Monday, August 13, 2012

Up, Up and Away! One Check Off The Bucket List, One Giant Leap Towards Living For The Fun of It.

     For the last twelve years it seems my life has been dictated by responsibilities, littered with obstacles, sidetracked by obligations, and restricted by financial limitations. It has been exhausting, demanding, and anything but fun. What I've realized is that I don't have to continue down that same path. By making a few adjustments to my methods and my mental attitude, I can still master my obligations and responsibilities while rewarding my diligence in more meaningful ways.

     In the past, the perks I've allowed myself have been simple things like that $2.50 cup of specialty coffee in the morning, new fashionista shoes from a discounter, or a pot luck supper with friends. Nice little perks, but with very little long term satisfaction. Now I've discovered that by saving up those piddling perk dollars until they can buy a more substantial prize, means much more pleasure in the long run. Let face facts, I'm at a point in my life where the thrills and chills will mean a lot more today than they will in ten years. What's more, it's that excitement that's been missing for me. With that in mind, I've started my Bucket List - all the things I've always wanted to do but have postponed for one responsible reason or another. With some careful planning, a few clever saving strategies, and some determination to make life more fulfilling, I am on my way to the BEST of my life.

     After a little research on the web, and a mere hundred dollars from my Bucket List bank account, I am now able to check number three - take a glider ride - off my list. Thanks to the Piedmont Soaring Society I spent this past Sunday afternoon fulfilling a lifetime dream soaring through the sky like a bird.
     When I arrived at Bahnson Field near Winston Salem, North Carolina, I thought for a moment I must be at the wrong place. I drove through the discrete open gate and down a long single track dirt road next to a perfectly groomed grass field, not car, truck or aircraft in sight. Finally, round the last the bend I spotted what looked like a picnic shelter, a small tin building and one red van. Once out of my car I could see other building just over the rise, and in moments I was cheerfully greeted by the charming British accent of Piedmont Soaring Society president Bob Hills. 
     Bob and I chatted a few minutes about the club, my soaring fascination, and my mother's flying adventures in the 1930's. It wasn't long before more cars arrived and things began to move around at the distant hangers. 
     Soon a tow car pulled a compact yellow glider to the far side of the field. Turns out this vintage single passenger craft was used in the original make of The Thomas Crown Affair. Very cool indeed. Maybe that's the movie that inspired my
interest in soaring.

Glider from the 1968 movie The Thomas 
Crown Affair with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunnaway.

     The next glider to be towed onto the field was a sleek white two-seater, with a fifty-eight foot wingspan. It looked every bit as graceful and elegant as what I had imagined. Surprisingly this plane was built in the 1970's. Bob walked me over to introduce me to my ride for the afternoon. It was a bit of a surprise to learn that the passenger, me, would be sitting in the front cockpit. At first glance I wondered if I'd even be able to get my legs tucked inside. While we waited for the tow plane and pilot to arrive Bob also gave me a quick, very informative instructional on the dials and lever controls that could be manned from either seat. I found myself hoping that new knowledge wouldn't be necessary. 
    It wasn't long before we were hooked up to a vintage crop duster piloted by Gary Garavaglia, a thirty-eight year soaring enthusiast, instructor and pilot. I felt we were in good hands despite my apprehension of being towed up to thirty-nine hundred feet before being released to our own devices, without an engine. Yikes!

     Lift off was amazing, fast but surprisingly smooth. It seemed that in no time we were high about the airfield with spectacular views in all directions. It was a cloudless day, and I learned that gliding is best when there are more cumulus clouds in the sky creating warm upward thermal currents. None the less, for a first timer I felt 
more than satisfied with our altitude and what turned out to be a good long flight of nearly an hour. 

     At one point, we circled under a small puff of a cloud, rising gently in it's thermal to hold our altitude. That was the only point in the flight when my stomach reminded me circular motion should never go on for long. Fortunately Bob was sensitive to the possibilities, and leveled us out before things got messy. 

    As we slowly lowered our way out of the sky back towards the airstrip, my brief moment of relaxation was interrupted by realization that Bob  
must land our craft before I could truly be at ease. Yikes again. The ground was approaching fast, and I was in the front. To my amazement, the landing was so smooth I never would have guessed we were on a grass air strip if I didn't already know, especially considering a glider has only one wheel in front and one in back. It's like a giant roller blade with wings, and I have to say my pilot had complete control. I've had bumpier landings coming into PTI in a commercial airliner. 

    Safely on the ground, I must admit to a touch of regret that there weren't more clouds in the sky to keep us aloft a bit longer, and that there wasn't enough time for another go round. 

I'll definitely be visiting Bob, Gary and all the delightful folks I met at the Piedmont Soaring Society again, maybe to take a few soaring lessons of my own!


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