Sketched May 8, 2013
“Are you thinking of flying today?”
When Marc Chirico asked the question, I mumbled: “Er… I wasn’t planning to.”
Chirico, who runs a paragliding school at the foot of Tiger Mountain in Issaquah, has a long resume in the sport. He has participated in international competitions and once flew 65 miles between Chelan and Odessa in Eastern Washington — a state record.
He also has a knack for making people feel at ease. He welcomed me atop his “eagle’s nest” with a fresh cup of coffee and an extra jacket in case I was cold.
The 4-story high platform overlooks a grassy field where pilots land next to the Issaquah-Hobart road. It is the latest addition to Seattle Paragliding, the training center Chirico has operated from this converted farm for more than a decade.
The grounds also include a sloping hill where I watched pilots practice take-off and landing. Tom Keefer was one of them. He said the more you practice here, the better prepared you are when you fly.
Meeting Keefer and Chirico’s other students helped me realize this may not be the sport for daredevils I imagined.
Keefer, 61, is a retired Metro bus driver who has flown solo 57 times. Nancy Colton, a 50-year-old massage therapist, was excited about completing her fourth solo flight and looking forward to her fifth the following day. She said she still gets scared, but the desire to fly is stronger.
If they could do it, why not me?
By the time Chirico mentioned the 4:45 p.m. shuttle service to the launchpads at Poo Poo Point, the idea of a tandem flight was sounding less intimidating.
The shuttle driver is someone very dear to Chirico, a man named Mike Miller who was born with celebral palsy. Chirico called him up and he joined us atop the eagle’s nest long enough for me to do a quick sketch of him.
While many take the shuttle up to the Poo Poo Point launchpads, others prefer to hike. That was the case of Michael Peña, a sporty-looking fellow I sketched moments after he landed. Peña, who has practiced the sport in Costa Rica and Mexico as well, said Tiger Mountain is one of the most scenic places for paragliding he knows.
With permission from the Department of Natural Resources, Chirico built the trail that goes up to Poo Poo Point and the launchpads that paragliders use to jump. The process of building the launchpads started in 1990, he said. It required bringing excavators to level the terrain and installing runways of Astro Turf. Today, Poo Poo Point has become a community treasure, said Chirico. It is the “country club of paragliding.”
After watching about a dozen pilots take off, I took up Chirico’s offer to fly a tandem with him. Talk about gaining a new perspective!
He strapped my harness to his and I followed the steps: “Three, two, one, run …. and torpedo!”
A burst of wind lifted the featherweight wing and we soared into the sky.
A few minutes later, as the warm air of a thermal propelled us, I pulled out my sketchbook and drew Mount Rainier with my feet dangling in the sky.
“Can you feel the heat,” Chirico asked.