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  • Writer's pictureErin Clark


Take off is the most dangerous and difficult part of paragliding in general. In a wheelchair? Once another pilot who had been observing my flying and listening to our debriefs said, “You really need to be a better pilot than the rest of us don’t you? You have to get it exactly right” and its true. I have been flying for a year and a half and I am not a better pilot, yet.

“You need a hundred hours of ground handling! You have to do it a hundred times!” Jose says as a way of keeping me away from a dark spiral of frustration when i tangle my lines in the same way again and again on a field in Ronda.

I add one hour, then two more. I inflate and break while Luisma ruins his back hunching over behind me and running to keep up with my glider or running to inflate it. I want to feel each part of the inflation in all the parts of my body. We add an extra strap around my torso to give me something else to brace against because I can’t use my arms. It’s an incredible dance. Glider, wheelchair, pilot, back up pilot, wind. We’re waiting on gusting thermals. I watch the sun patch gold-leaf light onto the fields. Luisma gets tired and Jose takes over. But I’m the boss. I tell him how and when to pull so I can build a wall. Which is a different tug than when I want to launch. I need to practice for when the set of legs behind me belong to someone who has never done this before.

I don’t break enough. I break too much. I did that fucking thing where I cross my lines again. We take a break.

“Jose, those clouds are called popcorn clouds!” I tease him. “And those are mashed potato clouds.” He pop quizzes me: what are they actually? “Popcorn: cumulus. Mashed potato: stratus.” Jose grabs the lines and inflates the glider, I control the breaks, which controls the tension, and we use it as a kite to pull my wheelchair up the hill to reset.

“which direction is the wind?’ Jose calls and tosses dry wheat stalks into the air we can see how they fall. He pulls the red beginner’s ribbon from my glider and ties it to a stick. we shuffle to face into what is a steadier and steadier wind. A good wind.

I add a third hour. I start to make progress I can feel (which is not the only progress that counts).

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