I roll out of bed, same as I do every morning. Splash water on my face, take a deep breath and look up. I stare into the mirror and sometimes wonder who this person is staring back at me. My eyes look unchanged, glaring back with the same piercing stare, begging answers to the same questions. Those lines around my eyes are deeper now, my skin worn, clearly the product of too many days in the sun. Wow, I look much older than I feel. I know I am not alone in this feeling, as I think we all get here…someday.
I realize those heavy lines etched around my eyes are just stark reminders of life’s scars. Evidences of life’s battles, and outcomes of both victories and failures. In my life those lines have grown deeper through personal trials, tragedies, loss, and moments that eventually bring us all to our knees. Lines I never want to give back as I have earned every one. Even though the battles of this life never seem to end, it is the small victories that I seek, those “moments in the sun” when all seems to melt away. Those are the moments I think we all try and remember. As I look back across the battle field that is my life, I see through the smoke and ashes those precious moments in the sun, and hint a smile.
Although Paragliding is a relatively small chapter in my life, over the last several years it has offered me a rich concentration of these choice moments in the sun. Those brief moments when all the challenges of life seem to melt away in a glimmer of colorful fabric taking shape over my head. The shackles of life fall away as the force of rising air pushes me up towards the clouds. The smell of moving air as it changes from the muggy heat of summer, to the sharp chill of autumn…in a matter of seconds. Those moments when the sun shimmers off my glasses as it passes beyond the shadow of my wing. These experiences are so rich, vibrant, and engage all my senses on a level never before experienced. It is the search of these moments that has driven a large portion of my life the last several years.
As I look over this now fleeting summer, especially the last few weeks I am reminded of just a few of these choice “moments in the sun.”
^^I am reminded of the magic perspectives we get to witness as free flight pilots. No windows, no engines, just the sound of air as we fly silently thousands of feet above the ground, skirting the atmosphere in the ever thinning air.
^^On a shorter XC flight I was getting beaten up in bad evening air and getting low realizing I was probably going to have to land in the mountains. I saw a large bald eagle about 80 feet below me, so I followed. I watched as it bounced through the rough air, then straight into a thermal and banked left. I followed. Amidst the chaos of bad air, this thermal was small but put together. Four turns later the eagle switched its turn and banked right (doesn’t he know the rules), I stayed left. I have soared with eagles many times through the years, but this time was different. Each opposing turn we came eye to eye, our arcs just missing. The eagle stayed with me, did not out climb me and showed me the way 2,000 feet up and out of the messy air. At the top we went our separate ways. A wonderful lesson in thermal flying, and a special moment in the sun.
^^I love those late evening flights across the Wasatch, “milk runs” we call them. One evening my fellow pilot and friend Clark and I were skirting across the faces of the Wasatch below Lone Peak and got to the point where we needed to turn west to go land at The Point. It was still a little early and the wind readings were a little too gusty for my liking (I hate strong gusty air). We ended up back in a canyon and surfed the trees in some of the funnest mountain air for an hour or so before heading out near sunset to land at The Point.
Even with so many wonderful moments in the sun the last few weeks, this summer has been a bit different for me than those of the past. Perhaps it is the number of accidents and tragedies this year and the difficulty watching my friends and fellow pilots get broken. Perhaps I am just getting older. Whatever the reason I have had to step back, breath, and refocus on the reasons why I fly. As such the cameras have rarely accompanied me on my flights lately, and I find myself flying alone and away from the group more often as I seek out my own personal moments in the sun. I have even put aside the paraglider to spend several weeks back in the wilds. I just spent a week backpacking in a remote portion of the Wind Rivers to go fly fishing with my son. A time free from distractions and a chance to just lay in the grass and together watch the clouds go by. A truly memorable moment in the sun. This summer has been a meaningful exercise in personal reflection and a time to refocus my commitment to the art of paragliding. As the summer now begins to dwindle, I look forward to the splendid flying of Autumn and exciting adventures that lay ahead. To my friends and fellow pilots, be safe, be smart and together let’s go discover some brand new “moments in the sun.”