Recently, I turned 55. It’s not exactly a milestone birthday, but it does qualify me for the senior discount at Albertson’s in Hailey (the first Thursday of every month). Still, any birthday can be unique if it involves running off the mountain and into the sky. Seriously!
It was my college-aged daughter who came up with the idea. She suggested either skydiving or Bungie jumping, but paragliding seemed a better choice for me. It just looks so peaceful up there.
As it happened, Fly Sun Valley, the only permitted and licensed paragliding company in the Wood River Valley, had two openings for the morning of my birthday. The Idaho sky was a cloudless blue with temps in the 50’s. With our spots reserved, we headed to the River Run parking lot to meet Chuck, the owner of the paragliding company, our pilots (while flying, we were each tethered to a pilot) and our driver.
The first thing we did was to become student members of the United States Hang Gliding & Paragliding Association. We even received neat cards to put in our wallets! Then, of course, there were the waivers to sign, only a couple of pages. I thought it was a nice touch that we pay AFTER we get back. Chuck is confident in his service and his product.
Next, there was the matter of getting to the top of Baldy. Because the gondola wasn’t open on my birthday, Chuck drove us. Otherwise, we would have been required to ride the gondola up (and pay for the gondola ride). At the top, there wasn’t much wind, which is a good thing. Truth be told, we did try to fly a few days earlier, but we were unsuccessful due to too much wind. As they say, it’s better safe than sorry. Right? Right!
Instructions lasted about 2 minutes and primarily focused on takeoff and landing. I’m not afraid of heights, but I am scared of running down a steep hill over loose rocks. For takeoff, we were told to start running when the pilot was ready. Don’t stop running, even when you feel your feet lift off the ground. Your instructor will tell you when to stop. With adrenaline pumping, I got strapped-in and was ready to tear down the mountain at a moment’s notice.
The order came to start moving. Then, like Jenny screaming at Forest Gump, the order came to run! Doing as I was told was easy even with the sharp rocks beckoning at my feet. Three steps later I was in the air. Following my orders, I kept running, running, running. Since we had dipped back towards the ground, this made sense. Within a few seconds, we were clear….and, by clear I mean it felt like we were several hundred feet off the ground.
If you are flying tethered to a pilot, there’s not much to do except sit back and enjoy the view. And, WOW! What a view it is! Floating above the town of Ketchum was spectacular. Except for the Cage the Elephant music I asked the pilot to play, the flight was extraordinarily peaceful. The first thing was to get higher. The trick is to find those thermals that push the wind up the mountain while allowing us to defy gravity. Once we found the sweet spot, it was just a matter of circling around in order to stay in the thermal and let the wind elevate us high in the sky.
Did I mention circling around? Yes, I did. If you have ever been seasick, you have heard the advice suggesting you watch the horizon when you feel sick. The horizon acts as a stabilizing force. Well, looking through a camera viewfinder to take pictures is precisely what not to do while circling around in the sky. Being aware is half the battle and, it wasn’t too bad. Once we stopped circling, it was spectacular. I went back to taking pictures of the valley floor and tried to capture shots of my daughter in the air. Once again, I was reminded of the adventurer’s paradise in which we live.
I have no idea how long the flight took. It seemed to go fast, but we were probably up for 20-30 minutes. Paragliding can last much longer with the right thermals. Landing back by the River Run parking lot was completely uneventful. All we needed to do was keep the knees slightly bent at landing and to start walking. It was no more jarring that jumping off a stair to the floor. The whole activity took about 2 hours, leaving plenty of time for more birthday adventures. Unfortunately for me, I had to go to work.
Care to FLY in my footsteps? Paragliding in Sun Valley