Exhilarating, Heart-Stopping, Thrilling, Amazing! All of those words come to mind to describe last weekend. I checked off one of my bucket list items. I went hang gliding!!! I wasn’t abroad or out west so how is this even possible that I hang glided in Florida since we don’t have cliffs or mountains? Just off of I-4, a hop skip and jump away from “The Mouse”, there’s a little plot of paradise called Wallaby Ranch, in Davenport, FL. Wallaby is a hang gliding mecca where people have come from literally all over the globe to learn to glide. It’s actually the first and largest aerotow hang gliding flight park in the world. By aerotow, I mean a small 1 man plane pulls the glider up into the air to 2000 feet and then you detach and glide until you make your way back down to Earth.
Here’s a play-by-play of what my morning was like:
Yawn. Alarm is blaring. It’s 6 am on a Saturday morning. Tired. So very tired. Hit snooze.
Text alert from friend that she’s on her way. Crap. I have to get up now. Who gets up at 6 am on the weekend?
Get ready. Stomach hurts. Uh oh. Bubble guts means nerves….
Having second thoughts. Maybe this isn’t a good idea.
Knock at the door. She’s here; too late to turn back now. Besides they have a zero fatality rate. It’s fine.
Driving. We chat about other things to take our minds off of it.
Crap that was it! We passed it. Turn around.
Pull up to winding road. Oh look at the sign. Cool. I need a picture.
Keep driving up the road. They direct us to park.
“Hi. You’re the blogger? You’re late!!!!”
You said come at 8. It’s 8 now.
“Winds are changing. We gotta get you up right now! Tour after.”
I’m signing my life away on waiver forms.
Getting fitted for helmet. Hand my camera to complete stranger and ask to please get some pics.
I’m getting instructed on getting into the harness. My guide climbs in after me.
I ask what’s your name? “I’m Malcolm.”
Malcolm,I’m Lauren. Please don’t kill me.
Plane is pulling our glider along the grass. I feel like I’m on a runway.
We are lifting off the ground! Am I really doing this? I can’t believe I’m doing this. I hope we can get off the ground!
We are climbing. Malcolm is explaining that we will climb to 2000 feet.
“Welcome to my office. I get to do this everyday.”
This is what a cloud feels like? Cool! It’s wet. I’m like Super Mom in real life! This is awesome. More awesome than awesome. I’ve run out of any other adjectives other than awesome because that’s what it is — Awesome!
Look at the cows down there. They are so tiny!
So this is what birds feel like? I’d never come back to Earth if I were a bird. **Singing Nelly Furtado to myself now. I’m like a bird….**
God you are amazing.
Is that my friend flying over there?
This is simply beautiful!
Pilot gives us a signal. We are at 2000 feet.
We release from the plane and we are now gliding solo!
Wait, that means there’s nothing connected to us. It’s just us and gravity?!? Ish just got real.
Whoa! I see the pilot’s halo Malcolm was telling me about! It’s our shadow surrounded by a 360 degree rainbow.
I think I might actually cry. I’ve never seen anything this awe-inspiring.
Uh Malcolm if your hands are there, who’s flying this thing?
Malcolm we didn’t discus this. Slightly freaking out.
And people think Soaring, the Epcot ride, is cool…nothing compared to this.
The ground seems to be getting closer awfully fast.
Touchdown. We landed.
I didn’t die! Thank you Jesus!
THIS WAS THE BEST DAY EVER!!!!!
It’s hard to articulate just how I felt when we landed. I was on a high. The adrenaline was pumping. My heart was racing. It was an indescribable feeling of euphoria.
I jumped on Periscope right after to live stream and try to catch my friend landing but she landed just as I got on. My original plan was to broadcast right before and leading up to getting strapped in and taking off. Because of the changing winds, we had to really hustle so I didn’t have time. I didn’t even get a chance to really be nervous or think through what I was about to do. That might have actually been a good thing afterall.
After all of the morning flights were done, we were invited to the main compound for a morning brunch. It was quite the spread of fresh fruit, veggies, eggs, ham, sausage, coffee, and tea. We chatted with Malcolm Jones, the owner, about how he got into hang gliding and he made us laugh with his laid back sense of humor. He’s had the ranch since 1991, but he’s been gliding since he was a teen. There were also people there who are either working on the ranch or who have come for an extended stay to get lessons and become pilots. It feels like a family. It was a great way to come down easily from the morning high.
Wallaby Ranch is 500 acres of beautiful open Florida scenery. There are shaded places to relax and individual cabins. If you wanted to hang out and swim, Malcom would certainly let you.
We got a tour inside the hangars where he showed us an old sea plane and the trike, a motorized 2 person hang glide with seats. It looks like a glider attached to a motor scooter. I would certainly like to try that one as well.
Even if you have done traditional hang gliding by jumping off of a cliff or mountain, the aerotow experience is still very different. Add a trip to Wallaby Ranch to your adventure list. This is also a great option for a day trip if you live locally or something to certainly add to your activity list if you are here visiting Central Florida. No roller coaster or simulated ride can compare to this experience.
Watch the videos below!
If you have any issues playing it from the embedded video you can also open it from this link.
Here are all the things you need to know to have your own Outdoorsy adventure at the ranch:
- Cost: $170 They have deals for groups or multiple lesson packages as well. Check out “Dreaming Awake at the Wallaby Ranch” for some cool footage of flights.
- Attire: People glided in everything from jeans to tank top and shorts. Just be mindful that it’s chillier up there than down on the ground.
- Reservations: You should call ahead of time. You want to make sure there’s not a large group and you will want to make sure the winds are favorable. If he tells you 8am then get there on time. There was a family that showed up during brunch after 10 and they were not able to go up because the winds had changed. Also, off season is the summer so this is good time of year to go. The cooler months is much more crowded. He can have as many as 4 pilots going up at one time on a given day. Calling will get you a much faster response than emai.
- Camera: Unless you have your own GoPro camera, pay the extra money to have them record it for you! No 2 gliding trips will be the same so even if you think you will return again, you may not see the same things you see on that trip. If you can mount it then you can wear it but you can’t have anything in your hands.
- Limitations: There’s really no set age limit. They have taken up little ones as young as 4 years old and someone who was 100 years old. There is an individual weight limit. I think it was around 245 lbs, but you should call for details if you have concerns about size.
- Pro Tip: Take off your shoes and glide barefoot. Feel the wind between your toes. I didn’t even have a chance to notice Malcom and Eric, the other instructor, were barefoot before we went up so I didn’t do that this time. Next time I will for sure. And there WILL be a next time because you know the daredevil teenager of mine wants to do it and I couldn’t bring him along this time.
Saturday, 07/25/2015 I will be having a little Periscope Watch party to watch the video footage from my flight at 11:00 AM. Join me and I will answer any questions you have about the experience!
Lauren G. , Outdoorsy Diva™
“Adventure is a lifestyle.”