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The Scariest Thing I’ve Ever Done
I was heading toward a cliff with a 500-foot drop, and I couldn’t stop. Of course, I’m not crazy — I was strapped to a hang gliding guide who had been taking people hang gliding for 30 years. I’d been watching others make the same run and leap of faith off the cliff for a half hour before it was my turn to do so. I felt very confident and safe — I had done my research about this, and I knew there were minimal risks. The allure of flying was too hard to ignore. As we started moving toward the edge, I was feeling nervous and excited as I watched the drop into nothingness come closer and closer. Just when we were a few steps from the cliff’s edge, the wind coming up off the ocean suddenly died. We had too much momentum to stop our run, and over the cliff we went. With the lack of wind, the nose of the hang glider dipped downward and to the left, heading back toward the cliff. This was the first time I had ever gone hang gliding, and I was blissfully naive about the situation. The wind picked up after a few seconds and blew the glider upward, away from the cliff’s face. I was having the time of my life. We flew on top of the warm updrafts hundreds of feet above the cliff, floating back and forth for about 15 minutes. We did corkscrew dives, and all the while I felt like a bird — it was an incredible experience. Around this point, while we were coasting along, my guide said, “Well, that was the most scared I’ve ever been in 30 years of flying.” I was confused. “What do you mean?” I asked. As far as I knew, everything had gone smoothly during the whole flight; nothing had gone awry. He then explained to me that if the wind hadn’t picked up the second it did, the two of
us would have turned too far and been blown right into the cliff. The wind that comes off the ocean hits the cliff and shoots upward, and it’s this draft that propels the hang gliders up and away from the cliff. Had this not happened, we would have plummeted to our deaths on the beach 500 feet below. I started to laugh. My guide was a bit of a jokester, and I figured he was just messing with me — it couldn’t have been that bad. Then he asked why I was laughing, and I immediately realized that he was serious. My stomach dropped, and I started to feel like I might vomit. I was young and single and hadn’t properly assessed the true risks of hang gliding. Everything I had read made me feel like any potential problems were one in a million. I told the guide to land ASAP so that I could get off this kite-based death-ride — I needed to be on the ground now. However, other gliders were lining up to land, so we had to wait our turn. We continued to fly back and forth, waiting for an opportunity to land. I
wasn’t having much fun at this point; I just wanted solid ground under my feet. We finally landed, and I contemplated my life for a few minutes while I composed myself. As we were leaving, I told my friend who had come with me that he needed to drive back, because I couldn’t do it. People talk about having near-death experiences, but when it actually happens to you, it’s unnerving. I was utterly rattled — I felt so sick that I couldn’t drive. I would still recommend that everyone try hang gliding at least once in their lifetime. But after that experience, I figure that one hang gliding adventure is enough for me. It’s said that one of mankind’s deepest wishes is to fly like a bird, and this is probably the closest you’ll ever get to that unless you jump off a cliff with a wingsuit — which I’ll never do. If you’ve never seen a wingsuit, I recommend you look it up sometime. You’d be amazed at what people can do!
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