I have been holding onto a gift certificate that Laura gave me for almost two years now. It is from 1-800-SKY-RIDE. The gift certificate was for tandem Hang Gliding with an instructor. How I ended up with this certificate escapes me. I am assuming that about two years ago, I was probably running my mouth about how awesome it would be to soar like a bird and how I would love, just love to go hang gliding one day. Low and behold, Christmas rolls around and a hang gliding gift certificate finds it’s way into my hand.
I though about switching it up with the company and adding a few bucks so we could both go on a balloon ride or something nice like that. Then a year passed. After that, the next year’s summer was coming to an end and I began to think that it would be a terrible waste to let this very expensive gift expire. Ah, what to do.
Today, the car drove me to Randall Airport in Middletown, NY. There was a guy there who accepted these gift certificates. 1-800-SKY-RIDE is a national company that works with local places. They charge a premium to purchase the gift certificate through them, because it is much easier. Then, you just have to redeem it at a local company that accepts them.
I arrived at about 9AM. It was quite breezy and cold. There were a few people hanging around talking the talk. No one was walking the walk yet. Everyone kept looking at the tops of the trees move in the wind. I think they all agreed that it was just too breezy to go up at that moment. I had to be home by noon because I had to meet a wood stove guy at my house. We were going to go over an install (another post). I asked the hang gliding instructor about just taking a ride up in the ultralight. I always wanted one of them and dreamed about cruising above the treetops around the neighborhood to friend’s houses. They agreed and we started walking towards the ultralight.
I thought to myself that this was going to be a snap. After this I would hop in my car and get back home. That’s when things got interesting. The pilot and I jumped in the seats and buckled up. He started the engine and we began to taxi up and down the grass runway looking for the best spot to take off from. In such a light aircraft, you have to find where the wind is coming right towards you. I yelled out a question…”How much runway do we need to get airborn?” He yelled back, “Not much at all.” Just then, he nailed the throttle. We jolted forward at about…I would say…400MPH. After about 10 feet of my chest collapsing, we were in the air. The ultralight was bouncing around in the wind and we were going straight up. I have never in my life felt such a sensation. It was not a good one. The air began to get colder as we rose higher. I could now see Middletown below me and the airport getting smaller. Just then, I looked between my legs, down past my sneakers at the ground. THE GROUND!!!! Wait, we were now at 2500 feet and rising and I was looking down past my sneakers at the ground??? Oh crap. I decided to really try to relax and enjoy the ride. I couldn’t do it. There was so much adreneline running through my veins, my legs started to shake. I was freaking out and it was freezing. All I was wearing was a fleece.
I took a quick glance at the altimeter to see how high we were. We were now at 3000 feet and still rising. Apparently, the wind was sucking us up. With something so light and wings so big, the lift is incredible. We kept getting pulled up. After about 20 minutes of sitting in the same spot flying into the wind, I waved to the pilot, motioning politely and thinking, “Ok, you crazy bastard, let’s get the hell out of this sky and off this flying bicycle.”
He banked hard left and began to decend. We were having a tough time getting down because the wind kept pulling us up. We finally made it so the runway was straight ahead. We started decending quite rapidly. A little too fast for my taste. I swear we were going right towards the ground. I pretty much admitted to myself that we were dead. I honestly thought we were going to die. As we made our way down, down, down, the ground got closer fast. When we were about 5 feet from the ground, my arms now fully braced on the pipes on either side of me, the pilot pulled up fast. We landed quickly and smoothly. We taxied back to our place of origination and turned off the death machine. The pilot was all grins. He asked how I liked it. I mumbled out, “Great. I really had a great time.” At the same time I tried very hard to conceal the fact that my knees were almost clacking together.
Everyone on the ground who watched us go up agreed that they saw a lot of turbulence on our way up and a complete nosedive on our way down. They thought it was too windy.
I hung out for a few minutes and then got in my car to leave. I called a few friends and after about a half hour, began to relax.
If you are reading this and in any way, shape or form think that I may be exaggerating, please, be my guest and reserve your spot on the next ultralight ride out of Randall Airport in Middletown. Heh, heh. Then, give me a call and we’ll talk about it.