Why? Why should I or any pilot dare injury in such a sport? Because hang gliding traverses the spectrum of every challenge encountered in life. It is growth and maturity, learning and applying knowledge, competition and solitude. To fly is to experience frustration, doubt, and fear. To fly is to feel excitement, happiness, and a deep sense of self-satisfaction. To fly is to be totally alive.

Hang gliding is concentrated thought. A pilot must be observing, analyzing, thinking, and planning. As a pilot, I am constantly applying my knowledge to each flight to avoid the sink, to optimize the lift, to find and center the thermal.

Hang gliding is intense physical sensation. Unencumbered by a metallic fuselage I am free to feel the wind, smell the air, become a part of the sky. When I hook in I become a part of the glider and the glider becomes an extension of my body. It is as if my nerves grow to reach and merge with every strand of wire and thread of dacron. I feel each stir of air on my wingtips. The breath of a thermal to the left, a slight rise and twist of the wing - I feel it like a pinprick on skin. The maneuvers I make in flight are as ingrained and automatic as breathing. I give no more thought to how I must move my body in space to bank and turn my glider than I give thought of how to walk.

Some days the air is thick, strong, and turbulent. The wind above the mountain roars and pounds my wings shoving the glider up, down and to the side. I hang on tight to the control bar. I use every ounce of strength to fight the wind, make the glider respond as I want. It is a struggle, a contest of wills to be forced from the sky, or master the chaotic air. Some days the air is sweet, glass smooth, and my glider floats on a soft, buoyant cushion. I glide without effort, serene and quiet in the air and in my mind while my wings deftly cut the calm air.

To fly a hang glider is to merge with the skyscape and become a part of it rather than a foreign spectator. I have been awed at incredible vistas of thick, dark clouds pierced by shafts of incandescent sunlight that pool over the fields of the valley floor. I have experienced the terrible bone chilling, damp cold of cloudbase while wisps of white cotton whirl past my shoulders and a light dusting of snow covers my arms. To fly is to listen to the heartbeat of nature from within, and understand. My wing is almost silent, a whisper of sound like a soft breeze blowing through the leaves of a tree. I have soared above deer as they amble tranquil in the forest below, undisturbed by my observation. I have had the privileged companionship of a hawk, who considers me kin, flying at my wingtip.

There are regrets in my life and things I have not done, but I have flown. I will not question my life at its end and wonder too much of adventures not experienced, because I have flown. When I am too old to fly I will tell stories of the days when I was a hang glider pilot. When people then ask why I would risk taking wing in a hang glider, I will quote Thoreau, "...Because I wished to live deliberately..and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

Copyright 1992 Raean Permenter

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