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AirAnarchy: “This place is awesome. This place is magic. This place will hurt you if you’re stupid.”

The other day I was talking with Bea about how I wish to blog going forward. I told her that I want most of it to be about what I do, and not what I think…sitting on my ass, pontificating.

Well, there’s the marriage between my anarchist spirit of various activities and deep appreciations right there—because you’re not going to find me blogging about standing in line to get a license to live a life; or, showing my license to drive, to buy a bottle of whiskey in the land of the free. It’s perfect for zoo humans though; for whom, “better safe than sorry” is their chief inspiration.

…It was about 20 years ago—maybe 19—that I began flying hang gliders. First 5 years or so was consuming and ferocious in activity—local flying and trips centered around flying. I’ve flown mountains on the west coast from SoCal (Marshall, San Bernardino) to Washington State (Chelan Butte and the flats to the east), and much in-between (e.g., Hat Creek; Lakeview, OR; Indian Valley at Greenville, CA; Dunlap, CA near King’s Canyon: to name a few). And Ft. Funston south of San Fran, on the cliffs, was a weekly mainstay.

This post is about Big Air though.

It’s an important distinction that makes for hang-glider pilot “launch butt.” It’s that point in time where your body is telling you to just go take a shit rather than fly into all of that scary uncertainty. It’s physiological.

What in the fuck is “big air,” anyway? There’s no precise definition, and many of those places I named can be that, at times. But, there are places where Big Air is BIG Air; meaning, it’s scary most of the time but where mentally overcoming it in the context of smarts and experience has important rewards. People tend to categorize and thus: hang gliding is dangerous and scary. To those who actually do it, there are 50 Shades of Grey and there’s “country club flying” too. There’s also deep red and deep black. …There’s cloud suck—where if it’s black and big enough, it’ll suck you into its caldron of misery and fear and freezing and you could die…though the bright side is that it might take you to 60,000 ft, asphyxiate and freeze you first. There’s that.

…I’m not a particularly skilled pilot, nor vastly experienced. I have somewhere between 100 and 200 total accumulated HG flying hours. Many of those old fucks who pioneered the sport in the ’70s in their late teens and early 20s are way north of 10,000 hours and still flying as often as they can. One problem in the “sport,” in terms of popularizing it—stupidly assuming that’s even possible—is that the average person sees it as a scary ride—like a bungee jump or skydive. They are currently unaware that the world record HG flight is north of 400 miles over 10-12 hours (hundreds @ 200-300 miles). There are many guys who do 100+ mile flights all the time. …Of course, don’t discount The X Games. So hubristic fucktard “rad.”

So for my pathetic self, in contrast to the true SkyGods? I’ve had many flights over 2 hours and a few into the 3-4 hour range. Been above 8,000 ft many times, but the coolest was when I was setting up for a landing in Indian Valley once and the turbulence in mid-afternoon was butt puckering. I decided that if I caught a “whiff,” I’d take it. I did, and I rode the same thermal from 300 ft to about 12,000 (I’m conflating MSL and AGL here, but this is for the layman). By the time I got back to the LZ a coupla hours later, it was a gentle setup, landing, and a cold beer from friends.

[Aside: I know many guys who’ve gotten hypoxic going to 21-22K feet without an O2 bottle and cannula—and some sailplane guys go to 30-60k feet with the O2. But officially? They got to 18,000 feet. Bonus for anyone who tells me why that’s their official story and they’re sticking to it.]

Hang gliding is not an extreme endeavor, but one of passion and longing. It’s an endeavor suited to contemplative, thoughtful, inquisitive people who love other similar people gathered around similar aspirations. A common thread: disgust, detestation and impatience with stupid and fucktard. In that way, it eats its young. If you’re new, you get dispensation to a point but at a point, if you can’t get over your stupid, you get shunned. You’ll make the endeavor look bad when you become a paraplegic or kill yourself, and then the community has to worry about your dependents. It’s a highly social endeavor (fourth time I’m avoided using the word “sport”).

Being competent at strapping tech around and over you and running off a mountain to experience, overcome and conquer the chief envy of humans in all writings forever—the envy of birds—puts you at the very top in terms of transcending those limitations and aspirations upon which doG saw fit to shackle you. You’re a .01 percenter.

Hang gliding makes you a social bird, looking down at landlubbers in figure and form. It’s individual in the air, but social too—pilots showing others where the lift is. But at the campfire at the end of the day, flying stories are fish stories. Plus, you will tell someone how you helped show them lift, and someone will tell you how they showed you lift.

…It also makes you an amateur geologist and meteorologist. Continental drift repercussions, timeless erosion, and the Sun in its billions of years of chicanery become your doGs. You don’t fantasize about space travel, because you can fly like a bird with hawks & eagles…and there’s not a president, prime minister, congress, parliament or voter on the planet who has a single fucking clue about what you do and what you know. You have great difficulty over not simply dismissing all of them, telling them to just piss off—pitching a tent with your wing alongside, waiting to be spread and free the next time.

When you watch this 5-mim very high def video, it would make me very happy if you pay very close attention on many levels, beyond assessing the age of the folks (teens and 20-something in the 70s, still at it).

  1. Look at the clouds.
  2. Look at the sunlight.
  3. Look at the shade those clouds make on the ground.
  4. Look at the shades of darkness on the cloud bottoms.
  5. Look at the terrain.

Those points are kinda essence in terms of apprehending well and getting a long or far flight, or failing, or getting hurt (though you must understand what it all means). Remember: Obama couldn’t help you, even if he got tired of running the universe.

A couple of important notes before you watch. First, you’ll see hang gliders that almost appear to spin on a top and go up. This is true. Big Air. Think of a pot of water at a low boil. It’s a caldron. Analogously, there’s air going up, and air going down, churning. You find yourself in the up, you can be in air that’s 2,000 feet per minute up or more to 10K and above. But it can be right next to air that’s crashing earthward at a similar velocity, and near the surface can be found predictable mixtures of the two. Safe landing please.

OK, watch for 5min: Dreaming Awake At King Mountain Idaho.

That’s the video that inspired this entire post, three days chewing on what I wanted to say about it.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

18 Comments

  1. Dave on February 27, 2015 at 01:29

    Thanks Richard – I live in Cardiff, Wales.

    No malfunctions for me, just a few crazy landings and a couple of broken vertebrae…

    • Dave on February 27, 2015 at 07:58

      Thanks Richard – appreciated!

    • Richard Nikoley on February 27, 2015 at 06:51

      Here you go.

      Lots of stuff, lots of instruction, lots of flying sites.

      http://www.sewhgpgc.co.uk

      http://www.nwhgpc.org.uk

      That should get you started, so off the ass time and go check it out!

  2. Dave on February 27, 2015 at 04:58

    Nice points, Mark. I also took up surfing in my late thirties and only wish I’d started as a kid. It’s a great outlet…

  3. Dave on February 26, 2015 at 14:33

    Brilliant.
    First the paleo diet, and now you’ve got me researching hang gliding in the UK.
    The sign of a great blogger I suppose.
    I have over 100 military parachute jumps under my belt but this looks ridiculously good fun.
    And I dare I say, almost spiritual..?

    • Richard Nikoley on February 26, 2015 at 15:20

      Dave:

      Let me know where you are, and I’ll see if I can get you set up with some good blokes.

    • Richard Nikoley on February 26, 2015 at 17:22

      …Oh, Dave BTW. Any malfunctions in those jumps?

      Get this. Oregon State U, 1982. My roommate and I get a wild ass-hair (do note the placement of the hyphen) and drive out to Sheridan, OR. Small airfield, jump & deal. Surreal, in that the jump master is a long-hared, one legged Viet Nam vet. The others? Long haired herb jumpers (no idea where to place a hyphen there). Intriguingly, they did have an Uzi modified to full auto. Those were the days we didn’t even really know who was the president. Who cared?

      They were very competent, but one must be of a certain mentality to be the one who gets out of shit alive.

      My Alaskan roommate and I got a first two statics under our belt that first day, got herb-high with the guys after the work was done. I can still see that first jump Scott did, as the airplane circled around and I saw him from a perfect canopy and dangle.
      I went first the second time.

      Couple of weeks later, we went up again. I was interested in free fall and so, qual involved separating, getting into a “falling leaf,” a count, and one arm in, to tug the dummy, so institutor could see I wasn’t a fucktard who’d make him look bad.

      I did it perfectly.

      So perfectly, in fact, that when my main via static turned out to be a cannon ball and I pulled and punched the WWII belly 14-footer—and got all the skin on my neck erased, and it opened while blowing out 2 panels, and I hit hard 20 seconds later (jump was 2,800 AGL), I still had the dummy and the reserve d-rings in my hand. Save the planet! Waste not, want not!

      Fortunately, it was on a slope. Fortunate also when I think about it: jump exit was was calculated to have me touch down close to the airport. Very fast descent, on the ground in under a minute, I had a long hike. Time to hike, think, decompress.

      When I grounded, the main chute broke into wonderfulness, so I had two chutes to toss over cattle fences prior to climbing over myself.

      The thing I remember most about it and that I laf bout wit pleasure to this day is that every time I tossed two chutes over a fence, and climbed over, I collapsed on top of them and relaxed.

      It was all quite except for one little thing:

      …bmp.bmp.bmp.bmp.bmp.bmp.bmp…

      I felt rather calm and relieved mentally, but every time I did that, what I was hearing was that my heart and hence body, was in complete disagreement.

  4. rrrracer on February 26, 2015 at 16:11

    Thanks man, I felt like I was there. My favorite post of yours to date.

  5. Adam R on February 26, 2015 at 20:33

    Must be those goddamn FAA regulations

  6. Jake on February 27, 2015 at 00:31

    Very cool, I’ld love to have the balls to hangglide but I don’t do well without a connection to the ground, so I’ll I’ll stick to my ElectraGlide,

    As far as your blog, you do best when you’re putting shit out there for real ppl to try, and by that I mean the pseudo-paleo-not quite paleo-who gives a fuck try it shit. I ain’t gonna hang glide, and the Anarchist shit at best is just mental masturbation. Smashing Pumpkins summed that up already, despite all your rage you are still just a rat in a cage.

    If you’re gonna bother blogging at all get Duck & Tim back here and write shit ppl might care about. If not, shut the fucker down, eat Baguettes and go soaring. JFC, it’s not that hard to figure out dude, Either way, enjoy your life as best you can, that’s the ultimate FU to this mortal coil before we shuffle off it. *Cheers!*

    • Jed on February 27, 2015 at 12:31

      I”f you’re gonna bother blogging at all get Duck & Tim back here and write shit ppl might care about.”

      This is wrong on so many levels.

    • Jake on February 27, 2015 at 16:51

      “This is wrong on so many levels.”

      Yeah, thankfully one of the things I learned here is the joy of being wrong.

  7. Marc on February 27, 2015 at 04:11

    Richard,

    For me life is all about PASSION, and thats what I read here from you in this superb post.
    In a similar vein…I took my first surf lesson for my 40th bday.
    Now 47 Im still a “kook” as they say… But what I feel out on the waves is a sense of freedom and passion that is simply the most wonderful thing in the world to me. NOTHING compares..for ME.

    The biggest reason I eat “clean” and workout is for that reason. So that in a few more years and im done working, i can enjoy the rest of my liFe surfing and chillin with my wife.

    As to passion… Ive said before that for my kids, my aim and my responsibility is to send them into the world as respectful humans…nothing more nothing less. But for THEM, I hope they discover a true passion for something.

    Thanks for sharing.

  8. Tim Maitski on February 27, 2015 at 11:19

    Richard,

    Recently on Turner Classic Movies they had “The Yearling” on. It’s a classic from my childhood days.

    There’s a scene where there’s a crippled boy, about 10 years old, telling his story about trying to fly by jumping off the roof of his house. His talk about his desire to fly like a bird is so much like your post.
    “You don’t fantasize about space travel, because you can fly like a bird with hawks & eagles…and there’s not a president, prime minister, congress, parliament or voter on the planet who has a single fucking clue about what you do and what you know. You have great difficulty over not simply dismissing all of them, telling them to just piss off—pitching a tent with your wing alongside, waiting to be spread and free the next time.”

    He doesn’t use quite the same language as you but it’s pretty much the same thought.

  9. Carl on February 28, 2015 at 10:05

    Very cool video. But as cool as it is, I find myself not the least bit motivated to try this. Perhaps that is because I am a certified klutz, someone who doesn’t pick up physical skill based activities that easily, and because I occasionally suffer from vertigo (benign positional type – can be very disorienting). Plus, being older, I break more easily and heal more slowly than I used to. As Dirty Harry once said: “A man has got to know his limitations”.

    As you appear to enjoy taking calculated(?) risks, I’m curious what you think of Jared Diamonds notion of Constructive Paranoia.

    http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/01/29/science/jared-diamonds-guide-to-reducing-lifes-risks.html?referrer=

    • Thomas on March 4, 2015 at 06:56

      Carl,

      If it doesn’t motivate you to try it, you’re not a flier. It’s that simple. In which case there’s absolutely no point in you taking the risks involved.

      I think your “constructive paranoia” is the opposite of the attitude taken by the “fucktards” Richard refers to. In aviation, the penalty for “oops” is often death: you’d be amazed how many hang gliding deaths have been caused by people launching without being attached to the glider – I mean, come on, what are the odds? As you say, “one in a thousand” isn’t nearly good enough: pilots are looking to get to one in a million or better. Pilots are primed to look for, and eliminate, the most obscure, microscopic sources of risk – and those who don’t, quickly become local news items. (Often, their peers can see it coming – I knew of a case where a pilot’s flying friends sold all his hang gliding gear while he was away, as a sort of intervention after he wouldn’t listen to their warnings – and it worked).

      But, there’s a limit to what paranoia can do for you. Flying is dangerous. Being a (paranoid) hang glider pilot is about as likely to kill you as being a (careful) motorcyclist: not very likely, but sh*t happens.

  10. Foodini on October 6, 2016 at 20:51

    The reason your friends stick firmly to the story that they topped out at 18,000 feet is that FAA Class A airspace starts there and extends to Alpha Centauri. Chances are, they were there without being in full compliance with the rules. Or should I say, they were most certainly NOT there because they fell short of some part of them =]

    14 CFR 91.135

    Except as provided in paragraph (d) of this section, each person operating an aircraft in Class A airspace must conduct that operation under instrument flight rules (IFR) and in compliance with the following:
    (a) Clearance. Operations may be conducted only under an ATC clearance received prior to entering the airspace.
    (b) Communications. Unless otherwise authorized by ATC, each aircraft operating in Class A airspace must be equipped with a two-way radio capable of communicating with ATC on a frequency assigned by ATC. Each pilot must maintain two-way radio communications with ATC while operating in Class A airspace.
    (c) Transponder requirement. Unless otherwise authorized by ATC, no person may operate an aircraft within Class A airspace unless that aircraft is equipped with the applicable equipment specified in Sec. 91.215.
    (d) ATC authorizations. An operator may deviate from any provision of this section under the provisions of an ATC authorization issued by the ATC facility having jurisdiction of the airspace concerned. In the case of an inoperative transponder, ATC may immediately approve an operation within a Class A airspace area allowing flight to continue, if desired, to the airport of ultimate destination, including any intermediate stops, or to proceed to a place where suitable repairs can be made, or both. Requests for deviation from any provision of this section must be submitted in writing, at least 4 days before the proposed operation. ATC may authorize a deviation on a continuing basis or for an individual flight.

    • Richard Nikoley on October 6, 2016 at 21:06

      Yep, fully aware of that and that’s exactly why they say 18k. But I have seen saved flights that went as high as 22-23k out in the Owen’s Valley.

      Saw a saved fright from a sailplane guy once who got to 34k over Yosemite.

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