There is nothing like staring down a life threatening disease to cause one to reminisce about the things you've done. Over this past year, I've been doing a lot of that, and I recently came to this conclusion... Damn, but I've had a lot of fun! Now, I'm not claiming to have sailed through my life problem free, oh no. I have always believed that we all have our crosses to bear, we just don't get to choose them. And Lord knows, anyone who is familiar with my family knows about our crosses, which one might argue have been more than our fair share. But there have been some extraordinarily good times, and while laying in bed the other night I was thinking it might make for an interesting series of blog posts.
Where to begin... well, the sport of hang gliding is probably as good a place as any. After all, it has in such a large part defined my adult life, and to this day my circle of friends is largely made up of current and former hang gliding pilots. I began my hang gliding lessons with Terry (Birdman) Jones in the spring of 1981. As of the last entry in my logbook (September 2011) I have accumulated 930 hours of airtime from 1877 flights. With my current battle against prostate cancer, I am fearful that these numbers may represent the final tally, however I will be quite pleased to continue my flying career with my butt parked in the seat of a sailplane.
|My brother Les training with Terry (Birdman) Jones in 1980. Les is the reason I got into hang gliding. He is flying a Birdman Falcon.|
As long as I have a memory, I will always look back fondly at the first time my feet left the ground in a hang glider. Like most students, I probably jumped into the air rather than flew into it, but nevertheless it is a thrill I will never forget. I started flying because my brother Les was taking lessons, and needed a driver as he did not have his licence. The first time I saw someone go up instead of down, I knew this was something I had to do. My first mountain launch came on a trip to Vernon with Mike Sadowinsky. On our second flights we were very uncomfortable with the turbulence, only to see the local pilots racing up the hill to launch into the thermals we were so obviously struggling with.
|My first weekend of mountain flying at King Eddy near Vernon B.C. The glider is a Birdman MJ-5.|
I soon learnt how to soar, and spent many a day south of Camrose at the east end of Driedmeat Lake in the Battle River Valley waiting for the south winds to blow. It is a turbulent site to fly, but provided me with endless hours of enjoyment, both in the air and on the ground. It is still one of my favourite places to visit, and you can see why in this picture.
|An early soaring flight at Driedmeat Lake with my UP Comet 185.|
Soon I was a mountain thermaling pilot, and began to get longer and longer flights. There were many trips to Athabasca Tower at Hinton, the big hill at Cochrane, as well as B.C. sites like Golden, Invermere, and Creston. A highlight was always the water landing contest held at Invermere every August, where you would intentionally land in Windermere Lake (something you should never really do in a hang glider). There were huge crowds of spectators, and some of the most interesting approaches you will ever see with any aircraft. Now I have to say, that was a lot of fun!
|Landing in Windermere Lake with my Airwave Magic III 177, on purpose no less.|
The Creston trips were a highlight of almost every summer, and not just for the flying. Jeff and Patty Marler would accompany us most summers. We spent a lot of time at our favourite swimming hole in the Goat River, and as our families grew, the kids wanted to spend more and more time there. Often the trip home included a stop at the White Swan hot springs (a natural non commercial hot spring), sometimes involving nudity, depending on the time of day and who all was along! There may have been some fun involved there too.
|Launching my Wills Wing Ultrasport 166 from Thompson Mountain at Creston, B.C.|
|At the top of the photo is our favourite swimming hole on the Goat River at Creston, B.C.|
No synopsis of my hang gliding career would be complete without telling of the annual fall trips to Salt Lake City. We went down the first time in 1983, and discovered a magical spot for foot launched flight at the Point of the Mountain just south of SLC. A surprisingly high percentage of my total airtime was achieved in Utah, a testament to the consistent conditions which are prevalent, especially in the fall. Some years, there would be as many as 15 pilots from Alberta on the hill at the same time. We even became so brazen as to replace the windsock with a Canadian flag a few times. Needless to say, this did not always endear us to our American counterparts. One memorable trip had 7 of us staying in a fleabag motel for $20 a night (for all of us)! In the middle of one night the police came banging on the door, and were quite intent on arresting me, as some underage kids drinking next door had told them we had sold them the beer. Ward Clapham, then a RCMP officer, remained silent as they prepared to haul me away. He later told me he was prepared to flash his gold card, but only as a last resort. Thankfully, it never quite came to that. Speaking of Ward, he once arrested me in his sleep while we shared a tent on a Creston trip. Oh, the nightmares police personnel must have!
|Flying the WW Ultrasport 166 at Bauer Ridge, near Stockton, Utah.|
Utah was also the location for two of my personal best flights. My longest duration flight was at the north ridge on the Point of the Mountain, 7 hours and 28 minutes. My friends kept coming on the radio pouring water from one cup to another, obviously making me want to pee, and I was suffering from a definite shortage of toilets in the hang glider. Eventually I just turned the radio off. My personal best altitude gain took place at Heber, Utah east of Salt Lake City. I achieved 15,500 feet. Please don't tell anyone, but I was not wearing oxygen. It was a blue sky day, with no clouds to tell you where the lift was going to top out. I admit it, I bailed out, as I was still going up several hundred feet per minute. The furthest distance I ever flew in a hang glider is 141 miles (225 km), from a truck tow at Tofield, landing at a place called Altario, just short of the Saskatchewan border. The records were always nice, but for sure the most fun I ever had in a hang glider was flying with my kids. I did a total of 25 flights with Christopher, and although only one with Kimberly, it might have been the most special of them all. We were truck towing at Tofield, and from the moment we lifted off the truck, Kim was hooting and hollering. From 2000 feet, those on the ground could still hear her. She literally bubbled for hours afterwards, easily the best passenger I ever had.
any question, my hang gliding career would have ended years ago were it not for
truck towing, otherwise known as platform launching. When you live on the
prairies, it's a long drive to the mountains, and there is never any guarantee
that you will fly when you get there. When we began truck towing in 1987, it was
suddenly like having a portable mountain in our own backyard. Now you could
tell just by looking out the window what your chances were to fly before you
ever left the house. Mine was certainly not the only flying career to benefit
from this revolution in launching hang gliders. It soon became common to meet
pilots who had not done a foot launch for many years.
|Soaring my Pacific Airwave Formula 154 on the South Side at the Point of the Mountain. I put more airtime on this glider than any other in my fleet, and she was my favourite for sure.|
Well, that's 30 years of hang gliding condensed into several hundred words and a few pictures. It has absolutely been a ton of fun, and I am going to miss it terribly. However, the amazing people I have met and the truly incredulous experiences I have had will live with me forever.