What began as third-person observation ended up being first-person exhilaration. So it was that on a flawless spring day I found myself a half-mile over Oregon’s North Coast, suspended by nothing more than some nylon cord, a Gortex® seat, and a whole lot of faith.
But let me back up. I have a daredevil son, and my wife’s not far behind him. Me, not so much. You see I have this little thing called extreme height avoidance. Panic would be a better word for it.
This was paragliding – as in flying without a motor – something previously relegated to a definitive ‘not-sure’ on my bucket list. I was there to watch my son and wife aviate and to chronicle their adventure. It was the latter half of a two-day trip to Astoria that also included zip lining, great burgers at Buoy Beer (you gotta see the sea lions that lounge beneath the brewpub’s glass floor), and overnight pampering at the Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa.
When we arrived at the appointed spot on the beach a few miles south of Astoria, Brad Hill and Maren Ludwig, the husband/wife duo behind Discover Paragliding!, were setting up the tools of their trade. The participants were sized, outfitted in flight suits, and given a thorough review of exactly what happens when you decide to challenge gravity’s rules of engagement.
The mechanics are simple: a truck (driven by Brad) speeds down the beach, lifting the rider and flight coach (Maren), and their parachute/glider skyward. When 3,000 feet is reached the tether is released and you float gracefully back to a spot within few feet of where you started.
Thirty minutes later my son is whisked away with a resounding ‘woo hoo’ and promptly disappears against the noontime glare. A bit later my wife does the same.
Now, even though Brad and Maren’s approach to safety borders on maniacal, and I’d just watched the rest of my family return with ecstatic and flawless landings, I wasn’t quite flight-ready. I’m still feeling pretty good just hanging on the beach. But the come-on-dad-you-can-do-its keep coming. It was basically a dare from a 9-year-old. He even picked out my flight suit, a nice little charcoal and red number. Who could say no to that?
So, with Maren harnessed behind me, we took off running. The line tightened, I sat back as instructed, and we were airborne. The only sounds as we ascended were a whoosh of wind and a few reassuring words in my ear from my co-pilot. Within minutes I could see from Tillamook Head south of Seaside past the mouth of the Columbia River to the north. When the line tethering us to the speck of a truck below dropped, it was absolute serenity. We dipped and wove our way over the estates of Gearhart, over the azure waves, and back to within a foot or two of our take-off point. I was hooked, glider-drunk, and totally ready to fly again.
I’m just hoping my son doesn’t want me to watch him climb Smith Rock anytime soon.