Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Peaceful and Scenic with a side of Thrilling Spirals

My flight experience at the Northwest Paragliding Club Tandem Fly-in

by Marilyn Monserud

wouldn't really consider myself a daredevil or crazy thrill seeker. I’ve skydived a couple times and I love roller coasters, but I don’t have plans to bungee jump off the Bloukrans Bridge any time soon. What I’m looking for is something…a little out of the ordinary…without being blatantly suicidal. Paragliding has long been on my list of such adventures. When the opportunity to tandem paraglide came up, I jumped at the chance to knock this one off my bucket list. I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Would jumping off a mountain attached to a giant kite be as thrilling as jumping out of a plane into nothingness? Would soaring around like a bird be more or less exciting than freefalling from 12,000 feet or doing loopty-loops on a high-speed coaster? I guess I had to do it to find out.

After signing the usual I-won’t-hold-you-responsible-if-I-don’t-survive-this paperwork and taking a shuttle to the launch spot, I met my flight partner and got the expected rundown on how we’d work together to get off the mountain and into the air. It was pretty much what I expected except we weren’t tied as close together as when I skydived. In fact, I had my own, comfortable soft seat! (I’d rather imagined I’d be dangling from a harness attached to a giant Baby Bjorn in front of my partner). When the wind blew up the mountainside just right, we ran full speed off the mountain. Or, I should say, I “ran,” but in reality I was mostly running in place in order to put tension on the canopy so it would catch air and lift us into the air. And then we were off…

The flight was different from what I expected. It was very peaceful and scenic. The air was cool and smooth and it was fun to realize how we were trying to find and “catch” invisible thermals in order to rise higher into the sky. My partner offered to let me steer the kite, but I honestly just enjoyed sitting back and watching the landscape below us. We caught some of those thermals and rose high enough to see all the way to Puget Sound. It was beautiful. When it was time to descend, we did do some more thrilling spirals which did feel a little akin to a roller coaster. When we touched down gently on the grass landing field, I realized I’d forgotten to take pictures or a video while we were aloft. I guess that’s a good reason to go again.

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