Hang Gliding – Escaping the Enemy

May 24th, 2014

I traveled to Europe and went to check on a rental in Switzerland outside a little village. It was modern, beautiful, and I can’t believe I only stayed 3 days.

It was interesting in that area – in those days there was still border control and stamps in passports between the countries that later became part of the EU – often the border stops were unmanned. I would pass easily between France and Switzerland wondering if I’d get in trouble without a stamp.

As I was driving around sightseeing on the French side, I saw a sign for hand gliding. I had never done it and was curious.

They said the pilot, “Jean”, had been flying there for 10 years and was either the, or one of the, top champion(s) in Europe. That was comforting – he was still alive. I had heard hang gliding was one of the most dangerous sports – mostly because hang gliders often apparently soloed before they should and took too many risks.

Could I come back after lunch – that’s when Jean would return.

It was the sort of area that the smaller, less expensive restaurants had the most delicious food. Serious French home-cooking. I had passed one that seemed perfect so I headed back.

After lunch, I returned, paid and we loaded up. We headed up the Saleve, a sort of mesa.

As we were driving, I suddenly became concerned that my French was inadequate and that he thought I could solo and so would launch me on my own – so I formulated the sentence in French: “I’ve never done this before.” “Je n’ai jamais fait le hang gliding avant aujourd’hui.”

He looked at me and said in French: “Ca va. J’ai.” or “S’okay. I have.”

I was relieved. Sort of.

We got to the top of the mesa and put together the rig. He hooked me up – the connection was from the harness on my back where I couldn’t see it.

He told me to hold onto his shoulders as we would run and leap off the cliff.

I kept hoping I was correctly understanding the instructions.

I grabbed his shoulders and about climbed up on his back.

He laughed. No just hold my shoulders.

I was dubious but tried.

Not so tight.

I loosened up….barely.

Jean: “Prete?”  “Ready?”

Me: Having lost my voice, I nodded.

Jean: “On y va. Allez!” Let’s go. Go!

We ran. I rather bumped my foot and then there was nothing under us.

Nothing between me and the ground. I could not feel the harnass strapping me to the glider. I was so scared I barely looked around.

I looked at Jean and wanted to say: Okay. I love you, no really, thank you and  get me down safe.

I prayed: God, if you get me down safe, I promise I will never do this again.

It’s a bad idea to make those deals. I haven’t done it again but if it had been light enough I would have wanted to do so to conquer my fear.

The sun was setting. And since I figured I wouldn’t be doing it again, I figured I better enjoy the rest of the experience. We were about halfway down and I had a moment’s oops thought as missing the first half. Eyes were open but…

It was beautiful. And I imagined it was World War II – we were escaping the wrong way (Saleve was in Switzerland and flying to France – smaking it up anyway. I tried to imagine what all that would have been like – escaping by hang glider during war.

The sun set so he raced to the ground – darn it – I was just getting comfortable and enjoying the adventure.

We got close to the ground – he told me to lift my feet as I was shorter than he anyway. Before we came to a stop, my feet dragged a little but I made them light until he told me to stand up on my own feet.

Safe. We had escaped the enemy – who wasn’t behind us but was with me for the first half of the flight.





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