It took no courage at all to make a reservation for a tandem hang-gliding lesson on my annual trip to the Outer Banks with friends. With very little thought, I booked Mark and me with Kitty Hawk Kites for mile-high flights where we’d each be strapped into a harness, suspended above an experienced instructor. An ultralight plane would tow us up above the clouds to a mile above the earth. We’d let the tow rope loose and then glide down for a half hour or so. None of that seemed worrisome n the least.
I wasn’t scared on the long drive to the Currituck County Airport. I wasn’t nervous at all when I signed all those papers declining my right to sue should I end up dead.
“You didn’t bring anything warm to wear?” one of the ground crew asked. A jacket, I wondered? On a hot summer day?
“It gets pretty cold up there,” she said. “It’s over a mile in the air. Here, we’ll lend you a jacket.”
Going up so high that I’d be cold; hmmm. My stomach did the tiniest little flip.
But, hey, no time to think. “Who wants to go first, you or Mark?” they asked.
“Me, me, I’ll go first.” I wasn’t sure that I might not lose my nerve if I saw Mark fly away.
It took only a matter of minutes to climb into the canvas sling below the wing. I snapped on my helmet; wait, I thought, it’s loose. Too late. We were already racing along the grass runway behind the plane; the earth sank below us very fast. Within a very few seconds, we were far above the airport. “Wow,” I said to Eric, my instructor, “we’re REALLY high up here.”
“We’re only at 500 feet,” he said. “We’re going ten times higher. Look at the horizon, not the ground.”
That was good advice, and those first fearful flutters calmed down.
It felt as though it took us a very long time to rise above 5000 feet.
The ultralight towed us along at about 30 mph; the wind rushed against my face. Through the climb, our job (well, okay, Eric’s job) was simply to keep the glider directly behind the plane.
And then we pulled the cord to set us free. Our speed dropped noticeably. On our own above the clouds, we floated high over the fields and Currituck Sound. Eric tried to get me to take the controls, but I worried that I’d send us plunging out of the sky.
A mile up, our glider cast a shadow on the thick clouds below; the shadow was surrounded by a circular rainbow, known as a glory ring. The shadow and colored light ring paced along with us until we ran out of cloud. I’ve only seen a glory ring once before, from the window of a commercial airliner. It was even more magical in the glider, feeling the sun on my legs and the gentle whoosh of moving air.
Now I just gave myself over to enjoying the flight, moving across the sky, through clouds, and slowly sinking back to earth.
Eric treated me to an acrobatic or two – “Now we’re at the top of the rollercoaster, and heeerrrreee we go down.” I shut my eyes and managed not to scream.
Too soon, it was over. The ground raced up to meet up, and Eric set the glider down exactly where we’d started, without even a bump to mark the difference between sky and grass. Would I do it again? You bet I will. Want to go with me sometime?