Finally, a look back at my wondrous 2015.
It’s hard to believe how far I’ve come. It seems like yesterday I was a mere fledgling slowly peering out of the nest—from a naive student to a slightly less naive experienced pilot, from a mere inches above the ground to thousands of feet, from sled runs to miles and miles.
Sure, I could quantify much of the year: 125 hours, 308 flights, 13 new sites, 250 tandems, 20,000 miles on the road, but one could walk a thousand miles without smelling a single rose…not me. The experiences, the people I met, the new friends I made, the lessons I learned…immeasurable and yet significant, these are the events that truly matter.
Though I took a break from competitions (can it be considered a break after two competitions?) 2015 was a year of continued discovery, learning, progress, and sharing a passion.
Here’s a review of some of my milestones of 2015:
Quest Air Tandem Clinic
There are some people who don’t know about Quest Air. And then there are hang glider pilots. In March I made the trek to Quest as an aspiring tandem pilot. My trip was a whirlwind visit. A red eye flight to arrive early, and then leaving late after only four days. Despite the brevity, the weather cooperated and the trip proved successful, earning me a tandem rating.
This is the Disney World of hang gliding, with a cast of characters to match and nonstop fun. While they may not have Space Mountain or tea cups or Cinderella’s castle, pilots are entertained with great flying, a Swiss Family Robinson like hangout, an alligator in the pond, and tug pilots who I swear forgot how to frown. Who needs a monorail? Who needs a rail at all?
Sure wish I could have stayed longer. I will be back (and since I began writing this post I have).
A Final Flight in San Diego (for a while)
My last flight in San Diego could not have given me better memories of the place I love, and love to fly. Flying from our most routine site, Horse, it was not long before we realized the day would be magical. Though it was still only March, conditions were beginning to turn on. The handful of San Diego pilots came out to fly, plus even some Crestline friends made the trip down. Super wonderful to have more pilots than usual.
With our wings aloft in the cool spring air, the wind became our co-pilot. We gently climbed. We climbed some more. And then some more. Having left my vario at home, I had no idea how high we were. A pilot with radio issues made it difficult to communicate. I think I could make out someone say 11,000. More than enough! I and two of the Crestline pilots committed to going over the back. In triangle formation the three of us, wing to wing, with noticeable smiles on each of our faces, drifted downwind toward Laguna Mountain.
Running into a headwind slowed our progress, but not until we had each traveled 20 miles or more. Some of us had firsts and personal bests. Touching down on the desert valley floor, I soaked up my surroundings, my flight, and in a way said my goodbyes.
Dunlap, Fort Funston, Ed Levin, Mt. Tam, Inspo, Lookout Mountain (CO), Raven’s Roost, Tobacco Row.
Eight more sites added to my collection. North through California, a stopover in Boise, down through Utah and Colorado, then east to Virginia and up to Massachusetts. You can read more about my road trip on my earlier posts. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.
Such an incredible trip.
The return trip included much less flying, but much more family. And for that I’m thankful.
Hang Glide New England — New Braintree, Massachusetts
Miles away, on the opposite corner of the United States, my old life was far behind. I was a tandem pilot now.
Winding my way through the lush forests and rolling hills, after a month of driving I pull up to the hangars at the small airport in central Massachusetts. A couple Cessnas and other small aircraft line the runway, however it’s the Dragonfly toward the end of the runway that gets my attention.
“Set up your glider!” I’m told after less than a minute of arriving. I’m tired and need to relax, but pilot peer pressure can be fierce and the soaring pilots overhead beckon me skyward.
Pulling out my Sport 2 from my quiver, I’m soon aloft enjoying the great view from my new office. A corner windowed office has nothing on this view. A gracefully wandering river borders the airport. To the west is a large reservoir providing a great water scene and incredible sunsets. North is Mt. Monadnock one of the higher peaks nearby, and northeast is Mt. Wachusett. To the east sits Boston. On a clear day we can easily see the entire state and much of the surrounding ones. No matter how many flights I took, each one felt as if I was dreaming a spectacular dream.
The summer was one of cherished memories of great fun full of rewarding tandem flights, introducing many people to the sport, correcting the many misconceptions people have—basically being an ambassador for hang gliding—and teaching already experienced pilots to aerotow. I lived and breathed hang gliding. I lived.
A short selection of my wonderful experiences:
- Camping and bonfiring alongside the runway—sometimes with lots of folks, sometimes alone with the coyotes, turkeys, and bears (oh my!)
- Afternoon yummy milkshakes (aka frappes in Massachusetts) thanks to the Clover Hill Country Store
- Fun dinners after long days, and dare I mention the occasional Scorpion Bowl? 😛
- Spotting bears hunting pic-i-nic baskets around the airport
- Watching meteor showers, laying on the runway staring upwards at the clear, dark, void of light-polution sky (it’s a non-lighted runway so no planes)
- Playing and teaching at a friend’s training hill while the Blue Angels practiced overhead
- Completing a biennial flight review to fly powered aircraft again after 10 years
- Presenting hang waiting weak link tying classes. I know this doesn’t seem interesting, but we had fun
- Sharing all these experiences with my new friends
And of course I had many memorable tandems, including:
- A 9 year old girl that may very well be a future hang gliding world champion. Not only did she fly the huge tandem glider better than all the adults I took up, after enjoying her first flight so much we took her on a flight later in thermic air. She was confidently telling me where to find the next thermal!!!
- Teaching long-time instructor Robert Stewart of Eco-flight Hang Gliding (and Chris Arai’s instructor back in the day) to aerotow.
Sure, at times we may have seemed more like a flying circus, but it was my summer circus family.
Then, all too quickly, the month was October and the season was winding down. One of the last mornings saw 23 degrees on the thermometer, a sure sign it was time for this bird to migrate south for the winter. I departed the first week of November, seeking both warmer climes and climbs (groan).
I can honestly say I will always look fondly at this summer experience. Absolutely no regrets. Many thanks to Rhett for taking a chance with me and teaching me the ins and outs of being a tandem pilot.
Home Sweet Home
Finally after eight and a half months, mile signs to San Diego decreased to 0. Other than a short stopover in San Francisco to fly Funston, the return trip saw little flying, but included Thanksgiving with family. In April, I left San Diego with a slight fear of the unknown, and returned with great memories, new friends, a new glider, and a new harness too. What an incredible trip! And yet it felt so nice to be home once again. Until the next adventure…