Thursday, December 4, 2008

Dream Soaring and the Gift of Hang Gliding

By Chuck
July 2008

Throughout the centuries gone by since humans first walked upon the face of the earth, we have gazed skyward in awe at the birds soaring effortlessly above. Envious, we have always been, of another living creature so able to roam the skies at will. A creature not tied to the earth by an invisible force, but so free of all things earthbound. We have always wondered what it would be like to fly, to envision the earth from above, on our own wings of flight.

In the search for answers, or perhaps by chance, we sometimes found ourselves atop a high ridge or windswept mountain top. From our lofty perch we marvelled at the birds flying far below us, gloating that for once we were above them. Yet, we still could not fly and this left us feeling empty. Searching further, some of us dared to look over the edge of a sheer cliff dropping off into a canyons chasm far below. Staring down the vertical rock walls bathed in shadows and sunlight, suddenly the eye would catch upon a something. It was way down there, circling and circling. At first it seemed so distant that it was hard to tell what it was. Then little by little, it came closer. Mesmerized, we would watch almost hypnotically as it began to climb higher and higher up out of the depths below. Up and up the unknown bird came riding on some invisible current of air, slowly gaining in size and now recognizable. Sometimes it was a great eagle, or perhaps hawk or vulture, but still it circled silently up, ever closer. Then suddenly, there it was flying right in front of us, its long wing tip feathers clearly seen moving in the wind. For a second its head turned towards you. You could sense its eyes seemingly searching deeply into yours as it swooped ever higher on its journey up into the blue. In your mind you are sure you heard its call to follow, but instead, you could only dream.
Upward, it soared on, and soon you could hardly make out the shape and form of something that moments ago was so close. The feathered one, who called out to you, had become just a tiny black spec silhouetted against the grey wispy base of a cloud far above. Then before your eyes, it disappeared. From whence it came to where it had gone was mystery, but for those few fleeting moments, you were allowed a privileged glimpse into its private sanctum of flight. In mind and spirit you had transcended the bounds of gravity.

We would continue to stand there in quiet contemplation, feeling the wind in our face, breathing deeply in the crisp cool scent of the air, and feeling so alive. You felt a strange kinship to that flying friend who stirred your imagination and awakened a deep longing for flight inside you. As in a trance we continued to gaze out across the vast expanse of sky and earth below, dream soaring. Lingering awhile longer we tried to understand the unseen magic that allowed this majestic creature such freedom and power over us? We began to ask ourselves; how could human kind dare to claim dominion over living things and not possess the gift of flight? Perhaps birds were indeed more spirit than flesh, put here to stimulate the great creativity inside us all. Is their purpose - to free us of things below, allowing us to one day takes to the skies in flight? Filled with desire we longed to simply lean forward into the wind, arms outstretched, and feel our feet lose contact with the ground beneath. To then swoop off into the sky, no longer earthbound, but soaring free. It must be so wonderful, we were sure it would be!

Down through the ages we continued to dream the dream of flying free, always wondering what it would truly be like, to soar like an eagle and see the world below as only they could understand. This dream became a life’s passion, a quest for flight, and the driving force of thought and invention. Slowly as human technology advanced many tried to turn their dreams of flying into reality. Strange contraptions and designs as wild as their imaginations were tested but failed to bring flight to mankind. Still, this did nothing to quench the thirst for flight. Years past and more flying inventions born of this dream, tried to cross the threshold; but none yet, could take us into the sky.

Then it happened! A primitive wing born of wood, wires, and cloth, light enough to be lifted and held aloft by the arms of man, appeared. Below, the original pioneer of human flight, a fellow dream soarer, picked up the wing and ran down the slope into the wind. A few steps later and magically, wonderfully, his feet left the ground. He was flying! Suddenly, all that went before since mankind first watched a bird fly by, and dreamed of flight, culminated in reality. Soon others, building upon the lessons of those first flights, flew farther and higher until one day a flying machine left the earth, not powered by gravity and wind, but a noisy, iron machine. The age of powered flight was born and spread quickly throughout the world.
Somehow though, there were those who continued to gaze in awe at the eagle, the hawk, the vulture, or the great soaring birds of the sea, and sensed that familiar deep primordial longing to soar with them. No noisy engine to mask the natural whistling of the wind around our wings, not to be enclosed in a cramped cockpit with a maze of gauges to concern ourselves with, but out in the open air, wind in our hair, and only our senses to guide us through the skies. Once again we found ourselves dream soaring. But this time, our dreams could become reality and the earliest form of heavier than air flight, was reborn.

On the slopes and hills around the world daring young men and women lifted up triangular shaped contraptions covered in sailcloth. They were called “Hang Gliders”. Running into the wind the hang glider lifted us off as we hung suspended from the heart of its frame, wind in our face, and free at last of the earth below. We were gliding, really flying, becoming fledgling human birds, and we wanted more. Then when our feet touched back onto the ground a sense of euphoria overwhelmed us. It was as if we had passed into another dimension of wonder and discovery that only those who dared share the experience could truly know.
Immediately we sought to fly farther, higher, faster, to satiate our passion and to live the dream. Rapidly lessons were learned, for better or for worse - some tragically, but; the dream to fly kept us coming back. We created better, safer, and higher performing wings, each tantalizing us with increasing capability to soar.
Soon we learned to seek out and ride the upward invisible thermal currents of air. We found ourselves climbing ever higher and higher as the earth grew small below with each turn we made.

Then one day from out of nowhere, a great soaring bird suddenly swooped in and flew off our wing tip. Matching our speed and climb perfectly the grand master of the skies, the feathered one, circled up with us. We could see its wing tip feathers moving and lifting in the wind and watch how a gentle twist of its tail gave it subtle but firm control. Sunlight reflected off its wings glistening in iridescent colour. Beautiful in its realm we felt honoured at its presence.
Momentarily it would turn its head towards us, shining eyes looking deeply into ours releasing visions from the dream soaring recesses of our mind. This time however, the voice heard beckoning us high into the sky was also our own. Our dreams had become reality. We had finally soared into their world and an overwhelming smile of joy from ear to ear came across our windblown faces. Then with a sharp, shrill cry our feathered friend seemed to say, “What took you so long?”, and left us to continue our journey exploring new frontiers of soaring that had always been theirs alone.

Looking back now the gift of hang gliding is the culmination of countless generations of those who shared the dream and eternal quest to soar. Of all things in life, the gift of pure, free flight, to soar on long outstretched wings, the gift given to us by the calls of the feathered ones since the dawn of man, is one of the greatest gifts of all. Those of us, who have lived in a time when we were finally able to answer its call, are indeed a very lucky few. For our wings have not only carried us high into the skies above, but also the spirit of the countless ones before who could only dream. So next time a feathered one joins you on the wing think of it not as just a curious creature of the air but the ancient soul of soaring who gave the dream to us all.

About the author: Chuck, Hang IV # 214, has been a dream soarer since his earliest memories of watching Golden Eagles soar above and beneath the cliff tops of Cross Mountain Canyon, North West Colorado as a child in the early 1960’s. He discovered hang gliding in 1974, and opened up the original “Adventure Sports” hang gliding shop and school in Flagstaff, Arizona soon thereafter. During this time he was one of the original five Arizona pilots to foot launch hang gliders into the Grand Canyon in 1976 and also helped pioneer a number of famous Northern Arizona flying sites such as Mt. Elden, Mingus, and Merriam Crater.
Although the shop did not last, his love of hang gliding did and he continued to fly actively at many places across the United States and internationally until the late 1990’s. He was also an avid rigid wing hang glider enthusiast flying early rigids such as the Icarus V, the Mitchell Wing, and Danny Howell’s, original 42’ span carbon hybrid flying wing, the “Apex”.
He last flew in September 2005 at the Mingus Mountain Arizona, 30 Year Reunion Fly-In since he was one of the original pilots to fly Mingus in early 1975. Although location, career, family, and other sport passions such as windsurfing, which he has been actively doing as well since 1980, have taken precedence over hang gliding, his love and passion for soaring has not diminished. He is still to be found dream soaring whenever the sky is blue, the breeze fresh, and great soaring birds are imagined to be seen circling beneath the snowy white cumulus clouds calling us all into the skies.

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