My heart can’t stop racing. Up until now, I’ve been enjoying idyllic lake views while sipping the crisp white wines of the Finger Lakes region. But now, I’m on my way to Harris Hill in Elmira, New York, where I will be taking a glider ride over the lush region. Logically, I know that this is an incredible way to see the region, but I can only think of the fact that a glider is a plane with no engine. I’m a bit of a nervous flyer. Ronald Ogden, the Director of Marketing and Development for the National Soaring Museum, must sense my jittery movements and sweaty palms as he greets me and walks with me over to the runway. He gives me a brief history of gliding and assures me that they have been doing this for a long time. Established in 1937, the Harris Hill Soaring Corporation is the Soaring Capital of America. So, they know what they’re doing. I walk up to the two-seater glider on the runway and my pilot, Wayne, is sitting inside. He greets me and tells me to hop in – the front seat. I’m more of a back of the roller-coaster type of girl, but that doesn’t seem to matter in this case since there’s only two seats and he’s the pilot. Wayne gives me a quick run-down of the control panel in front of me. I am assured that I won’t have to do anything except enjoy the view. He will be in full control. A small tow-plane (with engine) pulls up and a cord is pulled out from the back and is attached to the front of the glider. A crew member lowers the glass dome that contains myself and Wayne inside, and I realize that this is not the time to be claustrophobic. In what seems like a highly-efficient minute, we have been safety checked and are ready to go. The panicky feeling in my belly takes a backseat to my overwhelming urge to take photos of the take-off. As we’re towed down the runway, we start to lift and we’re up in the air in no time. The experience of lift-off physically takes my breath away. I’m excited and exhilarated and we’re barely 30 seconds into the ride. We are carried up to 4000ft and the cord that attaches us to the tow plane is released and it zips beneath us and flies back down to the ground.
I think to myself, “This is it. We’re up here alone”, and then I realize that it’s…quiet. And, it’s peaceful. And this is as close as I’ve ever come to feeling like I’m actually flying. Properly flying. Not in a loud buzzing and bumpy jumbo jet, but like an actual bird. A combination or nerves and adrenaline breaks my moment of pure awe for what I’m experiencing because I realize that I’m chatting Wayne’s ear off. He humours me but encourages me to enjoy the view outside of the camera lens — and so I put the camera down.Every once in a while, he tells me to stick my hand out of a tiny window opening to my left to blow refreshing cold air on my face. Even though I’m no longer scared, this quick blast of cold air is a good reminder to ease up on the adrenaline and to just enjoy the ride.
We manage to find “lift”, which is air that gives us an upward push on the wings and we move into a right turn and start climbing. We make it up to 5000ft! We’re higher up than where we started from and we didn’t use an engine to get us there. Twenty minutes, and many incredibly lush scenic views, have passed and this ‘scaredy-cat’ has been up in the air the longest of all the gliders. Wayne manoeuvres us into position for landing and we approach Harris Hill where we took off. We come down gently onto the runway in the smoothest landing that I have ever experienced. I may not ever fully understand the science of aviation, but I am completely enamored by this experience of soaring in a majestic glider.
This glider ride was experienced on a trip with Mark Twain County. I take full responsibility for my inability to stop talking about this incredible soaring experience at Harris Hill.
The writer was a guest of Steuben County Conference & Visitors Bureau. The tourism board did not review or approve this article.