Have you ever wanted to just run off the edge of a cliff, fling yourself headlong into space, and soar through the air like a bird?
I now know how that feels.
It was around noon yesterday when I finally decided to go paragliding for the first time. I was with my family at the top of Grouse Mountain (elevation 4,100 feet) in Vancouver, British Columbia and just couldn't allow myself to pass up the opportunity.
I was glad to be the only "passenger" at the time. My First Flight guide, Gavin from New Zealand, got everything ready while I looked out at the landscape beneath me and wondered what I was in for. I didn't feel nervous, but rather strangely calm and contemplative. If this was how I was going to go out, at least it would be spectacular. I imagined myself running off the top of this mountain and never stopping, the wind on my face. Pretty heady stuff.
Gavin called me over and strapped a large pack with an attached seat onto my back, stuck a helmet on my head, and said seriously, "When we get in the air, you don't have to do anything, but first we need to get there and I need your help to do that. When I tell you to, start power walking. You'll feel a pull at your hips. Just keep going. Then when I tell you to, start running as fast as you can. Don't stop."
Now, every time I've ever seen paragliding on TV, people always seem to practice takeoffs ahead of time. So, I ask hesitantly, "Don't you think I should practice?" He said, "Nope. I'm pretty sure you know how to run." Okee dokee...
I stepped in front of him and the paraglider wing or canopy as it's called. He clipped us together and pointed to a sign marker in the distance down the rocky slope and gave my final marching orders, "That's where we're headed, so go in that direction. We're going to wait for a little gust to help us and then we'll be off."
The air was still and quiet and I could hear nothing but our breathing. Then all of a sudden, I felt the wind pick up a little and his legs start moving. "Let's go and think positive," he yelled. (Yikes!)
My mind went blank. I just put my eyes on that sign and started running with utter determination. My legs were still going when we lifted into nothingness and left the ground behind. My breath caught. What an amazing feeling! I settled back and enjoyed the ride after that, while we flew 6,000 feet above the ground at over 20 mph. All I could hear was the wind rushing by me as we circled Vancouver. It was almost like time stopped. Totally surreal.
That is until I felt movement behind me and suddenly a camera appeared on a long pole. "Smile!" Gavin shouted as he took our photo in mid-flight.
We did 360s while he took a short video and then he asked me if I wanted to do some tricks. Um...yeah, right.
We landed in a soccer field with no mishaps. My stomach was a little fluttery, but other than that, I was no worse for wear. I'd survived. What's more, it was some of the most fun I've ever had. I just wanted to do it again!
According to First Flight Paragliding owner, Yaro Lahulek, Southern Oregon, specifically Ruch which is in the Applegate Valley about 40 mins from Ashland, is the best place in the U.S. to go paragliding. Something about the different valleys coming together and the air currents...
He recommended Kevin Lee for lessons--he's apparently a local instructor with some renown who was voted U.S. Instructor of the Year a couple years ago. I'll be giving him a ring. I think I might be addicted. :)
More pics of me paragliding are here. Video to come. Notice how happy my instructor looks in every picture. Do you think he likes his job? LOL--can't really blame him.