Friday, May 29, 2009

An Epic Day by Dan Miller

Sunday, May 18.  An Epic Day
We get started early today, and conditions are spectacular from 7:00 in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon.  Everyone gets three flights today (and some of us get four and five).  A couple of launches are a bit hairy, and there are a few Albatross landings, but the improvement in our skills takes a quantum leap forward.  We practice lots of maneuvers, some thermal flying, and even a few recreational flights. 
Trevor perfects the spiral, Dan gets an "outstanding!" from Chris on his wing-overs, and Terry neatly cores a thermal over the beach directly above our heads for what seems like forever.  Daniel earns the nickname "Big Ears" for an unprecedented 15-minute descent holding the same maneuver for an entire flight.  (He lost radio contact after releasing from the tow, and the air over the lake was a bit turbulent in the afternoon.)  Clint earns our undying admiration for a perfect triple-S maneuver: stall, spin, and sat.  It's the scariest thing we've seen yet, and Clint performs it beautifully.
Chris has not let anyone ride in the boat with him this weekend.  He is superstitious about that: he says there is a curse associated with riding in the boat.  Every time someone does, something goes wrong.  After everyone has had his third flight of the day, Clint decides to challenge fate by taking a ride in the boat.  Nothing goes wrong... yet. 
Later in the day, Clint is back on shore, hooking in for another tow.  He takes a rough bounce on launch, puts his hand out to steady his balance, and his hand strikes a rock on the beach.  He looks down, sees one of his fingers sticking out at a funny angle, and brakes hard to abort the launch.  (Paraglider pilots may be a little nuts, but no one wants to fly with a broken finger.)  Chris stops the tow within about six feet, so Clint isn't hurt getting dragged along the rocky shore.  But he is pulled into the water, so he's the first one to get wet this weekend. 
A few minutes later Chris is on the prow of the boat, which is now pulled up to the edge of the water.  The rest of us are standing on either side of Clint, and we are all leaning in close to inspect his little finger, which looks like it has just grown a crazy-ass fourth knuckle.  Someone suggests that maybe it is only dislocated, but Clint can't move it and he's sure it's broken.  There's a discussion on where we ought to take him: to the hospital in Salt Lake City or to the walk-in clinic in Nephi (which is about 100 miles closer).  "You know," says Clint conversationally, not showing that he is feeling any pain at all, "if I was a horse you'd shoot me."  Chris gives him a powerful pain-killer and a king-size can of Red Bull.  (What you have to do to get a free Red Bull these days...)  Everyone takes a step back to see what will happen when that massive dose of codeine, caffeine, and sugar hits his bloodstream.  "I don't know, man," says Chris helpfully, looking at Clint's finger.  "I'd sure like to give that thing a pull."  The codeine, caffeine, and sugar hits all at once about three seconds later, because Clint grabs his pinky and gives it a good hard tug.  The bones crack four times.  Chris lurches to the side of the boat and nearly hurls overboard.  But Clint is smiling now, and wiggling his finger without any hint of a grimace.  "It worked!" he says happily.  Mathieu decides to nickname him "Pinky," and the name sticks for the rest of the day.
All's well that ends well, as they say, and this third day of our SIV course is truly epic.  We have driven 16 hours from Calgary to be here, and it has been totally worth it.
Often I wonder why we do this.  Paragliding is not as dangerous as most people think, but it is still a lot more dangerous than many of the alternatives.   Why take up paragliding and not gardening or croquet?  This question fascinates me.  Answering it requires an article on its own, but there are several things that come to mind immediately.  There are the obvious things, of course: the exhilaration of flying... the peace and quiet in the sky... the aesthetics of the wing... the beauty of a smooth launch or a well-carved turn... the feel of the sun and the wind on your face...  But there are very human elements to it as well.  Paragliding is a life-altering experience, and the people with whom you share that experience become an important part of it.  We are privileged with great teachers, instructors, and coaches, and we owe a lifelong debt of gratitude to those who have introduced us to the sport and continue to guide and direct our flying experiences.  This weekend would never have happened without Vincene, Keith, and Clint from Muller Windsports, or Chris from Super Fly, and our lives would be something less without it.  So thanks from each one of us - we will never forget it!

No comments: