You say you've always wanted to fly like a bird?
You can soar with the hawks for less money than you'd probably blow on a weekend getaway. Just sign up for a ride on a paraglider — those colorful parachutey-looking things you may have seen in the summer sky around Ruch.
A tandem ride on a paraglider costs between $165 and $185, local pilot Kevin Lee said.
Pilots generally fly with a passenger during the warm months, from May to October, when rising air currents can provide sufficient lift for skilled pilots to stay airborne for hours. Tandem flights are scheduled during the hours when air currents are most predictable — from noon to 2 p.m. and after 5 p.m. Mid-afternoon hours may have too much turbulence for tandem flights, Lee said.
For more information, and contact information for tandem pilots, visit the website for the Rogue Valley Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, www.rvhpa.org, and click on "Instruction." A number of paragliding videos shot at Woodrat Mountain have been posted on YouTube. To get an armchair view of unpowered flight, search for "paraglide Woodrat" or "tandem Woodrat."
Several local paraglider pilots are certified to carry a passenger, what pilots call "tandem flight." When the weather's right, they'll gear you up, clip you to the glider, and take you for the ride of your life in the skies above Woodrat Mountain, recognized as one of the best flying sites in the nation for its dependable rising air currents.
Sugeet Posey vividly remembers his tandem ride with Kevin Lee, an Ashland pilot.
"It was the kind of flying I always imagined it would be if I had little wings like an angel," the Ashland man said.
"We stood up there waiting to launch," Posey, 70, recalled, while Lee assessed the air conditions and watched other pilots run down the steep slope and take off. "All of a sudden he said, 'Let's go.'
"I thought I'd be scared because there was nothing under me," Posey said, "but not at all. I found it to be quite magnificent."
Tandem passengers tend to fall into two broad categories, Lee said: young thrill seekers and older folks who have some disposable income. He's been flying tandem paragliders for about 10 years, and has carried 300 to 400 people into the sky — "enough to wear out a couple of gliders," he said. (The fabric has to be retired before it deteriorates from exposure to ultraviolet light.)
"For some people it's pretty close to a spiritual experience," he said. "I've had some pretty interesting conversations with people in the air."
You don't need to be an athlete to fly. Lee said people just need to be able to jog a few steps at takeoff when the pilot gets airborne.
For most people, weight isn't a factor. Tandem gliders are certified to a specific weight capacity, but generally passengers who weigh less than 250 pounds can find a pilot to carry them.
You won't need any special equipment. The pilot typically provides a helmet and the harness that secures the passenger to the glider. Passengers are asked to wear sturdy shoes or boots to provide solid footing at takeoff and landing.
And yes, the pilot carries a reserve parachute that's designed for two people should something go wrong.
Lee said tandem passengers get a thorough orientation at the launch site, to make sure they're comfortable with the equipment and what they'll be doing.
Safety is always the prime concern, he said. "If conditions aren't 110 percent, I'm driving back down the mountain.
"I like people to know if it's not right, we're gonna go back down."
Concerned about coming back to terra firma? Lee likens landing in a paraglider to "coming down a flight of stairs and skipping the last step."
A typical tandem flight lasts anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours, depending on atmospheric conditions. If the pilot can't catch rising air currents, the passenger may have to be content with a long glide down to the large cow pasture that serves as the landing zone.
For some passengers, even a short ride is long enough, Lee said. "They say they're glad to have their feet back on the ground."
For others, a tandem flight becomes a transforming moment.
Blythe Lasley, 59, took a tandem flight back in 2007 when her daughter was learning to paraglide.
"I wanted to experience what it felt like," the Greensprings woman explained, even though heights made her anxious.
"I hated Ferris wheels," she recalled. "I knew taking a tandem flight was gonna be a challenge for me."
When she and Lee went airborne, her shoulders tensed up, and she had to focus on her breathing. "Then I closed my eyes and totally relaxed.
"It felt like being a bird," she said, likening the feeling to scenes in "Avatar," the 3-D sci-fi spectacle.
"I was free and it was beautiful," she said. "There's a lot of sense of freedom in flight."
Five years later, she's flying her own glider several times a month at Woodrat and sharpening her skills on a small practice hill near Emigrant Lake.
"I've come so far," she said. "I've transcended some of my fears. It's very empowering. I feel like I can do anything because I can ... fly."
Bill Kettler is a freelance writer living in Rogue River. Reach him at email@example.com.