Saturday, November 29, 2008

Breakthrough Night

I traveled everywhere tonight. I visited with people I had forgotten. I revisited the South family in Peel forest on the south Island, and climbed Dennistoun Pass one more time, emerged from the fog and descended the Glacier into the Perth River with Nicola. I paddled the Little White with Crockett and Tyler, the Clark’s Fork with Gerry and Wink and Crist. I walked above the calm waters of Brownlee reservoir with my father and Dave Pearl and the world was still and silent, the sky steel gray. I launched from the swinging bridge into the North Fork with Todd, and I felt at home. I benched up at Palo Buque with Annette as Frank and Leo dug sand trenches. I drank Ferni and Coke with the El Bolson crew, and after dinner we danced and climbed, and tumbled down the long wide ribbon of red cloth, and in the morning we drove to launch and cored to base with snow dusted stone spires of the Southern Andes as our backdrop. I went higher up the Arahura with Stoney Russ and paddled Damon to shore after his scary swim on the muddy and pushy Modi Kola. I emerged from the Karnali with Steve Walter and we stalked elephants and rhinos in Royal Bardia National Park. I paddled out in double overhead on a cracked and water logged 5’5’’ linden board with a two other American’s whose names I have long since forgotten.

In an instant (and in my mind) I traveled to all those places, visited with friends, and reconnected with poignant experiences and all the while I drifted slowly North then South 50 feet above a sage brush ridge that overlooks the Boise River. In real time the river shimmered and wound its way between leafless cottonwoods towards the gleaming lights of the BSU / San blah blah game.

The November sun sinks early and falls far south in the western horizon. Tonight it sank behind sculpted and smoothed altostratus clouds glowing, melting and shifting in electric pinks, pastel greens, subtle blues, and rich lavenders. I laughed out loud. I laughed out loud at the ludicrous fact that in a valley of half a million people I was the only, the single, lone, individual watching the sun set and the lights illuminate one by one, block by block, paved road by paved road, while drifting in a silky, flawless, constant NW wind. How is that possible? 500,000 people and more and I was the sole individual soaring to the tune of a silent sunset? (You really need to learn how to fly. Do you not understand this? Humans can fly! Ever since the Eagle, the merlin, the kingfisher, the crow, the albatross we have dreamed of flying. Why haven't you learned?)

Stronger conditions earlier in the evening had me flying well in front of the ridge, stepping on the speed bar, spiraling towards the ground and drifting back towards the ridge, then stepping my way back up 500 feet over the ridge, speed bar pushing out front and spiraling back down again.

Two completely silent hours of swooping, sliding, wing-overs, big ears, practicing frontal collapses, touch and goes and scratching. Ten minutes after the sun sank below the horizon the flow backed off. I scratched, and skimmed - yards, feet, and inches from the ground. My harness bounced the ground at one point, and I was sure my wing would pitch out in front of me and I would be forced to re-launch in no wind conditions. I scraped the ground and kept flying. I weaved between dead mohag and sage, and tiptoed my way from rounded river rock to rounded river rock. (I need to talk to a local geologist about the flooding that must have occurred, river rock some 600 feet above the current water level? Incredible!)

After the sun disapeared my hands got cold, and the lift band increased once again. I slid up to 100’ over. The conditions turned cream smooth. I went hands off the controls and stuffed my frozen digits under my jacket. I weight shifted figure 8s in front of the ridge, rolling from side to side, not necessarily paying attention to anything, looking over the left side of my harness, then the right. I checked out. It was like walking down the hall while thinking about something else. I think that I almost fell asleep at one point!

Something felt different and new about the day - easy, natural. I felt like I was paddling, as if I had just finished a long surf session at the Lochsa connection wave and I was finishing the paddle out, not really thinking about what I did with my hips, the information about currents an eddies and waves that my loose hips received immediately and instinctively turned into an action.

It felt like a breakthrough night. Everything finally felt as natural as paddling, skiing, rowing, or driving the sweep boat. I didn’t need to think. The world slowed down. My eyes, mind, hands, hips, and some unknown inner balance came together. I knew where I was in space. It was like surfing a wave without taking a stroke, simply rolling your hips to one side, then the other, dropping down the face of the wave, and carving back to the crest, a clean spin, into a single stroke 180 and a little back surf. It all came together tonight. Wing and harness for the first time were simply extensions of my body. Think about the time you finally figured out how to separate your upper and lower body, and you committed to the fall line, and your skis were simply where they needed to be. For the first time ever, muscle memory, minute, reactionary, movements controlled my wing. I didn’t need to think. My body knew what to do before my mind had internally verbalized the process.

When I finally left the hill to land all color was gone from the sky. The Owyhee Mtns. were no silhouettes, they had merged completely in the darkness of the western horizon. Heaven presented three persistent silver stars through the overcast sky. The city of Boise glowed with yellow hues, florescent whites, and tail light reds.

I whooped. I screamed, and yelled and even yelped. I laughed myself away from the ridge towards the l.z. and realized my stomach muscles were tired and sore from rolling and weight shifting. I couldn’t see my white truck until I was nearly directly overhead. I didn’t dare spiral down, I couldn’t tell for sure how far off the ground I might be. I s-turned my way into final and a perfect landing, dropping my wing five feet from my pickup.

I wish you flew. I wish you could have been there with me, or I wish that I had a tandem wing and I had taken you along. I wish I could have shared this evening with you. I wish you understood how perfectly beautiful and insane it is to fly.

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