Touching the Clouds

by a young pilot (name withheld by request)

Ever since I was a two years old I wanted to touch the clouds. For most this would be an insanely impossible dream, but not for me. I'd like to continue this by saying I have magical powers. However, my story is about adventures almost as cool as magic. My story is about flying, and not turning into birds or something. I fly gliders.

Most gliders are small fiberglass airplanes, without engines but with long wings. They are pulled into the air by a regular small plane, and then when the glider has become high enough, the pilot of the glider pulls the release, to drop the rope. You fly around; it's like a race, trying to find the thermals, which hurl you up to the high altitudes, where the clouds are. Once you find a thermal you have to try to stay with it, turning and turning. On top of it all you have to know the area. It's not enough to know how to fly. You have to know where to fly, so you don't get lost and you can return to your airport. You can't get too close to major cities or airports, because you will interfere with air traffic control. It is best to fly in rural areas, where you can land in the enormous fields if there is ever a problem.

Even though there are obstacles, glider-flying is the thrill of a lifetime. When you look down on the world, it looks like a topographic model or a very detailed picture. You can see each miniature car on the highway, the houses with the pools in the backyard, the school with the baseball diamond, the bright blue lakes, and the colorful forests in the autumn. When you look anywhere, except for down, you see the big, white, puffy clouds. Cumulus clouds are flat on the bottom and round and lumpy on the top. The cirrus clouds are thin, streaky, and almost non-existent. You can see every little and big aspect of life in western Massachusetts. It is beautiful.

I've been going up in the gliders since before I can remember. I had to wait out the entire first two years of my life on the ground, before my dad would take me up. My dad belongs to a glider club, MITSA (MIT Soaring Association), and he owns his own glider, which is named UC (Uncle Charlie).

I've lived my whole life at the airport. In fourth grade, my cousins attacked me with branches, and made me drop my ice cream from the little "mom and pop" restaurant at the small airport, in Sterling, Massachusetts. In sixth grade I was riding on the back of a golf cart, which was used to pull the gliders around the fields, and as I was changing my position, the driver sped up. I flew off the golf cart, broke my arm, and earned myself an impressive cast, which for the next three weeks I convinced everybody that I was crazy. Several times, I'd sit in the car reading a magazine, doing homework, snacking, and listening to my Discman while watching the small planes and gliders soar into the air. I've grown to know the other members of the club, wear the t-shirts, and join the members for dinner at Barber's Crossing. I grew to love life on the airport and in the air.

Every time my dad woke me up and asked me if I'd like to go to the airport with him, I immediately would respond with, "Can I touch the clouds today?" and his response would always be, "We'll see." When I'd get to the airport, sometimes, I'd lie down and watch the clouds slowly creep over to the horizon, with more clouds to follow them. I'd watch the birds and the planes swim through the air always trying to reach a destination that nobody knows. Up in the air they had all the freedom anybody could ever dream of. One could look in every direction possible, and see for miles and miles on end. One could fly anywhere, in any direction and able to do anything, having total control and never any barriers to stop you.

On Columbus Day I had plans to go to the airport with my dad and a family friend, Matt De Saro. That morning, around nine o'clock, my dad woke me up to tell me that it was too windy to go flying that day. He worked his way through my messy room, and I fell back asleep, tears welling up in my eyes, and an attitude much too sad for that sunny day. A little over an hour later I awoke again to my dad's voice. "Do you still want to go flying today? The wind died down. Hurry up, if we are fast we'll get there in time for both you and Matt to fly!" Immediately I jumped out of bed and before I knew it, the fifty-minute car ride was over and I was at the airport again, home sweet home.

I watched as my dad and another club member inspected one of the two-seaters and got ready to bring it to the runway. I helped walk it over, and I patiently waited as they adjusted the seat pads. I leaped into the backseat of the cockpit, and attempted to fasten the complicated seatbelt. It had taken me years to master the stiff and complex clasp, and as I grabbed the straps, I was vexed to notice that they had gotten new seatbelts. I could have killed them for that. I stretched my feet out and realized that where, at one time, there had been plenty of room for my tiny feet, they now firmly pressed against the pedals on either side. I immediately got excited and told my dad that I was tall enough to really fly now. My dad got in the front seat of the cockpit, the canopies were closed, and the motor of the tow plane started to grumble. The glider started to roll forward and before I knew it we had floated up, a foot, three feet, three hundred feet, up and up. Suddenly, my dad told me "We're high enough to pull the release." I grabbed at the small yellow handle and the yellow rope dropped. We were free, no longer attached to the world. I peered down at the highways, lakes, schools, towns, neighborhoods, farms, and the rock quarry, which I now recognized from the air so well. My dad taught me one more thing important when flying: keep the horizon at the same level. We practiced some turns. I alone moved the stick to the right, and simultaneously pressed the right pedal. The stick controls the ailerons and the elevator, the pedals control the rudder. Then I slightly and slowly pulled the stick to the back and to the left to hold the plane in the turn. All at the same time I had to make sure I was keeping in line with the horizon. I kept on doing more turns. We were turning and turning, getting higher and higher. Most people would have gotten nauseous from this experience, but I was used to it.

It was beginning to get stuffy in the cockpit, so I stuck my hand out the little window to direct some air into the plane. After a few seconds of holding my cupped hand slightly out the window, it suddenly became cool and moist. I realized that the wetness in the air was a wisp of a cloud, which had gotten lost from the big ones. Suddenly, I felt I was up in the clouds myself, living with the "Carebears", or maybe some Greek gods. The world was mine. I had experienced the ultimate high, or should I say the ultimate height. I had touched the clouds.

Later that night, I announced to my parents, that in the spring I would begin flying lessons. I am fifteen now, and ready to start, since fourteen is the legal age to solo. I could escape from the world myself. Soon, I would be up in the clouds alone, the world would be mine, and mine alone. Now that I've touched the clouds, I have gone from being a child, to an adult. I passed the first stage in my life, I reached my first goal, and as each new stage of my life approached me I know there will always be another cloud to touch.

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