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Adventure Magazine

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There & Back
Hang Time
Name: James Burger
Destination: Lookout Mountain,
Cumberland Plateau, Georgia/Tennessee Border

Photo: ADVENTURE subscriber James Burger

Adventure subscriber James Burger, 41, runs a bond firm in West Orange, New Jersey. In addition to hang gliding, he's now added kiteboarding to his repertoire of outdoor sports.

Why I Went
I first found out about Lookout Mountain when my buddies and I were driving through Appalachia on our way to Atlanta for a bachelor party; we had actually kidnapped the groom and had him in our backseat. While we were driving down I-75, past billboards for tourist spots like Ruby Falls and Rock City, a sign for hang gliding caught our eye and we stopped. The terrain was totally different from where I trained in New Hampshire. I knew I had to fly there.

Weekend Warrior
Hang gliding is one of my passions; I go about 15 times a year, and it's pretty cheap. I invested $4,000 in my glider and rig. I throw them on top of my van with my kayak and escape for long weekends. Since conditions at Lookout at the time of my buddy trip weren't great, I went back on my own. It was a little farther away, but worth it. I had some of my best flights there ever—the air was crisp and the thermal conditions just right.

Photo: hang gliding

Perfect Moment
It was during my first flight, when I saw how rough and raw the country looked from above; the vast openness was like nothing I had experienced. It was the biggest expanse I'd ever flown. It was like "sky sailing" in a huge ocean, versus a puny lake.

Fear Factor
There's always a little tension when you take off, especially at a place like Lookout where the mountain just goes on and on. When you're launching from the mountaintop over a thousand feet up and looking out at the valley and you take those first couple steps, it's a real adrenaline rush. But once you're off, you feel nice and calm and relaxed.

I'm afraid of heights. I got my pilot's license to get over it. But in an aircraft you feel more secure, so that didn't help me. A couple of years ago, I forced myself to hang glide in Monterey. I figured, "It's so beautiful, I can do this." Then I was hooked. I found out that if wings are attached to me, I'm fine. At some point you realize it's really just a control issue. But I did crash once while I was training. My brother, Glen, who flies with me often, had to shake me out of a tree 25 feet (7.6 meters) up. I guess it runs in the family. My dad was an aviator in the 1950s. He flew his Piper Cub into a storm and got blown straight into a tree. He was OK, too.

What's Next
Brazil. A ton of Brazilians hang glide because there are tremendous places to do it outside Rio. But if you can't make it there, the new thing is powered harnesses. People want to fly in areas where there are no mountains. The motorized harness gets you up. But I think the whole idea of hang gliding is to be pure—no motor, no nothing; to be able to gain altitude on your own. It's the only way to truly feel like part of the sky. One time I was able to jump into a hot spot of thermal activity and was literally soaring with the hawks! What other sport allows you to do that?

What I Heard
The rumor is, if you go naked, the guides at Lookout—and most places—let you fly for free.

Resources: Visit the Web sites of Lookout Mountain Flight Park (www.hangglide.com), the Chattanooga Area Visitors Bureau (www.chattanoogafun.com), and the U.S. Hang Gliding Association (www.ushga.org), which has certification rules and a list of flight parks.

Additional Excerpts
From the print edition, October 2004

What It Takes: The best dream adventures you can make happen—today
Welcome to the Neighborhood: Can mountain lions and mountain bikers get along?
Secrets of the Black Hills: Granite towers, sunken caves, and singletrack abound
Pelton's World: Five things travel guidebooks never tell you

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October 2004

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