I park the car in the usual place and kiss it goodbye, planting a smacker right on the top centre of the steering wheel. A bit odd perhaps, but it’s that kind of day.
The boot opens itself at the click of a button and I take the large backpack out. We’ve been through so much together, this backpack and I. First bought after saving for months at my first job, it contains within it my ticket to happiness – my oft-used and much-loved friend – my gorgeous, colourful wing.
I’m never happier than when I’m in the sky, and I’m confident that today will be no exception. I’ve already checked the weather five times (just to make sure conditions are perfect) and am delighted that my usual spot was available to park in.
Stepping into my harness, I check every strap and fastening twice. That’s the drill. It’s common sense really – falling out in mid-air is not a thing worth contemplating.
I heave the backpack on and secure it ready for the mile-long hike to my favourite launch site.
It’s hot today. I’m wearing long trousers and a jumper to save carrying them – it’s colder than you can imagine a few thousand feet up! Sweat begins to bead across my forehead and the bugs irritate me as I pass under trees, clouding around my face and getting in my hair. Nothing will stop me from having this day, though, so I trudge on, pack becoming ever-heavier, knowing that when I get there, it will all be worthwhile.
My heart lifts as I round the final corner.
There she is – my sweet launch spot. A long, languid slope down off the edge of a high cliff over the ocean. A beautiful incline surrounded by arable farmland (those fields provide *awesome* thermals, which can send me spiralling up and up for hours of fun), I’ve been coming here for years.
I’ve brought various people with me over the years. My mind scrolls through a list of them as I lay out my wing and check every line and every fastening. Twice. Because that’s the drill.
I re-pack it, smiling at memories of those I’ve glided with and those who were there to watch and greet me upon return. The corner of my mouth puckers slightly as I think about how no-one fancied coming today. Just bad timing I guess.
Up to the top of the hill now, and time to lie down in the hot grass for a drink of water. I bask in the sunshine, feeling it begin to dry my face, and enjoying the contrast with the coolness of the breeze rippling in from the nearby ocean. Birds sing in hedgerows and somewhere, far off, I can hear some kind of farm machinery, now fainter, now stronger, as though ploughing into the wind.
I spread the wing out on the ground and attach it to my harness. Checking every fastening and every strap. Twice. Because that’s the drill.
As long as I check and drill and focus, I know that the darkness can’t intrude. And in glorious sunshine like this, who wants it? Who needs it? Not me, that’s for sure!
I stand, watching the ocean, wing out behind me.
I’m all strapped in and ready to go.
The adventure of a lifetime.
Heart beats faster with anticipation and excitement.
So fast it feels it might burst out through my throat.
I swallow, pull on my gloves and grab the lines (careful not to tangle them!)
Slowly, I begin to move, pulling against the harness like a pack horse to make the wing slide over the grass. If flutters and whispers as it smooths itself down the hill, imperceptibly beginning to fill with air.
It soon gets fat and rounded and cosy – the sun-on-fabric smell coming through strong, even with a head wind! It trundles now, sometimes skipping into the air a little, ripples running over its length.
All of a sudden it fills properly; snaps taut; is ready.
I brace myself and run, feeling rather than seeing it rise behind me, palms sweating as I keep pulling those lines forward, I catch a glimpse of it lifting up and up and … I’m away!
Legs suddenly pulled forward into a sitting position, harness tightening under knees and between thighs. Arms pulled high in celebration. I let out a crow of sheer joy – I’m airborne again.
I take a lazy turn across the launch site, watching my shadow become smaller and smaller as I make use of those lovely warm fields to give me some lift. The noise of the hedgerow birds fades, to be replaced with distant seagulls and the piercing-yet-lovely shrieks of swallows.
Round again and I head for the ocean, for the never-too-old delight of that sudden moment when the world drops away behind me, and I’m suddenly twice as high without the cliff in my way. I whoop again, laughing as a nearby seagull panics and flies away as fast as he can.
A few sharp turns and twists to show off and to feel the G-forces building, culminating in a stunningly perfect loop-the-loop. One I won prizes for in the dim and distant past. The past Before.
Never mind. Another loop-the-loop, tighter now, turning into a vertical spiral as the centrifugal forces take charge – sea, land, sky, sea-land-sky-sealandskysealandsky and out at a few hundred metres higher, out of breath and with tears from the wind rush, streaming down my face and across my grin.
A quick wipe with the back of my glove and I’m all set and ready for business.
I wend back over to the fields. I need their lift now, those chunky, delicious thermals which keep me toasty on the way up.
Large, lazy circles transcribe my route as the world grows smaller and smaller beneath me. My watch’s altimeter tells me I’m several thousand feet high already. I’ve further to go yet.
The air chills and a stillness settles into my soul. It’s *so* beautiful up here – the sun on the world below, the shadows of the (thankfully very few) clouds scudding across the landscape. The individual details – houses; animals; cars – already too small to distinguish.
And the sea. Wide open expanse of cats-paws and sparkles. Ever restless and ever glorious.
Take my hands off the lines to rub some life back into them and smile to myself, noting at the same time that psia is below 10.
I turn my face up to the shining heavens and keep going.
This thermal’s a good one.
My heart nearly stops as I plummet a few hundred metres, lines tangled, struggling to regain control. Not sure what happened there! Gremlins in the lines perhaps! I bring my breathing slowly back to normal and set my course upwards again.
The seagulls are below me now – distant, shining white specks against the azure and navy sea.
The launch spot is indistinguishable against the coastline. I can see for hundreds and hundreds of miles, the roads stretching out like the satellite maps on Google.
Fields, towns and cities are all mine to watch in this glorious ride.
I keep going. Not sure now how big my circles are, but only sure of the steady decrease on the altimeter.
I sing, fast out of breath – the air is much thinner here. But I want to make a noise in this empty, silent world. I want to hear myself instead of just the occasional low moan of the wind in the lines.
I check the altimeter again. It’s looking good; psia’s around the 7 mark.
The sun is shining on my face, tenderly kissing away the chill air.
My breathing is rapid and shallow.
I keep looking upwards, travelling upwards.
The darkness is back, this time in the edges of my vision.
The sun is shining on my face.
I feel my thoughts detach and float away from my body.
The sun is shining.
I’m travelling upwards.
This was a ‘Making You Feel‘ Post