The few times in my life where I had the opportunity, I’ve managed to do things that of the people I know, few have ever done. I love that about my life and is something I am most pleased with. If my life were without adventure, I’d be very disappointed.
July 2017 will not disappoint! Headed to Montreal, Canada to train and become a certified paramotor or powered paraglider (PPG) pilot. Powered paragliding is something my brother and I have been talking about for years, having first seen people power kiting on the beach but thinking that was just insanely risky to do.Technically, there’s no FAA license or any kind of requirement for training to do this sport. However, it is made very clear that you would be foolish to get into this without formal training, preferably with a certified instructor. Suffice to say, we are training with one of the most qualified PPG pilots in the world today. I’m confident that we will have all the knowledge and practice needed to fly safely. From hiking open glaciers to kayaking remote ocean waters, camping in the wilderness to snowshoeing across avalanche prone areas, tenting in winters on snow covered mountains to summer grizzly bear country, this is most surely the largest investment I’ve ever made in a hobby and the most risky outdoors activity I’ll have ever done. I cannot wait for my first solo flight. It will be terrifying, exciting, and a moment that marks a childhood goal of mine, to fly. I never expected that I would realize this by sitting in a harness with nothing around me but my wing above me and my motor behind me. I created a separate page for this, as it deserves its own chapter in my life. I am looking forward to sharing these amazing experiences. Yippee! Living life thankfully, knowing I’m forever blessed with His favor and Grace. Thank you, God. Thank you, Jesus – for looking out for me, my health, my family, for allowing me to share and experience this life in this world, for all I recognize and for all I’ve yet to realize as your blessing. I know you have my back, you will keep me safe, alert, skillful and will fulfill my destiny and all of my days.
Keep in mind that I’m sharing with you not the experience of a seasoned pilot but someone who gave 110% and what I think of the experience having fell short of my expectations. The truth is I’m 46, discovered I’m more out of shape than I thought and my timeline to get this done, in hindsight, was unrealistic for my current ability. I think that’s fair.
We are back from training and still processing the experience. The good news is: 10 flights, all done without mishaps, got to climb to more than 1,000 ft. above ground level and my last flight was probably about 20 minutes. Not bad for a week and a half of training! With that said, parts of it were dreadful and parts were nothing short of incredible. I sort of need to get out of the way what I wasn’t prepared for; what I wish was different about the experience. First, the training field. I’d like to be gracious because everyone at Paratour is professional and cares deeply about safety. However, the field we trained in was less than desirable. It wasn’t an “elephant in the room”, so to speak. We talked about it, how the field has large irrigation ditches that easily fill with water. The weather didn’t help – it rained nearly every day. The mosquitoes were out of control. These things made training difficult and, over time, dreadful for me. I dreaded going to that field.
Most days involved 6-8 hours of intensive training and being exhausted physically and mentally really took its toll. Where I really found myself concerned was during takeoffs. Flying and landing were straight forward, always felt safe and really had fun flying and landing. Takeoffs were just downright terrifying. There’s a lot happening during a takeoff and if you’re a seasoned pilot, it appears very natural and amazing. If you’re not, it involves three things going on in your left hand, two things going on in your right hand, arms in the air, spread apart while a 50lb pack is on your back with a propeller spinning just a foot and a half away from your head and you MUST run with your head up and chest out or you’ll never get in the air. All of that and you have to run like your life depended on it and steer the kite so it stays directly above you as you do all of the above. Like I said, I need to get this part out of my system because this part, really, it sucked. Deep breath. Now I can tell you about the much cooler parts.
There is no practical way to describe what it feels like to take off. There’s this point in running, steering and throttling up the motor when you are gently lifted and no longer on the ground. Where some people might think this is the scary part, it was a major relief for me. I didn’t crash on takeoff, I’m headed in a safe direction and climbing. Thank you, God. I’m going to be safe. I’m in the air and all is well. You climb fast and there’s no time to wrap your head around what you’re doing (and smiling because this is freaking cool!) because you have to focus on flying. When I did have time to shift my thoughts to, “WOW, I’M FLYING!”, it was really nice. Real pleasing feelings about how I’m making this happen and what I’m accomplishing. It was 5 and a half days of grueling training before my first flight. I was ready. You do all of the stuff I mentioned above, you’re in the air and have the instructor’s voice in your ear using comms to guide you. At some point I lost communication. As I’m climbing I’ve got a lot going on in my head to stay calm and recognize that the wing is very stable. I’m having difficulty getting into my harness seat and so that was a distraction because it wasn’t fitted right and I won’t be sitting properly for this flight, kind of like half way in my seat. It was fine, just not as comfortable as it should be. But where is the voice of my instructor? First turn around the field, I hear him. I’m at 100 feet. Second turn – took a while for him to tell me it’s time to turn, but I hear him and make the turn. 200 feet. 300 feet. 500 feet. 1000 feet. Why do I not hear my instructor? I’m starting to come out of the stupor of first flight newbieness and realize I’m really waaay up in the air and, turning my head, I can see that the field is waaaay behind me. Like 1/4 to 1/2 a mile away. Uh-oh. Something is wrong. At that point it didn’t take long for me to make some executive decisions and make a turn back to the way I came. We practiced signals in preparation for an event like this and it was happening. I’m using my legs to signal that something is wrong. The instructor knows we lost comms so he’s seeing my signal acknowledging it. Most everything that was signaled to me, I understood. Some misunderstanding on my part that, fortunately, didn’t create a problem. Comms were restored when I got closer and I made a near perfect landing. Wow, that was intense!
There were 9 other flights after that and I can tell you that the only one I truly enjoyed was that last one. 20 minutes in the air using a beginners wing that’s safe, stable, slow, and comforting. It would be my last flight and it was great.