I first tried paragliding in New Zealand in 2001. I was travelling internationally for the first time in my life and with a cheap Kiwi dollar lots of exciting new things were suddenly in reach to try out. I had gone skydiving and bungy jumping already but I was drawn to paragliding because I liked the idea of spending time in the air instead of having an intense falling experience for a few seconds. I did a 3 day course and flew for almost 2 hours on the last day. Bumpy mid-day thermals that had me eager to be on the ground but by that evening I was excited to go up for my last flight of the course. You should know that modern paraagliding instruction moves at a safer, slower pace so set your expectations accordingly. That first experience over the coastal hills of Nelson NZ stuck with me but I didn’t know about any flying spots back home and paragliding got filed in the back of my mind. It was 8 years later when a friend helped me discover Tiger Mountain in Issaquah WA. I was amazed to find a thriving paragliding scene just a half hour from where I was living. I did a tandem flight that day and signed up for lessons with Seattle Paragliding where I’ve been learning ever since.
I grew up near Bellingham WA surrounded by forest, lakes and rivers. I was raised in a cabin off the grid. We grew our own food and I got around by bicycle. A strong value for self reliance has stuck with me through my life. My first passion was organic agriculture and I spent several years growing and selling vegetables, meat, and flowers at farmers markets. That interest in sustainable farming took me on my first travels, drawing me to New Zealand where the seeds of paragliding were planted. Fortunately I was able to foresee that peddling vegetables wouldn’t provide financial security so I worked my way through nursing school in my mid 20s. It was shortly after starting my first job as a RN in a hospital in Seattle that I discovered Tiger Mountain and got back in to paragliding for good.
Learning to fly at Tiger Mountain I always packed my gear up the trail and it’s still one of my favorite hikes even after hundreds of laps. My first wing was an old Edel Atlas from the late 90s. It was shaped like a football and hot pink but I got my mileage out of it, bouncing around the fishbowl at Tiger and trying to be the high glider as much as I could. Marc and Lan at Seattle Paragliding, Chris from Super Fly, and many others guided me safely through my early learning. By that fall I was exploring flying sites down the west coast. The next few winters I expanded my travels to Brazil, Mexico, Baja, and Ecuador. Along the way I’ve dabbled in skydiving, paramotoring and speed wings but for me nothing compares to the challenge of sailing the sky for hours on end. Paragliding is a great way to experience local culture and explore off the beaten path places. The paragliding community is close knit but also spread around the globe. I often randomly bump into acquaintances from across the world in small flying towns.
2011 was the year I ran my first ultra marathon and when I really started getting interested in hike-and-fly races. I had started running in NZ, on the same trip that I discovered paragliding, and was soon hitting the myriad of trails back home around Bellingham. I often ran with people training for ultramarathons but I never got around to doing a race until I did the Chuckanut 50k. I was working on my tandem paragliding license that spring and I got in great shape hiking the heavy tandem gear up the mountain multiple times a day. A few months later I ran my fastest 50k to date winning the race at Sun Mountain in 4:28.
That same Spring Honza Rejmanek showed up in Seattle to do a fundraiser for his trip to compete in the X-Alps and I was very interested. I told him to keep me in mind if he needed crew on any future races. The next Summer we went on some adventures to see how we got along. After flying off the top a a northern Cali volcano and a sky camping trip in Pemberton went well I ended up being part of his support crew for the X-Alps in 2013. I got to see a good part of the Alps following the course from Austria through Switzerland and France to the Mediterranean. After the race I got my first taste of para-wandering through the Alps exploring from Chamonix through Switzerland into the Italian dolomites. I camped and flew, carrying my belongings in my pack while on foot, or in my harness while flying.
Since I first participated as a supporter in the X-Alps I thought about doing hike-and-fly competition myself. The X-Alps only happens on odd numbered years so I explored the European mountains more on my own in 2014 and did support again for Honza in the 2015 race. I had mixed feelings after seeing the high level of competition in 2015 and the dangerous conditions the pilots flew through. None the less last winter I decided I’d apply for the 2016 X-Pyr, a shorter hike-and-fly race that happens on even numbered years. Instead of the Alps it goes through the Pyrenees Mountains with turnpoints along the border of Spain and France, starting at the Atlantic and ending at the Mediterranean.
I got accepted into the X-Pyr at the beginning of the year and it was a great boost in motivation. I’ve been working hard ever since to improve my fitness and flying skill. I’ve stepped up to a new high performance glider, the Advance Omega X-Alps, and it has pushed my flying to a new level. I’ve been logging more hours than ever since a February trip to Colombia and making flights I only dreamed of in the past. On May 2nd two other pilots and I were the first paragliders ever to fly over the Twin Sisters Peaks near my home in Bellingham. 10 days later I made a first ever flight around both Mt Baker and Mt. Shuksan covering remote wilderness to make a historic 60 mile loop. The first weekend of June I did my first 100 mile run with Cascade Mountain Runners, going from Bellingham to the Summit of Mt. Baker AND back over 42 hours. I’m headed to Spain soon for more training, the X-Pyr starts July 17th 2016.