Friday, February 22, 2008

I wish I could blog about something like, flying etc., but the sitch is more storms and snow. Great for skiing. So here's another short story from the past to entertain and wet our appetite for spring.


I'm sure there are hormones or something that pushes a person toward specific areas of personal interest. As for me, the adventurer hormone has had a significant effect. Growing up there was no person, event or environment that influenced me to become a hang glider pilot or climber. Being raised in Oklahoma City and having parents in the ministry would seem to isolate a person even further from these sports. No close mountains to speak of, and certainly there was no person who provided the place or opportunity to see and experience high energy sports. Despite the odds, it seems we are propelled in a predestined manner. In the words of a great philosopher, "shot like an arrow from the archers bow".
It was the summer of 1976 when I caught the hang glider bug. I was sitting on an airplane in route to Oklahoma City after spending a few days in North Carolina. There on the plane I picked up a copy of Popular Mechanics, and on the cover a picture of hang glider with an ensuing article about one of the great hang gliding pioneers - Bill Bennett. That's all it took. As soon as I arrived home I began searching for anyone in my area who knew anything about hang gliders. I found only one listing in the phone book under hang gliding, and was surprised there was a hang gliding listing at all. The next morning I called Oklahoma Wings, owned and operated by a young man by the name of Gene Bledsoe. Gene was an intelligent, well spoken person who at first meeting made me feel confident that hang glider pilots could possibly be normal, well adjusted people. However, after a few lessons with Gene, I realized my first impression was a bit skewed. Actually Gene was a hang glider fanatic, with a magnetic personality. His overwhelming love and fascination with hang gliding was contagious, making my desire to fly all the more intense. The training hill Gene used was a twenty foot, gently sloped hill in back of a baseball park. On a good day, the glide from launch to landing was a five second ride, but for me it was the most incredible five seconds of my life. Skimming the ground, completely free from the earth's gravitational pull, was an experience that changed my life.

Over the course of the next few months, I took advantage of every chance to get out of the house and unfold my new wing. Each day of practice was like opening Pandora's box, with endless revelations and learning new aspects of this new form of flight. Along with the highs, I became intimately connected to the derogatory hang gliding term - whack. That's when upon landing, the gliders nose acts like a farming implement and plows a long furrow into the ground. But It wasn't long until I was able to take off and land my Standard Rogallo Hang Glider with the ease of a real pro. Moving on to ever larger hills.

During those early years, hang gliding sites were known only by word of mouth. There were no site guides. The instructors were hesitant to give up information divulging their most prized hills for fear of loosing flight privileges due to some young fledgling stuffing it in. So It just happened that I found out about a three hundred foot hill just an hour north of Oklahoma City. As soon as weather permitted and the wind was just right, I was there! A few weeks later that day arrived and I was anxious to try out this new hill. Knowing I might need some launching assistance, I entice my wife to come along with the pretense of an afternoon hike and picnic. "Maybe we could throw on the glider - just in case". When we arrived that afternoon the wind was a hot swirling mass coming from the south and seemed to be a perfect direction. The hill looked ominous, looming with its reddish flat top. A prick of fear hit deep in my gut, and all the what ifs my mind could muster up struck at once like an errant jolt of electricity. But like so many other moments in my hang gliding career the fear was overridden by pure adrenalin and love for the adventure at hand. That hill had my name on it and I was going to fly it! Susan grabbed the picnic basket as I untied my glider. Within minutes, with glider and harness bag shouldered, we found a path that looked more like a game trail than a legitimate trail to the top. However, thirty minutes later we were on top of the butte standing at the edge of the south launch. Looking out to the south, the endless grid of wheat fields looked like an ornate patchwork of earth. The tall grass fields below seemed to flow like ocean waves in the wind toward the hill. I had never set up my glider in winds this strong much less fly, so it was an admirable task unfolding this thirty foot span of aluminum and dacron without the glider getting blown over and becoming a tumbling heap of scrap. With a little help from Susan, we finally got the glider set up and ready to fly. I pulled my harness over my body and secured all the straps and buckles. With my helmet on, I moved over to the glider and clipped the locking carabineer into the hang straps then carefully turned the glider into the wind. Buffeted heavily by the choppy turbulence, I began moving the glider into take off position. The top of the butte provided only a sharp cliff like launch that dropped off abruptly for forty feet, then gradually eased into a fifty-degree slope for the remaining two hundred and fifty feet to the ground. As I inched my way toward the edge of the cliff, the back of the glider felt as though it wanted to pitch up and throw me over the edge. This phenomenon is caused by a rotor. The wind coming up the face of the cliff curls over the top and for a short distance flows back toward the edge of the cliff. You can be at the top of a cliff, and at the right place near the edge feel the wind coming from opposite directions. I waited through several strong cycles and was about to launch when Susan yelled, "Bruce stop there's something wrong". I glanced her way as she pointed to my left wing. "Isn't that thing supposed to be pulled out?" I had forgotten to engage the deflexor on the right wing. The deflexor is a ten inch aluminum outrigger that folds out and locks into place mid-span on each leading edge of the hang glider. A small cable runs the length of the leading edge and is held tight like an archers bow by the deflexor, providing rigidity to the wing. If I had launched without the device engaged it would have caused a severe left turn and most likely a crash on take off would have ensued. I slowly backed off and had Susan lock the appendage into position. Thirty minutes later and after some deep introspective thoughts, I moved back into launch position and with a perfect lull in the wind, I took off. The glider immediately climbed fifty feet above launch and hovered motionless. I pulled the control bar to my waist and began moving forward as the glider continued to climb. The air was remarkably smooth compared to the turbulence at launch. That moment was timeless - just the pure moment of flight and nothing else.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


While most of the gang is in Hurricane this weekend flying, I'm still holed up here in Park City making the best of some of the greatest skiing in recent history. Thursday morning was one of the top ski days ever for me! Our team was stationed at Jupiter, and the snow was out of control. In places the snow was waist deep, and of the lightest and fluffiest variety.

The deep stuff.

My team leader Jenn, slogging along Disco Ridge.

Strange wind carved cornices.

Friday, February 08, 2008

This past week our team was stationed at McConkeys Ridge. Overall, the weather was great. There were a few storm days that added to the already epic snow.

Home sweet home for the week.