4.07.2009

Jumping off a Cliff




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Right next to the Salk Institute, where Ian spends his days finding cures for the diseases that send us to congested and phlegmy deaths, there is a wide open field bordered on one side by a dirt parking lot, and bordered on the other side by a cliff. The cliff drops down roughly 350 feet to a narrow, stony beach, upon which the cold and merciless waves of the Pacific pummel whomever goes too long in their run for the Hail Mary pass, and tumbles down to that cold and hard stopping point at the bottom. Into these cliffs blow ceaseless westerly winds, which hit the cliff and are pushed up, creating a unique opportunity for the adventurous.

That unique opportunity is known as paragliding. A paraglider is basically a parafoil, a cross between a big kite and a parachute. The flyer-person hangs seated in a cradle and steers by pulling the ropes attached to different vents. (I imagine that the pilots in our FF/DH posse will be interested in how this all works. Rather than bastardize and oversimplify a perfectly good explanation, I will instead direct the interested parties to the Wikipedia page explaining paragliding . )

On breezy days, which means most days, folks gather at the Torrey Pines Gliderport, buckle in to their rigs, and just walk right off the cliff. It is amazing! They then glide back and forth in the updraft along the cliff, straying a bit out to sea and a bit inland, and then they come back in to land on the same breezy bluff from which they stepped off in the first place. Brilliant!! How cool is that?

It turns out that the current adventurers are not the only ones who found the unique topography and consistent breezes of the Torrey Pines Cliffs worthwhile. On my birthday (Feb 24th- write it down) in 1930, Charles Lindbergh flew in the Torrey Pines uplift from Mount Soledad (right there by the cliff) up to Del Mar; this 9 mile flight was a regional distance record at the time.

Starting in the '30's, and continuing until today, little motorless planes, called glider planes, get towed off the cliff to ride the steady wind by the cliff. The cliff has also been the testing ground for many aeronautics greats including John Robinson and his variometer, a precursor to a flight altimeter; Harland Ross and his first spoiler air brakes; and Bob Fronius with his parachute safety innovations.

Currently, an outfit called Torrey Pines Gliderport runs the show there on the cliff. They offer classes, tandem flights, certifications, and quite a show for those of us just watching.

For those gentle readers who know the author of this post, I know what you are wondering. The answer is, "No. Not yet." I plan to sell Ian on the idea that we should go paragliding for our anniversary in June. What better analogy for marriage than jumping off a cliff into what seems like a treacherous and dangerous pit, but instead proves to be gorgeous wide-open sun-shiny space, where the serendipitous combination of several obdurate elements produces exactly what we need to be not just supported, but uplifted, and consistently delivered safe and sound, inspired and transformed, back to steady ground?

Check out the little movies we made of paragliding, and also check the video posted on the Torrey Pines Gliderport site. One of our videos shows a little single-man glider plane (and some guy's butt who walked into the frame). Another clip shows a take-off, and one shows a landing for a tandem ride. The tandem rider was a kid who was probably about 8 or 10. Quite a ride, no? Enjoy!



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