2015-10-09 18.45.24

Desert High

It is amazing what can happen in just 24 hours.  Especially within the realm of paragliding.  If your lucky you can bag one good, solid mountain flight within that timeframe, but five?  Yeah, our short excursion to central Utah this weekend yielded just that.  These are not short nor small sessions in the air, but high altitude, high alpine type flights.

The high desert is a fickle place to fly a Paraglider, riddled with unique dangers and intensities in the air that often do not get the respect they rightfully deserve. Through the years I have been taught this respect, sometimes in a not so pleasant way.  I have seen too many pilots treat the conditions in these desert mountains just like those of the training hill.  Unfortunately, that approach is a bit like petting a dragon, and thinking your just petting a kitty cat.  Thus I am very cautious when I approach these desert mountains.  As autumn unleashed Clark, Keenan, and myself looked closely for just the right weather window, and when it happened, we went.

RichfieldWe were joined by Jeff, Mike, Bob, and of course our ever faithful driver Amber. The first late morning flight began from the 11,200 foot summit of Monroe Peak just as the small autumn clouds began to form above.  In the zero wind conditions Keenan and I made quick work of the small thermals and after a few turns found ourselves tickling the underside of the clouds…and the rhythm of the day begins.

2015-10-09As evening starts to give way to night we sneak in one final flight off the summit, just as the clouds part.  The sky erupts in golden splendor reflecting the beautiful autumn colors below.  Cross Country (XC) flying is fun and all, but absolutely NOTHING compares to a high mountain flight in the smooth evening air.  No adrenaline, no rush, no miles, lines, or expectations; just a heavenly beauty and divine feeling in the soul that cannot be replicated with ones feet on the ground.  Folding our gliders in the grass under the dancing purple sky, a few of us recognized what just happened and couldn’t wipe the smile off our faces. That 30 minute flight was hands down one of the most spectacular flights I have perhaps EVER had in my flying career……and believe me, I have had a few.

2015-10-09 19.09.32How smooth was that mountain air?  Smooth…butter smooth.  Now if I can just find somewhere in town that will sell me a grilled cheese.

Photo Jan 08, 3 44 13 PM

The Winter Bond

The cold winter air has set in along the Wasatch Front, including the strong inversions that we are infamous for. With the cold air setting in, the two most common questions emerge. The first is from my non-pilot friends who always ask with a concerned voice “isn’t it cold up there?” The next question is from my pilot friends, one that is never actually asked, but one I hear in the whisper of each excuse. “Is the hike really worth it….I mean it is just a sled run, right?”

IMG_0432

The answers to each of these questions rattle around inside my head as I continue hiking upwards through the thickening sky. “No it is not that cold, we have an inversion, that means it gets warmer the higher up you go.” “Is this hike really worth it?” Well…..it is to me. I find myself hiking more and more these days….well, actually most every day. Most of the time is spent in quiet solitude with just my breath, thoughts, and the crunch of ice under my feet. In order to touch the clear blue skies these days, walking is the required cost. One that I am more than willing to pay. As I step higher and higher up into the mountains, my thoughts turn from the dirty air filling my lungs to the reasons and rewards of why I am doing it.

Photo Jan 08, 3 19 16 PM

Winter is often a time when many paraglider pilots put their wings away for a season. The pilot chatter all around seems to dull to a whisper, like the evening ripples of a high mountain lake. It is a refreshing change to put all ambitions aside and just fly with no ulterior motives other than the pure joy of flight. As I continue upward with burning lungs I am briefly reminded of a scene from the movie Avatar released several years ago. It is a moment when the main character “bonds” with his banshee or bird. As our hero “connects” to his bird, feels its thoughts, its heart, its breath, he is granted the ability to partake in the absolute magic of flight. The feelings of flight that is portrayed in this scene is intensely real, yet extremely difficult to explain to those who have never truly experienced free flight. I can attest that flying at such an intimate level with no distractions, no machines, is indeed a magical experience.

PG_20141223_03

Winter is a time of calmness, a time when the air can almost stand still. This is not a cold wind rolling over a ridge, or swirling air of different temperatures, but literally motionless air. A type of air that offers some amazing rewards, like creating or re-creating that magical “bond” with ones glider. It is a type of air that allows me to “feel” each and every one of my lines as they connect to my body. I can feel the micro movements, shifts, flutters, tension, pressure and energy all around my wing. I can actually feel the tips of my wing, like feathers at my fingertips. It is a pretty cool feeling.  To me winter flying is a time to reconnect that “bond” with my wing where we become as one. This is the very reason why I do what I do. For I know when that still air around me starts to slightly swirl I can feel it resonate and begin to use its power to climb, to soar, to fly. I have learned that any ol’ dummy (including me) can go up in a thermal come spring thru autumn. However, I have learned that the ability to feel and really understand those micro movements is near impossible outside the still air of winter. When the air gets violent come springtime, will you be “at one” with your set of wings, or will you merely be a passenger? This is the conversation I have with myself with each passing step through this lung burning air.

Photo Jan 08, 3 44 13 PM

I will continue the walk up each day into the blue winter sky searching for those moments of stillness. Moments that will continue to solidify that ever crucial bond between man and wing and offer up the true magic of free flight. Despite the short flights and bad air below, the rewards found in the sky are worth each and every step. Is it worth it? It is to me.

IMG_0389

The Opportunity Table

GOPR7149Like everyone else around me, I am staring down yet another year.  Without a doubt it is going to be a year of possibilities, challenges, and hopefully some great opportunities.  I always look forward to a new year with a little bit of apprehension as I wonder if is going to be a gentle climb, or a monumental wall of struggles ahead.  Last year’s ‘climb’ was not that enjoyable, and I am hoping, and working towards a better year.  When it comes to flying, filming, and pursuing those things I actually love to do, last year was a bit frustrating.  Sure, I had some great flights, adventures, filming excursions, etc., but at the end of the year I felt like I left too many opportunities on the table.  My “real” job too had a similar tone, as I really didn’t enjoy it all that much as I seemed to be swimming in an economic washing machine of craziness.  So, amidst this engulfing mid-life crisis of mine, I am eagerly staring toward the coming year, hoping I can find a more solid purpose and some passionate direction once again.  It seems the two things I am still unquenchably passionate about in life are the pursuits of paragliding and photography.  So, with that in mind I am not leaving any opportunities on the table this year.  So far, so good.

January 1, 2015

It is -10° C and I find myself hiking up the familiar slopes of Grandeur Peak.  I am alone and it brings back many memories of my early flying days as flying solo was the norm.  It seems in winter time most pilots put their gliders away, and to this day that mentality baffles me beyond comprehension.  The sun is burning bright and I launch into the bitterly cold mid-day air.  I find a few small thermal bubbles, just strong enough to work with in an effort to keep my feet off the ground as long as possible.  It pays off and I enjoy a prolonged flight over the snowy foothills.

PG_20150101_01

January 2, 2015

IMG_0389The inversion is setting in, but the winds aloft are looking light.  It looks like a good day for some heli-paragliding so I get in touch with some friends in Logan, to see if we can make it happen.  It’s a go.  Mike lands his helicopter on a random dirt road near the Idaho/Utah border where he picks me up and flies us back to Logan to rendezvous with Keenan and Dev.  We load the gear and head back out to the distant mountains.  From there Mike shuttles us and our gear to the top of the mountains.  I always love the feeling of being dropped off by a helicopter as it violently batters you with wind, only to leave you moments later in a calm silence, alone in the high mountains with the hopes of a long descent ahead.  The bobcat tracks riddle the snowy ground around me, and I have to smile at this winter wilderness.
2015-01-02Keenan, Dev and I each take flight into the cold, calm winter air.  A few pockets of lift are found and we are able to hang on for 25 minutes or so before giving in and heading out over the valley for a little glider fun.  Feet sliding down an ice covered road with wing over head gliding past a parked helicopter knowing you just hop back in and do it again is a great feeling.  Big thanks to Mike for being the hero of the day!GOPR7220

January 3, 2015

IMG_0394The sky is gray, with mixed layers of inversion and pollution setting in.  I find myself in Bountiful and an opportunity presents itself to get in a quick flight off The V.  I drive up the snow covered road until the snow becomes too deep.  I turn the truck around and my wife and kids drive down as I head out and up on foot.  Being alone and with a much quickened pace I put a mile or so behind me pretty quickly and soon find myself on launch.  The winds are at zero and a few light flakes of snow are trying to fall.  I take off into the clear valley, over the hundreds of deer bounding below.  A brief moment flashes across my mind.  One I get all the time that reminds me of how magical this whole experience of flight is.  No engines, no noise, just me and the sky.

January 4, 2015

I do not fly on Sunday’s…never have, and likely never will.  It is just my thing.  Having a day to not worry about flying is a good thing.  That is okay with me.  I already have more mountain flights under me this year than there have been days.  As I try to not leave any missed opportunities on the table this year…..I am thus far encouraged.  Now if I can just figure out what to do with the rest of my life.