The Dynasoarers

Hang gliding & Paragliding on the Surf Coast

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A Flight to the Borderlands

(c) 1998 Paul Gazis

Now the story can be told...

Like all desperate tales, its beginning was quite innocent. Two friends and I woke in the campground for a day of flying at Big Sur. The sight that greeted our eyes that morning was spectacular. A cold front had passed during the night and the tops of the mountains were covered with snow. It seemed incredible then and it seems incredible now -- clear blue sky, dark green hills, a snow-covered ridge to the east and the shimmering Pacific ocean to the west - but there it was, plain before our eyes and I still have pictures to prove it.

We knew the day would be fliable, but we could also tell 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. The wind was so strong that I felt somewhat intimidated. I estimated its strength to be about 20 MPH. This was plenty strong for Big Sur, which is usually a sled ride to the beach a long glide away. Still, my friends D_ and E_ felt that conditions were reasonable, so we set up at the Plasket launch, which was a few hundred feet below cloudbase.

Conditions were marginal, but they did not seem dangerous. The wind was not so strong that we could not penetrate out to the beach, and the clouds were all safely above and behind launch. My chief concern was the launch itself. This would be near my self-imposed limits for wind speed and direction at an unfamiliar site, and I elected to launch second - the timid pilot's position - so I could watch my first friend get off, but still get some wire assistance from the second.

Launch was easy. I kept the nose down, balanced the wing, waited for a cycle, yelled clear, ran, and I was off.

If the launch itself was anticlimatic, the flight was anything but. Quite the contrary. The flight was glorious! My early concern that I might sink out, and have a brief white-knuckled dash to the beach, was entirely unjustified. There was no danger of sinking out. There was lift everywhere! It was easy to stay up! There were a few clouds, which could have been a probem, because I was well above cloudbase, but they were scattered and easy to avoid. In a few minutes, I had climbed to 3800' MSL - 600' above launch - where I spent the next hour playing around the sky.

The sea, the sky, and the mountains all shone with a beauty that defies my power of description. Some moments are so glorious, so overpowering, so overwhelming, that they seize you by the senses and drag your spirit out of the prison of your skull, straight out into the world. Language is too feeble a tool to describe such moments. One struggles for words, but the only words that come are, "I saw mountains," or, "The sky was very blue." For that timeless hour, I was not just a man flying a hang glider above the mountains towards the ocean through the sky. 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 glimping of dark green hills behind brilliant swaths of white. I remember flying along a mere wingspan upwind of a cloud and watching my shadow, surrounded by a rainbow, hurtle through the mists beside me.

I do not remember the slightest hint of danger.

The first sign that something was wrong came when my friend E_ headed out to land. He left the ridge, stuffed the bar, and flew out towards the beach. I watched him go with some curiosity. Why was he leaving so soon? It was early in the day and lift was everywhere -- surely we could fly for several more hours. My friend D_ seemed to agree with me. He was headed north along the ridge, and vanished from sight.

I decided to follow E_. Perhaps he knew something I didn't. Still, I was not in a hurry to follow his lead. E_ had chosen to sacrifice altitude for speed. Given the conditions, this seemed unwise. Sacrifice too much altitude and you'd be below the lift band, down in a valley, trying to penetrate out to the beach in a venturi. I chose to fly slower, and stay as high as I could while still making progress towards the LZ.

By now the clouds were a bit closer together, and cloudbase was well below me, so I had a few tense moments, but it wasn't hard to avoid getting whited out.

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

I did not, at first, grasp its 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. 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, 2000 feet below me, thousands of feet above my head and it stretched for miles to either side. It may have been more than a mile away, but it was blowing up the hillside at 20 MPH. It would reach me in 3 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. But that is 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 have been able to exercise some control over my destiny. I would still have been a pilot.

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 even the Sun were nowhere to be seen. I was alone in a world of pure white.

I was not immediately concerned. Surely, I thought, the clouds could not be very thick. In a few seconds I would be able to see the Sun.

Seconds passed.

Many seconds passed.

There was no sign of the Sun.

I grew concerned, but I was still 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 felt a stirring of real fear.

At last, at long 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. In fact, might never see the Sun again.

I reviewed my options, but I had none. I could keep trying to fly in a straight line - futile in the absence of any visual reference to the ground. I could try to turn and fly out of the clouds - even more futile, if such a thing was possible. I could throw my parachute, but this did not seem like a good idea. It was a windy day. If I came down under canopy, I would go into the trees at more than 20 MPH. This would almost certainly leave me injured and unable to move. In this terrain, in this kind of weather, I would never be found. Unable to move, I would eventually die of exposure.

All I could do was keep flying at max glide - I knew from experience 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. I did not know how much altitude I had lost, for I was afraid to look at my altimeter, but I was almost certainly below the level of the surrounding ridges.

More minutes passed.

The clouds turned from white to gray. I did not know what this meant, but I was fairly sure that it did not mean anything good.

I tried to persuade myself that I was dreaming. It was the only way I could think of to escape the situation. I was in serious trouble, I was helpless, and I was probably going to die, but if it turned out that I was only dreaming, then 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 in trouble. This was really happening.

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 MPH 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.

Such a thought never crossed my mind. Oh, I did considered 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 nomads? I had better things to do!

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 100 feet away. I did not recognize the trees. I did not 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 hard thing was going to reach up and claw me out of the sky.

Then, suddenly, the clouds were gone! One moment I was surrounded by gray, the next I could see again!

The change was so sudden and shocking that it took me a moment to realize what had happened. When I did, I realized that things hadn't changed all that much for the better. I was not in a good place. I was 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. I must have flown straight towards a ridge, been picked up by ridge lift, cleared the terrain by less than 100 feet -- those must have been the trees I saw -- then been dropped by the rotor into the valley on the downwind side.

By reflex I turned to fly down the valley, while I edged towards the downwind side to look for lift. I thought I knew where I was (I was wrong), and I thought that if I made it around a bend in the valley, I would be within sight of the landing zone.

But I was still in the rotor, sinking like a stone, and I did not have all that much altitude to begin with. It was by no means clear I could make it out of this valley, and all too likely I would not.

At last, too late to do me any real good, I 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. I 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) and set up a landing approach.

It felt strange to be setting up a landing approach for what was obviously NOT going to be a landing. Pull in, 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.

The world was a blur. My glasses had been knocked from my face so I could not see where I was. I was stunned, the breath had been knocked out of me, and there was an ominous pain in my side, but I was alive!

I commented on this fact!

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

My first move was to unhook from the glider. This was not easy because I was, as I have mentioned, a few feet above the ground. I have no idea how I accomplished this, but I finally did managed to unhook and drop to the ground. I replaced my glasses, which had been pushed down my face. I squirmed out of my harness. Then for no reason that I can imagine, I took out my logbook and made an entry. Perhaps I wished to impose some measure of normality on a situation that was anything but normal. This logbook entry sits here before me:

"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!"

Finally 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. 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.

How interesting. That 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.

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 -- 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 I can only describe as first-hand experience! There was no way they could hope to find me from the ground. I had no food, no water (my plastic bottle had cracked open on impact), no radio, and no way to start a fire. If I was going to be rescued, I would have rescue myself.

There was also a 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 glider. My rational, I think, was that I did not want it to mislead potential searchers. I would try to walk out with the glider, abandon it if I couldn't carry it with me, and then, if I still couldn't make any progress, I would crawl back to the glider, spread the wing 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 my glider behind.

This must seem ridiculous. The brush was so thick that I had to tie it out of the way with my helmet, harness bag, and sail ties. Then I had to partially disassemble the glider to break it down. How could I ever have hoped to carry it with me?

I crawled downhill because that was the only direction that was possible. Any other direction was out of the question. Also, I recalled a brief glimpse of what I hoped was a settlement in that direction. It's fortunate that I chose to break down my glider. 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. I would push it ahead of me, crawl along the bag, then roll off into the brush and push the wing ahead of me again. 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. It was more like swimming than walking. It took me five minutes to advance six feet. When I gave up and turned around, I found it almost impossible to get back to the glider, even though it was only a few inches away from my outstretched fingers.

I wasn't exactly scared. 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? Where was the clearing that I thought I had spotted from the air?

After an hour, during which I cannot have managed to crawl more than 200 yards, I encountered a glass jug. I did not find this very reassuring. True, the jug was a sign of civilization, but its implications were ambiguous. This was all secondary growth, 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.

Then I encountered some beer cans. Better yet, they were ALUMINUM beer cans. This was more like it! If these cans were made of aluminum, they could not be much more than two decades old. I pressed on, and soon I burst out of the brush onto a jeep trail.

I lay on the trail for several minutes, with my glider half in and half out of the brush, trying to recover my strength. Then I crawled to my feet, abandoned my gear, and limped down the trail. Once again, I chose to head downhill. 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 was an ancient picnic table. This was the `settlement' I had seen from the air.

No picnicers were in evidence.

I thought for a moment, then limped back to my gear and dragged it down to the table. I could not carry the glider any farther and this seemed like as good a place as any to leave it. I would take my harness with me, since it contained equipment that might be useful, but I would leave the glider with a note 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:

"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 was not entirely without resources. While I did not have a compass, I had an altimeter, which could be used for navigation. I had a pen and the back of my logbook in which to make a map. I had plenty of warm clothes, a toolkit and knife, and the harness and helmet might be good for something. Also, the existence of a jeep trail implied the existence of jeeps. I wold hike up the trail and see where it lead. Surely I could not be more than an hour or two from civilization.

Soon I came to a fork in the trail. I marked this fork on my map along with its altitude, then I scratched an arrow on the ground and left a pile of rocks as a marker. I turned left because this was downhill - a direction that had much to recommend it - and continued until 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 headed back up the hill to try the other fork.

During the next two hours I found two more forks in the trail. I marked each one on the ground and in my map, with notes to record the altitude and direction of slope. That meant a total of three forks and five trails in all. Each and every one of those trails lead to a dead end.

I was mystified. These were jeep trails, but did not appear to go anywhere. There did not appear to be any way in or out. 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?

Neither explanation seemed plausible.

There was another explanation, considerably more likely. Perhaps 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 serious 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. I had only been missing for two hours. Surely this was not long enough for a search to be organized.

I was correct. As I found out later, mine was not the only adventure of the day. The helicopter was carrying my friend D_ to the hospital.

I listened to the sound of rotors fade into the distance. Whatever its mission, the helicopter could not help me. Then I returned to my map. Perhaps it contained a clue. I had explored five dead ends. According to my notes, four of these dead ends 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.

I slogged back up the trail to this final cul de sac and examined it closely, to discover that it was not a cul de sac at all. What I had thought was the end of the trail was actually a large fallen tree. It was a substantial obstacle, but nothing compared with my desperate crawl through the brush. A brief scramble got me over the rtree and back on the trail. Another quarter hour of marching brought me to a forest service road.

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 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. I had 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. I had 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 could not help our relationship with the local landowners. It might even put some pressure on the site. If so, the pilot community would not be pleased. I did not have much 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, 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. I come out of the clouds WAY back in the valley. There was no way I would ever have made it out to the beach. 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 thought. (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 feeet (!!!) 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. If I had somehow managed 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 thought I was north of the LZ - and limped down the shoulder of Route 1. Then I rounded a corner to receive my final shock. 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.

Suppose I had turned a few degrees more, or a few degrees less? This could easily have happened. In the former case I would have emerged miles offshore. In the later, I would have crashed downwind into some nameless ridge far back in the coast range.

Neither of these possibilities was particularly comforting.

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 (I counted) 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 ("Harold!" "Quick, Esmerelda! Get the old .45 I used to carry back during the Fillipino Insurrection!")

That left the two burly guys in the Mustang convertible with Ohio license plates. This seemed promising. They have little reason to fear a lone stranger, and tourists from Ohio 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?'

I could tell they were not entirely sure they could believe me, but my two nameless rescuers were still willing to give me a ride. I never learned 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 Ohio with a tale to tell.

The ambulance was not actually waiting for me. It had come here for D_, who had been rotored in to Sand Dollar LZ, suffered a concussion, and been airlifted to a hospital for observation. But the crew of the ambulance were getting ready to wait for me.

There's not much more to tell. I collected D_'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. 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. If anyone needs a spare nose cone for a Sport 150E Full Race, I know where you can find one. I've even got a map...

...Sunnyvale, 1998