Caroline Paul has written four books, including Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Fighting Fire, and The Gutsy Girl. Here, Paul shares her experience of paragliding over Owens Valley in the Eastern Sierra:
Famed as L.A.’s water source, Owens Valley is also legendary for its unruly thermals, which can give flight to long-held dreams. I traveled to the Owens Valley to finally fly the notorious thermals. I wouldn’t be the pilot—that job fell to Dave Turner, U.S. Paragliding team member, California distance record holder, and founder of Sierra Paragliding. Soon Dave and I were staring over the valley floor from the flanks of the White Mountains. Dave explained how the heat and particular topography could bring about flights that lasted for hours. In the right conditions, expert pilots reached altitudes of 17,000 feet, while the less skilled got hurt. By now the Owens Valley that lurked in my mind was transformed. Ahead of us was the Owens River, sucked into a thin thread by Los Angeles and its need for water, and I could just glimpse the northern end of the shrinking Owens Lake. Yet from the air, the land appeared indomitable, indifferent to our human squabbles and rapacious ways. I’ll be here long after you’re gone, it seemed to say. I didn’t doubt it. “Feet out!” Dave called. I reluctantly obeyed, and we touched down.