Look, I’m a normal guy trying to do difficult things.
The idea is in reaction to the “that guy’s got hollow bones” comment that paragliders will say when they see a really good pilot, especially one doing better than them*. It’s the same kind of thing you’ll hear with climbers talking about Honnold’s amygdala, or race car drivers talking about [fill in the blank]’s reflexes.
Yes, those things (well, when they’re real) matter way out at the .00001% edge. That’s not me.
What I’m finding, a little to my chagrin, is that I’m a normal dude. No exceptional strength, or reflexes, or eyesight, or even hollow bones. About the only thing slightly special is I probably have a better baseline breath-hold than most people, but it’s only above average, not exceptional.
Does that mean I can’t be exceptional? No. Normal people willing to put the work in can go from normal to exceptional without leaning on any special gifts. The work is hard, it takes a long time, it’s not particularly sexy except in a one-liner retrospect, but Work is the path that leads to results.
After the third flying incident this year that was a near miss, (write up on the first, write up on the second) I’ve been thinking heavily the past two days on how I want to progress in flying. Hurtling toward a rock, hitting it with my ass and not knowing why I missed being paralyzed, then tumbling hard enough to crack my helmet has made me re-think a few things:
-the risk of getting good fast
‑what my actual goal is
‑how I should get there, as thought of by a mature human
Pilots around me have been saying that I’m pushing too hard. I was blowing that off with various rationalizations, from “they’re older and more risk averse” to “they’re not in as good of shape” to “they just don’t want to be exceptional.”
While those might all be correct, it doesn’t invalidate the core sentiment. I’ve been pushing hard, and in this case I was pushing the edge of how close to the hill I can turn. Obviously I went over that edge and just got bloody lucky. The luck and the downtime healing from concussion has led to three conclusions.
First, at the risk of getting good at a slower pace, I’m going to slow down my pushing, although I think of it more as being far more careful about the feeling I was getting of flying “loose”, which had begun to surface in my mind. I never felt like I was pushing hard. In fact, I always felt like I was being more conservative than most pilots, but I had begun to feel that I was getting sloppy with flying as I explored new territory like turning tighter.
Second, what is my goal? The big goal is to fly the spine of Baja, but like all goals that’s finite. It’s a good driver but at some point it gets accomplished, and then what? My overall goal is to enjoy the process of mastering flying. Infinite mastery takes a lot off the edge of getting good fast, which is, if I’m honest about it, dangerous.
Third is “how should I get there?” I don’t have this one answered yet fully, although as a start I’ve decided to be much more thoughtful about progression. I’ve decided to sit down and write out before launch what I want to accomplish with the flying that day, and to write down after landing what actually happened. For me as a writer that seems like the most logical thing to do; for others it may be too cumbersome.
That’s where I am now, and what I’ve learned from 3 near misses this year in a paraglider. As long as I stick to those principles, I’m looking forward to another 30 years of slow, inexorable, and safe progression, at the end of which I should be approaching the far end of “infinite mastery.”
See ya in the sky!
*to be clear, no one is saying that I’ve got hollow bones. 🙂