I arrive an hour before takeoff. It's a beautiful summer day; clear, with cumulus clouds just beginning to pop. The temperature will top 100 degrees, and the thermals, narrow columns of rising hot air, will be strong.
Everything must be checked before takeoff - parachute, radio, tow hook release, ailerons, elevator and rudder, and wing pins and control connections; and be certain no one left an extra weight under the seat cushion, which might put me out of the balanced weight envelope.
Word comes that it's time to go and is confirmed by the roar of the tow-plane's engine as it comes to life across the tarmac. On goes the parachute and then I slip into the cockpit, in a nearly prone position, and strap on nearly 1,000 pounds of fiberglass and aluminum. Not much room in this "glass" ship [the canopy will close within an inch of my head] and it takes a few adjustments to both get in and get comfortable.
Barograph on to record the flight! Battery on and electric vario centered. "Ground this is 24 Sierra - Radio check." "24 Sierra this is ground - read you loud and clear!" "24 Sierra - thank you."
A blast of hot air sends a rush of adrenaline as the towplane swings into position in front and then begins its slow taxi out to take up the slack. I close the canopy and immediately the temperature begins to rise. Did I remember my water bottle - There it is. I plan to be up at least 4 hours and will need it. Open the air vent - but it won't do any good until we start moving.
The lineman wants to check the towhook connection and gives it a tug while I pull the release - clunk! Works fine and he re-attaches it. There's the jerk as the last of the line slack is taken out and the towplane's rudder wiggles signaling ready. I double check my seat and shoulder belts, check the view over each shoulder and signal the wingman to raise the wing - he will carry it, holding it level for thirty to forty feet until we are going faster than he can run. Within 10 seconds I'm 4 feet off the ground, maintaining a critical flight position until the towplane can itself get airborne, but I won't raise the landing gear until we are at least 200 feet in the air.
The tow-pilot has been told we will go to 1,800 feet before I release, but at 1,200 feet I see the towplane surge upward in a strong thermal, then I am pressed into the seat as my glider inters also. A solid 600 feet per minute climb boost - I reach for the release and pull - wham - a rifle shot of a sound as the cable snaps away and then only the gentle sound of air as it rushes over the mirrored finish of the wings and fuselage.
I roll into a steep climbing turn to the right trying to center the thermal and bleed off excess speed, but I began the turn too soon. 90 degrees into it I'm out of the thermal and falling at 400 feet per minute; much of this and I'll beat the tow plane back to the ground. I continue the turn until I am again caught by the rising air. This time I level the wings to move deeper into the thermal. The variometer indicates 600 feet per minute up, then 800, then a 1,000 feet per minute climb. By the movement of the wings, I know the core, with the fastest rising, air is to my left and I bank sharply into it. If it can stay in it, I'll be at 7,500 feet, cloud base, in less than 10 minutes - there have been flights when it took me closer to an hour to do it.
In the exhilaration of the ride, I have forgotten how hot it is, nor noticed the sweat on my face and body. But, as the flat gray mass of the base of the cloud looms closer, its shadow envelops me and the temperature begins to fall, until it is nearly 30 degrees cooler. And then I am there, the dew point where air cools to the point that it squeezes out its moisture and forms a table flat base to the cloud above; the aroma is unforgettable - so clean and fresh and yet powerful, it alone is worth the effort to get here. But I don't have clearance to enter the cloud, so the control stick is eased forward, the nose of the glider drops and the airspeed increases rapidly.
Ripping into the sunlight the airspeed continues to climb, while the altimeter unwinds. A clearing turn to the right, followed by one to the left to be sure there is no one in the way, then as the airspeed passes through 100, firmly back on the control stick. The nose comes up and suddenly I am going straight into heaven. Passing through the top of the loop, airspeed is dissipating rapidly and where there was once blue sky, I look up to see only the ground with its patchwork of green fields and black earth.
I ride the wind for hours, racing from one thermal to the next, each marked by a billowing cloud above. So captivating is each moment, that the passage of time is forgotten. But the sun draws near the horizon and its time to go, because after sunset without lights and the proper instruments, this glass ship becomes the equivalent of Cinderella's pumpkin.
The route home takes me over the lake where the cool water has subdued the air, and for a moment I close my eyes and release the controls. It is as if suspended by a magic thread, for all sensation of movement is gone, but for the sound of rushing air.
As the airport approaches, a familiar realty returns. Memories and thoughts left behind for a moment, now fight their way into my mind. And then there is a landing that must take place. No motor, no second try; it must be perfect my first time by.
Well the ship's put up and I'm on my way, but I'll be back To Ride the Wind, again someday.