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Today is Aaron’s, our oldest son, 16th birthday. I look forward to this day not only to reminisce about how quickly time has passed or how proud I am of this young man, but because of the adventure I know that we are about to have. Aaron is as much of an adrenaline junkie as I am. Every year, we do something new and exciting. Last year, Aaron got to fly a Cessna and had a flight in a sail-plane over the Cascade Mountains.
Last weekend, we were driving by Seattle Paragliding Company on Tiger Mountain in Issaquah, WA. We have seen people paragliding often there as we head east on Hwy 90. The multi-color sails always looked very majestic, yet so scary that the thought of actually going paragliding had never crossed my mind. As we drove by my husband jokingly asked Aaron if he would like to go paragliding for his birthday. Of course Aaron jumped at the chance to get some airtime. I, of course, could not let my 15-year-old go alone and volunteered to watch out for him.
We were greeted by Marc, the owner. He offered us a drink and showed us around the pre-flight harness fitting room. Our other son went and checked out the spiral staircase leading to the ‘eagle’s nest’ at the top of a tree 50 feet high where he could watch the paragliders. Seattle Paragliding Company does not take credit cards, so Curtis drove a short distance down the road to get cash while Aaron and I prepared for our flight.
We signed up for the tandem fight with an experienced pilot. The tandem fights are $175 on weekdays and $195 on weekends. There is also an additional $20 per person for the shuttle up the mountain (you can walk if you really want to climb the two miles with your glider) and an optional extra $40 for a personal film of your flight. The time in the air varies according to the weather conditions. The day we flew, the skies were clear and the temperature was 85 degrees F, a heat wave for us here in the Pacific Northwest. Our flight lasted almost an hour. However, there is no guaranteed flight time.
The two pilots taking Aaron and I on our flights were Drew and Rob. Drew is known as a bit of a daredevil, while Rob is known to be a very safe flyer. Marc asked us who wanted a daring ride and Aaron immediately raised his hand. I would gladly save myself some embarrassment. We watched a short 15 minute training video and then rushed to catch the next shuttle up to the top of the mountain.
The Tiger Mountain Shuttle leaves the lower parking lot at 12:30, 2:30, 4:45, and 6:30 pm. You give your $20 to the driver as you board. The ride is only about 10 minutes to the top of the mountain. Aaron and I received a little bit of good-natured teasing for being novices, but everyone was very friendly. On a side note, the local Paragliding Club takes care of the port-a-potty at the top of the mountain if you need to relieve yourself of extra weight before you fly. We were told it is often vandalized, so best to use the facilities below.
Aaron and his pilot set up first. Aaron was harnessed in and given a helmet. The glider was laid out near the cliff and inflated to ensure none of the strings was tangled. Aaron was then clipped into Drew’s harness. I could tell Aaron was getting a little nervous about stepping off a cliff. What was I about to let our son do? Once all of the connections were double-checked, the paraglider was inflated and Aaron took a few steps forward before being lifted off his feet. The harness becomes a chair once you are in the air and is very comfortable. You are strapped in at your legs, hips, and chest.
Once Aaron and his pilot were airborne, a bald eagle passed directly in front of them. They followed the eagle for a few minutes before the eagle tired of the game and flew away. I am jealous of the experience to fly with an eagle. My launch was smooth and uneventful. I immediately sat back and enjoyed the scenery. The air was cooler at elevation and I could see for a hundred miles in each direction. Each pilot has a camera on a pole for video and still pictures. Rob and I flew around in the mountain chatting about how he got into the sport and paragliding in different parts of the world. For instance, it is illegal to paraglide at night in the U.S. (makes sense to me) but in other parts of the world nighttime paragliding is legal, but still very dangerous.
Unlike other forms of human flight, paragliding really puts you in touch with the experience of being a bird. It is a smooth soaring sensation that is silent and graceful, yet thrilling. You can steer them like a plane and even gain elevation on rising thermals. It is a very graceful way to travel.
As we slowly returned back down to earth, I watched Aaron and Drew do steep spirals. Aaron had bet Drew that he would not get sick. Aaron won the bet, but he was a little green when he landed according to dad. My decent was very smooth and would have been a perfect landing if I had not have lost my balance once my feet hit the ground and landed on my bottom.
Aaron joked that next year we are going parachuting out of airplanes for his birthday. I hope he is joking!