Stick To The Plan

I have been lucky enough to travel a fair bit in pursuit of this magical dream called free-flight. Whether near, or far I have learned it is always best to stick to the original plan, no matter what. At least that is what I am telling myself right now as I sit here on the floor of the Salt Lake City International Airport.  It has only been 36 hours since I left this place….and now I am back?  What on earth happened?

DSC_3848Since this sport is so intimately intertwined with weather, it often rules our decisions, and if we’re not careful can run a trip straight into the mud. While traveling we seem to pour over weather forecasts, and do our best to predict, via the crystal ball of technology, where will produce the best flying conditions. If you are not careful these forecasts can keep you running to and fro in search of good conditions only to leave you frustrated and worn.  I think that is what happened.

As I sit here on the floor watching the bags go around and around the baggage carousel, watching the confusion and chaos of the crowd, I cannot help but reflect.  I have so many experiences where sticking with the original plan, regardless of the forecast has turned out magically.  Like waking up at 3 a.m. to venture to the top of a volcano despite high wind forecasts, only to be rewarded with an amazing flight all the way to the ocean, because that was the plan.  Or standing in the rain, but still riding the gondola to the top of the mountain only to find clear skies and perfect flying conditions high over the clouds, because that was the plan.  Again, despite forecasts, driving into torrential rains at Chamonix, but waking to find clear skies and amazing flights up towards Mont Blanc, because that was the plan.  The list goes on and on….have I learned nothing?

This trip had a plan.  To spend several days flying the mountains from San Diego, up through Santa Barbara, and into Big Sur.  The moment we landed we seemed to have a big “?” hanging over all our heads.  Even the locals were not sure what to do.  Clark and I made an executive decision and ventured out to the desert mountains where we were rewarded with some exciting flights. The wheels started to come off as Paul and Gary were downright sick, which was no fun for them. At dinner we poured over the glow of technology only to see bright red wind cells, and a NOAA High Wind Warning for all of southern California staring back at us.  Once Paul and Gary threw in the towel from sickness, the wheels were officially off.  With a bad weather forecast looming for days, time away from work, family, and other responsibilities the decision was clear.  From there it didn’t take long to book a flight and head home this morning.  I cannot believe we bailed, we NEVER bail.

The carousel goes around and my phone buzzes.  I look down to see a short text from Paul, “Did you guys really go home?  Today was one of the best flying days Southern California has seen in months.”  I guess we should have just stuck to the plan!

DCIM100GOPRO

New Years Leap – Top Five Flights of 2013

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.

DCIM100GOPROOne 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.

Europe_20131001_0955 – 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.

PG_20130326_104 – 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.

Europe_20131003_1223 – 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!

Flying over my home in the Wasatch (~12,000 ft)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.

Paul soaring over the landscapes of Monroe1 – 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!

Wasatch Reflections

I stare out the window to see the pine trees violently dancing in the wind, and succumb to the reality of yet another un-flyable day.  It has been nearly two weeks since my feet have been off the ground, and they are starting to bruise.  In fact, over the last few years I am not sure I have ever gone two weeks without flying…and my soul is feeling it.  As I reflect on the last several weeks as I browse through some footage I now realize, the last week of October clearly marked the official end of the autumn flying season….and what a week it was as we spent every day flying across the Wasatch in those light thermal bubbles.


Wasatch Reflections from DEAF Crew on Vimeo.

Although sad to see the warm XC days come to an end, I know that winter offers its own gems to be found in the sky.  There is nothing quite like the calm, smooth days of winter mountain air that can make you smile.  As the cold, dirty inversions of the Salt Lake winter set in I look skyward in hopes of new memories yet to be had amidst these wintery Wasatch skies.  I hope to see you above the inversion line.