Thursday, July 8, 2010

Flying: Hang Gliding in Sylmar

Stepping or actually running off a cliff, trusting a few yards of nylon above you, the winds, the laws of aerodynamics, and the experience of my laconic instructor, Fred Ballard, and suddenly, with apologies to John Lennon, imagine ---- below me only sky. A jog of faith.

At first we lost altitude, then catching a thermal (think the raucous bubbles in a pot of boiling water) and we are 400-500 feet higher than the 3500 feet mountain top where we started.

There is nothing more immediate. No window to peer through. It is nothing like being on a commercial airline The difference is like that between a bike and limo. Nothing intervenes between you and the air.

There are no moving parts to a hang glider. So pure. So simple. You are strapped in horizontally Superman style, with a harness and carabiner that have a rock climbing heritage. You move by shifting your weight. Swing your hips to the left, and the weight shifts to the left, and the wing on the left dips and you turn to the left. You better swivel your hips back to the midline or you will be circling in the sky, getting nowhere. I tried to change directions using a head fake, but despite what some might think, there is not enough fat there to budge the glider.

The two minute video was shot from a wing mounted camera. I am the pilot closest to you.

All in all we flew for about 13 minutes and landed 2.2 miles from where we started. There is some stomach jostling so I was glad I took meclizine for air sickness. There are no shock absorbers on a glider and no seat belt to fasten. Truthfully, it was a pretty tame flight

Mostly it was amazing. We landed within a foot of the orange cone that was our mark. Rolled to a stop on wheels avoiding the usual knee jarring giant first step back on the solid earth at the hang glider landing field in Sylmar below Kagel mountain in the San Fernando range from where I had just flown. It takes 45 minutes to drive there and only ten to fly back. Patty and Ben were there to greet me. They saw me all the way with binoculars.

I am truly blessed.

People ask if I was afraid. When you run, attached to a big kite, off a mountain top by the fourth or fifth step you are feather touching mother earth, then there is no turning back as you reach for the sky. It happens too fast to be afraid. It is too beautiful, too now, too intense, too immediate to have any fear.

Life lessons?

This was not on any bucket list. This was something I always wanted to do. So when the platelets were good enough, and I could afford the cost, It was just a matter of doing the research and finding the best place with the most experience of landing everyone safely

Get the right people. I chose Windsports. They chose Fred Ballard, (from the Sylmar Hang Gliding Association bio "as an instructor, "Fat Fred" has introduced countless hang gliding "wannabes" to life over Kagel. And his nick name has nothing to do with his weight. Just ask him, he'll tell you.") Get the right equipment. Make your decision. Commit fully. Look straight ahead at your goal, not at your feet, trust yourself first and then those who are guiding you and before you know it, you will be in for the ride of your life.

Sounds like my approach to CLL.

To life.



Blogger J.R. said...

Like on the wings of eagles. Awesome! You are such a man of faith. And, look at the glorious experience you get from it.

July 8, 2010 at 10:50 PM  
Anonymous Celeste Maia said...

Your ride is like a natural wonder with its own laws. Your beautiful description of that unfamiliar kind of courage you felt, flying over the world, how wonderful it must have been.

July 9, 2010 at 12:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought there were moving parts. Isn't the bar you hold onto hinged, so that you can move it back and forth?

July 9, 2010 at 10:36 AM  
Blogger Lezlei Ann Young said...

Doc! You are so AWESOME!!! Happy Birthday! What an awesome way to spend it! Missing your jokes and REALLY missing you as my physician! Lezlei

July 9, 2010 at 11:33 AM  
Anonymous Melissa Elcrat said...

Dr. Koffman. This is the first time I am seeing your blog. I have been peering into many of the posts and am newly inspired. You helped me through some of the very darkest parts of my life. I never knew you were so creative and open (though I had a hunch). I should have known. How else could you have helped me the way you did. A mountain road. An accident. A new life unfolded in front of me. I teach art to disabled adults at First Street Gallery Art Center in Claremont and am heavily considering going back to school for environmental science or biology. I have not made art in a long time and have had several new medical things pop up, changes of diet, etc. But I am happy now. Your posts inspire me to do both, make better art more consistently and go fill my curiousity with scientific knowledge and research. I am in a loving relationship and healing wounds within myself and my family to the best of my ability, one step at a time. I felt so guilty for so long for not looking up your blog and then I lost the information. Finally got it again from one of your nurses and am here. I thank God. Your posts are so interesting, personal and inspiring. I'm so glad you are a writer and that you're writing often. I can never thank you enough for the way that you helped me in this life. Please know how very much impact you HAVE in this life - Much love and respect, Melissa

July 17, 2010 at 12:06 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Wow. . . how very great. . . what an enormous experience . . . How fabulous to experience such splendor. . .

July 19, 2010 at 8:31 PM  

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