I stare out into the blackness of night, unable to sleep, but knowing the day is passing by. Every few seconds a red light flashes illuminating the wing from darkness. Today will be shorter by eight hours, which means if I don’t sleep now I am going to be worthless. I try to get in a few hours but, 2 or 3 restless hours is hardly enough. I stare out in the pre-dawn sky and see London passing by, glowing gold in the darkness of dawn. I realize I am actually over Europe and will soon be landing. As I cruise through the air, my thoughts race forward to the events that may lie ahead. Right now they are still unknown, but I meet them mentally with some fear and trepidation. I have never been off this continent….Hawaii doesn’t count. Never been to a foreign culture….again, Canada doesn’t count. But if life is about living, gaining knowledge and having new experiences…then perhaps I am on the right track.
As I look back on my life… I think I am learning to live in the moment, learning to enjoy the journey a bit more than I have in the past. Since I have learned to paraglide, learned to fly, a skill and hobby that consumes much of my energy, I have opened myself up to a new world of experiences, friends, and now memories. It is this developing love of flying that is the reason for the trip. I am on my way to Grassau, Germany for a 5 day conference with Skywalk Paragliders. They have been kind enough to invite me out to their corporate headquarters for a week. I am traveling with my friend, mentor and original instructor Jonathan Jeffries as he is one of only two Skywalk representatives for the USA.
At this point I will spare you from my boring travelog. I know nobody wants to know what I had for dinner, or what time I went to bed…after all this blog is about paragliding right?? So on to the flying.
Paragliding Austria – 2012 from DEAF Crew on Vimeo.
A day later and after spending hours in solitude walking the surrounding forest and small village several miles away, just soaking up Germany it is time to get in the air. After wandering through Skywalk’s inventory racks, piled with wings, Jonathan, Tetsu (Japan), Ian (UK), and myself grab some flying gear and head for the mountains of Austria. Absolutely amazing! As we drive through the alps and pass small villages I can’t believe how beautiful each is all nestled in small pristine valleys.
Once in Austria we arrive at Kossen Mountain, hike to the resort, buy a gondola ticket and fall inline with the skiers. So strange to be able to walk right next to the skiers, with your paragliding stuff, and not get strange looks. We get off, hike a few hundred feet and find ourselves at a beautifully groomed launch site. So foreign, but so awesome. A quick layout of my glider for the day (black and white Chili 2) a few tugs on the A-lines, the wing lifts, turn, run and watch the snow fall below me. I stare up into the Wilder Kaiser mountains. Not much lift anywhere, but flying several thousand feet high above the valley floor and among the snow covered Austrian Alps is a memory not soon to be forgotten. As we all get in the air, it is awesome to look around and see just a bunch of Skywalk paragliders in the air. Everybody having a good time playing in the smooth winter air! A safe landing in the huge designated LZ right next to the ski school area. We quickly pack up our wings and head up for another. Like little kids in a candy store, we just can’t get to the top fast enough. Once at the top we again get all set up and all launch into the air together. There is a little more lift and we are able to stay in the air a bit longer, goofing off and having just a great time. After this, it seemed everyone was kinda done, so I went up by myself for just one more. After all that is why I am here…to fly. Another awesome flight. The afternoon is getting later, and just so amazing flying around in these mountains. In Utah, our mountains are so spectacular, but being in Austria is just an amazing experience with the small villages, the beautiful vistas, and the acceptance of the sport.
|Above the Village of Grassau, Germany
Through several days of Skywalk training it is clear this group is a melting pot of cultures. Pilots from various countries all over the world. People from Romania, Japan, UK, Turkey, Korea, Israel, Hungary, Italy, Spain, Columbia, Australia, etc. JJ and I are the only ones from North America. After several days together learning, testing, and getting to know Skywalk Paragliders it is clear this is a fabulous company, filled with great people, brilliant engineers, and talented test pilots. What a wonderful opportunity to meet and mingle with so many great people. I have learned that regardless of languages and cultures, we all share the same passion for flying, and it is wonderful.
As my eyes reluctantly turn home I reflect on a fantastic and memorable adventure. Meeting great new friends, flying in the Austrian alps, and continuing in this fantastic road that paragliding has set me on. At the close of the trip I am enthusiastic for Skywalk, and honored to be considered as the only Skywalk team pilot in the United States. I am not sure what that means right now, but I am thankful for their support and their faith in me as a pilot. As I look back on my tenure as a pilot it is amazing how far this sport has taken me, and helped to define my life. I am learning that perhaps throwing out the goals that society so regularly demands is perhaps the best approach to learning to live in the moment. It continues to amaze me how much freedom and happiness I have found in flying and I want to share that with others. I think I walk out of Germany with renewed confidence and a deeper passion for this wonderful sport.