Free as a Birdie

Wednesday, July 19th around 10:20am I got a phone call from one of my closest friends, Claudia. I was planning on visiting her for the weekend… go to the beach, eat a few good meals, and just enjoy each other’s company. She asks me how I’m doing, I ask her how she is, and then she says “So the other day my mom asked me randomly if my brother and I wanted to go hang gliding this weekend? I said yeah that sounds like so much fun, but Tascha will be here. She said, ‘she can come!!!!’ … so, would you want to go hang gliding?” I immediately got nervous, I started to shake a bit, feeling my heart beat get faster. My response was a hesitant and nervous “yeah sure!!!” I have been slightly afraid of heights ever since I was little so this would not be easy for me, but I know that the best way to overcome fear is just to go and do that thing that makes you afraid. But still, I had a lot of questions. “Where in Florida can you go hang gliding??? How in the hell does it work??? Do you jump off some sort of building? There are no mountains here!” Claudia was wondering those exact same things. Despite our little knowledge, we said fuck it let’s do it!

Of course, my nerves got the best of me and I did my research. We would be going to Wallaby Ranch located in Central Florida, just south west of Orlando. Amazingly, no we would not be jumping from some tall building but rather be towed by a small airplane until reaching 2,000 feet. Once we reach the correct altitude we get released from the plane and the real gliding can begin. It seemed relatively safe, but I was still nervous. For several nights in a row I couldn’t fall asleep and would wake up numerous times in the night. When I would get really nervous I would just try to remember that at least it seemed safer than sky diving, and I wouldn’t be free falling out of the sky.

As the days went by it came time to fly! And that day was today! We woke up early this morning, my nerves were so high I jolted out of bed as soon as the alarm started ringing. I was at the peak of nervousness this morning, constantly checking the clock and weather, thinking we were going to be late and or rained out. For some reason the idea of missing the opportunity to do it was making me anxious. The ranch was only about 45 minutes away and en route we were all quiet with the occasional nervous laughter.

We turned right onto a long narrow road, in between a forest of pine and oak trees, with a ranch sign that said “Wallaby Ranch” we continued driving, and soon we came out from the forest and were driving past luscious green fields surrounded by more pines and oaks. We pulled up to a bunch of small houses and cabins, and out walks Malcolm, founder and owner of Wallaby Ranch who holds the record for the most incident-free tandem flights. He greeted us and we followed him into a small building with a beautiful screened in, wrap around porch covered with ivy. Once inside, we filled out all the necessary paper work and we were ready to go. They took us on golf carts to where we would take off. We signed some more paper work and within minutes Claudia was strapped in getting ready to soar. It all happened so fast, as soon as she was in the harness they laid her down and then they were off. I was anxiously awaiting my turn, since I was the last to go. Once it was my turn I was ready, but still a little uneasy. Just like Claudia, as soon as I was settled into the harness we took off. Once we were up I tried to look around as much as I could, the landscape was so beautiful. We were gliding over beautiful lakes, and small forests, over cows and cars. Everything seeming as if it was a painting.

Within about 10 minutes we reached 2,000 feet and the airplane was no longer needed. I was anticipating this moment and as Malcolm said, “Do you see him signaling?” I knew it was time and so did my body, as my muscles began to tense up. Not going to sugar coat it, I was expecting the worst but everything was fine. Actually, everything was more than fine, it was jaw dropping… absolutely amazing. It was beginning to rain over a nearby city and I could feel a few drops every now and again. Once I was comfortable enough he let me take control. He showed me how to speed up, slow down, and turn. I was worried that I was going to send the hang glider into a tail spin but the glider itself is very stable. After some time, we started to descend and Malcolm did this effortlessly. The landing was one of the most nerve-racking parts because we were coming in hot! But it was very smooth and graceful, yet exciting. When we were all finished, we went to the mess hall for breakfast. We knew it was ready because the chef rang a big bell to let everyone know, as if he was calling all the pigs to come get their grub. Most of the workers lived on site and the whole atmosphere of the place was very laid back and free-spirited.

I really enjoyed the entire experience. There are barely enough words to describe the feeling you get once you’re gliding through the air. It’s one of the most peaceful experiences, I had this overwhelming capability to fully enjoy the moment, to be as present as possible experiencing every part of it. Gliding is like true freedom! If you have ever tried to imagine what it would be like to be a bird, well then you need to experience this first hand. A big, big thank you to Evelyn and Claudia! Love to you both!

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