Nick Coltrain

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June 14, 2012
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He's got a ticket to glide: For Appeal reporter, flight is Sierra morning glory

The horse trails below painted a different picture of the Sierra from what I had known by way of drives to Lake Tahoe and day hikes.

I couldn't take my eyes off the trails, spreading through the peaks and valleys, even though flight instructor Paul Hamilton probably would have preferred that I'd kept my focus on keeping the engine-powered glider straight.

We were 10,000 feet above sea level in his Apollo Trike light-sport aircraft - which he jokingly called a "motorcycle with wings" - when he let me control its wings as we drifted on the up- and downdrafts. We followed the Tahoe Rim Trail over Marlette Lake, with Sand Harbor in the background. When I looked down, the wind sneaked in under my clear-plastic visor, smearing the audio of our headsets.

On a flight I once took in a small Cessna, watching the mountains between Twin Falls, Idaho, and Elko elicited similar wonder, but even that paled to the cool mountain air two miles up during Wednesday's flight.

"Having fun?" Hamilton asked - one of many times.

I couldn't talk through my smile, so a thumbs-up sufficed.

On the way back down, a calm spot gave him reason for a more rapid descent, twirling us against about two G-forces and forcing blood into my face in ways I was far from used to.

Soon enough, we were back in Washoe Valley, racing cars down the highway, skimming the ground with only 3 feet separating it from our wheels. That was another rush - and one unmatched by hitting triple digits on long-asphalt straightaways (not that I've ever done that, deputies).

A pelican rested in the lake below.

And then we went up and over the hills north of the airport, over a group seeking their own exhilarations with an about-to-launch hang glider.

About an hour after takeoff, we landed, snapped photos and did the glad-handing thing. Airport Manager Tim Rowe joked about whether I had to spit the bugs out of my teeth.

And I kept on grinning, waiting to brag to co-workers about how my morning was way better than theirs.

Though in retrospect, it did have one downside: Racing groundbound down U.S. 395, warm wind in my hair, is now a sad mimicry of the cool mountain air sneaking in under my visor during a 2-G drop.

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The Nevada Appeal Updated Jun 27, 2012 06:54AM Published Jun 14, 2012 04:03AM Copyright 2012 The Nevada Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.