Thursday, March 20, 2014

My 4ft of Adrenalin Rush

After having been in the Cali bay area I was constantly looking out for some adventure. Puneet, my friend here, whom I'd known from my BlackBerry days in Chicago, was with me on this one. One fine day he came across a groupon for a Hang-gliding lesson+glide session and duly forwarded me for my opinion. It was $80. The money wasn't important for me if I know I'll enjoy this. I have done Skydiving, rappelling, river rafting, jet skiing etc before and they were all worth the money I paid for and in return I enjoyed them too. Its not bad to have your adrenalin rush once in a while. Needless to say I have those when I see pretty girls on a daily basis :)
I agreed and purchased mine. I patiently waited for Puneet to buy his and I poked him everyday until he bought his. I wasn't going to do this alone. I'm not afraid but its just awkward when you show up alone for such events.

There were some hiccups in arranging a weekend to do this. Some weekends, I was busy, and some, Puneet was out of town for work. Since the expiry date was approaching we made an effort to finally settle March 2nd.

The owner website doesn't do much good in giving details about the event. I'm as clueless as anyone else about whats going to happen at the place, how's it conducted etc. Per day there are three slots and 4 persons per slot. One at 8:30am, one at 11:30am and final one at 3:30pm. I booked the 3:30pm but on the morning of 2nd, I received a text from an unknown number stating that today's class is cancelled because of bad weather and to reschedule. Its fine. I rescheduled for the week after, i.e March 9th, same time.

On the morning of 9th, I'm excited. I'm imagining after some basic lessons, I'll be jumping off a cliff or small hill, attached to the glider, and come down to the ground floating. It'll be an amazing experience. I thought of all the pictures and videos I'll have and how I'll show it off to my friends. What a way to grab attention. I felt little sad to think my life has come to this, but then to hell with it. At the end, the number of likes and comments on my facebook profile and cover pic is what matters.

Puneet arrives at my place at 12:45pm and we are on our way by 1pm. The hang gliding is in Tracy, CA which is some 60 miles from my place. Such places are always located way further than civilization. I guess they need to be. I remember my skydiving center in IL was way out in some small town 70miles from my place. Its fine. I'm not too worried. Its a fun outing in a way. We reach there at 3pm. There is just one small cabin behind which there is a hangar. There is nothing in 5 miles radius around the place. We went inside in what looked like a small office. There was no one there. 

"Hello!" I said, as a verbal doorbell. No response. While we were looking around, we hear a toilet flush and then the door on our right opened and we meet Richard. 

"Hey Hi. We are here for the hang gliding." We clarified.
"Ok. But you guys are very early. "
"Yeah. We didn't encounter much traffic on our way here", I said, trying to be funny. He didn't laugh.
"How long does the session usually take?" I asked.
"Umm, usually 2 hours so expect to be done here by 5:30pm".
I was happy to hear that. 2 hours is good enough time for lots of exciting things to do.

"Ok. May I suggest you guys hang out here or may be if you need water or anything else, please feel free to drive around. There is a gas station few miles west. Lets wait for the other 2 people to join us so that we can begin. That way I wouldn't have to repeat myself twice. " He said without any emotions.

We agreed and came out. I was little bit surprised that he was the only person holding the fort here. He was the only guy who is managing everything here. I was expecting a system in place here. Like a small office, a reception area, a small cafeteria, few people roaming around taking pictures, few instructors running helter skelter, some class going on in an adjacent room, some gliding sessions going on outside etc. Nothing. Instead what I got was absolute silence. Few birds may be. Wind and dusts. On our way, I told Puneet how I'd really like to be able to glide alone. No instructor on my back because that just spoils the pic. My skydiving pic is testament to that. I spent most of the time explaining a fat guy on my back than to describe how wonderful the whole experience was. And the fat instructor was in all of my pictures. Damn! But atleast here, I don't see that happening. I don't see any instructors and any gliding session going on here. I just crossed my fingers and hoped Richard will not be behind me when I'm gliding.

We sneaked into the hangar. There were two hang gliders there. Also a military jeep similar to allies in WW2 (I don't think it was the original), two small aircrafts. We took the opportunity to take lots of pictures. We didn't have water so we took the car out to find the nearest gas station. I got a call from Richard at the gas station. He informed us about the other two people arriving so we are all set to start as soon as we show up. Few minutes later we were there. We meet Manpreet and Jho (both females :)). Richard then starts to give us an introduction. He is blabbering about how he is the only hang gliding instructor in US doing this, how this is the only place to hang glide, how he has been asked by instructors from Canada and elsewhere on tips to setup such schools elsewhere, how he has been encouraged to patent his methods and loads of other bull crap. I just had to sit through it. When he said 2 hours, he didn't say he'd waste 15minutes in this. 
Then we go into the hangar. In there, he shows us the basics on how to hold a glider and how to lift it up on your shoulders. The frustrating thing was that each one of us will do the same after he has shown us how to. I'd go in first, lift the glider up on my shoulders. He'd correct myself here and there if needed. Then I put it down and Puneet gets to do it while rest of us watch. And so on. This killed off another 30 mins. Oh God. I'm already losing my patience. The actual gliding better be good.
For the next set of lessons we come out of the hangar, into the open space outside. There was an open space similar to a chopper landing site, in front of the hangar, and there was a short runway on the right. I'd say less than half mile long.
In the open space he shows us how to balance the glider against the wind, how to run with it, and how to hold it while running with it. You have to hold the glider and run hard for the wind pressure under the wings to be enough to lift it up little bit and it will feel lighter, it will feel like its flying, floating to be precise. Just like a big paper plane. We get to do it as he demonstrates. And guess what, one person at a time, while the rest watch. Fucking waste of time. He has two gliders, why not use the fucking second one??
While he is instructing, I look around the place still looking for a cliff or hill to jump off. Fucking nothing. Its flat. There are some huge dumpsters but I don't expect we will be jumping off of them. With my curiosity I ask him if we ever will be able to glide the glider or this is it, we run with it, like a small kid? 
"No No of course we will get to fly. We will be airborne for few minutes. Don't worry This is not it."
Ah, what a relief. Because I've hardly been impressed so far. I wondered how else can I be cheered.

After wasting another 45 minutes with this crappy lessons, when there was nothing else for him to teach, he excused himself and went into the hangar. We all thought he has gone to smoke some fags as he was constantly smoking while giving us instructions. He comes out few minutes later, driving a pick up truck. There was a big flat platform mounted on some wheels attached to the pick-up truck. The platform had some pulleys, ropes, harness, levers etc. I don't know about others but I was still scratching my head trying to solve the puzzle of how we are going to be airborne. Then he carries the glider up to the platform and attaches the various ropes and buckles to it. Then it hit me. He'll be driving the truck in the runway and since we will be harnessed to the glider, when it lifts up, we will go up as well. Fuck me! And thats exactly what happened. While one person will drive the truck up and down the runway, others will take turns on the glider and all the while Richard will be holding the ropes tied to the glider so that our safety is secured. 

My biggest disappointment was, you are floating for less than two minutes. Because thats the time to finish the runway at 20mph. And did I mention the 5-10 seconds on either side of proper floating when you wait for the glider to go up and then see it come down. Absolute waste. By the time you are floating and just beginning to enjoy whatever you can find to cherish, the runway is over and you are back down. And what makes this experience worse is the fact that you are only hardly 4ft above the platform (or ground) when you are at the top of your floating experience. That is it. Thats your adrenalin rush. To be 4ft above ground, attached to a glider which is in turn attached to so many ropes with the moving platform that it cannot go higher than this. It was embarrassing actually. I was trying to show at least little bit of excitement for the pictures and videos. It was easy to shoot because while you are floating, two others are sitting in front of you watching you, and waiting for their turn. Manpreet and Jho were more than willing to take pictures and shoot videos of mine, because Puneet was driving the truck and Richard had to man the glider and prevent it going out of control. Seriously! What a joke!

My next disappointment was Richard. Once you've realized whats going to happen with the gliding experience, you have to find ways to extract some positives out of it. Its like football managers. Even when they play badly and loose the game, in the press conference they speak of taking positives out of this performance and focus on next match. When I saw the gliding scene in front of me, the moving truck, 4ft, 90secs etc, I was dejected, heart broken and utterly demoralized but there were some positives that I had to find out from this experience. I don't want to leave empty handed. I looked around. These are the only 4 people who know of the misery. And this experience is embarrassing for them as well. Can I use the pictures and videos to my advantage? None of my friends know what 'actually' happened here. 4ft can easily be shown as 40ft. 2 minutes of floating can be stretched to 20 minutes. The truth can be adjusted. The likes and shares and comments can be conned. When it was my turn to ride the glider, I handed my phone to Jho. I instructed her to take the video in landscape mode (because I like it that way), and to never never show the (red) platform. The platform shouldn't be in any scene, else my trick is exposed. Secondly, the floating scene should be exclusively me in blue sky background. If the background is only clear blue sky, how high you actually are becomes irrelevant. People will see the glider attached to my back and would know what I've been upto. Excellent plan. There was only one problem. When I saw the video afterwards, my short excitement went bust, like a flicker of fire against a fire extinguisher. In all of my pictures and the whole of my video, Richard is standing by my side, holding the glider while I'm floating. How ridiculous does that look? Here I'm trying to fool my friends but I cannot explain while I'm 40ft above ground level, how come there is a dude beside me, who seems to be 'not' floating. Whats going on there?

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