I find myself staring down yet another year. Sometimes it feels like a cliff that awaits, other times a wall. Regardless, the clock pushes each of us to that edge perhaps filled with fear and apprehension….or is that the smell of “opportunity?” As I stand on the brink I am deeply thankful that I have yet another year to play on (or above) this magnificent earth. I stare down, forward, and up with renewed excitement for adventures and opportunities that lay ahead.
One cannot properly look forward without briefly looking back. It has been a spectacular year full of great adventures and I have to shake my head and wonder why I am so lucky to live this unbelievable dream. Over the last 12 months the pursuit of favorable skies and magic light has guided me through nine US states and six countries; from the Alps to my home here in the Rocky Mountains. Sure, there are always the everyday challenges in life like family, work, church, social obligations, and the unending demand to provide for the necessities of life for my small family. It is these such constants and challenges that often keep my feet firmly on the ground, but I also realize it is these responsibilities that keep my life in balance. That’s makes what little adventures I do get to eek out all the sweeter.
As I have been reflecting backwards, I thought I would try and make a list of my top five flights for the year. Not necessarily the most epic of flights, just the ones that perhaps made a deeper impression upon my soul. With over 135 mountain flights (away from The Point), and over 1,200 miles of XC distance (~2,000 km) etched through the skies this year alone I am finding it is no small feat to whittle it down to only five, but I will try.
5 – Dolomites, Italy
A site normally riddled with pilots and huge crowds in the sky (not my favorite). However, with the bad weather everyone had cleared out so when the storm broke revealing perfect conditions there were only a few of us. Climbing to cloud base above the Dolomites, then flying the whole range west ranks high on my list of soul enriching flights.
4 – Soboba Mountain, California
You ever had one of those flights where the air was thermic, no base wind, but super smooth? It was one of those days. Just me and a couple friends, and a local or two found our way to the upper launch. Usually a ridge soaring site, but with no wind we launched in a cycle and found our way 6 thousand feet above the valley floor to enjoy an amazing afternoon of lift. Nearly 3 hours in the smooth air over the mountain range, across the valleys and then just making it back again before dark….yeah, it was just one of those good days.
3 – Stubital Valley – Tyrol, Austria
Not the best thermal day, but the sky was blue, the mountains warm, good friends, all in an amazing place. Spent the day doing low altitude XC circuits up the range and across the valley which required about a dozen LOW saves every single flight. Flying from one cable car to another cable car miles away is just an amazing experience. So often Austria gets shadowed by the glamor of Switzerland. Sure, Switzerland is great….but the flying, terrain and scenery in Austria is not to be rivaled!
2 – The Milk Run – SLC, Utah
My home site, literally my back yard. Hard to lump this one into a single flight, but the spirit of them all reside in a special compartment of my soul. Probably flew this route from The B to….well…beyond 25+ times this year and never once had to land at the bottom of the hill. I am reminded of the friends that I watched make their goal to cross the Wasatch for the first time this year. That alone is why this is such a special place to me. I had many days and hours high above the peaks, staring down on “my” Wasatch, where I have spent nearly all 40 years of my life. I was born in Little Cottonwood Canyon and have never strayed far from it, so this place has special meaning to me. With another year high above the Wasatch skies I still feel very lucky enough to call this place home.
1 – Monroe Peak – Monroe, Utah
July 25th at the close of an eventful Pioneer Day fly-in event I woke early and journeyed to the 11,000+ foot summit of Monroe Peak. We arrived early as the sun was just beginning to cover the valley. Not another human soul on the summit, just us and a few elk grazing. No thermals, no wind, just a 6,000 foot flight over beautiful mountains and groves of aspen trees. That morning as Paul, Clark, Matt and I all punched off within about 4 seconds I couldn’t help but just look around and be inspired. I just had a feeling that morning of utter joy, watching us fly above the wild lands. Those few minutes in the sky wingtip to wingtip with some of my best friends, laughing, watching the ground fall beneath our feet in pure awe of this magnificent earth, was for me, a moment that encompassed every reason why I fly.
Looking back on the year there are many things to be grateful for; a supportive wife so willing to go anywhere, my sponsors who have been so kind in lending support to help me live this dream. As I look around, I see great friends who continue to make this journey so inspiring….you know who you are and I thank you!
So as I walk to the edge of the New Year, there is nothing left to do but leap, and look up. It is going to be another great year in the sky!