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Endless Autumn

I sit here at my desk and stare past my glowing screen out into the dull gray sky.  It has been trying to snow for the last two days, but is not finding much success.  It is December 13th amidst the Rocky Mountains, and still I have yet to see a real snow flake fall.  After all it was in the mid 60’s yesterday, despite the gray skies and north winds.  It continues to be the warmest, and driest December I can recall in my 40 years on the Wasatch.  Warm and dry is not necessarily a bad thing as it has allowed for some spectacular flying days.  Besides I know the snow will come…it always does.

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I realize I have not written in some time, and as I search my mind for excuses I seem to only be coming up with memories.  As summer came to an end I was rather frustrated with the year.  The summer flying season was not that great to me, and I found myself falling well behind my anticipated goals.  All the trips and adventures we had planned for the year seemed to vanish, leaving only a few small scraps to be had.  So I was frustrated…to say the least.  A gnarly motorcycle crash out in the red rock desert didn’t help my spirits much either.  However, the last two months has been some of the funnest flying I can remember in recent years.  Not just because the XC potential was surprisingly good, or the air was perfectly clean, but rather the quality of the people that I have been lucky enough to spend it with.

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The Wasatch Free Flight Group, that I started a couple years ago has morphed into a group of like-minded pilots who LOVE to fly, regardless of season.  Ones who still realize the magical fact that we are flying a garbage bag through the sky, with that accompanying feeling of childhood awe which never seems to fade.  It has gathered together a group of pilots who love to share knowledge, do not compromise safety in search of glory, but rather seek out conditions that are safe and super fun to fly in.  It is an honor to fly with you all.  As I look over the last few months, I have to smile as we have had some amazing days of flying together…not to mention pink cookies.

Eric partaking in the "Pink Cookie" tradition.
Eric partaking in the long running “Pink Cookie” tradition.

Instead of trying to recall all the adventures, all the flights, all the people, or all the cookies; I would rather share a few pictures of the memories along the way.  I apologize as I do not have photographs of everyone, but I am thankful to each of you for the friendships and opportunities we have to fly together.

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Mike Trottier – Showing us how it is done. Always the first in the air.
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Laszlo – Taking a quick look.
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Clark Tayler – Shredding the sky over Strawberry
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Shane Swenson – Another “textbook” landing.
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I can’t believe it is December 5th, and I am climbing out of Grandeur.
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Eric Townsend – Soaring over the inversion in Bountiful.
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Playing on the new Skywalk Tequila 4
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Keenan Ryan – Headed across the mountains.
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Trenton Rich – Headed out over the valley.
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Jeff, Clark and Shane – Smiles after 5 days in a row of late November flying.
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Clark – Still folding a glider on the grass!

It has been a wonderful autumn of flying, friends, and adventures.  As I stare down the coming of winter I am excited for the continued hiking, flying, and new adventures that await.  Anyone up for a pink cookie?

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Stories From The Sky

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The clouds are breaking apart, building, and skipping across the Wasatch in the wake of a three day storm.  The amount of rain that has fallen and the sudden chill in the air is a strong reminder that summer is now over.  Like dipping a hot frying pan in a puddle of cold water, the heat stored in the earth is gone, and likely not to return for a season….at least not with vigor.  That makes sense to me, after all it is nearly October and autumn is in full force, but even that season is starting to fade here in the mountains.

The last few weeks have offered some fantastically memorable stories and amazing flying.  With 8 out of 10 days in a row of some demanding flying adventures including spectacular XC flights across the Wasatch.  Some higher altitude sled runs like Mahogany and Francis, hike and fly laps, Jupiter butt kickings, and flights up and around just to view the autumn colors.  I even snuck in one more flight over the Hounds Tooth to bid my home site a fond farewell for the season.  With this storm, it is clear the BIG thermal activity is likely going to be minimal the rest of the year, and honestly I welcome the change.  I AM EXHAUSTED.  I am so looking forward to putting the XC wing away, pulling out the lighter wing and spending the next several months trudging through the snow, hiking, flying, and even strapping on a pair of skis for some ski and fly adventures.

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Clark meandering through the high mountains looking for a suitable launch site.

As I quickly reflect on the last few weeks I am flooded with memories of great flights, great friends, great adventures and the magic that we get to experience because of some fabric and string.  I have not been very good at getting the camera out much, but my friends have filled in the gaps that would otherwise be blank memories.   So I say a big thank you to them.  The adventures and stories will still continue, and I welcome the smoother air of late autumn and winter.  Now, if only I could remember where I put that lighter wing….oh, there it is!  See you in the sky soon.

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Moments in the Sun

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.

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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.”

20140802_10^^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.

IMG_1390^^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.

20140623_17^^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.

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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.”