Here's Part I of a fun story posted by Steve Roti to the US hang-gliding listserv on 3/4/98.

Hell of a Launch, Part I

Seward Whitfield

[The following fictional story about foot-launched flight was read by Seward Whitfield at the March 3 meeting of the Cascade Paragliding Club. I'm sending it to the mailing list for those who enjoyed Seward's previous story "Cross-Country" featuring O.D and Lorena that was posted about two years ago. Some of the pilots mentioned in this story are Oregon locals (instructor Larry Pindar, cross-country pilots Rick Higgins and Terry Taggart), but I think it's appropriate for a larger audience as well.   Steve Roti, Portland, Oregon]

Having been working hard on a writing project all winter, I haven't gone paragliding in several months-- haven't even gone out to give it a try. I've tried not to even call the bulletin board to see if anybody else is going out, so that I won't be tempted. So, busy forcing my mind in an entirely different direction than flying, I was surprised upon slipping into my NOVA pajamas last night to realize that, February being so short, tonight was our meeting night. ----If you don't have your paraglider PJ's yet, Larry probably has them on sale right now.

The bad news was, that as I stepped into one leg, I remembered something about tonight being ex-president's night. No one had called me to explain what that might entail, but I guessed that ex-president's were probably supposed to stand up and say something or do something. When I was president, I said a lot, but seldom did anything, so I figured I had better stick with that. I thought about what to talk about, and realized that something educational or motivational or something about safety would be appropriate. Nothing along those lines, or along any other lines, came to mind all day today.

Getting ready to drive here, I knew that I would have to come up with something, so against my better judgment-- when you have my judgment, it is BOUND to get better at some point-- I have decided to share the story of what happened to me during three days last summer. I wrote it all down right afterwards, so that I would remember it correctly, but I've never mentioned any of it to anyone.

It was a nice day, NOAA promising NW 10-15. I knew that there would be people up on the Toutle, so I tossed my bag in the truck and arrived at Twin Bowls around noon. To my surprise, no one else was there. The wind was still a little light, so I headed up to Elk Rock. It was hot up there. I waited awhile in the shade of a bush. Finally the wind picked up a bit, and despite the fact that no one else seemed to be around, I decided to lay out.

I flopped my wing on the ground and was about to unroll it when I saw a shadow rushing toward me. I ducked, glancing up as a hang glider appeared out of nowhere and...basically, crashed...on the road. I ran over to the pilot...who was no spring chicken.

"Are you all right?" I asked him.

"Yeah, yeah, of course I'm okay," he said in a gruff, burned out voice. He got out of his harness, and proceeded to somewhat straighten both badly bent downtubes by kicking at them. And near them. I don't know a lot about hang gliding, so I just stood there watching this. The wing itself was nothing short of amazing. There wasn't a single straight or even clean line anywhere on it. Support wires were kinked and tied together in jaggedy knots and baling wire and twisted coat-hangers trailed from places where there should have been pins or bolts. Holes in the wing fabric and the harness had been patched with what looked like...women's frilly undergarments. The wing fabric was, or had been a long time ago, a deep purple with faded orange-and-red flames flowing back from the leading edge. It was like a cross between a hot-rodder's fantasy and a bulldozed aluminum chicken coop.

The pilot brushed back his long white hair with both hands, then reached into his harness, jerking out an old green bag that he set on the ground. He opened the bag, pulling out a banged up thermos and two glasses and several bottles of liquor and started pouring.

"Whew, I need one of these," he said. "What about you?"

"One what?" I said.

"One what? Spanish coffee."

"I...I try not to drink and fly."

"Well, you may as well have one."

"It's pretty hot out for a Spanish coffee, isn't it?" I said.

"Nah, it's never too hot. But I got beer in there if you'd rather."

"No, thank you."

"Go on, have one or the other," he insisted. "You only have three days left. Live it up!" He ran one hand through the middle of his hair again and when he finished, there were what appeared to be horns sticking up. He pointed his finger at the two glasses...and the 151 rum inside burst into flame.

My blood actually went cold, like people say it can. "Who are you?" I asked. "I know this sounds like something out of a dumb movie, but are you the Devil?"

He chuckled. "Hell, no, I'm not THE Devil. But I am the devil's minion."


"You got a problem with minion?"

"No. No."

"I'm a subdevil. I'm the devil of foot-launched flight."

"Why are you here?" I asked.

"I'm here because you're here. You've done too many stupid things since you started flying. Way too many."

"Stupid things? You must have the wrong pilot," I told him. "I wasn't even going to come here today. I haven't done stupid things. Not very many."

"What about two weeks ago? Flying next to Tina down at Lakeview when you had to find out how hard you could bank a paraglider in a bullet thermal? I was right above you. You didn't even know where your damn wing went. What about the competition wing everybody told you not to buy? At least that time you knew where it was didn't you?-- wrapped all over you while you tried to keep your fool head above water. What about...?"

"Okay. Okay. Maybe I'll have that drink. If I have time."

"Oh yeah. Here's the deal. You get three days, and this part is kinda like one of those movies. You can do pretty much anything each day that you wish. You can have any cross-country flight you want, win any race, get higher than anybody, have any thing you want, any woman you want...whatever. But at the end of the third day, you and I meet back here and go for that last flight together. That final glide. So what do you want to do?"

"I have to decide now?"

"No. You take all the time you want. But this is one of the three days and the meter's ticking."

"I can have or be or do anything? I could be...I could be Rick Higgins?"

"You could be Rick Higgins. You could be some Euro-pilot. You could be Terry-goddamn-Taggert."

"With my own driver?"

"A beautiful woman driver. She'll use her own rig to chase you wherever you go. Downwind, baby!"

"You kidding me?"

"You're not following me here, bub. THIS IS IT. If you want, you can have a brand new Suburban with seven women in string bikinis and a full bar. If you wanted to, in less than a minute from now you could be with a very scantily clad Brigitte Bardot on a baby harp seal rug."

"Brigitte Bardot?"

"You got a problem with Brigitte Bardot? Very sexy lady."

"Yeah, but she's a little...."



"I thought you liked older women."

"Well, back...."

"You're pushing fifty aren't you now? Besides, it's true what they say about older women being real grateful. Whatever, drink that up. I got other things to do whilst you make up your mind."

I tipped my glass back and wiped the cream off my lips. "Thanks, I do need to think about it."

He finished his Spanish coffee, put everything away, and clipped in.

"All's you do to get me is click your heels together twice when you decide what you want."

"Click my heels together?"

"You got a problem with that?"

"No. No."


He ran off the cliff, wobbled toward a snag, veered hard, almost stalled, straightened it out and began to climb. I watched as he sailed away toward Mt. St. Helens and spiraled down into the crater....

There was a rustling behind me that startled the hell out of me in my jittery state. I leaped around to see a white paraglider in big ears settling in on the road. The ears popped out and a little old lady dressed in a white flying suit smiled at me as she touched down like a piece of...down.

"Just had another visitor didn't you?" she said. "I know all about it. I'm the angel of foot-launched flight and I just dropped by to let you know that things aren't necessarily the way he says they are."

"They aren't? I don't have to...go soon?"

"Oh, no, he's right about that. You do have three days. But the good news is that you don't have to take him up on any of those ludicrous suggestions of his. You can choose to do something good with the time you have left."

"Well, if I only have three days, some of those things he suggested actually do sound pretty good to me."

"Three full days.... What about doing something good for others? Something good for your mother? Do all you can in that time for homeless children? Something good for the folks in your flying club?"

"Would that-- like-- be worth some extra points-- if I do decide to do good? You know, extra points on that last day when everything gets decided?"

"I'm not allowed to divulge information of this nature," she said. "Doing good without the knowledge of reward is part of the reward of doing good."

Well, I had never met an angel before. And might not again, I thought.

"I need to think about it, ma'am."

"Whatever. But this is one of your days and the ticky is tocking."

"The ticky is tocking?"

"You got a problem with that?"


"Then if you make up your mind to do some good in this world before you leave it, click your heels together twice."

"Click my heels together twice?"

"You got a problem with that?"

"That's what the other guy said to do."

"He did? Well, that's pretty sneaky. He knows that hang gliders are still faster-- that's why-- but it won't be that way forever, I guarantee you."

"It won't? All right!"

"Well, don't get too excited. It isn't gonna happen in three days."

"Oh, yeah. Well, is there flying in heaven? I don't mean just floating around, being good, but fun flying?"

"I'm not allowed to divulge that information. I am allowed to help you help others if that's what you decide. Forget the heel-click crap, just think a truly worthwhile thought and I'll be here."

There was a lull in the warm breeze. The pink ribbon beside me hung limp, but she did a nice forward launch, her own little flapping wings getting her up to speed in no time. She disappeared into a puffy cloud.

Judging by the cloud she had entered, conditions were getting good, but I knew I had to do some serious thinking. ANYTHING I WANTED.... If I was gonna go anyway, what was the hottest new wing on the market? And what about a Ferrari? Kim Basinger. KIM BASINGER. I was paralyzed, burning at least another hour as I worked on my list. It's not as easy you think....

(to be continued)