Life is all about moments … from the small instances that we don’t think twice about to the larger occurrences where we are thrown outside of our norm. Experiences that test us and push us over the edge. That edge is our comfort zone, and sometimes all we need is a little push. Swallow your fear, gather your courage (it’s already there), and take that leap of faith. Ready or not, it’s happening, and the everyday adventure that we call life is upon us. Before you can tell a story, you have to live it. This is NonaVentures, and this is living for every moment.
This month, I revisited something that helped me find peace on my 20th birthday – something most people probably wouldn’t consider to be peaceful, until they try it … hang gliding. An average 35-minute drive to Davenport and you’ll find yourself at Wallaby Ranch, the first and largest aerotow hang gliding flight park in the world. What’s aerotow, you ask? Because Florida doesn’t have any cliffs or mountains to run off of to catch some air, an aerotow is necessary. It’s a little plane that pulls you up in the air to the appropriate altitude, and once you reach the necessary height (at Wallaby Ranch, you’ll fly 2,000 feet high), the cable that connects you to the aerotow is released. Off you go!
One of the things that separates Wallaby Ranch from the competition is the truly authentic vibe. “We are not just another hang gliding school or another aerotow flight park, but rather, a community of hang gliding enthusiasts from all over the world,” states the Wallaby Ranch website.
This is one of the first things you notice as you drive down the winding dirt path surrounded by nothing but open land. Whether its other tandem newcomers, the novice in flight school or the expert pilots leading the way, every individual is there for one purpose – to fly.
I met Malcolm Jones, the owner and founder of Wallaby Ranch, who also just so happens to be the uncle of Lake Nona local Matt Troy Jones. What a coincidence! Jones would be my pilot for the morning, and who better than the man who started it all. My hang gliding journey began bright and early, with an arrival at 8 a.m. Malcolm explained that the morning had the best chance of wind cooperation, and it’s actually an energizing start to the day. Believe me, I’m not a morning person. I began signing waivers and getting suited up. First, I jumped into the body harness and made sure my helmet was snug. Next thing I know, I’m laying down about an inch or two above the grass with my GoPro in hand. Jones suited up next to me, and the aerotow’s engine began to rev. It was time for lift off, and I was so ready to relive this experience I once had almost six years ago.
Off we go, reaching speeds of about 30 mph, and then the ground begins to disappear from underneath you. I’m sure this would be unsettling to most, but that’s what had my excitement building and my adrenaline flowing.
We began to circle over Wallaby Ranch as we soared higher and higher and next thing I knew, Jones pushed up on the hang glider and our cable released, allowing us to gently and calmly (yes, I promise it’s calm) float among the clouds. The grin on my face grew larger.
Every worry or stress I once had, whether work or family related, immediately dissipated. Maybe as quickly as the ground did. I had nothing to worry about up here – all I had to do was enjoy this experience. Jones and I began to chat, and I learned that he began hang gliding at the age of 17. He traveled abroad to Australia (where hang gliding was invented) and gained more experience while over there. When he returned to Florida, Wallaby Ranch was created (and you can see where his inspiration came from).
The time came to learn how to fly. Jones told me to grab onto the bar in front of me and took hold of my GoPro for a better angle. He began to teach me the basics of piloting a hang glide. Pushing out with your left hand and pulling in with your right hand will cause you to turn right, whereas pushing out with your right hand and pulling in with your left hand will have you turn left. Now for the part I’ve been looking forward to all morning … pushing down on the bar will cause you to speed up and pulling up on the bar will cause you to slow, almost making time stand still and your heart flutter a bit, wondering if you’re going to fall out of the sky like a leaf leaving a tree. If I were piloting the whole flight, I’d probably just be a nonstop cycle of going fast and then slowing down the whole time, floating up and then nosediving for speed. That flight would be over before it even began!
As we neared the ground, it was time to line up for landing. Jones, being the expert, had us fly right in and roll right up to the camera, which I found hysterical. Not even I was expecting it! Flights are about 12-15 minutes long, but time flies when you’re having fun (pun intended)! Jones was awesome enough to allow me to fly a second time, this time without the GoPro in hand, so I could feel more natural and have one less worry.
Off we went for round two and now I was just having too much fun with it, making goofy faces at the camera mounted to the wing and truly enjoying my time in the sky. Would you ever believe I had a fear of flying when I was younger? If you’ve ever wondered what life would be like as a bird or wished for your one superpower to be flight, hang gliding is your answer.
We flew around a bit more as I admired the rising sun glowing on us, casting our bird-like shadow on the trees and ground. When it came time to land, I was prepared to strike a pose in front of the camera. Nailed it! Now that we were officially back on the ground, it was time for breakfast. Flying can bring out your appetite! The chef onsite whipped up pancakes, French toast, bacon, eggs, fresh fruit, and more, all included with your flight! (Imagine if that were the case on an airplane…) Jones and I continued our conversation from the skies, and when I asked him about his first solo flight, his response left me in awe.
“[There’s] nothing like your first flight. I’ve been trying to chase that feeling ever since,” Jones stated as his memories began to flood back to him. I felt his sincerity, and when I took a second to think about what he said and truly meant, I realized that’s what the purpose of NonaVentures actually is – to discover (or rediscover) those first experiences and make those moments last a lifetime.
So, there you have it … I found peace in the sky as I hang glided for the second time and rekindled my passion to become a hang gliding pilot. Hey, Malcolm … maybe you’ll be seeing more of me – and hopefully not in another long six years!
A tandem flight costs $175 and will give you a whole new perspective of feeling calm and serene. If there’s one thing you should do that’s out of your comfort zone, it’s hang gliding! Trust me … or just ask my fellow coworker, Kyle! His fear of heights didn’t stop him, and when he landed, his smile was almost as large as mine!
If I could describe hang gliding in one word, it’d be BLISS. For more information or to experience your bliss, visit wallaby.com and tell them I sent you! Until next time!
Taking risks leads to those opportunities that are dying to be discovered. Have an experience that had adrenaline coursing through your soul? Challenge me to live YOUR moment at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out our NonaVentures form at forms.nona.media/nhn-nonaventures.