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story.lead_photo.caption A hang gliding experience at Wallaby Ranch gives participants a whole new perspective on central Florida. - Photo by Wallaby Ranch/AP

I wouldn't consider myself a daredevil. However, I do say yes to a lot of things, and I'd like to think I'm generally open to new experiences. After all, I do enjoy discovering new opportunities that come my way. So when I was presented with the question, "Do you want to go hang gliding?" I was immediately interested.

On a recent sunny morning, I found myself driving south on Interstate 4, headed for Wallaby Ranch in Davenport, Fla. It's about 45 minutes southwest of downtown Orlando, a few exits past Disney.

It's not too far from the rest of Orlando and its theme park attractions, but upon arriving, Wallaby Ranch feels like its own world.

The only other open-air flying experience I've had was riding in a hot air balloon. Even when that happened, I felt the butterflies in my stomach as we took off.

Those feelings never set in leading up to my hang gliding take off. Rather than anxiety and fear, I felt excited, at peace and secure.

It certainly helped to have an experienced pilot. Malcolm Jones, who founded Wallaby Ranch in 1991, estimates that he has been on roughly 38,000 hang-gliding flights.

The ranch was the first of its kind, utilizing aerotowing for easier hang-gliding instruction. With aerotowing, a plane tows the glider up to about 2,000 feet before the glider is released into the sky.

Being so high up didn't feel scary or overwhelming. It just felt peaceful and incredibly freeing. Having so much flying experience under his belt, Jones was able to articulate how hang gliding feels for him.

"It's ethereal, it's a real feeling of freedom. And you get that sort of innate feeling that you're somewhere you're not supposed to be," Jones said. "It's just odd that you can be flying around like that."

Humans aren't supposed to be able to fly, but hang gliding really does make you feel like you belong in the sky.

"You're in the same position as a bird, and you become very unaware of the wing," Jones said. "It's just you."

Once we were released from the tow plane, Malcolm gave me some instructions and had me take over control of the glider. I found it to be fairly intuitive — just pushing arms in and out to control turns and speed.

In the air, the glider never hits more than 25 or 30 miles per hour. It's very serene, just gliding through the air. You can even have a conversation while 1,500 or 2,000 feet up.

As we soared down from more than a quarter mile high, I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. I loved looking around and changing my perspective on central Florida — literally.

I was just trying to soak up every moment of my time above the Earth while I could. Before I knew it, we were back on the ground.

"Oh, that was awesome," was all I could manage to say, and that stupid grin never left my face.

Travel on 03/03/2019

Print Headline: Hang gliding brings smile unchanging

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