Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Beginner Speed Flying. My 60 seconds of simple bliss

By Steph Cone:

If you were anywhere near Seattle on MLK Day, no matter what you were doing you will remember it was one of those crisp, sunny days that we Seattleites consider a fragile gift in the month of January. Chances are, if you were fortunate enough to see off in the distance to the east, west or south you stopped for a moment and said “WOW!” as those stunning mountains presented themselves in all their magnificent glory. I’ll never forget what I was doing that day. Under that crystal clear blue sky, surrounded by the idyllic snow covered rolling hills, breathing in the fresh cold air, bright sunshine kissing my face. I had the opportunity to try speed flying at “The Ranch” in Cashmere, WA.

Apparently there are only a few folks speed flying in the US and an even smaller handful of women. I’ve never done anything to be just one of a few doing it…although for some reason lately, that is happening more and more. Under the tutelage of paragliding instructors Doug Stroop and Denise Reed, I felt safe and confident that this was going to be one of the most fun things I’d ever done. Along with two other speed flying newbies, Sinead Pollom and my life adventure partner Matt Cone I set out for an afternoon of pure, unadulterated fun in the sun, snow and air.

Two at a time, we get pulled up to the top of Glory on our skis, holding onto a rope behind a snowmobile water ski style. Heck, this was exhilarating in itself. Here you have one of those situations where you just hold on and trust that you can do this. We needed some decent speed on the incline to breakthrough the fresh powder. Once at the top, I unpacked my crinkly blue, green and white, 12 meter Ozone Bullet, harnessed up, hooked in, set up for a forward launch, gawked at breathtaking view, and waited for instruction. I’d never actually seen speed flying in person, just on youtube, and well, you have to start somewhere. The set up process certainly felt familiar, and being a competent skier and a P2 pilot with about a hundred flights, I was by far more excited than nervous. Sinead went first as she had done this before, and its usually a good idea to watch someone else go first when you’ve never ski-hucked yourself off a hill under a 12 meter canopy.
Ozone Bullet

Site briefing. Light to no wind. Soaking it all in, my senses nearly on overload. Doug gives me the pre-flight once over, some useful advice and asks me if I’m ready. Some helpful instructions from Denise, and I am ready. Since our launch begins on a slight slope, Doug gives me a little extra umpf by pulling me forward by the harness, skis pointed straight, canopy comes up fast and I’m on my way down the hill. Under the canopy, making ever so slight brake adjustments, or at least trying to, getting a feel for the wing overhead, still on the ground, picking up speed, the swoosh and crunch of my skis on the hard packed snow, picking up more speed, hearing the secure steady sound of the air moving through my canopy, hill slopes into a dip, I’m off the ground a few inches for a few seconds, skis touch down, picking up more speed, edge of the hill approaching, slight left turn, once final audible swoosh and then only the sound of air.

Once I feel that everything is technically working and ok, absolutely all I’m thinking is how fun this all feels. Time stands still. I am. Purely, I simply am. Weightless under my skis, flying through the air. Flying. I am. Heading towards the LZ I am flying and descending at a pretty good clip, the ground comes up much faster than with my Ozone Buzz…but that’s just fine, ‘cuz I’ve got skis on! A few feet off the ground, a bit of a flare of the brakes and I ride it out as my skis touch down at a brisk ground speed of about 20mph. My flight time off the hill was about a minute, maybe 50 feet off the ground max, but I’d embraced every second, allowing the sensations fully surf my body and soul. Whether a minute, hours, days or years, might as well enjoy every single moment of the ride, no matter what mode of allegorical transport takes me there. And now, visions of the big hills twirling in my mind. Whether or not I ever speed fly Baker or the Eiger, I’ll enjoy those visions just as they are.To glimpse a view of what it was like take a look at the You Tube video

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