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A STIRRING OF SUMMER - by Greg Hamerton - 25th August 2001

To do justice to the sweet memory of that day, I must begin where all good stories should, at the gate to the farm, which is the beginning. For it was there that the magic began for me, it was there that I wound the window down and smelled the shadows of the avenue that forms the approach to Simonsberg. I would have been content with the drive alone, up through the towering pine forests that hide the winding way to takeoff. But the day had much more than scenic wonder in store for us.

Ort: Franschhoek
 
Emerging on the launch site, we found only a breath of wind, which varied from the back face to the front without a care. We soaked up the sun. The sky was blue, the grass was green. Life is simple, on the hill. The air held the breathless anticipation of our dreams.

Joe's glider is up! he's running, he's running, it's skew he's running it's skew he's runnning it's down. Bummer. We pretend to look elsewhere as he bunches his glider. It's not flyable yet. Joe's glider is up, he's running, it's collapsed he's running it's collapsed he's running it's down. Bugger.

Then a puff from the north, and my friend Craig is off. He thinks he's alone, but when he does his first turn, he meets my grinning face. Mark is quick on my tail. We three scrabble to find the thermals amongst the leeside eddies. All idle thoughts are blown away in the rush of wind. My hands grip the brake lines tighter, concentration narrowed to a fine line of lift which pulls along my leading edge.

A clatter of rocks from behind heralds Joe's third launch. Buggerbugger. His glider just isn't behaving, and seems to be taking great pleasure in inflicting a year's worth of Sods Law on him in one weekend. Worlds apart, he and I in that moment - groundrage only metres away from pure freedom. I know the tables will turn, and I'll be picking my glider from the bushes one day soon, but just then it is my time to be a bird.

Tucking in close to the cliffs yields an unsteady elevator to the top floor. Cresting the peak and topping out above it is nothing short of spectacular. The panoramic view begs classical music at full volume - everywhere I look there is the rumpled earth, and I'm high above it all, in the middle. Well, I blew all the film in my camera in five feasting minutes. But that was not all the day had in store for us.

I'm not sure what it is that makes me want to fly xc. If I'd been born a gerbil I'd be the one that runs all night on that wheel, going on an adventure. When I get to the top of the thermal, I want to go somewhere, anywhere, wherever I can go. So I set off to the end of Simonsberg, built up a bit of height there, and went on an ambitious glide across the gap to the distant mountains. The wind whispered through my altimeter. The ground slid past my shoes. My stomach tightened as my glide progressed - it didn't look as if I was going to make the crossing.

I could not have come in any lower. I hung against the nodding grass-heads where the first rocks jutted from the gentle lower slopes. The cliff deflected the fickle currents upwards, the sun was full on the slope. With each climbing turn, how my spirit soared. The mountain transformed into a complex sculpture of spires and gullies and gorges. We were in the Alps, or the Drakensberg. And yet the best was still to come. Above me loomed a massive cliff face. Just another few turns, and I'd be there, two more, one. And I was there.

Every time I flew back in towards the cliff face, in tight beneath the mighty overhang, I let out a whoop of joy. Mark surely heard my voice echo off that towering wall as he came in beneath me, and then Craig was there as well. We all three felt the vertigo and thrill that fills the air like etheric sunlight. Climbing this wall with rope and chalk must be a truly terrifying and spiritual experience. That moment of facing my shadow upon the craggy face was a moment wherein music is born, a moment that feeds the very passion for living, deep in the roots of my being.

To write but a bare paragraph to recount the flight that was born upon that ascent, is maybe the best way to end this tale. For then you will know that there was much more about the flight than can be told in all of these words.

From the peak I worked my slow way eastwards, deeper into the mountainous southern border of the Franshhoek valley. Two low saves left me with memories of yellow daisies scattered upon secluded slopes. From Franschoek Peak I ran along the east ridge to the launch site, then back along the northern border of the valley again, heading into the lowering afternoon sun and the cooling shadows. The Tour de Franschhoek ended upon a grassy field on the outskirts of town, near where Mark and Craig had landed on the way in. And so the day faded into greens and golds, at the gate to a farm, which was the end.

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