By Jeanne, 81, Autumn 2011
First, a little background — Twenty years ago I watched hang gliders take off from a cliff outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Bob and I, along with Cathy and Bernardo Monserrat, were there to watch the balloon festival over Albuquerque, but I had wandered off by myself to see the hang gliding. I was transfixed by the sight of people having an apparently flying-like-a bird experience. If only I could do that.
At a Life Story session in Cerritos, Mila told me she had gone tandem hang gliding in Brazil.She even showed me photos. I decided, that was what I would cherish. So that idea took a prominent place on my bucket list.
I’m now 81 and took part in a Grand Circle tour around the Pacifics. I mentioned my dream to Andrea, our guide. “You can do that in Queenstown when we get to New Zealand,” she said. “I’ll check it out for you.”
And so I signed up for hang gliding. I boarded a van with seven other people, all strangers, waiting for me and eager to leave. Two others were going hang gliding, and the rest, paragliding. We took off for the top of the mountain. Oh how exciting!
Imagine my disappointment, when my pilot decided after some failed practice runs – “I am sorry, but you’ll have to go paragliding. You only have to run half as far.”
He turned me over to Angus, a very gracious, kind young man who handed me the paragliding gear and helped me put it on. It came down somewhat over my knees, much like the old hobble skirts women wore in the early 900s, which kept women from running. I mentioned the hobble effect, and he raised the gear slightly. We managed to get over to the edge of the cliff, then waited. . and waited . . . and waited. The wind had died down.
Finally there was a bit of wind. The flag fluttered slightly, and Angus said firmly, “Now run!” The parachute started pulling us up. We were off. Angus said, “Put your right hand down here. See that strap? Put your thumb on the other side of the strap.” I did so. “Put your other hand down and hang on to the other strap.” I did. “Now push your bum back so you’re sitting firmly in the seat.” I did, and I was totally comfortable in that little seat high above the hills. I’m glad Andrea had reminded us of the definition of bum in New Zealand. Everything was perfect. Instantly I was thrilled. We sailed over the magnificent scenery outside Queenstown, the mountain, hills, trees, autumn flowers, fields, all absolutely gorgeous. The quiet, the scenery, all were magnificent. The entire ride was wonderful. The sun was shining, it was just warm enough, and the mountains, the greenery below us, all the scenery was fabulous. I loved it.
Once Angus offered to spin us around. I said, “No, thank you,” and continued to enjoy the serenity of the ride. All this time Angus steered us with his right hand, pulling one way or another on the strings of the parachute high above our heads. With the other hand, he held a little camera on a yard-long stick, and took a video and still photos of our ride. Such dexterity!
After 30 or 35 minutes we started down to a landing station. The landing was simple. “Lift your legs,” he said. I did, and we quickly and gently were on the ground. I stood up as graciously as possible. This took some doing but I think I managed without help, well, not much anyway.
It was a great experience, even better than parasailing over the Mediterranean or skydiving in Southern California. I’d like to do this again.
Final verdict — the longing to go hang gliding is gone, banished from my bucket list. Paragliding took care of that dream completely.
It was a delightful day.