I wasn't sure what to expect as I rode my bike down to Morningside Flight Park. I originally contacted them about taking a tandem hang glider ride, but they recommended a paragliding lesson instead. They thought it would be a better fit for the Un-Road Trip. I wasn't even sure what paragliding was. I knew it had something to do with wind-powered flight, but wasn't quite sure how it was different from hang gliding or para sailing.
As soon as I arrived they paired me up with Fernando, a paragliding instructor. He'd teach me the basics and they promised he'd have me flying in a few hours. It turns out a paraglider is a fabric wing attached to a harness. Unlike a hang glider, a whole paragliding set-up weighs under 20 pounds and can fit in a backpack. It really is pretty portable. You could stuff one of these in your bag, hike up a hill, and run off. This is the hill I was trying to run off:
We picked up all our equipment and headed out onto the hill. Fernando helped me pull on the backpack-like harness and tighten the many straps. Then we laid out the giant fabric wing and attached all the lines onto my harness. We talked through all the various cords, and what I should hold on to, and when I should let go of them. Fernando outlined the various things he might yell out to me as I was pulling up the wing or starting to get off the ground. And then we started playing the game which quickly became a staple of the morning- "watch the air sock." The wind conditions have to be just right to take off, especially since I'm a beginner. Once the conditions were right, we didn't waste any time. I put my hands in the straps and pulled the appropriate cords to pull the wing into the wind, (which is pretty difficult as the wing pulls back with a surprising amount of force). Once the wing is up you have to lean forward and keep moving until you're either off the ground or ready to bring the wing down. Sounds simple, but it took two hours before my feet even left the ground. Sometimes there would be uneven wind gusts that would yank me in one direction, knock me down, and pull me across the hill. Other times I would brake too much on one side and the wing would collapse behind me. After a few hours I started getting a better feel for the wind and the steering.
As soon as the wing was overhead I ran down the hill, taking care to follow Fernando's yelled instructions- "Release A straps!" "Brake left!" And then I'd suddenly be off the ground for a bit before I started coming down again. I started running before I touched the grass to make sure my land speed wasn't any slower than my air speed, and then the hill would drop out below me and I'd be airborne again. I could gently pull the brake on one side to turn gracefully as I flew over the hill. Then I'd start running again to ensure a smooth landing. After four hours on the hill, I accomplished two great flights, and dozens of not so great ones. The moment that your feet leave the ground is pretty spectacular, and it's easy to see how this can become addictive. I think I'll be doing this again soon.
Then I rode back to the Goddard Mansion Bed & Breakfast to pick up my backpack, use a little WiFi, and say my goodbyes to Scott and Keith.
I left my bike at the B&B and walked down to the train station. Though calling it a "station" isn't quite accurate. It was really just a sign near some train tracks. I was there early and had nearly an hour until the train arrived. I wasn't sure how I'd pass the time. But then I saw the sign.
So I followed the arrow. Was there really another option? Soon I saw another arrow, and less than half a mile later I reached the fabled source of ice cream- Le Moo's Dairy Barn. There were about thirty flavors to choose from, but I finally settled on Wild Maine Blueberry.
It was the right choice. As I walked back to the train, I realized I had learned an important lesson. Always get to the train station early because you never know when you'll see a sign pointing towards ice cream.