Soaring over the city she loves |

Soaring over the city she loves

April E. Clark
Post Independent Contributor
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Irma Weller/Memories by Design Special to the Post Independent

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Statistics show that more people fear public speaking than death, spiders, heights and confined spaces. Apparently, most people haven’t flown 1,800 feet up in the air on a paraglider.

A little stage time has nothing on that.

Sure, I was a little scared the first time I gave a speech in high school or did stand-up comedy. There’s always that fear I will forget what I want to say. In comedy, the scariest part is the potential for dead silence after a punchline instead of laughter. I’m OK with a groan or two from the audience.

At least that means they get the joke.

Paragliding, on the other hand, offers a whole new perspective on fear. There’s that idea of free-flying through the air, suspended in a harness, that makes my stomach drop a bit. In comedy, timing is everything. I would say the same about paragliding. When timed correctly, the aerodynamic force of the air is your friend. Thankfully, I had a friend in pilot Pine Pienaar of Adventure Paragliding in Glenwood Springs when I tried the sport for the first time.

I’d say tandem is everything on a virgin flight.

I always feel a slight tingle course through my body when I’m high above ground. I don’t know the medical explanation for this, but it happens. Pair this with adrenaline, and an activity such as paragliding sure makes for a total body experience on an average Friday morning. I wouldn’t say paragliding is an everyday event for most.

Except maybe for my new friend, Pine.

As Adventure Paragliding owner and a certified paragliding instructor, Pienaar has logged more than 5,000 flights in his 20-year career. A South African native, he is living proof that people can make a career out of something they truly love to do. After my first experience paragliding, I can see what motivates him. I can’t wait to get back up there and do it again.

Paragliding is a lot like comedy that way.

Glenwood Vaudeville Revue director John Goss knows what I mean. In the last year, he has taken to the sport much like he did with performing as a child. He guesses he has been up in the air about 50 times using his personal paraglider, which he found on eBay from a seller in Breckenridge.

On the Friday morning I took my first flight, Goss was along for my ride. I can see why paragliding has become a passion. I still haven’t caught my breath from one of the most exhilarating rides of my life.

“I wish I could make a living at it like a few people I know,” Goss said, nodding at Pienaar before taking off from Red Mountain in Glenwood Springs. “It’s just pure enjoyment.”

Goss said he has learned from the best, getting to know the experienced pilots in Glenwood Springs such as Pienaar and Pete Thompson, a Colorado state record holder for the longest cross-country paragliding flight – a journey that stretched 122 miles from New Castle to Aspen Park on the Front Range.

On the day of my flight, Thompson piloted a tandem ride with Dan Conway, a 25-year-old clinical researcher from Kansas City, Mo. He was in town to help his parents celebrate their wedding anniversary in Glenwood Springs.

The build-up to his Conway’s flight was much like mine – a little nerve-rattling, but he was ready for the flight of his life.

“I’m a little bit of an adrenaline junkie, so I decided to do it,” he said.

In his 20 years of paragliding, Pienaar has seen a similarity in first-time flyers like me and Conway.

“Every single person who flies for the first time is obviously nervous,” he said. “The funny thing is, the more nervous they are, the more fun they have.”

Sounds familiar.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was headed up Red Mountain in the Adventure Paragliding truck. I was definitely excited by the thought of floating high above the most fun city in America like a bird. My stomach was a bit uneasy, much like it feels when I’m about to do stand-up comedy.

Pienaar said he has taken kids as young as 2 years old, as well as young-at-heart 92-year-old grandparents, on tandem paragliding rides. I’m somewhere in the middle, so no reason to be scared. Lucky for us it wasn’t raining hard or too windy, so our flight was a go.

When I was buckled in the harness with Pienaar as my pilot, I knew I would be all right.

“You’re going with the big boss,” he said.

That’s actually how I prefer it.

Once we took a few running steps off the mountain into the bluebird sky, with my feet dangling underneath me, I took a deep breath. I realized I had no control over the next 15-20 minutes of my life. What a liberating feeling. Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle” was stuck in my head as we floated 1,800 feet above the valley floor. The city looked like a tiny model set. I had so much of a permanent grin, I was afraid I would get bugs in my teeth.

I could not stop smiling from the sheer exhilaration I was experiencing, I was literally being suspended in the air by a glider. The Eagles song “Peaceful Easy Feeling” was the perfect song to accompany my state of mind.

Paragliding is definitely an experience I will never forget.

Pienaar made a few moves with the paraglider that made my stomach drop a bit. He wanted to do more tricks, and I know he could have. I trusted his expertise. But judging by the excited scream I belted out – one that Post Independent photographer Kelley Cox could hear from the ground – he decided to go easy on me.

“Man, is this an exercise in resolving trust issues,” I yelled back to him. “Just so you know, I really, really trust you right now.”

I don’t say that to every man I meet.

I really enjoyed seeing Glenwood Springs, a city I truly love, from that perspective. We slowly floated down to the vintage baseball field across from Glenwood Springs High School after about a 15-minute ride.

Like take-off, the landing is normally easy – all it usually involves is putting your feet down on the ground. Of course I’m not the most graceful of paragliders. So I came in on my bottom.

Leave it to me to make paragliding funny.

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