“Just keep running until you can’t any more. Whatever you do, don’t look down – keep your eyes straight ahead. And don’t be afraid, all right?”
My helmet moved slightly as I nodded, my eyes fixed on the horizon. This was it, the moment I had been waiting for.
I had gone to Rio early in the morning, but was later brought back to Niteroi with my new friend Gilbert, who’s from Malta, and several others to the Parque da Cidade. There is a beautiful view there of Rio and the Lagoa de Piratininga that is simply spectacular. We arrived at this peak, high above the city, well past 10am. There was a large crowd of people taking photos of the view and I even ran into a whole group of Pathfinders from a local church in Niteroi and got a picture with them (not on my camera, which apparently didn’t like Gilbert very much, so you’ll have to wait to see that one later).
The heat was starting to get stronger and I started to worry about my face, since it tends to burn easily and I had forgotten to put on sun screen. The fact that the wind was weak didn’t help either and the wind, in fact, was the problem. Our group had driven from Rio to Niteroi because the wind was supposed to be perfect, but it was as if a wall had been raised in the middle of the Guanabara Bay. We could see the motion on the water below us, but nothing was making it up to the Parque da Cidade.
Getting tired of waiting, and a little hungry, I wandered over to the buffet restaurant that was near the peak. Gilbert followed and we were about to get something to eat when we got the news – the wind had improved! Swapping my plate for a bag of Doritos and a Guaravita, I hurried back to the peak. Gilbert was suited up and coached first, then off he went. Now it was my turn.
The suit was weighty and oddly situated, but at least I didn’t look like a turtle like a lot of other people that were on the peak. I was matched with Guilherme, who had me do some practice runs before we stepped out on the runway. We had to wait for the wind some more, during which an assistant stood behind me giving words of encouragement. “Just keep running until you can’t any more. Whatever you do, don’t look down – keep your eyes straight ahead. And don’t be afraid, all right?”
Guilherme looked at me, asking if I was ready to run. My heart was pounding, not from fear but excitement. We made an attempt, but stopped short and had to wait for the wind again. After what seemed like ages, Guilherme glanced my way again, “Let’s run?” Not taking my eyes off the horizon, I nodded firmly. We ran, hard and quick, my heart racing. We ran until we couldn’t anymore, right over the edge. The wind blew strongly across my sun-kissed face, the trees swept past, the water shone, and underneath me… birds!
I was flying!
There aren’t words adequate enough to describe the feeling of complete freedom, peace, and awe I felt while in the air – soaring, flying like an eagle. Hang gliding had been on my bucket list for a while now and when I discovered that I would be coming to the Rio area, I knew that this was something I had to do. Guilherme, an instructor with Rio Hang Gliding, is one of several experienced flight instructors on staff and he was absolutely amazing, explaining how everything would be and how to accomplish what needed to be accomplished. It may seem unreasonable, but knowing that he had 37 years of experience, I felt completely secure and calm while being several hundred meters in the air.
All around were the beautiful morros. The Christ statue was watching from a distance and Pão de Açúcar wasn’t much further off. Below the trees, houses, cars, and people were rushing past. For a brief moment, we were sailing over the Bay. Cameras attached to the wings were filming and photographing every moment.
We landed on the soft sand of Praia Charitas where Gilbert and the others who had gone were waiting at a beach kiosk. The time I spent in the air couldn’t have been more than four or five minutes, but it sure felt much more spectacular than any other five minutes of my life! I could easily see how something like this could become addicting; you may have landed on the ground but your spirit continues to soar for hours later. I still am feeling the thrill!
Sadly, I was not able to get the pictures right away, but you can be sure that once I receive them that I’ll post a few on here. In the meantime, I part with this: if there is something that you’ve always wanted to do, take a chance and go.
Let your heart pound with excitement. Let your mind be free with abandon. Let your spirit fly like an eagle.