For most beginners it’s simply the landing area, where one celebrates a successful flight. They call it the official landing zone. No dramas there.
For experienced pilots it’s simply a place they end up landing at occasionally. They don't call it anything. No dramas there either.
But for majority of pilots, those with a bit more experience but not quite there yet, it’s the "shameful place", the place for losers, the place for those who can’t do it, and the place you want to avoid at any cost. If staying up in the air is the “PG Heaven”, then the bomb-out is the “PG Hell”. When you hear these pilots talk of the bomb-out, their noses move up and to the side like it’s dog shit are talking of.
I’ve landed in the bomb-out of every single site I've flown from so far and many, many others; some nice and some so hairy they couldn't be called a landing place at all. Regardless of how far I’ve flown; if the day still had some juice in it when I’ve decked it, in my eyes, I've bombed.
What would we do without bomb-outs? Certainly not flying. So, the bigger they are, the better. I’m grateful for each and every one of them.
Bombing out is a part of the game. Brings adventure and humbleness to the sport. Imagine not being able to bomb out, being able to fly in any direction and staying up in the air for as long as you wanted. You may say, “Yeah, bring it on!!!” Birds do it, but hey, they do not have the Ego. Mate, would my Ego boast!
The hardest thing for the Ego is actually not the fact that you've bombed. The worst thing is standing there and looking up at all the other pilots still flying, even if it’s just a single one. “They/he/she must be better than me”, says the evil voice inside the head. It’s the never ending comparing with others.
I've been listening to this voice for 17 years now and regardless of how good the flight was, if there’s a single pilot still above my head after I’ve landed, the “what if” voice will start chattering away. I've become accustomed to it and as long as I don't identify myself with it, it doesn't bother me much anymore. It’s there and it’s doing what it always does: trying to annoy the hell out of me.
Coming back to bombing-out… It’s a process, like anything else, and it can be either a painful or a great experience.
Let’s have a look at the painful, emotional one first.
For most pilots, the process starts way before they've even launched. It may be a light day. The cycles are inconsistent and weak and pilots are waiting for someone to sacrifice himself and play the “wind dummy”, especially if the day was forecasted to have good XC potential. People want to fly but the “threat” of bombing out is looming in the back of their thought process. It’s the so-called negative focus. This negative focus of wanting to avoid bombing sets the tone for the whole episode. You know the old Instructor’s saying: “If you don’t want to land in the tree, don’t look at the tree”.
Trying to avoid something puts that same thing in our focus and on a subconscious level we are stepping into the exact scenario we are trying to avoid.
The catch is always in our (negative) expectations (or goals if you want). This is where we come off track. Every expectation carries a seed of disappointment inside. Now, some people are talking about positive expectations and negative expectations. There’s a whole world of literature out there that talks about visualisations and creating our world and so on and so forth. In my experience it does work this way but the biggest issue is that what people call positive expectations carries a whole iceberg of negative expectations underneath the surface.
As long as we don’t deal with expectations in general and in depth, this whole positive thinking stuff is nothing but a nice facade over a rotten wall.
Here comes the usual scenario:
1. I come to a hill because I want to fly.
(Recognize a goal or an expectation in me wanting to fly? That’s just how it is and no philosophising will make it any other way.)
2. I check the conditions and… it’s flyable. Cycles are coming up the hill. I set up and get ready but I want to make sure I can stay up in the air. So I’m waiting and I can feel the tension building up. I’m waiting for something strong enough to show me I can stay in the air. I want to fly.
3.There’s a strong enough bubble coming up the face and I take off. In the air I realize the bubble is just small enough so that I cannot make a decent circle.I keep falling out of it. So I decide to move on.
4. I’m searching for something else while noticing that I’m losing altitude. I need to find something fast or I’ll need to head out towards the bomb out. “Come on! Give me something!”
5. I keep hitting small bubbles but none of them is big enough. I keep losing height. “Nooo. Not again!”
6. Now I need to start flying towards the bomb out. I know there’s a thermal trigger on the way there so I fly the line that’s going to put me in the position to make the most of it. By this time my focus is already on the landing approach.
7. I’m over the trigger and the vario starts beeping. Again the bubble is very small and since I’m low and already getting ready to land I keep flying towards the bomb out.
8. I’ve landed in the bomb out. I look up and I see other pilots circling up there above the launch. I’m not happy to be here. The thought process inside my head goes something like: It’s a hot day, I hate packing in the sun, my car is still up there, why me? Etc.
Suddenly the fun of paragliding is just a dream again, for others to enjoy, and I’m down here, sweating in the sun and not sure of what would be the best option to get back up the hill. Maybe call someone, but they are probably just setting up for take off. It’s an hour walk up. Shit!
But it’s my “lucky day” and a friend is there only 10 min after to take me back up the hill.
You probably know this scenario. I’ve definitely been there many times…
Let's have a look at an alternative:
1. I come to a hill. I know one can fly off it. I fly paragliders and I have one with me.
2. I look around me and feel the air in my face. It’s a great day. I can see butterflies flying around me and hear birds singing. It smells nice.
3. I take my paraglider out, set up and sit down. It’s hot and the sun is making me blink.
4. I’m calm. I’m taking it all in. Suddenly two butterflies make a spiralling flying dance in front of me and I feel that I’d like to join them in the air.
5. I stand up, get ready to launch, wait for the well known feeling of the air coming up the face at the back of my neck, pull the glider up and take off.
6. I’m feeling the day is slow. Bubbles are small. Feels like staying up is going to be a good challenge.
7.There’s one that feels nice. I’m falling out of it but I keep flying in and around it.
8.There’s a falcon circling not too far away. I leave the bubble and head there.
9. On the way there I hit a lot of sink and need to correct my line of flying. I come there too low to be able to make anything of the bubble the falcon is circling in. I say hi to the falcon and keep flying.
10.Trees are really green today and the landing area has a nice shine to it.
11. I’m getting low and head towards the landing paddock. I see a nice bowl on the way there and decide to fly over it. Who knows…
12. A bubble greets me over that bowl, where the green has a really dark and old colour. I start circling over that beautiful place and take it all in. Life is good when up in the air.
13. The bubble is dissipating and I continue towards the landing area.
14. I land. The grass at the paddock is greeting me, as are those birds still flying up and around. I look up and see other pilots flying. I say to them: Good on ya guys. Go for it!” I smile to myself, pack up, sit down some more and lean against my backpack. It’s a good day.
When I feel like moving again I stand up and just as I get to the road my friend is there to take me up the hill again.
Both scenarios end up at the bomb out. Which one are you choosing?
There’s no goal or expectation attached to anything in the second scenario. How many have you seen so far that are actually living their lives like this? In my life I've only met two. It’s a simple of way of living but not an easy one.
How does one get to such state of being?
Well, that's the whole point of being. One cannot get there. Remember? We are human beings, not human doings or human gettings. Being is being, not doing, not having, nor getting. One needs to start being here. Now. It's alive, this being. If we nurture it, it will grow. The more we are, the more we are.
Back to expectations...
Regardless of how much we are aware of them, it is still easy to fall into the pitfall of following them. But there’s also good news: It’s possible to recognize the symptoms once we know what to look for.
I recognize mine through a cramp in my stomach. I’m not relaxed, I’m fighting for“survival”, and in general I’m not a “happy chap” at all. We've all been there, I'm sure.
When the “Shit! Shit! ...” voice starts shouting in my head, it’s a wake up call.
I’ll check for symptoms in my body: muscle tension, breathing, body posture… Aaah, the body posture! Let’s stop here for a moment…
When I’m flying along relaxed, my back muscles are relaxed and I’m comfortably sitting back in my harness. But as soon as I’m fighting for something my upper body assumes an upright position. The head is sticking out in front of risers and definitely leading the way. If I’m NOT flying through turbulent air, that’s a pretty good sign I’m not relaxed and present anymore, but chasing something and not actually having fun. It’s easy to miss the exact point where it all starts going pear shape. But one can catch oneself doing it before it’s too late. Practice makes master.
…OK. So I check the symptoms and start getting myself back to a relax state: lean back, relax my breathing; putting a smile on my face helps too, even if I don’t feel like smiling in that moment.
Getting my attention to where it belongs: right here, right now, will automatically eliminate the negative focus of not wanting to bomb. Then, when present again, on the way to the bomb-out, I’m able to receive all those little hints of lift, Mother Nature is sending out to those able (or willing) to recognize them. Simply staying open. As long as I’m here, in the air, I’m flying, which means everything is possible. Being open is quintessential.
If one is able to remain open to all possibilities, one doesn’t need to have the whole path mapped out in all details. One makes steps naturally, when the time is right, and one knows what to do without knowing. It's a strange feeling at first.
When all odds are against me, when I’m at tree height, here comes the familiar pull accompanied by the slight increase of speed of wind in my face and the beeping sound of my vario increasing in tune with my heart beat. “Here we go! Up for another adventure. It isn’t over. Ever!!!” Even if it’s just another ride or a walk up from the bomb out or a hitch back home and meeting total strangers. Or a night spent sleeping out under the skies in a middle of nowhere, wrapped in my wing. It’s never over. The adventure has only just begun.