“We First Flew in Dreams”
Each fall, a trip to the Atlantic coastline in Wellfleet and Truro might just include a sighting of Flying Goblins.
On his album “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars,” David Bowie, rock n’ roll’s angel of flight, space travel and extraterrestrial life, sang a bluesy tune written by Ron Davies of the Kinks that goes:
“When you climb to the top of the mountain
Look out over the sea
think about the places perhaps, where a young man could be
Then you jump back down…Think about all of the strange things circulating round
It ain’t easy, it ain’t easy
It ain’t easy to get to heaven when you’re going down.”
While both Bowie and Davies were probably imagining different subjects for the above description, the lyrics aptly fit two very similar and interrelated sports: hang gliding and paragliding. And, if you briefly classify the dunes of Wellfleet’s Whitecrest Beach as “mountains of sand,” the opening lines of this song relate all the more closely with gliding on Cape Cod.
The concept of both hang gliding and paragliding (as well as wingsuit flying) is pretty simple. Pilots make their way to the top of something tall, ready their wings, and walk the proverbial plank off into the air. At this point, they make it look really “easy,” especially paragliders, who appear to simply sit in their harnesses and chill out like someone on a front porch on a hot summer day. Although they may soar up into the clouds, and they may fly farther than 100 miles at a time, they’re still a long way from “heaven,” and eventually, they need to float—hopefully gently—to the ground.
If you’re wondering, the current world paragliding distance record of 588.27 km was set on October 10th, 2019 in Brazil by a trio of pilots—Marcelo Prieto, Rafael Saladini and Rafael de Moraes Barros—who flew for 11 hours and averaged 53.5 km/hr over the “Brazilian outback” in the Northeastern part of the country.
The New England Paragliding and Hang Gliding Club (NEPHC) lists four official flying sites: Mt. Tom in Holyoke, MA; Cannon Mountain in Franconia, NH; Plymouth, MA; and Wellfleet. Club president, pilot, flight instructor and instructor trainer John Gallagher notes that while these are the club’s official launch points, there are other unofficial spots to soar. In fact, he sometimes flies in his paraglider from friends’ lawns on Martha’s Vineyard, where he has a home. One might think that like skiers, when paragliders start at the top of a peak, they will lose altitude more or less continuously, making turns along the way to slow the descent and prolong the ride. However, this is not necessarily the case. Instead, paragliders or hang gliders will often launch and ride the air currents and winds upwards, far exceeding the altitude of their jumping off point. This is especially true of thermal flying, when pilots take advantage of columns of rising air. Gallagher says, “On a thermal, you can go all the way up to the cloud base. It might be 70 degrees on the ground, but by the time you get up there, the temperature could be as low as 40 degrees, even sometimes as low as zero.”
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