Paragliding wasn’t on my bucket list, although I found myself soaring over the Roaring Fork Valley — connected to Pine Pienaar, a seasoned South African pilot — on Saturday morning. Pine is in his 11th season of operating Adventure Paragliding in Glenwood Springs.
How did I get there? We decided to buy a GoPro video cam for our newsroom. Editor Randy Essex and crew started discussing the possibilities. We could film the Strawberry Days Parade. The staff imagined themselves wearing a helmet cam and filming the experience of riding the giant swing at Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. My enthusiasm once again got in front of my thought process, and I chirped, “Yeah, I’ll wear it a paragliding.”
As soon as I uttered the words, I realized I’d have to jump off of Red Mountain. What was I thinking? OK, to be fair, the staff hadn’t pressed me to follow up. Although as the leader of this organization, I had to keep my word.
Early last week, walking down Cooper, I saw my buddy Ken Murphy at Glenwood Adventures. He partners with Pine. I told him of my commitment and the next thing I knew, his cell phone was dialed and in my hands and Pine was on the other end. I was booked to fly at 8 a.m. Saturday.
The forecast Friday afternoon offered a good chance of thunderstorms in the morning. I sighed in relief, figuring it may be my way out. But I woke up the next morning to a beautiful blue-sky day.
I did an online search for a picture to post to my Facebook page to boast to my friends and family. The first thing that came up in the search was a story about John Goss of Vaudeville fame who had broken his back a year ago as he flew solo. My heart sank. Reading on, I got a lift when I read that Glenwood Paragliding never has had such an incident.
I joined the group at 7:30 a.m. to fill out the necessary paperwork and get basic instruction. Included in the waivers was wording about the inherent dangers of paragliding. I promptly put those concerns out of my mind.
While I had preflight anxiety, I had no expectations. I just wanted to get it done. Pine and I were the last of the tandem teams to take off. It was encouraging that I did not hear any shrill screams from those that preceded us.
As we jogged to the edge of the mountain, my first surprise was that we didn’t jump. Instead the wind gently lifted us off of the ground, and just like that we were over the valley. I got adjusted in my seat. Yes, you sit in a fairly comfortable seat, another pleasant surprise.
While the wind whooshed by, I had a sense of freedom. Steve Miller’s “Fly Like and Eagle” was playing in my mind. As Pine expertly guided the paraglider, I would get glimpses of Mount Sopris, then downtown Glenwood Springs, with the Roaring Fork River always in view.
To get an idea of the paragliding experience, imagine living an IMAX Theater experience. Toward the end of our flight, Pine asked if I enjoyed roller coasters. And I said yes, so we went into some maneuvers that turned my world upside down. Thrilling as that was, I was happy when he completed his tricks.
My last surprise of the trip was the landing. Think Fred Flintstone. You stop by landing on your feet, although there was no jolt, just a slow walk as we softly made it to the ground.
Altogether, the flight only took about 12 minutes. I’m told that depending on the conditions you could be up there for 20 minutes. Would I do it again? Absolutely! Look for the video coming soon.
— Michael Bennett is publisher of the Post Independent.