I was walking past the Fly Me To The Moon Saloon when someone yelled my name from behind. “Hey Ole! Hang on a sec!”
I turned to find my buddy Bob shoving himself down the street in his wheelchair. “Fuckin’ bitchin’ flyin’ today weren’t it!” I enthused.
“Yeah,” agreed Bob as we slapped hands. “Tomorrow’s shapin’ up even better. Which is why I’m glad I caught you. Let’s get some photos up there.”
“Okay,” I agreed. This… even though I had some trepidation about Bob flying. It was not that my friend was incapable of flying-not hardly. It was only that he was incapable of taking off by himself. If my buddy Bob and I were really gonna get any photos in the sky above Telluride, Colorado… somebody was going to have to grab his keel, hold it at just that critical angle… and RUN HIS ASS OFF THE MOUNTAIN!
And I didn’t want it to be me. Been there, done that. In fact, I had fifteen (15) stitches in my shin that I’d taken the last time I shoved him off Gold Hill-just yesterday.
With that thought in mind, we set off together down Main Street, headed for the Seizure LZ and I limped slightly, just so Bob wouldn’t get any ideas.
The good thing was, the Telluride Airmens’ Rendezvous was in full swing, there were hundreds of hangies in town for the occasion, and Bob should have no trouble finding someone foolish enough to give him a good shove. It was an age of youthful foolish abandon.
Plus, the six (6) inches of snow that had covered launch yesterday when I gave Bob that shove, and which made the takeoff slope so treacherously slippery that I tumbled down the hill ass-over-elbows after letting go Bob, had melted now, changing the footing on launch-improving it. Gold Hill was not so slippery now. Pictures sounded good.
“Pictures sound good,” I agreed. “You have the camera huh?”
It was also an age of heavy cameras, clumsy things that were problematic for mounting on a wing because they would need a counter-weight on the other wing so the pilot was not constantly fighting an unbalanced turn.
“I’ve got a new camera mount and I’ve been experimenting with it and I think I’ve got the bugs worked out.” Bob pulled a nice eight (8) pound Canon SLR from his bag and began eyeballing it, focusing in and out, turning it this way and that. He was nearly drooling on it. “I have a radio too,” he said.
“Great, what channel are you squawking?”
We were moving along, headed to the annual Telluride Air Force glider sacrifice, wherein an old used-up wing was dragged out to the town park-also known as the Seizure Landing Area-and it was doused in a gallon or so of gasoline and set ablaze while airmen smoked funny-looking cigarettes, blasted lines of marching powder, and hollered their fool heads off. We didn’t want to miss the fun.
We worked out the details as we walked/rolled along… Bob would have his camera on his starboard wing. It had a wide-angle lens which would make the field-of-vision great for the mountain scenery, but if I was going to be visible in the shots as more than just a tiny speck, I would need to get in very close.
“So we’ll get in the sky together and we’ll see if we can’t get to cloudbase together and I’ll call you in and you do some wing-overs while I just fly along straight and level and take the shots. Okay?”
“You’re gonna have to get close you know.”
“If you don’t get close I’ll call you in closer.”
“Let’s do it!” I said.
We arrived at the Seizure and I lost Bob in a crowd of rowdy hangies just about the moment when there was an enormous WHOOSH! of flames, and a ball of yellow flames in a black cloud of hydrocarbons sprouted in the sky over the town park. We were backing away from the heat and I figured that was gonna be about the end of the excitement because, after all, a hang glider just won’t burn for long: there ain’t much there to burn, really-a little sailcloth and then pfffft! It’s over. Imagine my surprise then, when one of the notorious E-Teamers came blasting into the fire circle in his Dodge Powerwagon, glider bags tied to the roof and hangies diving out of his way, and drove over the flames! One of the wires from the smashed, crushed and burning wreckage snagged on the undercarriage of his wagon and he spun off across the field dragging the smouldering sacrifice!
It was a wonder his truck did not become a sacrificial vehicle too, but I was learning never to be surprised about what might come to pass at the Airmens’ Rendezvous.
The following morning, I ran down Gold Hill and had a clean launch. I gloried in a strong thermal just in front of launch and was soon directly overhead of a hundred colorful wings spread atop the mountain, a glorious scene. Around me in three directions spread the Sangre de Cristos-jaggeded and magnificent. I quickly zipped up my jacket, pulled down my balaclava and pulled on my gloves. Wahooo! I hollered-a skyed-out hangie with a thermal, and I commenced a climb into the wild blue yonder.
On my way up, I spotted Bob’s wing moving from the set-up area to the launch slope. Apparently, he’d recruited some fool to shove him down the hill. I hoped he’d make a better job of it than I had, and not end up in emergency care. I went flying then-skyed-out and blazing across the Heavens, Rocky Mountain high.
I crossed the valley and flew over to Mt. Sneffels-one of Colorado’s fourteen thousand (14,000’) footers. There were hangies everywhere and I had to keep my head on a swivel to avoid a mid-air encounter. I flew back across town to launch and when I got there I was at nearly twenty grand (20,000’)! That’s when my radio came to life…
“Okay Ole, you got a copy?”
“Ten by ten (10X10)”, I replied. “What’s yer twenty (20) Bob?”
“I’m directly over Gold Hill at nineteen grand (19,000’) and climbing,” came the reply.
I looked around and quickly spotted Bob-he was the only one of us with those giant wheels on his basetube, the wheels he had used to get off Gold Hill with, and that he was planning to use in the Seizure to land on. With those big wheels, he was easy to spot.
“So, I’m gonna keep climbing until I get up to you, and meanwhile you get over on my left wing and ready to dive in for the shot. Gimme a shout when you’re ready okay?”
“Ten four (10-4) good buddy. Here I come!”
I floated over to his left as instructed, and dove in for the shot. I stuffed the bar for speed, cranked the bar for a steep turn, and shoved the nose up for a wing-over. My Magic Kiss stood on a wingtip and I hollered at Bob. “Yahooo!” I yelled.
“Nahhh,” came Bob over the radio. “Yer gonna have to get closer than that.”
“Well that was just a test. You ready now?”
“Yessir,” replied Bob, and I made a repeat appearance-stuff, dive, crank, bank… SHOVE OUT!
“Well that was a little better. Yer gonna have to get much closer than that I think.”
“Okay, this time,” I said.
I turned away from Bob and got some room to maneuver. I had to work a spot of lift to get back slightly above him so I could pull it off. Then…
“Here I come!” I said.
…stuff… dive… crank… bank… SHOVE!
This time, I held my heading until I could see the drool on Bob’s lips, the snot on his nose. Then, when I shoved the nose up, I was so close! I worried for a nano-second that we might collide, a scenario I didn’t want to examine too closely, so to speak. But we missed and I just hoped Bob had been holding the shutter button.
“OKAY!” came his voice. I think that was CLOSE ENOUGH. Do you read…? THAT WAS CLOSE ENOUGH!”
“Gotcha Bob. I’m goin’ flyin’ now. See you later.”
Which is what happened. Later, I was walking past yet another saloon when I hear Bob calling me once again…
“Hey Ole, we got it, we got it! I went straight to the photo shop for prints! Check it out!”
The photo below is the result. Twenty two (22) years later, Bob has just posted it to me. Maybe ya had ta been there… Bob and I were! Today, we are re-living our youthful abandon.