This story was sent by Chris McKee to the CHGPA listserv on 4/24/2002.
He describes his first hang-gliding high flight, from Woodstock on 4/23/2002.
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"Once you have reached the top of the mountain, you have only begun to climb..."
At the age of 21, my mother gave me a card with those words after I free climbed Mount Crested Butte and scared the crap outta my whole family. Now I'm 35 and I just sent the pictures Ralph took and I'm sure that I've scared the crap out of her again, but those words have taken on a completely new meaning. Unfortunately, yesterday I reached the top of the mountain and then was met with lots of sink. NO CLIMBING ALLOWED!
I knew my anticipation would be much more nerve-wracking then the actual flight. My usual 15 minute glider assembly took 40 minutes because I had to mentally keep rechecking everything to make sure I wasn't forgetting something since my adrenalin was in overdrive. Conditions weren't the calmest, and Paul and Bacil kept radioing in about turbulence and how rowdy the LZ was. John M gave me the choice of launching or waiting until it calmed down. After discussion with John, I felt comfortable with the conditions versus my skills. I felt that I've been bumped pretty good at the training hill and that at Woodstock I would have altitude to play with after all.
Kicking the brain a few times and convincing myself that it was "GO" time, I strapped into my glider and readied myself at launch. John, Kelvin, Lauren and Terry wired me off (thanks) and once I got stabilized, I felt as calm as I had all day. When everything felt right, I yelled CLEAR before my brain could talk me out of it and ran like my life depended on it..which it did (Thanks Joe!)
I made a couple of passes, but was never able to get consistent lift to get above launch. Getting low, John told me to head out to the LZ. Going into my mental checklist for the DBF approach that I had briefed before flight, I suddenly realized that I was having a hard time turning to the right to head to the zone. Getting over the treeline, I realized that the wind had switched 90 degrees so I made a modified carrier break, spun a 270 and landed into the wind next to the windsock. I tried to keep my speed up, but as I went for the flare, I made it about 75% before I settled onto my wheels. A picture perfect landing in a Cessna 172, a bit dirtier for a Pulse, but still I avoided the dreaded Cow Patty Conspiracy.
Terra Firma felt good but I was disappointed that my flight was so short compared with the ego boosting flight of Paul T. Sitting in the LZ listening on the radio to Paul complain about hypothermia from his two hour flight was painful until John and Terry (both launched after my landing) also sledded not finding lift. The Sky Gods spit out two far more qualified pilots than I, so I didn't feel as bad. Misery loves company...especially in the LZ. Of course, the pilots who launched about 30 minutes later were consistently reaching cloudbase so now I am more inspired to get up there with them!
The best thing about my flight was seeing Ralph's pictures this morning. I was so focused on flying the aircraft that I don't think I even bothered to look out and enjoy the scenery. My body was on autopilot from the moment I went airborne until I landed on Terra Firma. I know it happened, but damn if I can remember much of the details.
Thanks for everyone who came out to join me, give me mental support, advice and congratulations. I really enjoy the people I have come to know and love in the CHGPA and I look forward to much longer flights with all of you. Except for Paul, of course, he got enough flight time yesterday!!! Congrats anyway Paul (thru clenched envious teeth!) Now my true education begins and I look forward to all of the help, advice and instruction from all of the pilots who have gone before me.
Thanks to everyone, especially John Middleton; without him, I wouldn't have gotten this far! Thanks again John. I have enjoyed every moment of my training ... well except for that damn tree and that damn cow pie. But aside from that I've really enjoyed the whole experience and I truly look forward to the future!