2017-09-05 11.32.54

Over Clouds and Stone

I feel the wind on my face turn into a deeper shade of cold as I am engulfed in the clouds.  The sky around me turns white and all the cares and fears of my world disappear. We call this silent place in the clouds the “white room” and no matter how many times you enter its presence, it never gets old.  I emerge from the featureless white and stare down the high alpine knife edge glowing in the sun.  As the green slopes of the high alpine drop away into the blue hues of rock I am reminded once again why I love to fly in the French Alps. I have been lucky enough to fly in most regions of the Alps; from Austria and Switzerland, to Italy and France, but for some reason this remote corner of France somehow always feels like coming home.

Being here with some of my best friends makes the experience so much richer. So grateful for Gary, Jane and Paul for inviting us back into their home for a week. This time around I decided to capture my experiences with video more than just images or words.  Hope you enjoy the change of pace.

Day 1-Travel Day.
We have been awake for over 30 hours as we rolled into this remote corner of the Alps. The weather looks promising, but we are all so tired.  Nevertheless, we decide to venture up to the nearby slopes of Mens and get in a quick flight.  The thermals are working and we spend the next few hours flying along the granite mountain range. The flight is a quick reminder as to why we are here and that sleep and food should always take a back seat to adventure.

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Flying the evening thermals….so tired I can barely think.

Day 2-Into the Clouds.
After a short morning hike in the mountains above the house we launch into the first thermals of the day.  The surrounding mountains are beautiful. We fly around the hillsides and across the valley for a couple hours. Once the valley winds pick up we head back over to Mens to try and fly to the top of the mountains and across a unique alpine spine.  The thermals are working, and the clouds start forming.  The next several hours turn into a magical experience in the clouds and across the alpine mountains. A perfect day for flying!

Day 3-Exploring the Sites.
With bad weather we make the most of the day hiking through canyons, over rivers, up cliff faces and even down into the caves of blackness. It has been an awesome day, despite that really, really block of stinky cheese.

Day 4-La Grave….or is it The Grave?
It is 5:30 a.m. as we all huddle around the glow of the laptop discussing the weather for the day.  It looks to be very windy and rainy today, but a small region may have some potential. It is worth the risk, so by 6:00 we are in the van driving the curvy roads as the rain continues to fall.  As we enter the deep glacial valley I see the thick dark clouds and realize the day is likely done.  By 8:30 we are on the gondola that leads up to La Meije and the clouds are starting to break.  By 9:15 the sky is dead calm, sunny, and the morning mist has mostly burned off. The deep blue of the hanging glaciers taunt and excite us to get ready to fly.  We know the valley winds are going to kick in early, so we waste no time in getting ready to fly across these iconic glaciers and into the valley below.

I punch off first, followed by Keenan, Paul, Clark, then Gary. The flight is amazing!  A calm sled run really, but often those can be the best flights of a trip.  By the time we end up on the valley floor the valley winds are just starting to pick up….perfect timing.  We grab a nice French lunch on the patio below the beautiful mountains above, then venture back to home base.

Day 5-The Challenge
The weather looks promising today so we decide to get an early start and head up to the Col above Noyer.  I have had my eyes on this range for the last 5 years, so I am excited to actually have the weather working in our favor today. There is a slight inversion in the valley, but with the first puffs of morning air we venture into the sky to see if we can get across the mountain range heading north.  It becomes a very short 20 minute flight down into the valley with no productive lift.  We all agree to head back up and try it again.  The valley winds are conflicting and the air is not feeling very organized. Paul and Gary quickly take off with similar results as the previous flight. We talk amongst ourselves about the impending valley winds, and try to come to some decision.  The air is feeling more productive, so I head into the sky alone and hook a very small, but productive thermal and am able to climb high above launch and into the mountains.  Paul offers a $20 challenge to whomever can get all the way back home.  I accept, and begin flying the ridge line back to the north.  A few peaks behind me now and the lift vanishes.  I extend my glide against the cliffs hoping for something, but nothing offers me any luck.  As I turn down the valley I slam into the valley winds. Nothing too strong, but my glide performance is diminished significantly. I realize I have to get back across the glacial river towards the highway, or it is going to be a long, cold and wet hike. I just squeak over the river and land in a nearby field next to the highway. I find a nice place in the shade to relax until the van arrives.  No $20 for me today, but the challenge was fun and resulted in a rather enjoyable mountain flight.

Conclusion
In the end, the days were filled with flying, but more important they were filled with friendships.  I so enjoying flying and adventuring with this small group of friends. We have been known as the DEAF Crew for years now, and although we do not fly with each other as often as we used to, the good times, adventures, love  and respect endures.  Already looking forward to the next adventure!

2017-01-27

Recovery

Out of the corner of my eye I see a small flutter of brown. I turn my head to see a bald eagle just off the tip of my wing turning back towards the mountains. I lean hard, bank my glider and follow his lead. Moments later we are met with dynamic rising air, pushing us upwards. With wing tips locked together we rapidly climb upwards, with each circle leaving the snow covered landscape below. This is not an uncommon occurrence in my life, it seems to happen all the time, but in this particuarly intimate moment with nature, I take a deep breath and realize how lucky I truly am.

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Last flight. The next day I could not walk.

Back in October of last year my legs and feet suddenly began to hurt.  At first it felt like really sore muscles. No big deal, so I kept pushing harder and harder, but as the days passed my condition rapidly deteriorated. I remember stepping out of a truck on a high mountain launch site, barely able to walk. That flight was breathtaking, beautiful, rugged, and memorable in so many ways.  The next morning, I could no longer walk. The pain and inflammation in my feet, legs and back was so overwhelming that my body could no longer stand upright, let alone push itself forward.

After countless doctor visits, I was still nowhere. Things spiraled out of control and I soon found myself in the Emergency Room fighting this mysterious illness. That led to several days in the hospital, along with every possible test known to mankind. I had my fair share of needles, blood tests, MRI machines, and head scratching doctors.  From back specialists to orthopedic doctors, oncology to infectious disease specialists; nobody could determine the root cause.  Eventually I ended up in the Rheumatology department. It was here I finally had some real answers, some actual proof, and more importantly a pathway to moving forward.  Unfortunately, there was so much damage in the tendons and soft tissues of my feet that healing was going to be a slow process.

2017-01-27

There were many dark days in pain sector 9, but I found hope and healing in the kindness of my friends. So many were eager to lend a kind hand, a listening ear, or just a few minutes of distraction. Even with all the help around me, I knew I had to do my part too.  So, each day I would try and walk just a little. I remember how excited I was when I walked 150 steps in a single day. Each day I continued to walk, step by step, looking, hoping, and praying for the opportunity to someday hike and fly above the mountains again.

2017-03-09
Circling with Bald Eagles again.

As I circle wing tip to wing tip with this majestic bald eagle I realize how lucky I truly am. Blessed for the opportunity to fly once again.  I am not fully recovered as I will never be fully rid of this disease.  Hard as it may seem, it is just something I must now learn to live with each day.  I may be hiking a little slower these days, but I am hiking again, flying again, and trying to enjoy the simple sensations that this amazing life on this amazing earth provides.

(For better or worst, I film stuff. This short video captures a few scenes during my recovery process. Not a great film, but a journal entry)

Recovery from DEAF Crew on Vimeo.

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Top 3 Tips to Making Better Videos

I was a photographer before I was a film maker. I was a film maker before I was a paraglider pilot. I was a paraglider pilot before I tried to succesfully merge all three together. Over the last 6 or 7 years I have made way too many videos related to paragliding (just ask my wife). Most of those videos are equally as terrible (again, just ask my wife). Through it all, I have learned many valuable lessons, mostly on how not to do it. Whether skiing, paragliding, climbing or backpacking, I have picked up a few tricks that will often lead to more memorable adventure videos.

In an effort to share, I thought I would offer my Top 3 simple tricks that will help make your next adventure video more meaningful.

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Unique shot angles make any video more interesting. It is always fun when people ask “how on earth did you get THAT shot?”

 

#1 – GET THAT CAMERA OFF YOUR HEAD
This is by far the number one thing that can make or break your video. The advent of GoPro and other personal cameras has caused everyone, by default, to unfortunately put a camera on their heads. Yes,I am as guilty as the next adventure sports guy. It was a cool idea at first, but we should all realize from a filming standpoint, a helmet cam is terrible idea. Over the years I realized that viewers don’t care about what you are looking at, they care about what you are experiencing. Therefore, make it a point to show them the experience, not just the view from your head. So, if you want to do just one thing to make your videos exponentially better, get that camera off your head!

Who is this Jerry with his camera in his toggles? Yeah, I admit, that's me. Just another good reason to get that camera off you head.
Who is this ‘Jerry’ with his camera caught in his toggles? Yeah, that’s me 6 years ago in Austria. Just another good reason to get that camera off you head.

As a side note: If you are into the “flying” sports like BASE jumping, skydiving, speed wings, and/or paragliding then a camera on your head can actually be a very dangerous proposition as getting your lines caught on your helmet can quickly become a safety concern.

 

#2 – MAKE THOSE CLIPS SHORTER
The attention span of most people is pretty short, especially when it comes to internet videos. Why else do so many videos these days have to say…”wait for it” in their captions? If you want to make you films more interesting and less…well…boring, then change the duration of your clips to no more than 5-7 seconds. You should be switching views to different angles or vantage points often. Yes, that means that for a 2:00 minute video, you will need 15 to 25 different shot changes. That may sound like a lot, but trust me, it is worth it.

 

#3 – SYNC TO THE MUSIC
No matter what you are filming, the audio track you chose will define the mood of your video. When choosing a track, be sure to first define the “beat” and then sync your clips to change with that beat. Some songs are fast, so you need to change shots every 3-4 seconds, others are slower and only require a shot change every 6-7 seconds. No matter what track you choose, be sure to sync your shots to the music.

 

Those may sound too simple and not that earth shattering, but you would be surprised how many videos violate not just one, but all three. Best of luck in your next video project. If you make a video you are proud of, feel free to send it my way or post in the comments as I would love to check it out. Happy Shooting.