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Entries in hang-glide (2)


Blue Highways: Klickitat, Washington

Unfolding the Map

We join William Least Heat-Moon for a barbecue with the three hang-gliders in Klickitat, Washington.  Hang-gliding is described as an addiction to risk, to put it all on the line, but to not push the envelope too far.  Sound familiarly like keeping things in balance?  I explore a little from my own experience why it seems that people from small towns might take more risks.  To locate Klickitat, fly to the map!

Book Quote

"Alba Bartholomew lived in Klickitat, a company town of seven hundred in the narrow vale of the Klickitat River.  His little frame house was like the others on the street except for the windsock blowing on the roof.  He worked at the St. Regis sawmill, where he ran a stacker.  It wasn't the most interesting of jobs.  The mill got much of its timber from the Yakima Reservation twelve miles north.  St. Regis was the reason for Klickitat, and when the Yakima's big ponderosa were gone, people feared the company would pull out and Klickitat would go the way of Liberty Bond.

"'....I think the real answer to why we fly is because it's addictive.  It's a buzz to put everything on the line.  Whenever we go up, we're subconsciously asking the most important question in the world - asking it real loud - 'Is this the day I die?'"

Blue Highways: Part 6, Chapter 8

Klickitat, Washington welcome sign. Photo by a Klickitat resident and in the public domain on Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to site.

Klickitat, Washington

I'm making a little bit of a correlation in this post.  As I learned in my statistics classes, correlation is not causation.  However, one can make a few intriguing suggestions about how things may work through examining correlations.

My correlation, which I am highlighting with my pairing of the two quotes above, might or might not be apparent.  This chapter of Blue Highways is all about three guys who hang-glide.  LHM sees them, meets them, and is invited to the home of one in Klickitat to talk more about hang-gliding. I find it very interesting that LHM describes the town of Klickitat as small and with nothing much besides a dependency on a lumber mill which, if his words are any indication, may close down in some unknown but not too far off future.  (Note: the lumber mill has been closed since 1994)

Just a few paragraphs down the page, one of the hang-gliding guys talks about flying as an addiction, and the thrill of risking oneself to the point of questioning whether the risk will be the last action one ever takes.

It all makes me wonder whether there is truly a correlation between two things exemplified in these paragraphs.  Might living in a small, out of the way, dependent town, lead one to be more open to risk?

Now wait a minute, you might say.  Small towns are often a bastion of conservative values.  People in small towns may live there because there is less risk.  There is often less crime, for instance, and the closeness of small communities often shield its members from other types of risk.  I wouldn't disagree.  After all, I lived in a small town that was remarkably free of issues that plagued more populated areas.

But I wouldn't necessarily agree either.  In my small town, there was little crime, but there also were people who we considered "characters" who might have been locked up in other places.  We didn't have gangs, but we did have families with reputations as fighters who'd just as soon hit you as look at you.

I've argued before, however, that as peaceful, friendly, folksy and pastoral small towns can seem and feel, they often have a dark and sometimes violent undercurrent that is less apparent than it might be in cities.  Small towns can be dark, dysfunctional places, where alcoholism, drugs, and abuse of the emotional, physical and sexual varieties are revealed if someone cares to pull back the curtains hiding them.  I wouldn't trade my small town childhood for anything, because it taught me about the best and the worst that humanity offered.

In isolated small communities, is it any wonder that someone might find risk and danger compelling?  One interesting fact that may support my argument is that small towns and rural areas are overrepresented in the US military.  In 2005, the Heritage Foundation examined U.S. Census data and found that rural areas are overrepresented in the military as compared to urban areas.  While there are most likely many factors that contribute to this statistic, including that rural areas tend to be poorer with less opportunities for employment of young people than urban areas and that there is a higher percentage of conservative-minded people who may view military service in a patriotic sense, I also think that a desire to undertake risk as a way to break free of convention might serve as an additional motivating factor.  The desires that drive young people in cities to gather at Occupy protests currently around the country, to assert themselves in a cause that they can rally around and believe in with like minded people in a structured way, may also come from the same psychological place that encourages young people in rural areas to join the military and do service.  Both choices offer a set of risks and rewards.

When I lived in a rural area, there always seemed to be a number of young people who were always willing to risk.  You probably find the same thing in cities but in small towns it stands out a lot more.  These were kids who were on the forefront of experimenting with drugs, alcohol and sex.  Of course, a lot of us did those things, but small town kids always seemed to take it one step farther.  Some of them paid dearly for their risk-taking.  Alcohol maimed and took the lives of more than one young man and woman when it was mixed with driving.  Somehow, rural areas the loss of someone young is extremely tragic because it is so noticeable, so out in the open, and the grief of parents is on display and not lost or buried in a newspaper column in the back page - it is most likely going to be on the front page of the local paper.

Despite the tragedies, we teens in small towns still too risks.  Why?  Because there was little to do in a small town on the Northern California coast, just as there was little to do after hours in a midwestern plains town, or a town in the South, or a small mountain town.  We took risks because we were young, we wanted to impress the girls/boys, and we wanted to feel like we were in control of our own destinies.  We wanted to feel like we were making our own decisions, even if they were bad decisions.

Today, as an adult of 47, I understand better the idea of risk and reward.  I could, if I wanted to, take hang-gliding lessons which would be a somewhat dangerous but understandable way of taking a risk.  I could do a parachute jump.  I could get a motorcycle to ride the open road or devote my time to mountain climbing or spelunking.  All of these are dangerous but they are considered hobbies that involve an adult's choice.  In those activities, I might still catch a little of the thrill I got by stepping outside the boundaries imposed on me as a teenager.  After all, when all is said and done, humans don't really belong in the sky any more than they belong on a speeding piece of open machinery on an asphalt road or rapelling down into the bowels of the earth.  We do it to push the envelope, to test our limits.  No matter what, we are always like children in that very few of us can ever leave anything just as it is and be content.

Musical Interlude

What's the opposite of taking risks?  Why, it's never doing anything.  As is usual, we find in LHM's travels and quotes that life is a balance, this time between risk and safety.  It's neither good to be a total risk taker.  But, as the Barenaked Ladies point out in their song Never Do Anything, neither is it healthy to never risk nor accomplish anything.

If you want to know more about Klickitat

Klickitat Horizons Community Blog
Klickitat Mineral Springs
Wikipedia: Klickitat

Next up: Dallesport, Washington


Blue Highways: Pitt, Washington

Unfolding the Map

LHM chases a hang-glider from the top of a canyon down to the river, and learns how balance and knowing limits is important if one is going to undertake the mysteries of flight.  I'll expand on this concept a bit and apply it to life - as LHM intended for this section, I think.  To locate Pitt, a hard little place to find, check out the map.

Book Quote

"Something darkened the windshield just as I came to the edge of the high slope.  I ducked, braked hard, and leaned out to see what it was.  Should have guessed.  A man had just jumped off the mountain in a hang-glider....

"'....It's a balance,' Holliston said.  'We've got to risk a little more each time to improve and go beyond what we've done in the past.  But if we take on too much at once, it could be the last lesson.  The problem is we don't always know when we get in over our heads.  We've got to trust our gut reactions without giving in to them.  That's what's hard.'"

Blue Highways: Part 6, Chapter 8

Klickitat River Canyon at Pitt Bridge. The field is the site to where LHM would have chased the hang-glider. Photo at Dry Side Property's website. Click on photo to go to host site.

Pitt, Washington

When I was young, I was fascinated by airplanes.  I could see them a long way off too because I am far-sighted.  A former foster parent once told me that when I was two, I would see an airplane that he couldn't see, and he didn't believe me.  Then he would hear the faraway sound and locate a speck in the distance and realize that I was right.

Today I'm still fascinated with flight and flying things.  Because of my eyesight, I've never tried to take flying lessons.  But my fascination extends out into other forms of flying.  I'm just as enrapt if I see a balloon in the air (and believe me, in Albuquerque you see a lot of balloons during the best flying weather) as I am if I see a squadron of F-16s roaring away or on a landing approach at the Air Force base near my house.  Just the other week I could be found outside my house, staring into the sky as the Air Force's Thunderbird squadron did its maneuvers for an airshow at the airport just down the street.  Though politically I am mindful of the need for a military, I am still against the use of the military unless it can be shown to be absolutely necessary.  Yet, I love watching the military jets do their maneuvers and think about the engineering that went in to creating these slim pieces of metal that can defy gravity and move so gracefully in the air.

Of course, as the quote reminds us above, everything has to be done in balance.  One learns to push the boundaries without going too far.  Those who are successful in pushing the boundaries are those that survive.  Those that don't might end up dead.

Think about it.  In an airplane, everything depends upon the balance of the wing.  From the biggest, most lumbering aircraft you have to the sleekest, quickest fighter jet, everything depends upon the balance of the airfoil the jet rides upon, its wing.  Upsetting the balance a little bit, such as raising or lowering a flap on one side or the other, causes one side of the wing to push down while the other raises, and the plane turns.  Too much, and the plane will spin out of control.  Even when fighter jets do some of those jaw dropping turns and maneuvers, they are doing it within the performance levels of the aircraft - slipping over the edge will still result in a small object, the plane, meeting a massive object, the earth.  We all know what body will survive that collision.

In a balloon, different circumstances are present but the need for balance is ever-present.  A balloon pilot is constantly judging the balance between warm and cold air.  Cold days are the best to fly, because the hot air created by igniting propane and heating the inside of the balloon canopy will give the balloon the best lift.  Once in the air, the only thing that can be controlled fully by the pilot is the rate of ascent and descent - other than that they are dependent on air currents at different altitudes.  A pilot must judge fuel, weight, ground wind-speed and other factors before making a determination whether to fly, and once in the air, how to land.  Misjudging any of these factors could be fatal.

I had a co-worker once who did hang gliding.  He was looking forward to the day that he could do a launch off Sandia Crest, the 10,600 foot peak to the east of where I live.  He told me that the flight would consist of taking off the peak maybe trying to catch a thermal updraft, gliding a bit, and attempting to land at a large field a few miles away and about 5,000 feet lower in the city.  However, like the men LHM sees hang-gliding in Pitt, he was fully aware of his present limits and what he would have to do to be able to take that leap.  He had been working with a hang-gliding instructor, and he had been gradually working his way up to larger hills to glide from.  It was a process of testing limits a little at a time.

Human experience has often, throughout our history, been viewed as a metaphor of flight, and for good reason.  We compare children leaving home with baby birds leaving the nest as they step out on to the branch, and launch themselves into the unknown.  If they survive the landing, and the other myriads of dangers out there, they will make lives for themselves.  We often talk about ideas, or dreams, or love taking wing.  We engage in flights of fancy.  We are up in the air about things but sometimes we can't get off the ground.  Occasionally, life hits us with some turbulence and we have to come in for a hard or a crash landing.

The Greeks gave us the story of Daedalus and Icarus, the father and son who escaped imprisonment at in the palace of Knossos in Crete on wings fashioned out of feathers and wax.  Daedalus warned Icarus not to fly too close to the sun nor too close to the water.  But Icarus wanted to try his wings and eventually got so close to the sun it melted the wax and he lost his feathers and fell into the sea and perished.  I read this story as a cautionary tale on two fronts.  Daedalus, the wise father, knew the lessons of balance and harmony and knew that the best path lay between two extremes, the sun and the sea.  Icarus, the impetuous younger man, failed to heed his father's warnings and, wanting to test the limits of his capabilities, flaunted the balance and harmony and paid for it.

We admire those people whose flight plans in life have kept them on a relatively safe course.  They may have navigated turbulence and faced times when they have been put in a tailspin, but they've kept their wits about them and they've only tested their boundaries within their limits.  We tend to pity and sometimes avoid those who don't seem to learn that lesson.  Their lives, out balance, seem to be crash landings that happen over and over again and sometimes, they don't walk away.  If flight truly is a metaphor for life, then our task is to keep our wings level, push the boundary once in awhile, and keep soaring until it is time to bring it in.

Musical Interlude

I can't believe that this song, from 1987, is almost 25 years old now, but it fits perfectly with the theme of this post.  David Gilmour had just taken the solo leadership of Pink Floyd after the departure of longtime bandmate Roger Waters.  Gilmour is an accomplished pilot, but for the first time he was leading the band on his own.  The song Learning to Fly can be read as Gilmour's realization that he was embarking on something new and, like a chick about to step off the branch, or a hang-glider about to make a first run down a slope, he was going to have to learn to fly again.

If you want to know more about Pitt

I literally couldn't find anything about Pitt.  A Google Search only brings up things about Pittsburgh or Washington DC.  I guess you won't learn much about it.  But here's some links for the county where Pitt is located:

Klickitat County
Klickitat County Fair and Rodeo
Klickitat County History
Wikipedia: Klickitat County

Next up: Klickitat, Oregon