and even when the hill ends, by inertia, the wind keeps going up longer. That wind is enough to get your glider higher, when you fly close to the hill you go up. Eventually you get to the end of the hill and you turn back to your left, you see the launch pad, on your firsts flights you where impressed by the height you have already won with just one pass over the hill. The gliders not yet launched are there, sitting sad, on the ground, merely rags.
You flight on the hill side for a while, but soon it turns boring just going round there. You turn away from the hill, to the valley, to look for thermals, to hunt wind.
So you're merrily flying and suddenly you feel the chair rocking a little. Then you feel your gliding flying slower, it seems like it has bumped into something, you can't see anything, but you know what it is. Just bellow you, a piece of ground has been being heated by the sun, it got so hot that the air on top of it got also heated, and you know, hot air raises. Blessed raising hot air, it raises your glider with it. You speed up your glider, just a little, just enough to get inside of the thermal with a comfortable speed, once inside the thermal you're happy, you try to guess on which side of you the thermal is stronger.
A competition glider would have tell you right away which side was stronger, but your glider is a beginner's, much safer but less efficient. It doesn't matter, you choose to turn right, but you don't turn immediately, you want to get deeper into the thermal so you don't get kicked out while turning.
You turn, a complete 360 degrees turn. To make this turns you have to be smooth, you use all the tenderness you can. If you force the turn, the glider will fight back to stabilize itself before you get time to do the complete turn. If you do the turn smoothly, you'll turn away completely and comfortable, and you won't need to pull much the break, which makes for a more efficient turn. So you go round and round inside the thermal getting higher and higher with each turn.
Soon you find yourself at cloud base, you've hit the ceiling, you can't go higher. Thermals, hotter at the ground get colder as they raise, until they get so cold that the humidity on the air condenses and forms clouds. Cloud base level is as far up as it gets, there isn't anything else on top of which to get higher, but it doesn't matter, all the work you made to get this high pays. Now you have the time and the height to just fly, to look at the landscape, maybe to go and see how does that town over there looks from here.
You're on the sky and your chest is barely big enough to contain all the happiness that you're feeling.