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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.