I am a mother. I am not supposed to put myself into peril on purpose.
But Rio was no ordinary place.
Rio was an oven–An extraordinarily hot one full of frenzy, passion and anticipation. The topography alone made us dizzy. The smells and sounds were heady and unexpected. The entire city was one big dramatic multi-dimensional stage. No question about it. Rio was as intoxicating as it’s Caipirinha
So yes, I hobbled all over it, bum knee and all, with my husband and 3 children. It felt like we were always looking skyward. Actually, it’s impossible not to look up. In Rio everyone looks up. So, It’s only natural to start travelling up too.
So we began our day with Marco, a sweaty aggressive yet jovial guide. He drove us up and up and up. Carsick from the switchbacks and the brusque Brazilian driving we all ascended.
We made it to the top of the rainforest for the chance to be with Christ the Redeemer. This was no easy pilgrimage. And Marco cut every single line to get us their quickly. He was a machine and we loved him for it. Then at the tippy top, close enough to Christ to touch him. Marco suddenly fell prostrate to the ground and yelled for my camera in order take our family portrait with Christ.
This skyward journey to be so close to Christ landed us up above the clouds. So of course one had to lie on the scorching hot concrete in order to even attempt to capture this magical moment of serenity and bliss.
The biblical references were swirling in my head and certainly not lost on any of us. Did they really know and expect this universal bowing down to Christ when they built this statue?
As the day progressed we all grew to trust in Marco. We listened and he led. He was not leading us astray. He proved time and again that he knew how to get us to the magical view, and how to capture it with perfection.
As we descended Sugarloaf mountain which had entailed a cable car ride up, up and way above the earth into another world of clouds and Gods, we came across a man touting the wonders and joys of hang gliding, Marco said, “yes, very good”. “Rio is hang gliding Cap-it-AL of the world. Very good.”
And that was all it took.
I signed up on the spot, much to the chagrin of my family. Half of me was thinking “I’ll chicken out” “I won’t do this.” In the end, my hang gliding story will end with just the possibility of having done it. And that will be enough.
But the other half of me was saying, “why the heck not?” (that was the Rio part of me taking over).
Meanwhile my husband was not even in the zip code of thinking it was a good idea and our kids are all too young. Apparently one must be over the age of 16 to do something this insane. But my husband knew better than to try to talk me out of it. He had seen this movie before and he knew better than to try and fight it.
The next day was flight day. I slept badly and woke up at 7am to put on my clothes. I made sure to put on a pair of really nice underwear in case I’d be in the hospital later. I was getting myself ready in the bathroom when the phone rang at 7:20am. I was due to be picked up at 7:30. “Hello”, “oh Hi is this Mrs. Lisa miller? “Yes this is she” “Hi this is Juan of hang-gliding company such and such and the wind is no good now”. “Can you go at 3pm today, wind much better then.”
Whew, my knotted up stomach felt a release and the relief was audible as I respond with: “No I can’t go at 3, we must go to the airport at 2:30 for our flight to Argentina.”
But then I heard it, a voice, as if coming from down the hall. But no, it was coming from my mouth actually. It was the crazy lunatic Rio half of me asking: “can we go at 12? I can go then as long as I’m back by 2:30.” There was a pause while he consulted his friend, his God, his wind-ometer, barometer, whatever it was, and then he said yes, they could “pick me up at 11am, so that you can be flying at 12.”
I get off the phone and feel like a lunatic. What is wrong with me I had a chance to get out of it and I pushed ahead anyway and practically forced them to take me out in bad wind! I must be insane. This is all Rio’s fault.
My husband takes the kids to tour the Copacabana hotel, a nice sane thing to do, while I man up to fly the insanity flag on our family’s behalf.
So there I am in the lobby sweating through my pretty underwear all alone and no sign of the hang gliding transport people. I decide to mention my predicament to the concierge.
This was a big mistake. As he tells me that the hotel cannot in any way shape or form tell me to go do this. “Many people have died last year” and the hotel is not condoning this form of entertainment for its guests. He’d be “happy to book me a surfing lesson right now though” and tells me he will be happy to send the hang gliding people away.
Hmmm…..the “transport people” will probably just kidnap me anyway, I’m in Brazil, after all”, I think, as I flood with relief again…but unfortunately, it’s the sane New York homemaker side of me that fills with relief.
While the Rio lunatic side of me says out loud “No, thank you I’m Ok” to this rational man. The new Rio me is talking once again. The lunacy is just unstoppable. So the transport finally arrives an hour late and I squeeze my sweaty self into the car in my now sopping wet “get buried in this” outfit.
The car ride to the beach is 30 min of chit chat with other similar minded, lunatics, (All of us have apparently drunk the same Kool-aid since arriving in Rio.) My inner “homemaker from New York” self is freaking out.
I then arrive at the meeting spot to meet my guy…Konrad, the one whose hands I’m putting my life into. He is utterly adorable and completely insane. He tosses me into the car and we careen up the endless switchbacks to the top of the rainforest. While on this ascent, I grip the passenger seat for dear life and try to size him up.
I also try to make myself look brave, but lose that battle. Upon hearing of his recent trip extending from China to Portugal all on a Chinese motorbike by himself, I realize I’m in the hands of a certified lunatic. Oh goody. He is clearly on drugs. He has to be.
He has a great smile though and he is supposedly a hang gliding expert. So my Rio half decides that he is going to be my person—the one I trust for the next hour of my life, with my life. My NY half is ready to back out start breathing again.
So, at the top of the mountain, inside this incredible rain forest. I pace and panic as our hang glider is placed into position. It’s exactly like the runway at JFK only these babies don’t have motors, hmmmm…. or seats…or sides for that matter. It’s just 3 aluminum poles, a bed sheet fastened on top and a harness to swing from that pretends to protect. The helmet is clearly just for show. I gear up anyway into what feels like a diaper/overalls contraption and try to focus my panic into picture-taking. But why am I taking pictures when I may not be around to see them after this?
So I take a few more just out of habit then stash my camera in my overalls. Konrad brusquely tells me to clip in and hold onto his shoulder. We are suddenly next in line for take off. Not sure how that happened. I’m now smiling for the GoPro but inside I’m screaming.
Holy, holy, holy, holy and I can’t even get the swear out before we run down the ramp together. I’m prepared to start screaming my head off as my stomach drops out. I have already told Konrad to prepare for his eardrum to burst from my piercing pitch. But the most astonishing thing happens next. Instead of a stomach drop and a blood curdling scream there is just utter silence and stillness in the moment of take off. The flight takes an instant hold of me.
It’s as if someone hit the mute button on the whole wide world. My breath is literally taken away from me as I feel my self floating and flying. It is surreal. I don’t feel panic at all now. I just feel grateful, amazed and peaceful. I am in awe. The views are breathtaking and I feel that I’m inside the scenery. Konrad asks me to steer us so I just…..do.
When my kids and husband saw me back at the hotel their first reaction was as if seeing a ghost. Perhaps they had feared my lunacy more than they had let on.
But Back in New York they watched the go-pro video footage and saw the in flight pictures. And they know I pushed through a mountain of panic and fear to soar like that (I’m a terrible flier who freaks at turbulence and take-offs on an Airbus).
But the message was loud and clear, Rio clear: If you face your fears kids, and don’t let them win, then you can do just about anything. Life is what you make of it.
Make it count.