dreaminghope: (Confused Zoey)
I'm in an abs class at my gym, and I've finally achieved a stable plank with my feet on the ball:

Plank on the Ball

I've held it for about half of the minute the instructor is counting down when I realize that I'm not sure how to get back down. How did I get myself into this position?

I tried a step class once, and it was a complete mess. I am very uncoordinated, and I couldn't figure most of the moves. Mostly, I jumped around waving my arms and laughing at myself until class ended. I vowed to never take another step class.

Nash 360: This class covers all your fitness bases with Nash intensity! Three 20 minute segments of challenging cardio, muscle conditioning, and core training will get you total body results.

Sounds good, and it is on a Friday morning, which I have off of work. I wasn't even alarmed when we all started setting up steps; I'd been to a "Strength and Stretch" class where we used the step as a bench for doing chest presses. But what followed was an hour long step class, sometimes with weights. I'm still very, very bad at step class. I bounced, and flailed, and sweated - even done badly, step is a good workout - and shook my head at myself. I accidentally took a step class: How do I get myself into these positions?

Hatha Yoga: Experience a meditative, calm, yet strong practice. Perfect for beginners or advanced students who seek mind-body awareness and flexibility.

Before today, I'd been to about four yoga classes, all Hatha Yoga, with two different teachers. I'd found them to be challenging in some parts, but mostly relaxing, refreshing, and good for stretching. Today I went to my fifth class, with yet another teacher. Exact same class description as the others, but this was different. I guess the rest of the students are all regulars, so I suddenly find myself in an advanced yoga class for which I was very poorly prepared. As the people around me are balancing on one foot, tying their arms into knots, and pushing themselves into headstands, I hold the last pose I am able to get into and ask myself: How do I get into those positions?

At the end of the minute, my exit from the plank wasn't very graceful - a sort of controlled fall to one side - but it got me down and ready to get into the next challenge.
dreaminghope: (Zoey)
With no more preparation than an hour to read over the manual online and doing a couple of practice tests, I'm allowed to drive a car on the public roads with everyone else (as long as I have a driver over the age of 25 in the car with me and a red "L" stuck to the back of the car).

They let 16 year olds do this‽

I'm scheduled for a driving course starting next Saturday. It starts with 18 hours of classroom time over three weekends. My road lessons will start after that. On a friend's recommendation, I'm registered with a driving school that is supposed to be very good with anxious drivers, and the staff on the phone seemed really nice. Just what I need, mostly...

Because really nice instructors cause me a whole new kind of anxiety. If they are too nice and too understanding, I may cry.

In an effort to get any panic attacks, hyperventilating, or crying out of the way, Russ and I took his car down to some very quiet streets in the nearby industrial park this afternoon. I got behind the wheel for the first time ever and did a bit of very slow, very stilted driving. Russ was great: patient and encouraging. He gently pushed me so I did try a few more things than I had expected to, like reversing a bit and making a couple of turns. I think I reached a top speed of 20 kilometers an hour.

It was, on the surface, remarkably unremarkable. I didn't hit anything. The few other cars on the road passed me without issue. There were no hysterics, though I got a little teary a couple of times. I don't think Russ even noticed, but it may be that he has become somewhat accustomed to my random nervous crying over the years and wisely ignored my watery eyes.

I should be feeling better about the whole thing, given that it went well, but I'm feeling very unsettled. Up until today, the plan to learn to drive was theoretical. Now it's starting to sink in just how much there is to learn. Giving myself this one little practical experience will give me something to visualize. That's probably a step up from my preparation so far: practicing shoulder-checking while walking down the sidewalk.
dreaminghope: (Confused Zoey)
I don't understand why all the drivers out there aren't terrified every time they get behind the wheel. You are hurtling along in tons of steel, glass, and plastic at speeds much faster than people were ever meant to go. There's danger and distraction at every turn. Conditions are constantly changing, and a moment's inattention could result in damage, pain, injury, or death.

Yes, I know there's some irony in me saying that.

When I turned 16, I never even considered getting my driver's license. I know myself pretty well, and I know I am the kind of person who should not drive. I'm anxious and nervous. I have a bad sense of direction and poor depth perception. I truly believe that not everyone should drive, and that if more people like me made that choice, we'd have fewer accidents on the road. I live in a city, I've always been patient - crucial to using public transportation - and I love to walk, so doing without a license has never been a problem. Then I took up paragliding...

I've been having some trouble landing on target without help. After a couple of near-disasters (more on that another time), we realised that part of the problem is that there's no other time in my life that I move that fast under my own control. I have no experience at steering or at judging distances at 35 or more kilometers an hour. I haven't even been on a bicycle in more than two decades.

At the age of 31, I need to learn to drive in order to fly better and more safely.

I've also realised that I will be a much better part of my flying "team" if I can drive. If Russ, Craig, and I fly together, it means two flights and one drive per person (someone's got to drive everyone up to the launch site and back to the landing zone to get everyone after; you can pay other flyers to take you up, but then you are dependent on the luck of other people being there with vehicles). Some of the roads to launch sites are very interesting. The best ones are logging roads: steep, potholed, tight curves with sharp drop-offs. They apparently get worse from there.

I need to learn to drive a four-by-four on very rough roads, and I may need to learn to drive standard too.

It's my do it anyway project for 2011: learn to drive. Scary!
dreaminghope: (Bee Faerie)


Stand at the edge of a clearing on the top of a mountain. Check that the lines are untangled and clear, that the wing is laid out correctly, and that the radio is fully powered. Bob double checks everything too, then radios to the landing field: "Launching Melissa on a small blue glider."

Bob stands at the edge of the runway, feeling the wind's direction and speed, waiting for the perfect cycle for launch. When the time is right, he points out which way to go, then calls out the commands:

"Ready?"

Nod.

"3, 2, 1, tension! Pull, pull! Hard!"

Pull on the lines, throwing body weight forward. The wing starts to come up and the wind pushes back. Suddenly, the pull back eases and the wing is overhead.

"Release and stabilize!"

Release the lines and tug gently on the brakes. Glance up: the wing is overhead.

"Load and run! Run hard!"

Weight thrown forward, head down and arms up. Try to run, but barely get a few steps before the wind takes the wing up: airborne!

It's so turbulent for the first few minutes that I worry that something's wrong. I'm about 2000 feet up, and climbing slightly, so there's some real fear. But, just normal turbulence and the ride quickly smooths out as I glide further away from the mountain side.

Next, I worry because I'm having trouble hearing my radio over the wind in my ears. We can't transmit out on the radios, only listen, so I just have to wait until the teacher realizes I'm not doing what he has asked so he'll repeat himself. A bit of craning towards the radio, and I make it work.

Then, I finally realize something: I'm flying. I can see for miles in every direction, and I'm flying. I scream "I'm flying!" into the wind and I hear laughter over the radio.

"We heard that," someone on the landing field some two kilometres below me says.



Bob, the launch instructor, hands over radio contact to the landing field, where Dion's been listening to my flight so far. Dion tells me to make a turn: 90 degrees left. I cautiously lean left and pull gently on the brake. I barely turn 10 degrees. Gradually I learn that I have to lean hard, throw my weight, and the wing's not going to collapse.

"You're going about 35 kilometers an hour," Dion says.

I want to scream "You're kidding", but I'm breathless. Besides the wind howling past me, I feel like I'm hanging still in space.

I'm starting to get the hang of turning by the time I get to the landing field. I bleed height doing figure eights at one end of the field, then I do the final turns around the edge of the field, following Dion's instructions quickly now that I have less wind blocking out the radio.

"OK, final approach. Get ready to flare."

I raise my hands. I swoop over the heads of the other students on the field who cheer and take my picture.

"OK, flare!"

I pull the brakes down hard, jogging as I touch earth again. The wing stalls and begins to fall to the ground.

"That was a perfect landing; the best one yet today!"

There were a lot of students yesterday: 10 people to two instructors, with students launching one at a time. I was the last of the first group of four. The school has a backlog of students this summer because of all the weather delays, so they were trying to teach more people than they usually would take in a day. Because of that, some minor weather delays, and some disorganization on the part of the teachers, Russ and Craig did not get to do their solo flights. It was heart-breaking and discouraging. They'd generously let other people in front of them and helped set up the equipment over and over again and then it got too dark and they didn't get their chance. We're waiting to hear about the next available date. I'm really looking forward to taking their pictures as they come down into the landing field.

The last person who did get to launch yesterday was the only other woman in the class. She and I had been partners that morning at the Slope Soaring component of the class, as we both need the small wing. She was really scared of heights and had mostly come because her husband wanted to try paragliding, so we weren't sure if she was going to do the mountain flight. But she did it, and she came down in a perfect landing with a massive grin on her face and declared that she was cured of her fear of heights.

I've got massive bruising and rope burn on my upper arms, where the lines pull and scrap as you launch, and my arm, leg, butt, and ab muscles all ache deeply. I've only done the bare minimum of what I need to do today, including sending an email to Dion asking him how Russ and I go about booking our novice paragliding pilot course.
dreaminghope: (Flying Demon Girl)
We flew today!

We were out the door by 5 AM and at the park in Tsawwassen by 5:45 AM.

Very picture heavy. )

Incredible! I got two really good launches with short flights and one or two more launches that probably would have worked on a mountain but there wasn't enough space off the hill for me to get really in the air with them. I also had a few disastrous attempts: several times I forgot the release portion and the wing got ahead of me and collapsed, a couple of times I forgot to keep running once the wing got up, and once everything went wrong and I face-planted! I've got a scrap on my cheek and I nearly gave myself a black eye.

Craig and I were a team (taking turns on their smallest wing) and we did have some trouble getting going. The wind conditions weren't perfect, as there was some gusting and some cross-breezes, and being the lightest flyers, we were getting tossed around a bit and I think we had more false starts than everyone else. We didn't get in enough practices to get consistent in our launches. Russ did better and had some great launches. He could've gone on today to the next phase (Discovery Solo), but he wasn't feeling 100% sure of his launches and decided that he'd rather wait, do "Slope Soaring" again with Craig and I and then probably go on, hopefully with both of us too. Russ' teammate today was on his second "Slope Soaring", so that's not unusual.

It was a lot of work: lifting the wing, fighting the wind, running to get up speed, and hauling it all back up the very steep hill. We would do three or four launches, then switch with our partner and serve as their wingman for their turn. That involved laying out the wing and helping to get all the lines straightened - lots of running around. My legs, arms, and shoulders are achy. I've got some abrasions and bruises on the insides of my arms (not as bad as the ones from the tree course day though). It was worth all of it though, for the moment when you are running as hard as you can, towing the wind behind you, and suddenly your churning legs aren't touching dirt anymore and the wind is carrying you and your heart seems weightless from the success and the joy of flight and you can hear the other participants behind you, cheering you on.
dreaminghope: (Flying Demon Girl)
We were supposed to have our first paragliding class on May 1st, but there was a little delay. The timing was fortuitous, as it allowed me to spend an extra day with Grandma in Vernon, but the reason was unfortunate.

When you are preparing to learn how to paraglide, the last thing you probably want to see is your instructor with a huge cast on one foot.

After doing many extreme sports (skydiving, bungee jumping, scuba diving, etc.) and paragliding for fifteen years without a single injury, my instructor has proven that descending stairs can be very dangerous. He slipped while going down the stairs in his loft, fell poorly, and shattered his heel. He had to have surgery and he was in the hospital for the start of the paragliding season.

Russ, Craig, and I went to our first theory class last night. Our teacher was in a wheelchair, though he obviously doesn't like sitting still and he would frequently use crutches to get around and even hop on one foot for short periods. It was a pretty mixed group of people preparing for first flights: some business people who probably came straight from their downtown offices, a couple of athletic types looking to add another sport to their repertoire, and a group of frat-boy types who made insulting little jokes about each other all evening.

We learned about weather patterns, the physics of flying, and about take-off, emergency, and landing procedures. We learned how not to Tinkerbell (bouncing along the ground with too much lift to run properly but not enough to actually fly). We learned how not to become a Christmas tree ornament (taking off too late on the runway and not getting enough height to clear the trees). We learned how not to crash into a telephone pole (look where you want to go; don't look at the telephone pole). I took a lot of notes. It's been a long time since I last took a night class; my mind was swimming by the end and it was hard to get to sleep.

I keep rehearsing the different procedures over and over in my mind. I think I am a healthy amount of nervous, and now I'm just hoping the weather's good on Saturday and that I remember the important stuff and that I don't fail the first module (especially if those with me both pass - eek!). Up, up, and away!
dreaminghope: (Little Dude)
Today we redeemed Russ' birthday present gift certificate from me from last August: "Falconer for the Day" at Raptors Ridge. As previously mentioned, I'm scared of birds, but what the hell: there's nothing like a bird of prey with a razor-sharp beak and eight massive talons to overcome a little fear.

Raptors Ridge has a number of birds of prey: owls, falcons, and hawks. Though their birds are trained to hunt, Karen and her husband Kim are primarily interested in caring for abandoned birds and educating people about birds of prey. Karen led us today. She was so informative and interesting. First we got a tour of their mews and saw all the lovely birds through the wires, except for some new falcons that are too high-strung to be visited. Then we learned to make a set of aylmeri and jesses out of leather, how to tie a falconer's knot one-handed, and how to hold the bird's leash.

I mastered the falconer's knot!

Then she brought out the birds, starting with two male Harris Hawks...

Many pictures under the cut. )

We had a wonderful, unforgettable day.

2010, my "year of flight", has really begun now!

*By a piece of chicken, I really mean a piece of baby chick, complete with feet and feathers.
dreaminghope: (Zoey)
Do kids still call each other "scaredy cat"? I feel like they probably have harder insults now. Six year olds probably call each other "pussy".

I'm a scaredy cat. I don't have a single phobia that stands out above all others (except maybe claustrophobia); just mild generalized anxiety and a general minor-level fear of pretty much everything.

They say to do something that scares you every day, but that seems ambitious to me. I'm aiming to do one thing that scares me every year. It wasn't a conscious decision at first, but more a matter of not wanting to let fear stand in the way of doing something I want to do. It's been a pretty successful experiment:

2007 – Heights: I went zip lining in the jungle in Puerto Vallarta. Since then, I've been on the zip lines at Capilano Suspension Bridge and the Tree Course on the island. I'm hoping to try paragliding this year.

2008 – Needles: I donated blood. I've now donated six times and I have my next appointment scheduled for the new year.

2009 – Birds: For Russ' birthday, I bought us both a day of learning about falconry at Raptor Ridge, which includes actually working with a predatory bird. We were scheduled for a date in October, but bad weather meant that we've had to delay it until March. So there had to be a revision:

2009 – Babies: So many things to be scared of: They are fragile, especially when they still can't hold up their own heads. They are messy (I have a 'thing' about being dirty or sticky). And, worst of all, there's the rejection: if they cry, what if it's because you did something wrong? Maybe you held them wrong, or you smell funny, or your voice is ugly, or your face is weird, or you have bad energy...

When my friend had a baby, I could put off holding him until he was big enough to walk and talk a little, because all my friends wanted to hold our group's first baby. But then my sister had a baby in July, and it was time to get over it. Get over myself.



Doing pretty good, if I do say so myself.

Next: Birds in 2010, then maybe, one day, caving. Or maybe not.
dreaminghope: (Zoey)
I'm probably safe from vampires. Any vampire trying to feed off of me would get bored and leave hungry. Since I have a fear of vampires, this is a bit of a relief.

I donated blood for the first time last Friday. Tiny veins means slow blood flow, which meant needle wiggling – ugh. The nurse actually had to hold the needle in place towards the end, and she counted down the last three grams for me (slowly).

I was treated like a rock star. Well, like a low-rent folk musician, maybe, but it was good. I had a groupie – [livejournal.com profile] tareija, came along to support me and my fellow donors, [livejournal.com profile] fruitkakechevy and [livejournal.com profile] barry_macneil. After lounging on a couch with people frequently checking on my well-being, someone walked me to a table where I could have as many cookies (name brand cookies!) as I wanted and someone offered to re-fill my peach drink as fast as I could drink it. And everyone kept thanking me for coming in. That was pretty neat.

I have a pretty intense fear of needles. I didn't watch the needle go in, come out, or watch the blood during the process. I watched [livejournal.com profile] tareija watch the nurses. If I can do this, anyone physically able can too – It's in you to give.

After cookies and juice, they gave me a first time donor pin and a sticker. Despite an ice pack, I did bruise. I suspect that the needle pierced the other side of the vein, because the bruise took almost a day to develop. It's still visible; almost three inches long. Still, I think I will donate again. I'm looking forward to getting my donor card in the mail and finding out my blood type. And there are always the Peek Freans' Fruit Cremes.

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