Originally published in Lake & Sumter Style, July 2011 •

Have you ever wanted to soar like an eagle? Now is your chance to experience a different perspective of the outdoors… one from high above Lake and Sumter counties.

Hang Gliding: Flight of Fancy

In another life, I must have been a bird… or possibly an astronaut… or more likely an aviator. I’ve always been fascinated with flying. Where this fascination originates is anyone’s guess — everyone else in my family drives hundreds of miles to avoid any kind of air travel.

AIR • Hang GlidingCall me crazy (my husband did) but I jumped at the chance to soar 4,500 feet above Lake County in a hang glider with Lauren Tjaden, a USHPA-certified tandem instructor for Quest Air Hang Gliding and a member of the U.S Women’s Hang Gliding Team that won a silver medal in the 2006 World Championships. She inspired confidence from the minute I arrived at Quest Air’s facility on Groveland Airport Road. “Did you know,” she asked, “that modern gliders are built to withstand more Gs than airplanes?”

Nothing I’ve ever done has garnered as many questions from friends as hang gliding: Were you scared? What was it like? What did you see? And why did you want to do that?

I expected a case of butterflies or at least mild trepidation as I strapped into what looked like a hanging sleeping bag just above Lauren, but I was remarkably calm. As we rumbled toward lift off behind a light sport airplane piloted by Lauren’s husband of 25 years, Paul Tjaden, she chatted about everything we would experience and see.

“The tow is similar to being pulled up on water skis,” she explained when we felt a few slight bumps as the glider left the ground.

The higher we ascended, the smoother the air became and at 4,500 feet above ground Lauren disconnected the tow line to the plane. We were on our own!

Seeing Lake County from the air reinforced the incredible beauty this area offers. Ponds and waterways looked as if diamonds were twinkling on the surfaces, and clouds were giant puffs of whipped cream adorning the bluest sky possible. I still can’t believe I flew through them with Mylar and Dacron wings.

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“Hang gliding is the most birdlike type of flying you can do,” said Lauren, who began in 2001 as a recreational hang glider. “It offers so much enjoyment to people who like nature and is, by far, the most affordable form of aviation.”

“Discovery Flights” at Quest Air range from $125 to $225, and flight lesson packages cost between $300 and $1,600.

The reasons why people visit Quest Air are varied. Many, like me, want to experience the sensation of flying or to accomplish a bucket-list item. Others find the sport addictive, and Lauren says about 1-in-10 people sign up for lessons after the initial “Discovery Flight.”

Don’t let age be a barrier to enjoying this spectacular outdoor adventure. An 84-year-old solo pilot flies regularly at Quest Air; Lauren has taken her 77-year-old mother hang gliding; and some Villages residents are regular clients. And as a middle-aged Baby Boomer, I can attest that hang gliding was the thrill of a lifetime!

Quest Air Hang Gliding
6548 Groveland Airport Rd., Groveland, FL 34736

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