Soaring Like A Turtle

The pickup truck towing the glider to launch speed began to accelerate when the tow cable snapped. My pilot, whose last name I didn’t know, said it would take the ground crew fifteen minutes to splice the cable. She and I would wait in the cockpit.

“Great,” I said. “That means I get another fifteen-minute break from my kids.”

You know you are desperate for a respite when you leave your two small children with a group of strangers on the desert and get into an engineless airplane while six months pregnant. And I don’t even like to fly.

But, this was too good of an opportunity to pass up. I’d spotted the campers and gliders while driving home, so the next day I headed back to introduce myself. Technically, I was on assignment from the local newspaper, but truthfully, I just wanted to know what the heck was going on. My camera and notebook were my license to sit down with a group of strangers and ask a bunch of nosy questions.

Here I am, busily jotting down notes and preparing to misquote people in print. Just kidding! Usually. Hopefully.

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The visitors were members of a gliding club that comes to the dry Alvord Lake bed in eastern Oregon once a year. They are attracted by the local conditions, which apparently are ideal for flying gliders.

I found it hard to believe that any conditions were ideal for flying a glider; it’s an airplaneĀ without an engine. Each one looked fragile and defenseless, like it was made out of balsa wood for a middle school science fair. I had a better chance of throwing a paper airplane over the Continental Divide than getting into one and safely flying across the Steens Mountains.

Grace, my fearless five-year-old, hopped right into the cockpit and nodded enthusiastically when I asked her if she was ready to take off.

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Two-year-old Milo adamantly declined an invitation to sit in a glider. His pink chaps are made for riding, not flying.

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When they invited me to take a ride (complete with complimentary babysitting), I initially declined. I figured a responsible mother would at least wait until her baby was born. Because there would always be another opportunity to go up in a glider, right?

Um, probably not if you’re a remote ranch wife living 95 miles from town on the sagebrush sea of eastern Oregon. I decided to go up, but I was still apprehensive.

Here we are, ready for takeoff.

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“Do I need a parachute?” I asked Vanessa, my pilot.

“No, we’ll be fine,” she said.

“Do I need a helmet?”

“I never wear one.”

“Can I bring a generator?”

“Why?” she asked.

“I just really feel like we need some type of gas-powered source of electricity. It’s not natural to fly without an engine and propellers.”

“Hawks do it. Eagles do it. Kites painted to look like turtles do it.”

Reassured that I could soar at least as high as a fake turtle, I climbed into the cockpit and strapped in. I had a front-row seat when the glider’s nose suddenly dipped down less than fifteen seconds into our flight. Vanessa said it was to release the tow rope, but I think she had a bet with the ground crew as to how soon I would throw up. That trick didn’t work, so she veered toward the mountains under the pretense of “looking for some lift.”

We headed back to land on the lake bed, where Vanessa hid her disappointment over losing the bet by narrowly avoiding a collision with a bicyclist. The ground crew said not to worry about settling up; relieving them of babysitting duty was payment enough. Apparently, my daughter had asked 739 questions, most of which consisted solely of “How come?” When a friendly stranger had accidentally touched my son’s cowboy hat, he bit the man on the leg.

I waved good-bye, hitched up my maternity pants, and drove home. The view was rather pedestrian, but the altitude was much more suitable for this non-soaring turtle.

Here’s an aerial shot I took of the gliding club’s camp and glider line up.

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