A Flight to the Borderlands
 (c) 1998, 2004, 2009 Paul Gazis

Snow on the mountains at Big Sur
Snow on the Mountains at Big Sur

Now the story can be told...

Like all desperate tales, it began innocently enough. Ed, Don, and I emerged from our tents in the campground at Big Sur, ready for a day of flying. The sight that greeted us was spectacular. A cold front had passed during the night, the sky was clear as crystal, and the tops of the mountains were covered with a fine dusting of snow. It seemed too incredible to be real - the pale blue sky, dark green hills, snow-covered peaks to the east, and shimmering Pacific ocean to the west – but there it was, plain before our eyes. It was obvious that the day would be fliable, and might even be good. It was also clear that there was no reason to hurry, so we lingered over breakfast and took our time heading up the hill.

We didn't have the slightest inkling how this day would end.

By the time we reached launch, conditions had changed. Clouds had formed - indeed, the higher launches were socked in - and the wind had picked up to almost 20 miles per hour. This seemed rather strong for Big Sur, which is usually a sled ride to the beach a long way away, and I felt somewhat intimidated by the glide. But Ed and Don didnít seem worried, and the Plasket launch was still below cloudbase, so we unloaded there and began to set up.

Conditions may have been marginal, but they hardly seemed dangerous. The wind might have been strong, but it wasnít so strong that we couldnít penetrate out to the beach. The clouds might have been spreading, but so far they were all safely above and behind the ridge. My chief concern was the launch itself. This would be near my self-imposed limits for wind speed and direction at an unfamiliar site. I elected to go second - the timid pilot's position - so I could watch my Don go first and still get some wire assistance from Ed.

I neednít have worried. The launch itself was easy. I held the nose down, balanced the wing, and waited for a cycle. Then I yelled, "Clear!" ran, and was off.

If the launch was anticlimactic, the flight was anything but. Quite the contrary – it was glorious! My early concern about a brief white-knuckled dash to the beach was entirely unjustified. There was no danger of sinking out. It was easy to stay up! Lift was everywhere! A few small clouds had formed below my altitude in front of the ridge, but they were scattered and easy to avoid. In minutes, I had climbed to 3800' MSL - 600' above launch.

I spent the next hour playing around in the air. The mountains, the ocean, and the sky all shone with a beauty that defies any power of description. Some moments are so glorious, so overpowering, so overwhelming, that they seize you by the senses and drag you out of the prison of your skull, straight out into the world. Language is too feeble a tool to describe such an experience. One struggles for words, but the only words that come are, "I saw mountains," "The ocean was dark," or, "The sky was very blue." For that timeless hour, I was not just a man flying a hang glider. I was the glider. I was the mountains. I was the ocean. I was the sky.

I remember watching great dark cloud-shadows sweep across the ocean. I remember glimpsing of dark green hills appear and vanish behind brilliant swaths of white. I remember flying along a mere wingspan upwind of a cloud as my shadow, surrounded by a rainbow, hurtled through the mists beside me.

I do not remember the slightest hint of danger.

The first sign that something might be wrong came when Ed left the ridge, stuffed the bar, and began to fly out towards the beach. I watched him go with some curiosity. He seemed to be heading down to land. Why was he leaving so soon, I wondered? It was still quite early in the day – surely we could fly for several more hours. My friend Don seemed to agree with me, for he was headed north along the ridge, looking for more places to play. As I watched, he vanished from sight.

After some thought, I decided to follow Ed. Perhaps he knew something I didn't. But I was not in a hurry to follow his route, for Ed had chosen to sacrifice altitude for speed. Given the conditions, this seemed unwise. Sacrifice too much altitude and I might end up below the lift band, down in a valley, trying to penetrate out to the beach in a venturi. This would not be fun, so I chose to fly slower and stay as high as I could while still making progress towards the LZ.

By now the clouds were closer together. Cloudbase was well below me, so I had a few tense moments, as I dodged between them. But it wasn't hard to avoid getting whited out, and I wasnít worried, yet.

Then, as I watched, a wall of cloud formed between me and the beach.

I did not, at first, grasp the implications. Surely that wall of clouds had nothing to do with me! It was more than a mile away! I was still in compliance with the cloud clearance regulations prescribed by the Federal Aviation Regulations Part 103 for flight more than 1500 feet above the terrain: three miles visibility, and either 500 feet below, 1000 feet above, or 2000 feet to the side of the overcast. Surely I could not be in any danger if I was in compliance with the FARs.

But the wall of clouds was unbroken. It reached from the treetops, two thousand feet below me, to a point thousands of feet above my head and stretched for miles to either side. It might have been more than a mile away, but it was blowing up the hillside at 20 miles per hour. It would reach me in three minutes. As those three fateful minutes ticked past, I realized that I had precisely two choices. I could roll into a steep bank, dive down, and stick the glider into a tree while I still was able to see, or I could keep flying straight and level, into the wall of clouds, and hope to make it through to the other side.

I made the wrong choice.

In my defense I must say that the decision to deliberately crash into the trees would have been a difficult one. Even now, knowing what was going to happen, I am not sure I could make it. That is certainly what I should have done. I might have failed in my attempt at a tree landing, I might have been injured, I might even have died, but I would still have been able to exercise some control over my destiny. I would still have been a pilot. But instead, I tried to fly through the clouds.

Visibility vanished in a heartbeat. In an instant, the familiar world of colors was gone. The ocean, mountains, coast, and sun were nowhere to be seen. I was alone in a world of pure white. I was not immediately concerned. Surely, I thought, these clouds could not be very thick. In a few seconds I would be able to see the sun.

Seconds passed.

More seconds passed, with no sign of the sun,

I began to feel concerned, but I was able to deny the gravity of my situation. Surely it only seemed that I had been in the cloud for a long time. Surely I would see the sun in a few minutes.

Minutes passed. I began to feel the first stirrings of real fear.

At last, it became evident that something was terribly wrong. Either the clouds were thicker than I thought, or I had been turned around. I was not going to see the sun in a few minutes. Indeed, if I didnít find a way out of this situation, I might never see the Sun again.

I reviewed my options, but these were few: I could keep trying to fly in a straight line, I could try to turn around and fly back the way I had come, or I could throw my parachute. The first option was futile. In the absence of any visual reference to the ground, there was no way I could hope to fly in a straight line. The second option was even more futile – if such a thing was possible. As for the third: a parachute seemed like an extremely bad idea. It was a windy day. If I came down under canopy, I would go into the trees at more than 20 miles per hour, This would almost certainly leave me injured and immobilized. In this terrain, in this kind of weather, I might never be found. Unable to move, I would eventually die of exposure.

All I could do was keep flying at best glide speed – I knew from past experiment that this was the speed at which my glider was most stable – keep looking ahead, and hope I spotted the terrain in time to react. This was not much of a hope. Indeed, it was no real hope at all. I had no idea how much altitude Iíd lost, for I was afraid to look at my altimeter, but I was almost certainly below the level of the surrounding ridges. When I spotted the terrain – assuming that I spotted anything at all – it would almost certainly be directly in front of me and too close to avoid.

More minutes passed. The clouds turned from white to gray. I did not know what this meant, but I was fairly sure that it didnít mean anything good. For several moments, I tried to persuade myself that I was dreaming. It was the only way I could think of to escape the situation. I might seem to be in serious trouble, helpless, and quite likely to die, but if it turned out that I was only dreaming, everything would be OK. If only it would turn out that I was dreaming! But I wasn't dreaming, of course. No matter how much I might wish otherwise, I was really awake. This was really happening. And I really was in serious trouble. Alas.

At last, at long last, I resigned myself to death. There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to die. There was no doubt at all. I was no longer a pilot in any meaningful sense of the word. Lacking any sense of attitude or direction, I was just a helpless passenger aboard a glider that was almost certainly headed downwind back towards the ridge. My last sight would be a brief glimpse of a cliff rushing up at 50 miles per hour to kill me

At such moments, as one stares into the abyss, one is supposed to have a sudden attack of religion. One is supposed to pray to some god – any convenient god – that you always did believe in them, you are sorry for all of your sins, and if he, she, they, or it will just get you out of this mess, you will head straight to the nearest church, temple, or neighborhood reading room. Iím glad to say that such a thought never crossed my mind. Oh, I did consider it in an abstract sort of way – i.e. "How interesting. I'm about to die. I suppose I could pray to Kwannon, Goddess of Mercy, in the hope that she might rescue me, or promise my soul to Odin if he will accept me into Valhalla." But this seemed like a pointless waste of time. If I only had a few minutes left to live, why should I waste them praying to some oppressive myth invented by a bunch of ignorant desert pastoralists? I had better things to do! I was going to savor the few brief moments I had left!

I realized two things. The first was that my life until that moment had been miserable. I had spent too many years in a place that I hated, living under horrible conditions, with a companion I was learning to despise. Why had I endured this nonsense when life was so short? It was now precisely too late to change things. Even worse, THERE WAS MONEY LEFT IN MY BANK ACCOUNT THAT I WAS NOT GOING TO BE ABLE TO SPEND! OTHER PEOPLE WERE GOING TO GET IT!

This sucked. If I got out of this mess, things were going to change!

My second realization was that I hadn't told my friends that I loved them. This seemed like a terrible omission. Now I was going to die, and they would never know. If I ever got out of this mess, I was going to call everyone I cared for and let them know how that I cared.

The mists below parted for an instant, and I saw trees rushing past less than a hundred feet below. I did not recognize the trees and didnít have the slightest idea where I was. I only knew, as the clouds closed in again, that this was the end. Sometime in the next few seconds, some dark hard thing was going to reach up and claw me out of the sky.

Then, suddenly, the clouds were gone!

I did not, at first, realize what had happened, so sudden and shocking was the change. One moment I was surrounded by gray, the next I could see again! Unfortunately, things hadnít changed all that much for the better, for I was not in a good place. I had dropped below cloudbase - I distinctly remember a lid of gray above me - but I was also way back in a narrow valley, deep down in some kind of rotor turbulence. I must have flown straight towards a ridge, been picked up by ridge lift, cleared the terrain by less than a hundred feet – those must have been the trees I saw – and been dropped by sink into the valley on the other side.

By reflex I turned to fly down the valley, and edged towards the downwind side to look for lift. I thought I knew my position – I would later discover how wrong I was – and that if I made it around a bend in front of me, I would be within sight of the landing zone. But it was by no means clear I could make it that far, for I was sinking like a stone, and hadnít had all that much altitude to begin with. Indeed, it was all too likely I would not make it out of the valley at all.

At last, too late to do me any real good, I finally had an attack of common sense. "Paul," I thought, "you have made nothing but bad decisions for the last five minutes. It's time to make a good decision. You are going to go down. Why not pick a good place to land and put this glider on the ground while you still have some control over the situation."

There weren't any good places to land, not really, but I picked the best place I could, and headed towards what I thought was a flat spot (I was wrong) near what I thought was a settlement (once again, I was quite wrong). It felt strange to be setting up a landing approach for what was obviously not going to be a landing. Pull in, kick out of the harness, hands on the downtubes. Turn base, turn final, keep speed up, watch out for the rotor of the trees, and keep aiming for that spot which is NOT FLAT IT'S NOT A LANDING ZONE IT IS A STEEP SLOPE COVERED WITH TREES THIS IS NOT A LANDING THIS IS GOING TO BE A CRASH!

The trees rushed up to meet me. I pushed out to slow down, let go of the control frame, and curled up into a ball. There was a moment of indescribable violence...

...then I found myself hanging in my harness a few feet above the ground.

I was alive! The world was a blur, for my glasses had been knocked from my face, I was stunned, Iíd had the breath knocked out of me, and there was an ominous pain in my side, but I was still alive! I felt compelled to comment on this fact.

"I'm ALIVE!" I croaked. "Hunh! Hunh! I'm ALIVE!"

Logbook Entry of 11-March-1990

"Date: 3-11-90. Site: Big Sur. Glider: Sport 150E Full Race. Launch: 3200 MSL. Wind: WNW 15-25. Type air: cloud suck, clouds. Airtime: 1:20. Flight number: 624 . Max altitude: 3800 MSL. XC miles: 4. Distance from spot: --. Good launch, cloud base dropped, clouds under me. Whited out, trapped in valley in rotor. Crash, almost died. Yow!"

This accomplished, I stood up to look around. My glider was tangled in a thicket of young saplings with its nose and right wing low. It looked very strange there, like some alien visitor from another planet, for this was not the sort of place that a glider belonged. A large boulder, the size of a small car, lay just underneath the control bar. There were scrape marks in the moss that covered the boulder, and matching scrape marks on my chest-mount parachute container. This explained the pain in my side. I had bounced off the boulder and cracked some ribs. If I'd been wearing a side-mounted parachute, or had hit a few inches to the right, left, up, or down, I might well have been have been incapacitated or killed. This was most certainly food for thought!

Indeed, as I looked around, I realized that I was still in serious trouble. I was lost in the middle of impassible terrain. No one else knew where I was, and they might not, as yet, even know that I was missing. Even if they called for a search, the ceiling was too low to allow a search from the air – I knew this from what can only be described as vivid first-hand experience – and there was no way they could hope to find me from the ground. I had no food, for Iíd eaten my emergency supplies several months ago when I was hungry after a long flight, I had nothing to drink, for my plastic water bottle had cracked open on impact, no radio, and I had no way to start a fire. If I was going to be rescued, I would have rescue myself. I also faced a rather gruesome time limit. I had crashed into a thicket of poison oak - the plant is unavoidable in the coast range - to which I am violently allergic. In twelve hours – a day at most – I could expect to be incapacitated. If I did not get out by then, I might never get out at all.

For lack of anything better to do, I broke down my wing. My rational – to the extent that I did indeed have a rational – was that I didnít want it to mislead potential searchers. I would try to walk out with the glider, abandon it if I couldn't carry it, and then, if I still couldn't make any progress, I would crawl back to where Iíd left the wing, spread it out so it would be visible from the air, and hope that the weather would clear. My real reason, of course, was that I just couldn't bear to leave the poor thing behind.

The brush was so thick that I had to tie it out of the way with my helmet, harness bag, and sail ties, and partially disassemble the glider to break it down. There seemed no meaningful hope that I could actually carry it with me. But I set off, I crawling downhill because the slope was steep, and any other direction seemed out of the question. Also, I recalled a brief glimpse of what I hoped was a settlement in that direction.

It was fortunate that I chose to bring the glider with me, for I could never have escaped without it. The brush was impassible on foot. The only way I could move was to use the glider as bridge, pushing it ahead of me, crawling along the bagged-up wing, then rolling off into the brush to repeat the process. At no time during this process did my feet ever touch the ground. At one point I abandoned the glider and tried to continue without it, but this was more like swimming than walking, and it took me five minutes to advance six feet. When I turned around, I found it almost impossible to get back to the wing, even though it was only a few inches away from my outstretched fingers.

I wasnít scared, exactly. Instead, my feelings were a strange mixture of anger and frustration. I was in serious trouble, to be sure, but I was also stuck in this damned undergrowth. When was it ever going to end? And where was that clearing I thought Iíd spotted from the air?

After an hour of struggle, during which I covered perhaps two hundred yards, I came upon a glass jug, buried in the undergrowth. I did not find this very reassuring. True, it was a sign of civilization, but its implications were ambiguous. Glass is a durable material, and the design of glass jugs has not changed much over the course of the last century. The jug could plausibly have lain there since the time of William Randolf Hearst. But then, a dozen yards or so farther on, I came upon some beer cans. Better yet, they were ALUMINUM cans. This was more like it! If these cans were made of aluminum, they couldnít be much more than two decades old. Encouraged, I pressed onward, and a short time later, I burst out of the brush onto a jeep trail.

For several minutes I lay on the trail, gasping for breath, with my glider half in and half out of the brush. Somehow, this seemed the right thing to do. Then I crawled to my feet and limped down the trail, leaving my gear behind. Once again, I chose to head downhill, for my condition was such that the other direction did not seem like an option. The trail ended in a small clearing. In the middle of the clearing, an ancient picnic table moldering beneath the trees. This, it seemed, was the `settlement' I had seen from the air.

No picnickers were in evidence, ancient or otherwise.

After pondering this mystery for several minutes, I limped back to my glider and dragged it down to the table. I couldnít carry the wing any farther and this seemed like as good a place as any to leave it while I tried to hike out. I would take my harness with me, since it contained equipment that might be useful, and leave a note with the glider to let any potential rescuers know where to look for me. This note, written on the back of an old bank deposit slip, also sits before me:

The Note "It is 1545 Sunday 3-11-90. I crashed about 200 yards uphill from here. I'm OK. I'm leaving the glider here and trying to hike out the jeep trail. Paul Gazis."

I still had no idea where I was, but I wasnít entirely without resources. I may not have had a compass, but I had an altimeter, which could be used for navigation. I had a pen and the back of my log book in which to make a map. I had plenty of warm clothes, a toolkit and knife, and my harness and helmet might be good for something. Also, the existence of a jeep trail implied the existence of jeeps. I would hike up the trail and see where it lead. Surely I couldnít be more than an hour or two from civilization.

After a stiff climb, I came to a fork in the trail. I marked this on my map along with its altitude, scratched an arrow on the ground, and left a pile of rocks as a marker. Then I turned left because this was downhill – and continued through the trees. A short time later, I reached a dead end. Like the clearing with the picnic table, this dead end contained an artifact: a plastic garbage with an old newspaper inside. I was afraid to examine the headline to closely for fear that it might say something like, 'Truman Defeats Dewey!' or, 'Japanese Surprise Attack on Pearl Harbor! War Declared!' but this was still another sign of civilization. I marked the spot on my map, then headed back up the hill to try the other fork. I was sure this would lead somewhere useful.

Ho ho. Little did I know.

An hour passed, and then another. I found two more forks in the trail, each of which I marked each one on the ground and on my map, along with notes to record the altitude and direction of slope. That meant a total of three forks and five trails in all. But none of these trails lead to an exit. Each and every one of them lead to a dead end.

Needless to say, I was mystified. These were most certainly jeep trails, ruts and all, but they didnít seem to go anywhere. In particular, there did not appear to be any way in or out of this place. How did they get the jeeps here? Did they airlift them by helicopter? Did they pack the parts in on foot, assemble the jeeps here for some purpose I could not even begin to imagine, then take them apart and carry the components back out when they were done? None of these explanations seemed plausible.

Unfortunately another explanation was all too likely. It was possible that this strange and inexplicable maze had once been part of a larger system of roads that had been destroyed by the passage of time. There might no longer be a way out. If so, I was still in trouble. If I left this maze and pressed straight into the brush, my chances of escape were slim.

It must have been around then that I heard the sound of a helicopter. I had no way to signal it, or even to see it, and I was also perplexed. What were they doing aloft in this weather? Were they looking for me? This seemed unlikely, for Iíd only been missing for two hours; surely this was not long enough for a search to be organized. In this I was correct, for as I found out later, mine had not been the only adventure of the day.

Whatever its mission, there was no way the helicopter could help me. I listened to the sound of rotors fading into the distance, then returned my attention to my map. Perhaps it contained a clue. I had explored five dead ends. According to my notes, four of these contained some kind of artifact: a picnic table, a garbage can with a newspaper, an abandoned cooler, and some beer cans. The fifth dead end was empty. Why was it different from the others? It was certainly worth another inspection.

The Map

I slogged back up the trail to this final cul de sac and examined it closely, to discover that it was not a dead end after all. What I had thought was the end of the trail was actually a large fallen tree. This was a substantial obstacle, but nothing compared with my desperate crawl through the brush. A brief scramble got me over it. On the other side, the trail continued up the hill into the woods.

Another quarter hour of marching brought me to a forest service road. When I saw the road, I felt a wave of relief. For the first time since the clouds had engulfed me three hours earlier, I began to believe I would survive. Oh, I still had a choice to make – right or left – but this road looked well traveled and maintained, so I was sure it would lead somewhere. I turned left, since that was the direction downhill, and continued marching.

Now that I knew I would live, my thoughts turned to the possible consequences of my adventure. These were not particularly pleasant to contemplate. Iíd been forced to abandon my glider, which I doubted I would ever see again. I had what felt like a bruised knee and a cracked rib. Iíd been forced to crawl through poison oak, roll in it, breath it, and perhaps even swallow it, for more than an hour. Such is the extent of my allergy to this hellish weed that I could look forward to a month of agony, and possibly hospitalization. My adventure was unlikely to help our relationship with the local landowners – it might even put some pressure on the site, in which case the pilot community would not be pleased. I had little to look forward too, and I was cold, damp, and miserable as I limped down the hill.

Then I had a strange insight.

"Paul," I thought, "this is an Adventure! People pay money to read books or watch movies about adventures like these, and here you are having one (almost) for free! You'd bloody well better enjoy it!"

I didn't enjoy it, of course, but in some strange way this thought lifted my spirits.

It took me at least an hour, perhaps two, to hike down that road. Its length was disturbing. Iíd come out of the clouds way back in the valley, and there was no way I could ever have made it out to the beach. Indeed, the more I saw of the surroundings the more I realized that I'd set down in the only place from which I could possibly have made it to a trail – anywhere else and I'd still be crawling through the brush. Even more disturbing was the fact that none of my surroundings were familiar. This was not the valley I thought it was. I had flown farther in the clouds than I realized. When we reconstructed my flight, weeks later, we determined that I must have been in the clouds for at least five minutes, during which I flew for five miles, crossed three ridges, and lost 1500 feet (!!!) of altitude.

When I reached the end of the road, where it met Route 1, I received a further shock. There was no beach here. There was no place to land at all. The valley ended in a sheer cliff that dropped straight to the ocean. Even if I had managed somehow to fly out to the mouth of the valley, I would have flown straight into a box.

I turned north – I know not why, since I still thought I was north of the LZ – and limped down the shoulder of the highway. Then I rounded a corner to receive my final surprise. Far in the distance – almost, it seemed, on the very horizon – I could see rocks that I recognized as the ones that lay offshore of the campground. They were at least five miles away! I had thought I was flying west in the clouds, but I had actually flown several miles to the south!

This was most definitely food for thought. Suppose I had turned a few degrees more, or a few degrees less, as could easily have happened? In the former case I would have emerged miles offshore, gone down in the ocean, and drowned. In the later, I would have crashed downwind into some nameless ridge far back in the coast range and theyíd never even have found my body.

Neither of these possibilities was particularly comforting, so I turned my attention to the problem of getting back to the campsite. It was too far to walk, so I would have to hitch a ride. Unfortunately, the odds that a bedraggled pilot, his clothes tattered and shredded by a long crawl through the brush, might hitch a ride late in the day on the California coast at the end of a weekend are slim. Twenty-two cars passed without slowing down, and I could imagine the same conversation in each one.

"On look, Harold! There's a man by the side of the road waving for help!'

"I don't know, Esmerelda! He looks like another one of those hippie drug-addict illegal immigrants with deviant sexual practices that our pastor warned us about! I'll bet he's even a Democrat! We'd better not stop!"

"Oh, Harold! I'm glad you are here to protect me!"

Eventually I came to a turnoff in which three cars were parked. These offered better scope for requesting assistance since they were stationary, and I might actually hope to engage their occupants in conversation, but I realized that I would have to chose my prospects carefully. The two beautiful women seemed unlikely – that sort of thing only works in the movies, in the real world, they would be certain to flee at the approach of an injured stranger. The retired couple were right out – i.e. "Harold!" "Quick, Esmerelda! Get the old .45 I used to carry back during the Fillipino Insurrection!" BLAM! Et cetera.

That left the two burly fellows in the Mustang convertible with Midwestern license plates. This seemed promising. They would have little reason to fear a lone stranger, and tourists from the Midwest might be less likely to brush me off as a panhandler. Still, I considered my words carefully as I approached them. "Excuse me," I said. "I'm a hang glider Pilot and I Crashed a few miles south of here. Could you possibly give me a ride a few miles north to my camp? It's only a few miles."

I was careful to get the words `pilot' and `crash' out as soon as possible, before they had a chance to ignore me. It worked. I could see the thoughts running through their heads: `Tattered clothes... unsteady gait... matted hair... pilot... crash... he's probably a hippie drug-addict illegal immigrant with deviant sexual practices like our pastor warned us... wait a second. Pilot? Crash! Could this guy be telling the truth?'

They didnít seem entirely sure they believed me, but my two nameless rescuers were still willing to give me a ride. I never did learn their names, and I doubt they will ever read this tale, but if they ever do, thanks guys! You did a good deed that day!

The conversation during the ride back to the campground was somewhat strained. This was understandable, I think, given the circumstances.

"So, you, uh, fly hang gliders?"

"Uh, yes."

"Is it fun?"

"Well... uh... usually."

Fortunately for my benefactors, the ride was short. We arrived at the Sand Dollar day use area to find an ambulance in the parking lot.

"Let me off there," I said. "They're waiting for me."

My rescuers obliged with what I suspect was a sigh of relief and sped off, perhaps to return to the Midwest with a tale to tell. Meanwhile, I limped over to the ambulance, which I discovered was not waiting for me after all. It seemed they had come here for Dan, who had been rotored into Sand Dollar LZ, suffered a concussion, and been airlifted to a hospital for observation by the helicopter Iíd heard several hours before. But they were glad to see me, for theyíd known a pilot was still missing. They took my name, gave me the address of the hospital, then spend off into the evening.

There's not much more to tell. I collected Dan's gear and the relevant phone numbers. Then, since I had no way to recover my wing, I drove home to make the necessary phone calls and seek medical attention myself. The story was finally over.

Still, in a very real sense, the story will never be entirely over. Such stories never are. The gods had picked me up, decided I was too small, and thrown me back into the world. As Earnest K. Gann once wrote, I had peaked behind the veil, seen what some dead men have seen, and returned to tell the story.

One cannot help but be changed by such an experience. I felt, and I hope I will always will feel, strangely privileged. Over the next several weeks I moved to a different apartment. I escaped from the clutches of the companion who caused me such sorrow. I even spent some of the money I'd been saving for the future on things that I wanted now - a practice I've tried to continue. I also found it easier to face crises at work and in my life." This isn't a life-or-death situation," I would tell myself. "It isn't even close! I know, because I know what a real life-or-death situation is like!"

It's a useful standard of comparison.

I even managed to recover my glider. I did, after all, have this great map, complete with a list of the altitudes of every major fork in the trail. But it appears that I dropped my nose cone back at the crash site. It is almost certainly still there, so if anyone needs a spare nose cone for a Sport 150E Full Race, I know where you can find one. Hey, I've even got a map...

...Mountain View, 1998

The new nose cone
The new nose cone, one month later

Last modified: 29 October 2009