Polar Bear SIV

When you first learn to paraglide, and throughout your career you are taught to always make sure your wing is perfectly inflated, pressurized and properly flying above your head.  However, in the real world things can sometimes go wrong.  More often than not it is pilot error from either a bad decision to fly, or not actively piloting your wing like you are suppose to….and believe me I have made plenty of errors through the years!  I am sure every pilot at one point in time has looked up to see a part of his or her wing collapsing.  The first time is usually followed by a ‘yikes’, hands up, and the wing often takes care of itself.  However, what do you do when things go REALLY wrong?  How you truly react in such a moment can mean the difference between a scary experience and a life threatening one.  That is why SIV (simulation en vol….yeah, its French), or ‘Simulations In Flight’ is so important, fun, and scary all rolled into one because you get to force yourself and your wing to do everything it is not suppose to. Here you learn to understand not only the limits of your wing, but the threshold between calm collective action, and the need to change your underwear.

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It is 8:00 a.m. as I stand along the windy shores of Bear Lake dressed like I am taking on Everest or something, but looking more like the stay puff marshmallow man.  Four layers of clothes and a life jacket all tucked under my coat.  The lack of body fat can often be a curse when it is cold, so I shiver away.  “Are we nuts” mentions Clark as we watch the sun rise as the snow lightly falls. Yeah, I am questioning that right now too.  The reality is I have been trying to get in a course for some advanced SIV training for nearly 3 years now, but either nobody wants to do it in Utah, or nobody has room.  So when a slot opened up with Cade from the Jackson Hole area…..I took it.  I couldn’t be happier to be sharing this experience with my good friends, Clark, Howie, and Carolyn.  Time to begin as the tow rope gets handed to the group and everyone looks my way.  Let the madness begin!

Polar Bear SIV from DEAF Crew on Vimeo.

This video is not normally the kind of video I like to put out there as it has very few camera angles, is very shaky, and not that creative.  Besides everybody loves to point out everything I did wrong….but hey, all in the spirit of learning right?  So, I made it as more of a record for myself of lessons learned today and a testament to how awesome paragliders can recover if flown right.

In the end it has been a good day forcing my wing and myself to better understand each other.  I appreciate Cade for his expertise and for allowing me to push myself to new limits.  From dialing in and sharpening some rapid descent techniques, to letting me induce some really hard situations, like a stall spin that required a mandatory full stall recovery (for real).  Sure I was in free fall for nearly 30 seconds, but it worked!  I walk away with some new tricks up my sleeves, some sharper skills, and no new underwear needed.  Even when I went up and over the top of my wing….calm and collective!  Already looking forward to next time….perhaps a little warmer would be nice.

Eyes and Wings Open

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Mount Olympus breaking free from a shrouded sky.

Through the many years as a professional nature photographer I have learned the intimate lesson that Nature provides something beautiful to view, every single day; you just need to have your eyes open enough to see it.  Sometimes it is a grand landscape that inspires the soul, but more often it is something simple, like a single blade of grass or a flower pedal in the rain.  The quest for the day is to find it.

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Evening flight after a day long rain storm.

I have learned a similar lesson in regards to paragliding.  The mountains generally provide safe moments to fly most every single day (exceptions of course).  You just need to have your eyes and wings open enough to see it, and willing to act when it does.  Sometimes they are grand flights to great heights that inspire the soul, but more often they are something simple.  Like a short flight off a nearby mountain after a rain storm, or a late evening hike-n-fly before twilight.  Although not grand in many peoples minds as the flights are often short, to me, these become my favorite and most memorable moments in the sky.  It is nothing but the beauty of nature, and the pure feeling of having my feet leave the ground that spurs me up the mountain.

The last several weeks, this lesson has been reinforced over and over as we have been subjected to a daily dose of dynamic weather.  It seems everyone complains about how ‘weird’ the weather is.  True, but to me I see beautiful billowing thunder heads inspiring to watch, but obviously dangerous to fly in.  They build, then unleash their unconfined fury….but it does not last forever.  It is finding those safe moments long before they build, or after their furry ends that spurs me up into the mountains…in search of just a few moments in the sky.

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Flying towards Mount Olympus from my home.

There have been many short, but still inspiring flights to my soul the last several weeks.  Evening ‘sled rides’ out of the soggy mountains, morning flights from high mountain meadows, big climbs above the Wasatch, finding refuge high on the north face of Olympus and sharing one final thermal to cloud base with 3 eagles.  Inspiring moments in the sky.

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Typical day with beautiful building clouds.

As autumn now approaches, I continue to look forward to each day, hoping that my eyes and wings will be open enough to act when the sky whispers it’s time.

Goals of Progression

Walking some dirt road heading back to the highway - Self Portrait
Walking some lonely dirt road heading back to the highway – Self Portrait

To some, goals often define our very lives. They are intended to give us purpose, to force us, in a way, to become better at whatever we choose to pursue, one small step at a time. Goals can also establish borders, walls, and boundaries around your life keeping you in constant check. They can also be tools to make you feel like a total failure in your life…which sometimes is a good thing. However, my hope is they become gentle reminders in my life to step outside my comfort zones, leading perhaps to new heights.

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

In my progression as a paraglider pilot, goals have been a vital, albeit simple way of keeping me marching forward. In the beginning they kept me focused on my training and kept pushing me towards more advanced ratings. Once the USHPA rating card was full I struggled with what to do next. I then reverted back to my basic goal in free-flight, which was to fly the mountains every day possible; winter, spring, summer, autumn, over and over again. Initiating that simple goal then has kept my feet off the ground for years and allowed me to experience all kinds of situations, making me hopefully a better and safer pilot. That being said, as this year began I was feeling a bit, well….static. I am not a great pilot, not even a very good one for that matter, so I know the importance in goals of progression. So I set a few goals for this year. Not astronomical goals, but achievable ones relating to things like XC distances, altitudes, site locations, and others that would perhaps encourage me to tiptoe, or even require me to jump head first out of my comfort zone.

Sunset flight off Franics Peak
Sunset flight off Franics Peak

The year is now more than half over, and as I reflect on some images of the last few weeks it has caused me to reflect backwards and I see a few things that make me smile. I see awesome new experiences that these goals have made me realize. Moments in the sky where I was pushed to turn deeper into the mountains when I wanted to turn out. Moments when I felt encouraged to keep going, keep circling, keep looking for the next thermal trigger, keep looking up not down, and keep pushing forward. Another thing I see are great friends! Those who push me to fly a little farther, a little higher, and a little safer. Friends who encourage and are so willing to share their knowledge, enthusiasm, and paralleled passion for this sport. These close friends make the whole adventure of free-flight complete….and we have seen our fair share of adventures through the years.

Paul carving over launch at The V. A great pilot who always pushes me onward.
Paul carving over launch at The V. A great pilot who has always encouraged me onward.

No, my goals for the year are not yet complete. A few have been realized, but there are still a few left to be tamed. As I look forward to the next 4.1/2 months I am excited for the adventures that await. I look forward to spending time with friends who will continue to push and inspire me. I can only hope that along the way I too can provide some encouragement, some advice, some inspiration to others in their quest for success.

Cross Country flight from Tremonton/Logan, Utah to Malad, Idaho
Cross Country flight from Tremonton/Logan, Utah to Malad, Idaho

We all have our own goals and desires in life, whether in the realm of flying or beyond. I encourage each of us to keep setting new goals, moving forward, keep looking up instead of down and perhaps tip toe into the sky of our dreams.  See you in the sky!!