OK, so we are all glad that the tourists have gone home. But maybe, secretly, we have an inner tourist that actually enjoyed riding the Space Mountain Roller Coaster at Disney World, bungy jumping in Queenstown and partaking in the wine and cheese safari in Napa Valley. Rather than wait 'til the relatives come to visit, now is the perfect time to come out of the closet and be a tourist in your own backyard.
GET ABOVE IT ALL
Last week, the friendly folks at Sunriver Soaring invited me to go on one of their glider flights. I'd never been in a glider before and, to be honest, I don't do particularly well on roller coasters and such, so I did sneak a Dramamine before my flight. I met the crew, including pilot Dale Masters, at the Sunriver Airport. It instilled confidence to meet Dale. He just looks like the seasoned pilot that he is and, with 30 years of successful soaring under his belt, he is the author of Soaring: Beyond the Basics. Brian Lansburgh, who has owned Sunriver Soaring for about a year and a half, supported his family for years as a comic pilot. That sounded like an oxymoron to me, but Dale explained, "He would fly like he didn't know what he was doing (which actually requires tremendous skill) and cap off the performance by landing and hopping out of the cockpit in a clown costume."
We buzzed down the runway in a golf cart to the glider, a beautiful canary yellow Schweizer 2-32. Dale showed me our towrope - an unimpressive piece of white half-inch rope. The rope, our lifeline as we are towed up, actually cannot exceed a certain breaking strength for safety reasons, however, they do re-tie the knot every week.
Dale and I climbed into the cockpit, strapped in, and pulled the canopy down over our heads as the ground crew attached our towrope to the tow plane piloted by Brian. We pulled out on the runway and take-off was incredibly smooth. Brian pulled us up toward Mt. Bachelor in his white and red Piper PA25 "Pawnee" and when we reached 8,000 feet, we dropped the towline. Brian did a few loops in parting gesture and then we were soaring in the mountains.
The view was spectacular, providing a whole new perspective on the place I call home. The Cascade Mountains were majestic against a bluebird sky brushed with cirrus clouds trailing wispy ice crystals. I could also see the sad extent of the beetle kill in our forest and several small smoke plumes from fires.
Dale was a master. He banked and turned so we could snap some photos with the mountains as a backdrop. Then he let me take over the controls with my own stick and pedals. At first I spun a 360, but I got the hang of it quickly, dropping the nose to pick up speed and then dipping a wing to carve a turn. It was definitely fun to pilot the plane, but then I asked, "Hey Dale, wanna show me some of your moves?" Dale happily obliged. He took the controls and immediately threw a double-loop-de-loop with a half gainer. Or something like that. "Weeeeeeeee," I said, upside-down.
That cost us some altitude, so Dale started "sniffing out thermals" like a bloodhound on scent. As it turns out, my Dramamine wasn't working so well, so we started to head back to the airport at a steep angle and full speed. At the last second, Dale pulled back on the stick and we floated away from the tarmac and then back down again for a perfect landing.
Sunriver Soaring offers two rides: the Cascade Cruise ($150), which lasts about 20-25 minutes, and the Bachelor Blast ($210), which lasts about 50-55 minutes. If you want a calm ride, go in the morning. If you want more action, afternoons are better. Just let your pilot know if you prefer the Sunday cruise or the acrobatic adventure. For more information, visit www.sunriversoaring.com.
If you need a guidebook for your in-town tourism, you might want to check out Scott Cook's irreverent Bend, Overall, which highlights the best hikes and attractions in the area. He has just published a new book titled, Pokin' Round the Gorge, which puts a sexy-romantic spin on exploring nature in the Columbia River Gorge. You can pick up a copy at Pine Mountain Sports before your next date.