By Kevin Grogan
Over the past few years, I have interviewed a lot of amazing people that bring so much to our growing community. Timothy Etttridge has been on my list (to interview) for some time. Always on an epic adventure and living a lifestyle that makes the rest of us say “whoa!”, I had a lot of questions for Ettridge. Ettridge brings so much to south Lake and I can honestly say he gives just as much back. We are lucky enough to have Timothy Ettridge as our neighbor.
Tablet: From living in California, Virginia, Colorado, & Florida. Share with us how your travels have shaped the person you are today.
Ettridge: The first half of my childhood was in San Diego and the second half in northern Virginia (just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.), I went to school in Colorado for various reasons but primary among them was that I felt I just never had enough snow in my life (and I still think I don’t). I was commissioned a 2nd Lt. in the Air Force upon graduation and was immediately sent to Germany. Overseas travel was something I never thought much about before going there but, once I was immersed in it, I was delighted to make the most of it.
Over the next four years, I spent some time in every single western European nation except Portugal and Finland. Eventually, I was able to comfortably converse in German, get by in French, and limp around in Danish, and this opened up so many more doors that would have otherwise been possible. For example, my second and last assignment in the Air Force was in Iceland, where Danish is the second language. This gave me a vastly a different experience there than my fellow compatriots, as I was able to travel around on my own well off the beaten path. This has just given me the most positive view possible towards humanity as a whole. No matter where I’ve been, the underlying nature of humanity has always seemed positive.
Later in life after retiring, it was my involvement in hang gliding that lead me back to Europe again and later to Australia. Right now, coincidentally, there are 120 international pilots at a hang gliding competition going on these last two weeks of April and I’d consider maybe 20 of them good friends who I’ve met along the way in all those travels. This and the advent of the internet has allowed me to maintain true friendships all around the world. For me, I think it is one of my greatest blessings.
Tablet: When most of your peers think of Timothy Ettridge, the term that comes to my mind is “a giver”. From always helping a friend or neighbor to sharing your time & expertise, have you always been this way? Also, you are involved in so many events; volunteering and participating. Why is this important to you?
Ettridge: Both of these are all part of the same thing to me. Despite all the travel I’ve done (or perhaps because of it), I’ve long ago come to the firm conviction that any single location can be the best place on earth because it’s the community of people who make any place what it is, not the dirt, stones, or trees. So, to that end, I think it’s vitally important that everyone try to make a contribution to that community. I see that sense of wanting to add value in others and so I want to part of that source of wealth, too. If I am in fact a giver, it’s only because I think I’m just investing in the place I want to call home.
Tablet: You have started bee hives at four or five different friend’s houses around town. How did you get begin raising bees?
Ettridge: I’ve always enjoyed being involved with animals of all sorts, from the usual dogs some of us got to grow up with and later in life, ducks, geese, and even red-tailed hawks. I got into beekeeping only five years ago when I realized I miss my sense of involvement with nature. Then I met two beekeepers over the span of a few months and decided to give it a try. As odd as it may sound, I found that working bees could feel just as rewarding as it had been with other more typical animals in my past. My interest isn’t in the honey (I’ve never been one to use it. I just give away what the hives produce).
My interest is in being part of what is now an ever-expanding wave of current beekeepers who are trying to return the health of all bees back to normal after a century or more of excessive coddling by commercial beekeepers more intent on production than sustainability. Having a few hives stashed around at different locations helps with my development of healthier and stronger hives. The most fun of all, however, is getting to share in the joy and fascination that my friends are now finding learning about bees first hand from my hives and experiences.
Tablet: Talk a bit about simple living. You even have lived in a tiny house. What is that like?
Ettridge: I ended up in Florida because I had bought a trailer and parked at the hang gliding airport to use whenever I traveled down from Virginia to spend time here to fly. Then, after my daughter graduated from college and got her first job, I felt I was then free to trim down my life to the barest of necessities. I also spent a year sailing around the world as part of a yacht race and one of the most common takeaways noted among all the crew members involved was how surprised we all were to learn how easy it had been, after all, to spend a year with nothing more than what you could fit in a duffle bag. When the sailing race was over, I thought I’d just stay in my trailer in Florida as merely a temporary measure. Eventually, I grew to like the simplicity of it, but even in my typical travel trailer, I found I had far more space than I actually needed, so that played into the eventual design of a tiny house I built (8′ wide and only 12′ long).
As a single parent with a daughter, I thought she deserved to grow up in a typical house. Once she was off on her own, however, I was eager to pare down my lifestyle to the minimum.
It gives me an indescribable sense of freedom to live this simple. It’s not for everyone, but for those of us who see the value, it can be heaven.
Tablet: So you came here originally for the hang gliding. How often to you glide?
Ettridge: I like to reveal to new hang gliding friends that my first hang gliding flight was in 1974. On the surface, this seems impressive since that timeframe was the true dawn of hang gliding. Only after a short pause do I reveal that my second flight was in 1991 since I severely sprained my ankle on my first flight. By 1991 hang gliding was much safer and easier to learn. Even my daughter was flying off a 100 ft high sand dune in Kitty Hawk when she was only nine (also in 1991).
After a lot of hang gliding in spectacular sites in the States, Europe, and Australia, I’ve taken more to towing hang gliders these last three years. Changes in FAA regulations a few years ago required a tow pilot to have an actual pilot’s license. Since I did and that was a rarity among hang glider pilots, I was asked to get checked out in towing and help on the other side of the rope here in Florida since so many of the original tow pilots couldn’t tow any more. So lately I’ve been doing more of that. Although hang gliding is often considered the purest form of flight for a human being, flying an open cockpit tow plane in a t-shirt, shorts, and flip flops is quite a bit of fun, too.
Tablet: Always doing really epic stuff in my opinion. I can’t imagine you have ever slowed down too much. What was growing up like?
Ettridge: My father was a retired Air Force pilot so flying had always been part of my life. My first time in an airplane was age three in my dad’s lap in his single seat homebuilt airplane. On my sixteenth birthday, it was my pilot’s license in gliders that was the priority (which you can do at 16; for powered aircraft you must be 17). It was one week later that I finally got my driver’s license. That meant I didn’t have to ride my bike 40 miles to the glider airport anymore. So this was the style of my youth. It wasn’t until college that I took up some other activities I still do today.
Tablet: A very well respected endurance athlete as well; longtime member of Clermont’s SLAP Triathlon team & a volunteer more weeks than not at the Clermont parkrun. You certainly have a way of transforming these individual sports into something bigger. Talk about the camaraderie & the relationships you have formed in such settings.
Ettridge: This all relates to my desire to be part of and contribute to a sense of community that I mentioned above. I know several hang gliding friends who often comment that the best people they’ve ever met have only been in the hang gliding community. I can report that there is something about intensely physically involved sports (be they triathlons and endurance running or open ocean sailboat racing or hang gliding) that seems to tend to bring the best people into a community. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy them all so much. Fitness is a byproduct of triathlons, travel is a byproduct of sailing, and an unimaginable sense of awe is a byproduct of hang gliding, but I think that’s rarely what participants in these kinds of things are looking for. Common among those activities and many others like them, I would venture, is the people you come to know and cherish.
Tablet: What are some adventures on the horizon for you?
Ettridge: I’ve got Russian friends beckoning me to explore some far corner of Russia with them one more time. I’ve got New Zealand friends telling me I need to come back to hang glide and paraglide in Queenstown. Other friends in other countries have similar ideas. Such is the nature of the community of free flight. If I were to seek to travel again, those would be probably my first two choices.
My biggest goal for the moment, however, is to simply return to the full health I had merely seven months ago, back in September of ’18. That’s when I had what is normally a fatal heart attack, something I never imagined would happen to an endurance athlete like myself. I do marathons on my own for training runs sometimes. I’ve done five Ironman, two of them in the two Octobers preceding my heart attack. How could I, of all people, have a heart attack? Genetics, I’ve since learned, has as much to do with one’s chances of having one as any poor choice of lifestyle or patterns. So I’ve been very patiently working with my doctors and cardiac rehab specialists on a gentle but thorough approach to returning to full fitness and, eventually, perhaps one more Ironman. Whether it’s this fall once more or yet one more year away, that is the adventure I look forward to most.