Monday, October 12, 2009

Stranded after Hang Gliding

Yup.... I was stranded.... I had just landed my hang glider after a fairly short flight off of Mount Magazine in Arkansas. Now my situation was not all that desperate. I had opted to be what is referred to as the "wind dummy", by taking a shot at an early launch. Launching before the thermals are really abundant can sometimes end up with a short flight. If you do not find a good thermal, you might be looking at a quick flight to the landing zone. But if you get up, you get a head start on the rest of the pilots.

On this day I did not have a driver, thus my vehicle was left on top. Now usually I would either radio up to the top to one of the other pilots and plead for someone to bring my truck down, but this was an unusual day. In the launch set up area was a couple of experienced pilots with new gliders and they and the other pilots were very involved with making sure their set up and launches went well. I did not want to bother them. It could be a good while before another glider showed up in the landing zone where I was. It was the middle of July and the heat was starting to turn on. I decided that I would hitch hike back to the launch. I packed my glider away. Grabbed my radio so that I could listen to the guys up top, and also grabbed the water pouch out of my flight harness so that I could stay hydrated in case I had to walk a lot in the heat. For flying long flights, the water pouch slips into the harness and a 3 foot tube routes the tube to near my helmet for easy access to the water.

I draped the clear plastic water pouch over my shoulder letting the drinking tube dangle. I clip the radio onto my trousers and I am good to go. It is a quarter mile walk out to the highway. Once there, I find walking on the pavement shoulder to be quite a bit hotter. This is not a busy highway, so I figured I might as well do some walking rather than just standing there in the heat. It is 7 miles to the the turnoff to the State Park at the little town of Havana, Arkansas. There is a convenience store there where I would be able to get a snack if needed. As the heat pounded down on my head, I certainly hoped that I would not have to walk the entire distance.

This is not a heavily traveled highway and only a few cars had passed with many minutes in between. So I keep on walking, with my thumb out hoping for the next vehicle to stop. I am about a mile down the road when I hear a vehicle downshifting.... I may be in luck! A compact sedan rolls past me belching smoke from it's exhaust and pulls over to the side of the road. It looks like a Vega or Pinto from the 1970's. I trotted towards the vehicle and a man with long stringy hair stuck his head out the window as I approached and said, "Hey! You like dogs?" I assumed that this was not a random question, and figured I would be riding with a canine. Well, I had enough of the heat and figured I could put up with a dog, so yes... I like dogs!

I approach the passenger side and see his gal in the front passenger seat. "You will have to ride in the back seat with the dogs man" says the stringy haired fellow. His gal is sliding her seat forward to allow me access to the back seat of the little two door. "Don't worry man... they won't bite" he said. Well the "They" was three full grown German Shepherds! The driver could see the concern on my face but he reassured me that they were friendly.

So I start squeezing into the back seat area. Dog number one made it clear he was not going to give up his window seat. So I slowly lowered myself in between window seat dog and dog riding in the middle. After quite a bit of shifting and grunting by both the dogs and myself we somehow made room in the rear seat. Good to go, and we are heading for Havana.

Now it really gets fun. These dogs had obviously been riding in the back of the un-air conditioned car for a number of miles. They were panting hard and loud and all three were drooling profusely. As the vehicle got up to around 55 mph, the wind coming into the windows started tossing their drool about the rear passenger area. I am getting a canine slobber shower. Stringy haired dude is busy with small talk with the gal up front, while I battle the three heavy breathers in the back.

This short drive seemed an eternity, and as I exited the vehicle at my Havana destination, the Stringy Haired Dude is laughing and says, "Hey man... the only reason I stopped is I wanted to see if anyone was crazy enough to ride in the back with my dogs." I thanked him for the ride, and was indeed grateful, but also felt like I had just been punked. I looked around to see if Ashton Kutcher was running out with a camera.

I wash my face at the convenience store and slam down a Gatorade to get the dog slobber taste out of my mouth. It is another 6 miles up to the top of the mountain. Now the traffic would really be sparse. I had not walked very far when the very first vehicle that came by came to a skidding stop on the side of the road. I approached the pickup truck wondering what adventure would await me now. The gentleman stuck his head out the window of the pickup truck and said he could give me a ride to the top if I did not mind riding in the back. He already had another passenger in the front seat. I looked in the back of the truck and noted there were no dogs and no snakes. "No problem man..... I appreciate it!" And I climbed into the truck with a bit of a concern as to whether this guy was going to scare the heck out of me by driving too fast. He had surprised me with his skidding stop, to pick me up. The drive was uneventful and I enjoyed the fresh air and no dog slobber. He even delivered me right to the Hang Glider launch area.

As I hopped out of the truck bed, his wife got out of the truck and with a very concerned look on her face she asked if I was okay? That seemed on odd question. "Yes mam, I am okay." She paused and then stated, "we usually do not pick up hitch hikers, but when I saw you, I told my husband Harry to stop, that we have to pick him up.... he is on an I.V." She glanced at my water pouch draped over my shoulder. I tried not to laugh to hard while I explained it was simply a water dispensing device from my hang glider harness. She laughed with me and started asking questions about the hang gliding as we walked towards the launch.

This day did not produce a very memorable flight for me, but instead, I was presented with a bit of an adventure during my hitch hike back to my truck. Sometimes you just do not know where the adventure will come from.
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1 comment:

Allen said...

That was a great story, Mike! The adventure can surely be where it's least expected.