The other day I was talking with Bea about how I wish to blog going forward. I told her that I want most of it to be about what I do, and not what I think…sitting on my ass, pontificating.
Well, there’s the marriage between my anarchist spirit of various activities and deep appreciations right there—because you’re not going to find me blogging about standing in line to get a license to live a life; or, showing my license to drive, to buy a bottle of whiskey in the land of the free. It’s perfect for zoo humans though; for whom, “better safe than sorry” is their chief inspiration.
…It was about 20 years ago—maybe 19—that I began flying hang gliders. First 5 years or so was consuming and ferocious in activity—local flying and trips centered around flying. I’ve flown mountains on the west coast from SoCal (Marshall, San Bernardino) to Washington State (Chelan Butte and the flats to the east), and much in-between (e.g., Hat Creek; Lakeview, OR; Indian Valley at Greenville, CA; Dunlap, CA near King’s Canyon: to name a few). And Ft. Funston south of San Fran, on the cliffs, was a weekly mainstay.
This post is about Big Air though.
It’s an important distinction that makes for hang-glider pilot “launch butt.” It’s that point in time where your body is telling you to just go take a shit rather than fly into all of that scary uncertainty. It’s physiological.
What in the fuck is “big air,” anyway? There’s no precise definition, and many of those places I named can be that, at times. But, there are places where Big Air is BIG Air; meaning, it’s scary most of the time but where mentally overcoming it in the context of smarts and experience has important rewards. People tend to categorize and thus: hang gliding is dangerous and scary. To those who actually do it, there are 50 Shades of Grey and there’s “country club flying” too. There’s also deep red and deep black. …There’s cloud suck—where if it’s black and big enough, it’ll suck you into its caldron of misery and fear and freezing and you could die…though the bright side is that it might take you to 60,000 ft, asphyxiate and freeze you first. There’s that.
…I’m not a particularly skilled pilot, nor vastly experienced. I have somewhere between 100 and 200 total accumulated HG flying hours. Many of those old fucks who pioneered the sport in the ’70s in their late teens and early 20s are way north of 10,000 hours and still flying as often as they can. One problem in the “sport,” in terms of popularizing it—stupidly assuming that’s even possible—is that the average person sees it as a scary ride—like a bungee jump or skydive. They are currently unaware that the world record HG flight is north of 400 miles over 10-12 hours (hundreds @ 200-300 miles). There are many guys who do 100+ mile flights all the time. …Of course, don’t discount The X Games. So hubristic fucktard “rad.”
So for my pathetic self, in contrast to the true SkyGods? I’ve had many flights over 2 hours and a few into the 3-4 hour range. Been above 8,000 ft many times, but the coolest was when I was setting up for a landing in Indian Valley once and the turbulence in mid-afternoon was butt puckering. I decided that if I caught a “whiff,” I’d take it. I did, and I rode the same thermal from 300 ft to about 12,000 (I’m conflating MSL and AGL here, but this is for the layman). By the time I got back to the LZ a coupla hours later, it was a gentle setup, landing, and a cold beer from friends.
[Aside: I know many guys who’ve gotten hypoxic going to 21-22K feet without an O2 bottle and cannula—and some sailplane guys go to 30-60k feet with the O2. But officially? They got to 18,000 feet. Bonus for anyone who tells me why that’s their official story and they’re sticking to it.]
Hang gliding is not an extreme endeavor, but one of passion and longing. It’s an endeavor suited to contemplative, thoughtful, inquisitive people who love other similar people gathered around similar aspirations. A common thread: disgust, detestation and impatience with stupid and fucktard. In that way, it eats its young. If you’re new, you get dispensation to a point but at a point, if you can’t get over your stupid, you get shunned. You’ll make the endeavor look bad when you become a paraplegic or kill yourself, and then the community has to worry about your dependents. It’s a highly social endeavor (fourth time I’m avoided using the word “sport”).
Being competent at strapping tech around and over you and running off a mountain to experience, overcome and conquer the chief envy of humans in all writings forever—the envy of birds—puts you at the very top in terms of transcending those limitations and aspirations upon which doG saw fit to shackle you. You’re a .01 percenter.
Hang gliding makes you a social bird, looking down at landlubbers in figure and form. It’s individual in the air, but social too—pilots showing others where the lift is. But at the campfire at the end of the day, flying stories are fish stories. Plus, you will tell someone how you helped show them lift, and someone will tell you how they showed you lift.
…It also makes you an amateur geologist and meteorologist. Continental drift repercussions, timeless erosion, and the Sun in its billions of years of chicanery become your doGs. You don’t fantasize about space travel, because you can fly like a bird with hawks & eagles…and there’s not a president, prime minister, congress, parliament or voter on the planet who has a single fucking clue about what you do and what you know. You have great difficulty over not simply dismissing all of them, telling them to just piss off—pitching a tent with your wing alongside, waiting to be spread and free the next time.
When you watch this 5-mim very high def video, it would make me very happy if you pay very close attention on many levels, beyond assessing the age of the folks (teens and 20-something in the 70s, still at it).
- Look at the clouds.
- Look at the sunlight.
- Look at the shade those clouds make on the ground.
- Look at the shades of darkness on the cloud bottoms.
- Look at the terrain.
Those points are kinda essence in terms of apprehending well and getting a long or far flight, or failing, or getting hurt (though you must understand what it all means). Remember: Obama couldn’t help you, even if he got tired of running the universe.
A couple of important notes before you watch. First, you’ll see hang gliders that almost appear to spin on a top and go up. This is true. Big Air. Think of a pot of water at a low boil. It’s a caldron. Analogously, there’s air going up, and air going down, churning. You find yourself in the up, you can be in air that’s 2,000 feet per minute up or more to 10K and above. But it can be right next to air that’s crashing earthward at a similar velocity, and near the surface can be found predictable mixtures of the two. Safe landing please.
OK, watch for 5min: Dreaming Awake At King Mountain Idaho.
That’s the video that inspired this entire post, three days chewing on what I wanted to say about it.