So if the Engine quits… I'm just gonna climb out of the harness and jump out right?! (No)
Climbing down over the three foot boulders onto the beach with just my wing under my arm was actually more difficult than I thought it would be, and there weren't even that many rocks! Then I had to climb back up, put the harness on with the 50 pound para motor, and make it back down… Oh the life of a tiny blonde girl trying to do big boy sports.
The sky was clear no clouds to be seen and a light three knot onshore breeze. The cool blue Pacific ocean looked like a lake. I laid out my glider and connected the risers to the cumbersome para motor harness. Although, carrying around a 50 pound skydiving tandem rig every day for the last six years couldn't have prepared me better for this moment.
I've actually worn this super awkward paramotor harness Paragliding before with the engine off, to practice launches and landings. I took it for a few test runs at a training hill before ever attempting an actual powered flight. I also have a few powered tandems with Chris, where he let me fly and gave me the throttle control. Years of Paragliding experience helped me with my confidence and flying abilities, but nothing could really prepare me for the the awkwardness of this bloody harness! It probably doesn't help that I'm a tiny 120 pound girl. I'm pretty sure these things were built for big guys. But like most things in my life, I don't let my size get in the way of my passion for adventure.
Chris gives me brief refresher before I attempt the first launch of the day. The first one was successful but not very pretty… I was (am) a little bit timid with the throttle. Always interesting to me that when I try on a new pair of shoes it takes a while to learn how to walk in them. I'm so confident Paragliding and free flying right now that I thought that this would be an easy crossover. But as soon as I was all hooked up and ready to launch I felt the butterflies and exhilaration in my stomach. Is it fear, adrenaline, excitement? The answer is, All of these things! It's definitely one of the best feelings in the world, and my addiction... my drug of choice.
First Launch... got the wing over my head and ever so lightly pull the throttle in, it wasn't enough I was still having to lean forward to make any forward movement happen with the glider. The whole time Chris was giving me the 'throttle ON (MORE!)' signal quite loudly with his hands. LOL. I saw him but just couldn't bring my brain and fingers to jam that thing down. Luckily I had plenty of beach... and as I took a few steps managed to muster the courage to squeeze the trigger harder… I felt the push from the propeller behind and was finally able to actually lean back as I did a very awkward duck walk thing down the beach before my toes lightly lifted off the sand. I was airborne, the ocean pulling away from my feet beneath me as I climbed.
Much like flying an airplane, actually flying this thing was relatively easy. Certainly having years of experience Paragliding helps that. It's the launches and the landings which are completely different than what I'm used to, and that need work. The launches in particular I would love to get more fluid and feel natural, I just need more experience.
The first flight that day was relatively short.. I launched, flew around for about 10 minutes, and then came in for a landing. With a flight under my belt I felt a lot more confident and ready to give it another try. This thing is so heavy and cumbersome that standing around on the ground with it really is not fun… I couldn't wait to be airborne again and have the weight off of me.
My second try was a failure. As I pulled the glider up over my head my break toggle grazed the top of the hand held throttle, which is where the kill switch is, and the motor died. Lesson learned. My third lunch was also a fail… I was giddy to go but still too timid with the throttle. At about 30 feet down the beach still on my feet, I realized I did not have enough speed to lift off before I reached the shore line. I killed the engine and pulled the glider down. Lesson learned. Need more power, you have it use it!
Fourth launch of the day was much better and my best yet. And this is my lesson to everyone who is attempting any kind of sport like this. You will have your failures but as long as you learn from them they are not failures at all but very valuable lessons. On my final launch, I took a minute to go over everything I had done that day. I knew that I was going to have to give the throttle a lot more, and it was at this point that I remembered that riding a dirtbike is the same way. It makes perfect sense actually, as a motorcycle rider I know that throttle is your friend. Riding dirt bikes in the outback of Australia chasing goats around, I've been in some pretty precarious predicaments where if you just give it more power the bike actually sorts itself out and you don't have to work as hard. That correlation really helped me. I wiggled around in the harness to get situated, took a deep breath, and cleared my mind.
The wing came up over my head easily and I squeezed the throttle with more gusto this time. I felt the push from behind and leaned back, awkwardly duck walking down the beach for a few feet. Pulling the throttle in a bit more I gently lifted off and started climbing.... the feeling of flight upon me once again.
I could get addicted to this.... I think its too late... ;)