Monday, March 28, 2005

A point of view..slightly altered by a birds-eye view...

“And there’s a camera on the right wing, to which I have a switch here, see? So I’ll call out and then let’s wave to the camera and get some great shots OK?” That was the last instruction from my Hang Gliding instructor, a cheerful, grinny, I-will-not-stop-talking-even-if-the-glider-fails-and-the-parachute-fails-and-we-come-
crashing-down-from-2000-ft typa guy. As it happens I thank my luck that he was the talkative type as once we left ground, I needed to hear a human being speak continuously, ask me questions so I would have to answer them and that in turn would force me to breathe. As we rose up I saw the cars getting smaller and smaller and then the planes in the nearby county airport got smaller and the Atlantic Ocean began to look like the biggest, vastest blue bed I’ve ever seen. It’s very different from what you see from a regular airplane; firstly because you can get a 360 degree view and most importantly you don’t have anything covering you. So that means you hear the wind all the time and it’s loud and howling and you have to shout to be heard by your instructor. It’s cold up there and the gloves and sweatshirt the guy recommended came in very handy, especially as I was holding the rope handles in a death grip and if it weren’t for the gloves, my hands would have well been bleeding. I asked him to point out the island we were staying on as we had driven to another island for this class. He pointed it out and gestured in the other direction to tell me where my home was. “And that way is Boston, your home, Ann” (he took to calling me Ann. I did not think of correcting him as I had bigger things in mind at that time and height!).

I suddenly thought of India, my real home I thought. I thought of what the birds can see, what angels and celestial beings can see, I thought of family and the dear, dear departed. I thought of love and death and God; which was all very, very weird because I do not consider myself to be a believer in the first place. I thought of my hubby standing by a golf cart waiting his turn and hoping for my safe return. It was like my heart was overflowing with love and happiness. “Come on Ann; give the camera a smile and a wave”. I said no, no, I’ll just smile, please do I have to let go??? Come on, you can do it, don’t you wanna show friends how brave you were? He had somehow tapped my inner recesses and figured out my weaknesses and strengths in the first 10 minutes of flight already! I waved and he called that the shortest wave in history and laughed. The glider bumped a bit, I shrieked and he laughed some more and assured me for the hundredth time that he will not let anything happen to me. I almost fell in love with him at that point. “Look, Drew is waving to us.”

Drew was the pilot of a little Ultralite that had chugged us up the 2000 feet. Gliders can only come down you see. So you either jump off hills or dunes like the Wright brothers did or you use a plane when you have one, which is what we did. Wilbur and Orville Wright succeeded in getting the first ever glider to lift off the ground on this very island. We had stopped at their memorial built on the very same hill they had used - “Kill Devil Hill”, on our way. The 60-foot monument constructed of gray granite honors the Wright brothers and marks the site of the hundreds of glider flights that preceded the first powered flight. The isolation, strong winds, high dunes and soft sand (and hence forgiving landings) of the Outer Banks islands were what brought the Wright brothers there. As we trudged up that hill I thought of all that they had had made possible for us. As we embark on commercial airplanes breaking the sound barrier and talk of even faster ones; as we haggle and scour the internet for the most affordable plane tickets we very often forget what made it all possible. A simple glider aided by the natural elements and skill and knowledge; aeronautics at its most simple and elegant form. In Wilbur’s words, “It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge and skill”. So true, so true…as I was going to find out for myself now.

That's me! Posted by Hello

So Drew was waving. “He’s telling us he’ll be on his way now”...” What..?” was all that my mind was telling me. “PPPPHHHAT” The rope that connected us to him snapped off and my instructor knew a fresh load of assurances were in order here. Drew took off with one final wave. With the comforting presence of Drew’s head and the noise of an engine gone, it was suddenly just wind, glider, instructor and me; all alone, no engine, no nothing. My heart was in my mouth and my knees were shaking. “Ann your knees are shaking sweetheart!” Yes they are. I’m at 2000 feet, I’m scared and my knees shake like wooden spoons when I’m scared. “Be still, sweetheart, it’ll be fine”. An instruction that was given to us on the ground flashed threw my brain “We control these gliders with just our body weights. We move to the right by shifting our weight to the right. So everything is controlled by the movement of our bodies. That is all” That was enough to stop the knee shaking right there. I din’t want any surprises. I din’t want my instructor sounding surprised. But to my relief he had already proceeded to ask me about Tampa and whether I loved the Busch Gardens there. I started to tell him that though I was considered the chicken of the crowd (mostly by my hubby and the Alpha kind) I do manage a fair bit, when I suddenly realized this wasn’t a part of the talk-therapy. “You will love it Ann. It’ll be like a roller coaster in the air!” I shrieked and shrieked. I told him my childhood flashes in front of my eyes even on a roller coaster on firm ground, tested and engineered by experts. Please, please, no, no. He was thrown off by my plaintive cries and went right back to assurances. “Not even a small hot-dog roll?” Fresh shrieks. More talk-therapy. It was better after that. I even played pilot and controlled the glider for a bit. As we were drifting down (apparently at 100 ft/hr; but you can hardly feel it); I could see cars and the airfield and my husband slowly coming back into sight. The instructor made me do a hundred more waves and at one point even made me pretend to be a bird! Yes I let go off both handles. ‘Look Mom no hands’ took on a whole new meaning.

It was the smoothest landing. I found out that my eyes and (horror-of-horrors!) my nose was watering. How embarrassing. And how quickly priorities shift; I was back to wondering how to fix this, when I saw people running towards me and helping me get out of my harness. I saw hubby all excited asking me a hundred questions. But so quickly, before I could tell him about angels and love and God; he was on his way and I was now the photographer and I was clicking away with his manual and my digital (which I trust way more by the way). I saw them do a hot-dog roll after 10 minutes and I braced myself for the stories and teasing ahead. They landed and as I ran to meet him; the instructor called “Your husband thinks too much!!! He din’t want to do the roller coaster thing either!” Imagine my surprise when I saw my man QUITE rattled. He was worried that they did not do some kind of quality check between sessions and that the instructor just unloaded me and took off with him. He had been worried that the back-pack kind of thing we are on is after all just a back pack kind of thing. He pictured the handles tearing. A small tear that had gone unnoticed would break apart with a ripping noise. He thought of how there was only one parachute and how the instructor had it and though he was connected to the instructor; there are only 5 points of connection and the instructor could free himself of the student at any point. When the instructor twisted out of his line of sight so my husband could get an unobstructed view; he apparently did some shrieking too. He thought of how much more was still left to do on planet earth. He thought of what would happen if the winds played down. While I had been imagining angels watching over us; he had been picturing himself ripping through air and “I would just be a splattered road-kill on I-158 which cars would just swerve to avoid” –in his own words. He thought of ropes and tensions and stresses and strains. He thought of me too he said and he had chided himself for this whole hang-gliding idea. He had been treated to the hot-dog roll; it had not been approved by him at all! I could not help smiling; for the first time, I had emerged as the “cooler” one; scared though I had been I had actually ended up enjoying this much more than he had! My lack of practicality which I have been accused of by many had finally played off! My heart went out to him and his worries but I filed away all this info for the next time I’m subjected to all the teasing and for this blog too of course.

So do we all need to go through some high-risk activity to figure out who we are? Does this mean that that a skeptic like me is actually a trusting believer? While my husband who himself (though he is not a practicing believer in the traditional sense) does not deny the existence of God or a supernatural force; is actually the practical, questioning pessimist himself? Or does this just mean that I am a romantic at heart and this activity just reinforced that fact while it brought out the Mechanical Engineer in my husband? He can after all imagine the forces acting on a body in a state of unstable equilibrium - after devoting some 9 year of his life after high school to just that field - better than I can! For I remember clearly that Mechanics I/II was a nightmare to me in my first year of college where somehow all the forces seemed to balance each other out in whatever problem I was trying in that book by Shames. The pulleys and bridges and blocks of wedges on inclined planes would just remain where they were according to my diagrams; it left me nothing to do but think of angels and beauty and love. I guess that’s it.

P.S: The Kitty Hawk Gliding school is the World's largest Hang Gliding school. Since 1974 they have taught over 300,000 people. The instructor is of course a USHGA certified one and gliders are three times safer than most small airplanes. In fact the glider I was on was way safer than the tow plane that was used. And think of it this way, if that plane caught fire or something, that very towline I was so sorry to see go would be snapped and I and my instructor would glide down slowly in absolute safety. So if you ever get a chance to try this sport, please please do; chances are you will never regret it.


Blogger alpha said...

Lucky you is all I can say! Sigh!!! Good job.

3:18 PM  
Blogger Patrix said...

Your prose teacher never taught you to write in paragraphs, kya? Now that I got that out of my system, lemme go and read.

5:54 PM  
Blogger Patrix said...

That was wonderful; paragraphs or not. I wish I can do that sometime soon; maybe after skydiving.

That's me! - You are pretty!

6:00 PM  
Anonymous Ash said...

Woohoo ! Sounds like a blast !

Gotta convince Patrix to give up on selling me the skydiving idea; and go do this instead :)

7:03 PM  
Blogger AmitL said...

Hi,Gratisgrab,that sounds like a really interesting experience...however,one prob...the pics were not appearing here..might be Etisalat banned the site where they originate from?

7:11 PM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Patrix boy - It's not the first time I got that piece of advice. So I took it! Thank you, now take Ash hang-gliding. Come on the Outer Banks are just a short flight from ATL!..Sky Diving is next on our list; but that was a list my man made before trying hang-gliding...let's see! :)

7:13 PM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Amitji - I dunno what's happening...let me see what I can do...But just to let you know - it's only one picture in which you can't really see much !! LOL! A vast blue sky and a speck of a glider..Don't ask me why it's there then! Just for kicks!

7:18 PM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Btw Patrix, I had a TOUGH time breaking that into paragraphs; I don't think in paras, I think in long unwinding rambles I guess...

7:19 PM  
Blogger anumita said...

Wow!! If it's akin to para gliding, I know what you mean! I jumped off a hill, with my heart in my mouth. Not knowing whether I would crash into nothingness below or sail on.
The experience is indeed divine!

10:46 PM  
Blogger Weary Hag said...

Wow... that must have been incredible! Good for you for having the courage to try it. I'm sure it's something you'll never forget. As for me? I'll keep my feet planted firmly on the ground thank you. I seem to find enough trouble just looking up - don't DARE to look down!


3:56 AM  
Blogger phatichar said...

Send this story to RD...pronto! And hey, you do look great in that pic. ;)

3:59 AM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Anumita - Yes it is much like's incredible isn't it?..Google showed me the difference between the two:
A Hangglider has a rigid frame maintaining the shape of the wing, with the pilot usually flying in a prone position. The Paraglider canopy shape is maintained only by air pressure and the pilot is suspended in a sitting or supine position. The Hangglider has a "cleaner" aerodynamic profile and generally is capable of flying at much higher speeds than a Paraglider.

I've tried para-sailing before and that was somehow a calmer experience...maybe it's the more "handleable" height there...

Carol - Spoken like my sister...she was recoiling at my narration itself!!..Are you afraid of heights?

phatichar - who is RD? & thanks, yes the wind is becoming isn't it? quite an outdoorsy look huh?

5:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds wonderful. Bungee jumping I've tried and that's very fast but it felt too long. I should try this. Your writing makes me feel I've tried it already.


8:28 AM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Nick - Bungee jumping, cool! The hang-gliding lasted 20 minutes from take-off to landing. It seemed like an hour in my head! Thanks for visiting..

11:51 AM  
Blogger phatichar said...

Reader's Digest :)

12:24 AM  
Blogger Weary Hag said...

Gratisgab... Ironically, I'm not afraid of heights as long as my feet are on something solid and unmoving - like the observation deck of the Empire State Building. I used to eat my brown bag lunch at the top of the World Trade Center when I worked in Manhattan. Couldn't get enough of the view. I'm just too much of a control freak to be free-floating anywhere. And I meant to tell you how much I enjoyed your writing. Great stuff!

4:45 AM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Phatichar - I think I can make it into Readers Digest only if I died in that story or maybe if I was permanently disabled but I still went on to live a somewhat decent life....RD in recent years has become an accident-digest don't ya agree? I used to raid my grandfather's collection; it used to be amazing in those days. Thanks for the vote of confidence tho!

7:40 AM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Carol - That must have been awesome..having lunch on the deck everyday I mean...I envy you! We were at "Top-of-the-hub" a week ago and it just doesn't compare (though it's a different kinda beauty) don't you agree?

7:42 AM  
Blogger FunnyCide said...

Yoo Hoo!! Someone seems to be on the top of the world!! Both literally and figuratively!! :))

That seems like a fun experience. The adrenaline rush and all that!!

3:19 PM  
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