Trying to explain Pioneer Day, a Utah holiday to anyone who is not Mormon, or who is not born and raised here is a bit tricky. It is a religious holiday that has now evolved into a state holiday, which feels a bit like our national holiday…you know with fireworks and all. In short, it is a Mormon holiday, a time of commemoration when they entered the desolate Salt Lake Valley in hopes of carving out a new life. The Mormon people had been driven from their lands and homes for many years and finally sought refuge outside the United States in a territory that would later be acquired and named Utah. The Mormon people were driven by force from their homes in Nauvoo, Illinois and trekked westward towards Utah. It began in the autumn of 1846 when…….wait, I thought this blog was about paragliding, not a religious history lesson. True, but this weeks paragliding adventure in Monroe, Utah came to fruition solely because of this religious holiday, and to me a solid pioneer attitude permeated the scene, so please bear with me. So what is a pioneer? In Utah we think of Mormon pioneers, but in reality a pioneer is simply “one who goes before”, someone who marches forward into the unknown trying to scratch out their dreams in an unprepared landscape….whatever that may be. With these thoughts rattling around in my head, we venture south to Monroe.
I was down here a few years ago for the same Pioneer Day Paragliding Fly-In event, and it left a burning impression in my mind, for several reasons I won’t go into here. Needless to say, I was excited to heed the invitation to come back to Monroe, a little fearful yes, but excited nonetheless.
A few of us close friends, and our families all made camping arrangements together. We had all our flying plans organized, vehicles, shuttle drivers, etc. All was looking good as we headed south. Things quickly changed for us as we noticed the dark looming presence upon entering Monroe. The clouds had over developed into massive plumes of black. The sky was angry. Virga (dry bands of falling rain) was everywhere and gust fronts from multiple directions were causing the trees to behave like drunken soldiers. Stating these are dangerous flying conditions is an understatement. It will clear enough rings my positive thoughts….keep moving forward.
We head to the launch site on Cove Mountain as the sky begins to clear, but just a little. On launch was a surprising amount of people, friends from all around. “You never know who you will meet on launch” mutters Howie as he approaches with a smile. A friendly hello greeting that seems to have evolved between us this year. Great to see so many friends from Salt Lake, Logan, and beyond.
The wind is from the south, which means the launch site is a shooting gallery between scrub oak and juniper trees with a gap that I am convinced is not even as wide as my wing. Sweet! With no more rain, a setting sun, winds on the edge of blowing down hill, and a giant looming storm cloud to the east a small window of opportunity presents itself. About a half dozen of us decide to fly in a quest for an evening sled ride. Raise the glider in the prevailing wind, check the surge, lean forward and RUN. Through the shooting gallery and up into the sky we go. A beautiful and calm flight out into the valley. A safe landing and smiles all around in the landing area. Just as we are folding up our wings in the desert dust the rain begins again to fall.
It continues to rain through the night, and at 6:00 a.m. it is still falling. We are planning to fly off 11,200 foot Monroe Summit…but its raining. Should I roll over and close my eyes or move forward. I rise and move forward. I find ALL pilots at the gathering place in the rain…true pioneers of flight and I am inspired. I see a hint of clearing and am anxious to get up the hill. We decide to eat breakfast in the community park as the day’s festivities are just getting started. I am not a very patient person, so I convince my small crew to move out. We drive up to the summit to find clear skies and a small herd of elk grazing on launch. The winds are a bit stiff, but absolutely flyable. We get our gear out just as all the other pilots emerge. We clip in and launch, Paul first, then I seconds later. A beautiful ridge soaring session at 11,500 feet followed by a 6,000 foot descent into the valley below. Matt and I fly into town over the pioneer day parade then land in a field of grass.
The day wears on with parades, swimming, and hopes for an evening flight before fireworks. Once again the sky unleashes its furry and we are grounded. Debating on whether to go up to launch, or sit it out. Have I learned nothing on this trip? I reach out to the others only to hear that everyone else is already heading to launch in the parabus, despite the virga, rain, black clouds, lightning, etc. So we head out. High in the desert mountains, crammed into a small Subaru we round the corner to find several…no ALL of our fellow pilots walking….in the middle of the desert. Turns out the parabus is not doing so well on the steep rocky dirt roads. We pull a few passengers along, but eventually they hop off and continue walking up the steep road. We reach the top to find gusts in the 40 mph range blowing down the hill. We call the others to tell them to turn around, only to find them and the lifeless bus now sitting atop the launch site. Like standing around a dying oxen. As the bus continues to bleed to death, pour smoke and make sizzling noises we gather around in smiles, laugh, and enjoy each others company. Even the smiles of our fearless leader Stacy cannot be hidden.
Standing atop this mountain, surrounded by friends I am once again reminded of the pioneer ‘spirit’ all around me. I realize that in the realm of paragliding, we are all pioneers. All trying to realize our dream within a new, unprepared landscape. No one is more worthy of the title ‘pioneer’ than Stacy, who has such a love for this sport that he has literally scratched and carved out that dream in one of the most conservative and rural communities in the country. Pioneer spirit? Yes, it permeates the air here.
A great lesson is once again learned as I sift through the images of the day. I look at the faces, the smiles standing next to a burning bus, or walking aimlessly through the desert. The smiles, they are infectious even in the face of challenges. The laughing continues, the high fives, the stories all spew forth with uncurbed enthusiasm amidst weather and mechanical adversities. Yes, I am truly lucky to know and associate with such great people, such great pioneers. Thank you for letting me be a part of this adventure.
We all have the opportunity to promote the sport for good. To fly along your local foothills and let people ask you questions, touch your glider and pose for pictures. Yes, the more people we expose to this wonderful sport in a positive way, the more we can help pave the way in a positive direction for future generations. So get out there, fly, smile and be a good example for those that will come after.