After lifting off from Woodrat Mountain, Daniel Newberry and instructor Christian Rossberg glide over the Applegate Valley. - Jim Craven

Training Wings

I'm running as fast as I can toward the edge of a cliff.

Ten feet before the precipice, I feel a jerk on my shoulders and I'm rising. Or maybe it's just the ground dropping off beneath me.

Strapped in to another harness behind me is paragliding instructor Christian Rossberg. Behind him, our launch spot on the summit of Woodrat Mountain above Ruch grows smaller.

The liftoff for my first paragliding flight has just gone off without a hitch.

A paraglider is more glider than parachutist. The glider — or wing as it's called — is long and thin like an airplane wing. The small ripstop, nylon cells on the windward side fill up with air in flight, while the leeward side is narrower. This creates the classic teardrop-shaped wing, the design that gives lift to all airplanes.

The aerodynamics of this particular paraglider dictate that we fly at a constant 22 miles per hour.

The wing is attached to our harnesses via a couple of dozen thin Kevlar cords, which in turn are attached to nylon loops, which are clipped in to the harness with carabiners.

Rossberg pulls on his right brake cord and the right half of the wing drops, and we turn sharply in that direction. The silence around us is broken by a series of beeps that rise in pitch. The sound comes from his variometer — a device that measures how fast we're rising.

We've hit a thermal.

On warm days, the uneven heating of the ground due to variable topography creates upward rushing air currents known as thermals. These currents allow a paraglider to climb and extend the ride.

This is called soaring, and Rossberg tells me that today is definitely "soarable." Without thermals, we'd sink at a constant rate of about 220 feet per minute. The insiders call a ride without thermals a "sled ride."

To get started as a solo paraglider, you need to be certified by the United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, USHPA, pronounced "oosh-puh." USHPA basic certification has five levels, from P-1, "Beginner," through P-5, "Master."

"To fly solo, you need a P-2 (certification)," says Paul Murdoch, president of the Rogue Valley Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association.

Murdoch, who in his day job is the owner of Gary West Meats in Jacksonville, recommends that aspiring pilots invest $1,200 to $1,500 in lessons with a local instructor as the best way to get this certification.

If you're interested in trying out the experience, and aren't sure whether you're ready to invest in lessons, $130-$150 will get you a tandem flight with an instructor. The Rogue Valley has five USHPA-certified instructors, some of whom offer tandem flights.

This instructional package includes not only in-the-air instruction, but equipment rental and the classroom theory you'll need to pass the USHPA exams. Local beginners take their lessons on a gentle slope at Emigrant Lake where they fly only a few feet off the ground.

If you want to fly solo off Woodrat Mountain, you'll need a P-3 certification. That launch spot attracts advanced paragliders from around the world for the annual Starthistle Fly-in on Memorial Day and for competitions during the summer.

Once you get your P-2 rating, you'll want to buy your own equipment. The new, standard package of wing, harness, reserve parachute, helmet, radio and variometer costs about $5,000.

"Most people buy their first package used, for about $1,000 to $1,500," says Murdoch. Many of his friends have found reliable used equipment through classifieds on

The quality of equipment appears to have little to do with paragliding accidents, as I discovered in my research in preparation for this flight. According to a USHPA report, there were three fatalities and 37 injuries reported in 2007. Two of the deaths involved inexperienced pilots. Paragliding is safer than many adrenalin sports, but risk is always present.

We're now 200 feet above our landing spot, a pasture at the corner of Route 238 and Bishop Creek Road in Ruch. The wind is calm here, and my stomach relaxes. Soaring through pockets of turbulence felt like a roller coaster ride with nothing solid to clutch.

We turn into the wind and Rossberg tells me to run as fast as I can when we touch down.

I can't run 22 miles per hour.

Just before we touch, he yanks on both brake cords and the wing "flares." I run only three steps before we've completely stopped. A picture-perfect landing.

Turbulence, what's that? I'm ready for another flight.

Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Reach him at

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