"It's like being on the world's worst airline. It's turbulent as
hell, and you never know where you're going to land." That's how
34-year-old Will Gadd describes paragliding--but don't get him
wrong. He loves it, so much so that he's completed the first
cross-country paraglide, a journey that started in Ventura,
Calif., on May 1 and finished 48 days and some 2,700 miles later
in Kitty Hawk, N.C. "We ended in Kitty Hawk because we wanted to
pay tribute to the Wright brothers," says Gadd. "They didn't
listen to the people who said they were nuts."
Neither did Gadd, a former world-champion ice climber who started
flying nine years ago, or his five companions: two ground
"chasers," two TV crew members and a fellow pilot, Jim Grossman,
who accompanied him for about 90% of the trip. Strapped into
elliptical parachutelike wings designed to glide nine feet for
every foot of descent and using 40-pound, 12-horsepower motors to
power their ascent (all of which Gadd calls "the lowest
performance aircraft available"), the flyers could, when the
weather cooperated, launch from any patch of ground that was at
least a quarter-mile square. Once airborne they'd turn off their
motors and hunt for thermals to take them higher. "The most
important part of paragliding is learning which clouds mean good
conditions and which clouds mean bad conditions," says Gadd, who
traveled up to 100 miles on a good-weather day. "When I see a sky
filled with cumulus clouds, it's as exciting as a skier seeing
four feet of powder."
On some days the thermals were powerful enough to lift Gadd as
high as 18,000 feet at up to 2,000 feet a minute. "If you've been
in a jet and felt it bounce around, imagine what that's like
dangling in space by a set of strings and a bedsheet," says Gadd.
"It's like the hand of God grabbing you by the neck and hurling
you into the sky."
People often ask Gadd if he has a death wish. "The fact is, I
have never felt more alive than when I'm flying," he says. "You
don't do these things because they are dangerous and you want to
risk your life. You do them because they are so damned
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID E. KLUTHO Fair weather fanWhen the skies were blue and the wind was blowing just right, Gadd was able to travel up to 100 miles in a day.