Sailing through the blue sky

I suppose there have always been people who have wanted to soar into the wild blue yonder along with the birds, but I haven’t been one of them. My son Kevin, however, is a different story. When we were at the Kutztown Fair when he was nine years old, it wasn’t the many rides that caught his attention. He was fascinated by the gliders flying high above the fairgrounds. He didn’t want anything else except to find where the gliders were being launched, and to see if he could talk me into buying him a ticket for a 20 minute glider ride over the fairgrounds.

My own mother offered to chip in toward the cost to let him go soaring, saying that if the glider would have held more than one person plus the pilot, she would have wanted to go too! Maybe he inherited some of his adventuresome spirit from his Grammy!

We watched as my son walked over to the pilot, was given a short introduction and was strapped in the glider. A small plane towed the glider with a rope for what he later told us seemed like a long time. The pilot let him release the rope from the airplane when they were aloft, and Kevin told us it felt like the glider stopped for a minute before the wind took it higher. The pilot explained the controls and showed him how to keep the glider from going crooked, then asked him if he wanted to fly it by himself. He said yes, so the pilot released his controls, took out a sandwich and had his lunch! In the meantime, down on the ground I was straining to see the silver speck as it rose higher and higher, wondering if I’d taken leave of my senses to have allowed him to fly! My mom, however, had this wistful little smile on her face as she watched her grandson soar.

He was mesmerized by that flight, about how quiet it was at that altitude, and how the earth looked so different far below. He never lost that fascination, and several years later, I was looking upward nervously once again as he took the first of several skydiving jumps that he just loved. After all, living life to the fullest was on his Bucket List, and he was serious about it!

More recently, he became interested in a flying contraption called a paramotor, and after studying the different kinds that were available, he bought one and set out to teach himself to launch and fly it. I guess most people pay for lessons from experienced teachers, but Kevin watched several videos and started practicing, sometimes for hours and hours at a time. After landing in the trees a few times and ruining parts of it, he began to get the hang of it.

Imagine my surprise to find this amazing flying machine in my garage when he came home for Christmas several weeks ago. It looks like a big round fan with a seat attached to the front of it. It also has a series of ropes and handles that lead up to an arc shaped parachute. I guessed that we’d be having a bit of excitement that day as he set up some windsocks in my yard and began studying the wind direction and speed.

He came into the kitchen and told me he thought he could launch by running down my driveway until the wind caught the parachute, then the motor would lift him higher. I had all kinds of worries, like what about all the trees in the area, not to mention the highway not far away, electric lines, etc. It wasn’t too long before a few spectators started to arrive, so I guessed this was really going to happen. He dressed in layers of clothes because as cold as it was down here, it would be even colder as he went higher. He donned his helmet and began strapping himself in, and soon he was running down the driveway with the fan contraption on his back, and we had liftoff!

Videos were being shot from the ground, but Kevin also had a GoPro strapped to his chest which recorded his view from above. He made several passes around the neighborhood on this trial run, then came in for a landing, which can be tricky if you haven’t learned to keep your legs out in front of you just right.

He had never taken another passenger along on any of the other 23 hours of flight time that he had logged so far, but he had rigged another seat up and was looking for a volunteer. After giving some instructions and outfitting his passenger (yes, there was someone brave enough to volunteer!), they practiced just running down the driveway together without starting the motor, but both of these attempts ended in a heap in the grass after the parachute briefly lifted them. By then my nerves couldn’t take anymore, and the two person flight idea was abandoned. After all, my plans for Christmas week didn’t include a trip to the emergency room!

He went out on another extended flight over the whole town, cruising past the church steeple so he could cross one more thing off of his Bucket List. I’m afraid to ask what other daredevil stunts might be on that list!

Kevin says, “A lot of people say I’m crazy to fly this thing, but I say you’re crazy not to at least try it because there is an absolute peaceful, heavenly feeling when you leave the ground. All of your troubles and pain and stress stay on the ground.”

I’ve rarely seen him as thrilled as he was after his flights that day, and it reminded me of when he returned from his first glider ride so many years ago. I guess he’s taught me that life can be much more interesting when we aren’t afraid to pursue activities that make us happy! It’s just that some of us prefer to pursue our happiness with both feet on the ground!

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