Life on the Road, Part 4 – Midnight Oddities, Floods, and Virginia Flying

[This is the fourth and final installment on my month long trip from San Diego to Massachusetts. It took place in April 2015]

The exciting finale of my coast-to-coast road trip. I departed San Diego on April 4th, flew 8 new sites, logged 12 hours of flight time, had amazing, unforgettable flights, met cool new friends, flew with cool friends I already knew, and arrived in Massachusetts on May 2nd. I’m so looking forward to the return.

My New Wills Wing T2C 136

My New Wills Wing T2C 136

First though, I must say, or rather yell, I BOUGHT A NEW GLIDER, I BOUGHT A NEW GLIDER, I BOUGHT A NEW GLIDER!!! But I think it’s missing parts, or at least I can’t seem to find the king post 😉

Yep, an impeccably cared for Wills Wing T2C 136, at a price I couldn’t resist, that’s slowly becoming known as Speedybird, or the glider formerly known as Tom’s. This glider ushers in a new era of my flying, and as much as I have enjoyed the Sport 2, I look forward to the many hours, and miles criss-crossing the country, me and Speedybird will spend together.

Now back to your irregularly scheduled journey already in progress. I warn you, it’s longer than previous chapters, but I hope a less dry read with ghosts, UFOs, floods, and exciting new flying sites…or at least some of those things.

Act 1 — The Ghost Truck & The Sea of Red

So there I was, on the long, straight, flat road after having left Lookout Mountain, Colorado. Acre after acre of farm fields. The only elevation changes were overpasses. The sun setting behind me and a dark sky rising ahead. This would be my only night not having a hang-friend hook me up with a place to stay. Wanting to get to another flying site, my motivation was to plow ahead past the farmlands from one Lookout Mountain to another. My mind prepared itself for the long, isolating drive. I, however, was not prepared for the oddities of that night.

By now that night has blurred together. Somewhere in the time frame of before midnight and after 10pm I was in my road trip induced trance rolling over Kansas—occasionally passing someone and occasionally getting passed—when a truck, white like a ghost, came speeding by. The unmistakable image of a grey bag with red tips on top shook me from the trance. The sight of gliders atop my car apparently shook the driver of the truck too. Although he was flying past, I soon saw brake lights shoot on and the truck slow until we were side-by-side. For a few seconds, as if I was looking at a UFO descending upon me, and ET looking down at me, we eyed each other confused, attempting to place who the other was. And then, after we had in some way acknowledged each other, the truck sped away. I can only hope whoever it was had enjoyed a great day of flying. It’s a strange bond that we hang glider pilots share. Sometimes all it takes is a chance meeting in the middle of the night, in the middle of the country, to remind us that what we do is special and links us by some indescribable bond.

Still on I-70, even later in the night, or likely morning, came another unusual surprise. In the distance appeared a vast sea of red lights blinking synchronously. Marching toward me like soldiers until finally I was amidst towering fields of red, it was such an eerie and disorienting sight. *Blink* *Blink* *Blink* Just when I thought I had left the lights behind, I topped another rolling hill and more appeared. The experience induced in me another weird mental state and once comfortably miles behind me I decided it was time to call it a night. Later I determined that it was a wind farm, likely one near Ellsworth, Kansas. Someone on a forum I found probably described the experience best (though a different wind farm):

“Last fall I was driving late at night through eastern Colorado. Suddenly I was surrounded by strange red flashing lights and thought I was either too tired to drive, having a life changing UFO experience, or somebody slipped me some LSD…It turned out it was a huge wind farm.” ABryant

And so, there I was, miles away from any flying site that I knew and hoping morning would come soon.

Act II — Nashville and the Relentless Rain

Another day of driving and I was beginning to feel I was making progress. Au revoir Kansas. Goodbye Missouri. Illinois, Kentucky, sorry we only barely got to know each other. Nashville was coming up soon.

It seems that Nashville and I have a one-sided rainy relationship. I pass through. Nashville rains on me. When I first passed through in 2011 heading to California, I encountered downpours. I splish splashed a bit at the Parthenon—one of my favorite Nashville attractions—and then swam on out of there. This trip proved no different. As I arrived the rainy weather was threatening, and the forecast for Lookout Mountain did not excite me. Rather than drive further into gloom, I’d skip the flight park and hurry on to surprise my parents in Virginia. A few days later I find out flooding plagued Chattanooga and areas surrounding Lookout Mountain Flight Park (Read All About It!).

On a brighter, sunnier side, I met up with rising star Cory Barnwell for dinner and had a great time reminiscing about the 2014 competitions and discussing future flying fun.

So sadly, Lookout Mountain was, literally, and figuratively, a wash. Next time LMFP!

Act III — Virginia, Sweet Virginia

The day after spending the night in Nashville, I hurried on to my hometown in Virginia. So great to be home, and spend a few weeks with my parents. I could almost not care if I did not get to fly Virginia sites. It didn’t take long for an opportunity to fly came up.

You see, the glider I was buying (the awesome T2C) had traveled from Massachusetts to Florida for one last hurrah with it’s prior captain. But he was scheduled to stay in Florida another few weeks, and impatient as I am, he sent the glider back with a couple friends. These friends just happened to know a pilot near me and were planning to stop a few days to fly with him. Long story short, the following day we were meeting at a local site and I received my glider.

Flying Ravens Roost along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Flying Ravens Roost along the Blue Ridge Parkway

That site was Ravens Roost, an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway with one hell-of-a cliff launch and trees. Oh my gosh trees. First, I could not believe that for my entire childhood I had this site practically in my backyard. Second, trees! Tall, intimidating trees. This Californian, used to mostly open land with some bushes and perhaps a few cacti, did not expect the shock of flying over forests. It didn’t help that the LZ was borderline reachable on my Sport 2 (I decided it was not a great idea to fly a new glider at a new site).

Ravens Roost Launch

Ravens Roost Launch

The launch is a boulder field with no good clear area to run, requiring a hop, skip, and jump practically before leaping off the sheer cliff lined by—this time of year—mostly leafless trees. Or at least this was my first impression, and first impressions are everything right? Nothing like I had ever seen in California. The LZ however was one of beauty; green grass, mooing cows (safely fenced away), and a babbling brook. Once in the air the view of the Blue Ridge Mountains was astonishing: the valleys on both sides, a local ski area, more green than in all of California. A nice flight and great no-wind landing later, I was giddy with having flown in Virginia…finally.

A couple days later the forecast looked good for a site near Amherst Virginia called Tobacco Row. Given the launch at Ravens’, I had no idea what to expect. Told it was a ramp launch, visions of beautifully crafted ramps like Lookout Mountain’s danced through my head. Sure, I can’t expect it to be that great, but… We investigate the LZ first, hearing that houses had been built around it. The wind was switchy and the every landing direction required a thoughtful approach, including the large bowl among the fields, endearingly called the Soup Bowl and historically the primary landing spot (down one side and up the other).

Staring down the ramp at Tobacco Row Virginia

Staring down the ramp at Tobacco Row Virginia

Arriving to the road to launch, we immediately realized the site had not been flown for years (a decade?). A tree blocked the road, and after clearing it, we found launch over grown with trees perfectly in front of our launch path. Of course they were no match for determined hang glider pilots, with ropes and, well, ropes. With a little ingenuity we (mostly the guys) were able to bend the trees enough for us to launch cleanly.

The ramp you ask? Well, though it had a solid enough structure, was basically a three foot wide plank giving a pilot just enough height above the trees to glide out to clear air. Light winds allowed me to be comfortable and balanced as I stared the trees down and ran off.

And once in the air, yet again this trip, the sky was magical. For an hour I boated around 2,000 feet above launch enjoying another site so different from California, so familiarly unfamiliar.

First flight on my Wills Wing T2C 136

First flight on my Wills Wing T2C 136

The last treat Virginia gave me was a first flight on my new glider. Feeling mostly comfortable with Ravens Roost, we headed there for another flight. Conditions looked great, with puffy cumulus clouds splattered across the sky. Winds were light and supposed to get lighter. For over an hour I played among the clouds, climbing to base and then finding sink when I became too cold. It was a perfect first flight and I felt very comfortable on the glider.


During the flight I felt the winds increasing. Oh contrarian you are Mother Nature! You read the forecast and play with our puppet strings! When I finally decided to journey out to the LZ, I found even Speedybird had difficulty. Near to the ground I found conditions even worse. Vicious gusts rattled my nerves, but I was not going to let the wind beat me. After a wild ride down, terra firma approached, and though not the most graceful landing, my feet were once again on solid ground nonetheless, and my glider and I happy with the flight.

Act IV — Onward to Massachusetts

A couple weeks with my parents, friends, my hometown, and three fantastic flights later, and it was time to complete the journey eastward. Repacking my car and tying down my gliders—all three of them now—I departed, next stop Massachusetts and Hang Glide New England!

Hard to believe at the beginning of the month I still worked a typical 8 to 5 job, loathed rush hour traffic, and only flew weekends and holidays.

This may be the end of the drive, but the journey is barely beginning.

Life on the Road, Part 3 – Colorado

[This is the third installment on my month long trip from San Diego to Massachusetts. It took place in April 2015]

So Utah didn’t quite live up to my expectations, but I had fun. And anyway, what can I expect on such a short visit?

Lookout Mountain Colorado. Notice the Coors Brewery in the background.

Lookout Mountain Colorado. Notice the Coors Brewery in the background.

On the way to Denver via the beautiful I-70, I got a surprise. I thought my flying was over until I reached Lookout Mountain Georgia or even Virginia, but nope. I found out that Zippy and Majo were in Denver and planning to fly a local site. That site happened to be Lookout Mountain…Colorado.

After checking out the launch that evening, enjoying the sunset, grabbing dinner, sampling some local beer, and making our way to a local pilot’s house to crash for the night, we discussed plans for the next morning. Do we fly Lookout? Do we take a gamble and try to fly the legendary Pike’s Peak? In the end there were too many uncertainties with Pike’s Peak (wind, gates, road to launch) and Lookout won out. Pike’s would be incredible, but no complaints on my end. A flight is a flight is a flight, and a new site on top.

Heading east

Heading east

Lookout Mountain’s bowl launch unfortunately is a hike-up site. Between the three of us we were able to make quick work of it. Launch overlooks Golden Colorado, home of the Coors Brewery. Behind launch are the white peaked Rockies and steep sided canyons. Though my flight itself wasn’t the greatest—I was flushed out after 30 minutes—it’ll be a site I definitely add to my itinerary on future trips.

After touchdown, it was back in the car and onward for me. Next stop, after a long, straight drive over the flat lands, the more well known Lookout Mountain, the one in Georgia.

Life on the Road, Part 2 – Idaho and Utah

On the road to Boise

On the road to Boise

Ok, so I’m already in Massachusetts; I arrived May 2nd. But before I get ahead of myself, there was a long drive in between San Francisco and here.

I planned to stop by the site called Slide near Reno before heading further east, however I chose instead to visit my brother in Boise. Tough choices we pilots have to make. It was a beautiful drive nonetheless, and it was great seeing him.

Point of the Mountain Paragliders

Point of the Mountain’s Gaggle Galore

After a night in Boise, I headed out to Point of the Mountain, Utah. Excited to arrive before sunset, a splattering of airborne paragliders greeted me along with weening conditions. This would not be my chance to fly. Sadly, I think that meant my streak of great flying ended…or did it? The next day Felix and I headed out to fly a place called Inspo or Inspiration Point (though not the one in Bryce). Wow! Inspo! What an amazing and beautiful site. The mountains rise up behind launch and snow capped peaks greet you in every direction. Intimidating in ways, but beckoning me to soar.

The mountains tower above Inspo

The mountains tower above Inspo

Arriving at launch, the wind was stronger than expected, but the cloudbase was tauntingly high and Felix was still optimistic that we’d XC to the point, indicated by the many hand warmers that we broke open. With our gliders preflighted, and hand warmers tucked cozily in our bar  mits, it was time to go. There was quite a crowd gathered to watch us too. See how wonderful our sport is?!

I launched first, and with the wind was able to ridge soar easily and climb a few hundred above launch. Back and forth, back and forth, waiting for a good thermal to blow through. Eventually I caught one decent enough to circle in and climbed a few hundred feet more before either losing it or it dissolving in the wind. The thermals that I encountered were small and disjointed, and very frustrating to deal with. And don’t get me started on the sink. Felix launched a few minutes after me, with the help of some bystanders—the wind had picked up and he had a no-stepper launch.

In the air he found the air difficult too. I slowly began to sink out and head toward the LZ. Slowly Felix did too. Far out front I finally found bits of lift and climbed a little, but again the thermals were not easily cored. A couple times I thought the sink would get the better of me and force me to the bailout LZ. Felix finally caught something decent and climbed out. As I headed to the primary LZ—overcoming the sink, yay!—I watched Felix sky out. Go Felix! A few burbles on the way to land but nothing significant. I guess no XC for me, but one of the best LZs ever with a huge expanse of green, fluffy grass.

On the ground I broke down alone hoping Felix was off to the Point. As I zipped up the bag, unbelievably I spotted him over the LZ. What? Why? He’s supposed to be at 14,000+ feet and on glide. After landing he said the thermal took him to 9,000 or so but then broke up and the strong sink got the better of him too. Oh well. All in all, a great day, but not the flights we were hoping for.

The following day I hoped to try the Point again, but the conditions were weak. What kind of “most flyable site” is this? Maybe my streak really had ended. So I take off for Colorado and leave Utah for another day.

Life on the Road, Part 1 – Bay Area Invasion

It’s been a great start to my trip east. Friday night was mayhem packing, a little bit of remaining work, and tying a few loose ends. I always seem to overestimate how much room I have in my car, and so I spent much of the night reorganizing and ditching stuff that I probably didn’t need to take anyway (I hope). Late into the night I gave in to sleep planning to wake up early, finish packing/repacking and head out to Dunlap California. I almost gave up on that too knowing I needed to arrive by early afternoon after a 6 hour drive, but I made it. Me, my two gliders, and a car full of stuff departed San Diego about 7:30am. On the road finally, yay!

Dunlap turned out to be great. Climbs to about 8,000 feet, and a fun day running up and down the ridge, looking back at the snow capped mountains, meeting the local group of pilots, and simply enjoying the novelty of flying a new site. The swing in the LZ, teeny kittens in the dome house, a nearby monastery with nice affordable rooms to stay all make it a quaint, fun site. Can’t wait to fly it again when I return to the west coast.

funstongroupThe next day, Funston also welcomed me with open arms. On a clear day with good winds, after buzzing around launch for a while waiting and waiting for the locals to guide me over to the higher, longer cliff face called Westlake, I decided to go it alone. Soon I was 1,000 over the ocean, with the best view of anyone (any non-pilot at least) in the Bay Area. Super jumbo jets departed over us from SFO, the Golden Gate bridge rose above the hills spectacularly keeping watch over the glistening ocean, whales frolicked…I smiled. After what felt like three hours of a dreamlike state, I landed to realize I only had flown for an hour and forty minutes. Funston is special. Maybe it’s just that I typically avoid Torrey and the paragliding apocalypse that explodes there in good conditions, so finally being able to relax at an ocean cliff site let me more fully take in the experience. More likely it’s special because Funston and its taller sibling Westlake provide an unparalleled view of any metropolis in the world—and it’s on the ocean with world renowned icons like the Golden Gate Bridge. Though I am to my core a mountain pilot, having a fun, relaxing site like Funston makes me understand what it is about the Bay Area that attracts so many pilots.

Ed Levin on the epic day

On Monday the call was for Ed Levin aka Sled Heaven. Arriving, paragliders were cruising around above launch and the day looked like it was going to treat us. I scrambled to setup. Eager to get in the air, I decided to follow a couple locals to launch. They hesitated to launch, and I accepted a slight crosswind at an adjacent launch to become the first in the air.

…I should have waited. There was lift but not yet well formed, and apparently just after I launched the cycles backed off. I scratched for fifteen minutes before having to wave the white flag and land. A few other locals waited and launched a bit later to better results. Breaking down quickly it was back to launch for another attempt. I love having someone willing to drive. By the time I was setup and ready for round two, the sky had filled in more obscuring much of the sun, but the lapse rate seemed better and the wind was stronger. Back in the air the ridge lift kept me aloft. Sporadic thermals allowed me to climb a few hundred feet above launch, but never very high. And then the magic happened. I caught a thermal which at first drifted with the strong wind back toward radio towers, but then the drift decreased. Up I went. 1,000 feet over launch, 1,500 over. “Can I make 2,000?” I asked myself. Sure enough I soon climbed through 2,000 feet and on up to 2,500. “Oh the view!” The rolling hills, the bay, the reservoir behind launch. I nearly did not realize how cold I was getting.

Then I did. Ignoring lift I sank back to launch only to climb back up. After a few yo-yos I had had enough. As I descended toward the LZ a thermal toyed with me. Still cold, but not wanting to turn down good lift I soon found myself 2,000 feet above launch, again. This time however was different. I glided to west of the LZ, far from the hills only to find myself higher than where I started. The vario laughed at my predicament stuck above a large mass of lifting air. Wingovers, high banked turns, steep dives. Nothing seemed to eat much altitude. Brrrr. In 30 or more minutes the ground finally seemed to inch closer. On the ground my fingers were numb, too much so to undo the carabiner. Oh what a great flight though. Long time pilots of the area stated it was one of the best days they’ve seen at Ed Levin.

Tuesday became my rest day. No, I still flew, but I didn’t drive much, I had lunch with friends, and I didn’t worry about the logistics of a mountain retrieve. I decided to fly Funston again. Upon arriving, dark clouds, rain, and 30+ mph gusts insinuated the site had other plans for me, and my streak of good weather was on the line. Believe it or not, the gust front passed, the sun came out, the wind calmed. Time to fly. Giving my Sport 2 a rest I setup my Northwing Ezy 170. It’s been neglected since the Sport 2 came along to hog its attention, and it was a nice change to fly the single surface again. Later a pilot offered me a chance to fly his Northwing Freedom 190. What a big glider for me, but I had fun taking it to Westlake and back, and skying out relative to the pilots on more appropriate gliders for their weight. Wow. So much great fun and flying in four days. What else did the Bay have up its sleeve?

Well, Mt. Tam, that’s what.

Mt. TamWednesday would be my last day in the area. Five days of flying. Four sites. Mt. Tam, short for Tamalpais, is a beautiful site above Stinson Beach and adjacent to Muir Woods. It offers a great launch, and landing on the beach. There really aren’t any downsides to the site. Oh, wait, just that the locals say it is a finicky site soarable only about 10 days a year. This particular day looked good and why not play the Tam lottery? After setting up, no one was super excited to go first. Cloud base was low, nothing showed signs of much lift, there was very little wind on launch, and the “over-the-back” windsock was bipolar. Meh.

A few minutes later I spotted a gaggle of locals (aka birds for my non-pilot friends), circling up slowly. I decided to get ready to go, with the intention of watching the conditions from launch. I’ve heard the site can have a short soarable window, and with no one very certain with what conditions are ideal, I became impatient. We all agreed a sled ride would be more than enjoyable. I launched.

On glide I felt a few bumps, but nothing to turn in. I arrived over the house thermal site and began preying on the air. I’d turn in light lift to maintain, and then sink a bit. Once I climbed a few hundred feet and was ecstatic. If this is all the soaring I get here I felt my life was complete enough. And then something amazing happened. After scratching and scratching, I connected with a well formed thermal. Up and up and up. I glanced back at launch and watched with awe as I rose above, and then kept rising. From that moment on, the lift continued into the afternoon. We were some of the lucky few who have soared Mt. Tam! One last incredible flight, with incredible views, and an incredible landing on the beach. Simply incredible, and what a way to end my Bay Area Invasion.

So after a super time meeting great pilots and flying beautiful sites, it was time to mosey on east. Sad to leave but excited for what the road would bring, I packed back up and set off into the sunrise.

Many thanks to everyone in the Bay Area who helped make my visit super fun. I will most definitely return. See you all again soon!


Advancing Confidently in the Direction of my Dreams

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
~Henry David Thoreau

I never could have anticipated where my life would go when I set off from Virginia on my own for unknown shores almost exactly four years ago. In 2011 I took a risk and stuffed my car for a journey to San Diego. No job. No friends or relatives. Just the dream that I’ll forge a home in a city I believed I could love. Looking back, I cannot believe I did that, but the decision led to so many amazing opportunities and adventures. I’ve enjoyed nearly every moment here, and best of all, I found my passion for hang gliding.

Now, three years of flying later I have accepted an irresistible opportunity to fly hang gliders in Massachusetts—and get paid—made possible by the generosity of a friend who secured additional work for me to actually earn a decent living. Might I actually live the hang glider pilot’s dream and balance work and play?

It’s been quite hectic the last few months as I prepared and planned, and waffled back and forth on this decision. It goes against modern western culture’s norms to quit a job to go do fringe activities—more so to drive across the country to do them. Encouraging my decision were my lovely hang gliding friends—ahem ahem peer pressure—but also the chance to visit and spend time with my parents, and the opportunity to work with the knowledgeable Rhett Radford to learn the ropes of the flight park business.

Quest Air!

Last month I made a near overnight trip to Quest Air in Groveland, Florida to earn my tandem rating. Not only did I have a blast (how could you not at Quest?), but I also did in fact receive my tandem rating, had great flights, and hung out with the motley crew. You can watch a quickly edited video of my experience.

Look for me at Hang Glide New England in New Braintree, MA. I will be flying there from May through October.

The Adventure Begins

So here it is. Two days before I set out toward a new era in my life, for new unknowns, fresh adventures, and with the mission of experiencing more of the amazingness of life. Oh how difficult it was at first to even consider leaving behind a stable job with a consistent income, benefits, and a habitual life. But oh how incredible the opportunities will be. I’ll be visiting friends in the Bay Area, finally checking out Point of the Mountain in Utah, possibly flying the gorgeous Slide Mountain near Reno, making my way to Lookout Mountain Georgia, and hopefully getting the chance to experience some sites in Virginia, my home state.

Planned Route

My Planned Route


And it seems I’m not alone. Wolfi and Jonas are taking off on another U.S. continental trip with a full toolbox of cameras and adventures planned. Hopefully they can drum up new support, greater appreciation, attract new pilots, and perhaps even quell some misconceptions of hang gliding. Their project is called The Rhythm of Flight and you can help support them by donating on Indiegogo. As a plus, they will drive a biofuel and solar powered camper!

The Flying Gypsies are “a handful of…young energetic Hang glider pilots aiming to revamp the sport of flying, ” proving that the sport is “not just for old folks anymore.” They are primarily east coast pilots who hope to similarly criss-cross the country chasing “the freedom of flight.” Support them as well if you can.

OneSkyProject starts their journey in South Africa to share their “dream of flight.” It’s not exactly clear what their goals are, but the more of us there are carrying our passions around the world, the better the future of our sport will be.

Join us in our quest to share our passions, soar the skies, explore the beauty of the world, and perpetuate the awe inspiring nature of our sport. Whether you support us by following our blogs, donating funds, liking our posts on social media, or reposting our videos and photos, everything helps. We’re all united by a common love.

And I can’t wait to fly with many new folks in New England!

Happy flying!