06. At high altitude

It’s beyond question that patience is a virtue. That’s why this truism became my motto during training. Yet even the patience of a saint has an expiry date. After endless practice, the time had come for the next step. Patiently I’d waited for that fiercely desired moment, which finally commenced that morning. The instructions blasted out of my headphones with deafening volume: ‘Go ahead’. Yes! At last! Even before the short sentence was finished I took off like a bat of hell, that’s how eager I was. Filled with adrenaline and concentration, I headed straight towards my goal, straight into the abyss. All my instincts tried to stop this unnatural action, but the flow of willpower and Dutch courage was just too strong. The other dimension was nearly there. Quickly, run a little bit faster, and that was it. The contradictory act was over, the great burden on my shoulder vanished. Instead of carrying a burden, I got carried away. I was a goner, into the wide horizon I went. No, this isn’t a dream or fantasy; this isn’t a suicide attempt or hallucination. This is the unreal reality of hang gliding, an ultimate alliance between man, technology and nature.

Taking off is only the beginning of a sensational and emotional event. All the irrelevant, all ballast, all sorts of side-issues and distractions: everything faded to the background. I enjoyed the moment, my feelings and the French Alps. I experienced the everyday from a bird’s eye view: the grazing cattle, hard-working farmers, honking motorists, the flapping laundry, the sound of music and the smell of fertilizer or cut grass. I had a very clear overview along the way, yet I was just a small speck on the calm horizon for everyone else. The calm conditions made me able to let go of the only means of control. It required some internal pep told to do it. With no handhold, I looked straight down, hundreds of meters into big deep.  Overwhelmed by intense liberation, all sense of time disappeared. After a while, I regained control to slow down, below the speed of flight. The wing hurtled down with the need for speed, exactly how it’s meant since its self-corrective by design. After this exciting moment, I lay flat again, if only briefly. With high speed, I dived down once again for a few steep turns. Everything increased: the wind, the G-forces, the tension, the pressure. Intuitively but rationally I did what had to be done in a controlled fashion. I was cautious. Pride comes before a fall and what goes up must come down. This ride on my own roller-coaster was too exciting to pass by. Not because I’m a reckless cowboy, but because I need to learn life-essential skills. The rodeo was nearly over due to the rapid loss of altitude. Damn. And just as unfortunate was the screwed finale. Wrong timing caused me to smack on the grass like a chick. Obviously it was nice to stand on solid ground again, but don’t ask me how.

Although I was back on my feet, I hadn’t landed at all. My head was still deeply in the clouds. For a moment, my thoughts drifted off to the recurring remark of others – ‘if I wasn’t tired of living’. They couldn’t be further from the truth. Driven by a longing for liberation and breaking free, I ran towards it with utter devotion. I took the accompanying (calculated) risks for granted under the idea of ‘having more life in my days than days in my life’. Despite my best attempt, this pure and instinctive way of flying is indescribable. It’s too mighty to leave unused, partly since so many aspects are involved. Hang gliding appeals to the psyche, to the ability to go along with the outside world while giving your own twist to it. It approaches the flight of birds, one of man’s oldest dreams. Nowadays it’s no longer a wild dream: it’s something that can be learned in a relatively safe and accessible way. Of course, it takes effort, time and money. But that it’s possible at all is downright insane. This is so fascinating about hang gliding. And all of this is possible thanks to the perseverance of adventurous pioneers and unconventional lateral thinkers. Time after time, they went further and further into the unknown. This isn’t only true for hang gliding or other ‘extreme’ sports, but also for so many possibilities that nowadays are taken for granted. With goosebumps, satisfaction and gratitude, I stared at the sky like a statue. Every flight is a gift; every flight is the result of the best mankind has to offer.

Back at the campsite, it was time for relaxation. We were there mainly to fly, yet the whole atmosphere around it was quite something as well. This is a place full of quirky characters which do their thing with boundless enthusiasm. The open and friendly atmosphere was so contagious. Actually, the main ‘danger’ had little to do with hang-gliding. The biggest risk was losing yourself in the joy of days of good company, crazy antics, decent conversations, sunshine and lager. Just having fun, following your passion diligently and experiencing something special together. This is my Garden of Eden, my home. It is a small, personal and informal world full of individual togetherness. It’s also a world that has given me a lot and will always stay with me. I can’t return to a more limited, smaller playground. That evening, I decided to fly around boundlessly, wherever and whenever. With or without a hang glider, mentally or in real life, with my feet on the ground or not; it doesn’t matter. The golden cage was breached, the escape was there. At last, my bright feathers come in handy. At last, previously unreachable heights are now reachable.

With spread wings I carry on flying around, this strange bird isn’t done with roaming around the world.

> Click here for an overview if you’re eager for more stories <

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