Learning to Paraglide : Flying High and Touching Down Gently

It was his idea. He had always wanted to fly. I am not scared of heights per se, but who isn’t a little nervous high up on the edge of a mountain with the houses below smaller then a thumbnail?  My beloved Ryan and I made our way to the flight park near Arrowtown, New Zealand, in search of our license to fly. We met up with Swani and Blake at Infinity Paragliding. After a day on the ground then a day on a little hill we were driven up to Coronet Peak for our first high fly. Solo mission. Just me, my wings, lines, helmet, harness, and a 2-way radio.

“Ok, ready…go ahead. Arms up, step forward…now arms back…run run run… keep running.”

My paragliding instructor moves me into the sky with his words. I move my body into action. I hang on his every word and follow his every instruction. In some ways I have put my life in his hands. In all honesty I have simply learned to trust what I don’t know and step into that unknown despite the fear. I know that if it can be done then I can do it if I have the desire for it.  

On a nice day the sky is colored with wings and joyful and most likely nervous people are flying as high as they can. Last year in Annecy, France, Ryan and I climbed atop a mountain and were mesmerized by the gliders. This year we are part of the flying culture.

It’s an amazing feeling to fly and completely possible with the right gear, a mountain and a landing zone. Up in the sky among the clouds and wind I am learning to gain control of my aircraft. But each time a big gust of wind or turbulence comes I am reminded of the fact that I am hanging in mid air high above the earth harnessed in by a few carabineers completely reliant on a complex organization of lines to a kite.  I suspend my fear in order to awaken into a new reality. I AM FLYING. I really can’t spend too much time looking at my set up. Instead I look out to the vast landscape or over the nearby mountain range. I loose myself in a moment of freedom long enough to see myself in a new light, to see life from a new perspective, to know myself with a new and open mind.

Flying is freedom. Flying is a reminder of how small I am and how insignificant my life really is. I am not saying that my life is meaningless; I am saying that I create meaning of my life through my actions, choices and the inner dialogue that filters itself into being. Stepping toward the edge of a cliff and flying beyond it is surreal and to some slightly insane. But for me it tastes like liberation. It sounds like thunder and God. It feels like a giant hole has been filled with a child like curiosity that we forget as we age. These little reminders are worth the investment.

I probably won’t die today. But when I do I’ll have known that I lived. I have lived out loud and despite the fear that seems to never cease. I have flown from a mountaintop and swung and spiraled my way down. I have caught warm winds that lifted me higher and higher. I have gently landed on my own two feet and kept running with the wing above my head. I have learned ways to gain mastery over my wings and I am learning more each time.

There are moments when I want to quit and just throw the wing into a pile, let the lines get messy and go home. I feel uneasy, edgy, unstable, nauseous and nervous. I feel like I want to get down right away and forget about this flying business. But no one ever made it too far by quitting and you can’t quit what you love you can only refine your engagement. So I pack up my wing nice and neat, chug some water, sit in the shade and wait for the van to drive us up to the top again.