Flights of Faith
Siblings are interesting. I remember growing up looking at family friends and observing how their children interacted with one another. Some were best friends and showed their relationship in a fun loving manner; others were together because they had to be and they tolerated the other/others; then there were some that showed a tremendous amount of love, quietly and through simple actions of affirmation. My brother and I are all of the above. We had our moments of being together because (darn it!) we were siblings and lived together so we had to get along and be in each others’ presence. We had times where people thought we were friends and not related (because we look nothing alike!) and were acting like fools. And we shared moments where we were quietly together, but still wouldn’t choose to be any place else because we were calm and comfortable and were surrounded by a circle of support. All of that being said, there is nothing I would want to change when I think about my childhood with my brother. He was always that person who loved and supported me. I looked up to him and still do today.
As I mentioned before, some of Evan’s inspiration and love was shown quietly: a hug when he left for a school trip; a pat on the back when I received a good grade on a test; a movie suggestion when I was feeling overwhelmed socially. But beyond these kinds of loving characteristics, he inspired me to always try my best and participate in things that filled my cup instead of draining it. He participated in robotics starting in high school, broke records in swimming, went on crazy camping trips around Alaska and outside, etc. I could see that Evan was creating the life he wanted. A life that was making him happy.
Because of this, I started to think about what I wanted in my life; how I wanted to fill my cup. I swam, like him (not as well, but I enjoyed it), did Cross Country Running and Skiing, Track, and I wrote and read stories until my heart was content.
But, today, he inspires others and me as he flies high into the sky, only supported by a wing. He started Paragliding when he was pretty fresh out of high school, as a freshman in college. Evan was always in for an adventure (seriously, he was always climbing up the scariest parts of a mountain during a family hike) but when he admitted his new hobby, all of his family’s mouths dropped. I remember him showing video clips, from his GoPro or another’s iPhone, to our grandparents and extended family; everybody was intrigued and amazed but also just shocked that Evan was brave enough to risk his life like this.
I spoke with him the other day via our iPhones, and wanted to ask him more questions that would give others and myself a clearer perspective on his journey in the sky. I wanted to know more about what this extreme sport had given him and what he would tell somebody who was just starting to think about this sport.
Something that comes with learning something new is wanting to have the end result fast. At least that’s how it is for me anyways. Learning to ride my bike was hard, as a kid, because I wanted to do it without training wheels and that couldn’t happen without practice. I learned to ride my bike and learned a good lesson that practice and patience are what drive success. Evan has this drive, that propels him to get to his end result in a timely manner because he puts good time and effort into the goal he wants to attain. When speaking with him, he told me that he was able to fly on his own after spending around 2-3 weeks in Anchorage practicing everyday. The sport may seem easy, when looking at it from the ground without any knowledge; but it takes time, patience and effort to gain the end result one is looking for.
Evan explained his first flight, in Palmer, Alaska, and admitted that it was rather daunting. It was a flight that was around five minutes and he started out with tons of nerves. Because of this, he had to make several attempts to get off the ground and into the air. Evan told me that this was honestly due to nerves and not weather conditions because it was morning and the winds were good. This is something I think people have to be aware of because, you do, as my brother told me, have to take a leap of faith and not give up after one failed attempt.
Many, including myself, want to understand what it’s like, in the air, as a Paraglider. Unpredictable is a word that kept popping up within our conversation. Evan told me, “Flying is unbelievably unpredictable”. According to Evan, you never know what is going to come next and you have to be very attentive to every movement that is felt.
He used this metaphor that made everything a bit more understandable for me: “Think like you are in water… In water you can kind of see if there is turbulence… You can see the sand moving with the currents. All of those same currents are in the air…but you can’t see them at all.” When flying thousands of feet into the air, there is little indication of wind patterns and things. One has to “feel” the wing in order to understand and react accordingly. For a beginner, this can be nerve-racking; feeling so much and trying to have control in a wing with which they were not born. Evan expressed that it’s experience and training that makes this become more innate for people. After it becomes more innate is when you can explore more territories and fly in harder conditions.
Of course we had to talk about his all-time favorite place he has ever flown. This is something I was dying to know. I knew of some of his flights he had enjoyed but I didn’t know his absolute favorite. He said the it was when, in 2014, he flew, without knowing anyone beforehand, in Chamonix, France. He went to Europe for two months and went to places like Italy, Germany and Switzerland but France was where he felt his deepest love. Evan explained that when he flew he could see Mont Blanc and was in the air for around six hours and covered just over 75 miles in total. He said it was “beautiful.” Evan also stated that the thermal conditions were fantastic: “You are going upwards at 2,000 ft. a minute. It was an incredible experience and a beautiful climate and really the most important was…the pilots that I flew with…were a warm and welcoming community.”
But with the flights that bring reasons to risking one’s life, come the flights that make one want to be on the ground. Immediately. There are flights that bring the unpredictability to another level. Evan could think of two flights where he wished he could be on the ground. In one, he was in Valdez, Alaska with a friend, and ventured to the top of a peak. He expressed that, “as soon as we took off I knew…we shouldn’t be in the air. It was about ten to fifteen minutes trying to get down.” Evan said that they landed with 30 MPH winds and were being dragged. He admitted that it was, indeed, “horrific.” But he told me that even when his friend and he were looking for clues, within the climate and wind conditions, he would have still taken off with his paraglider because it seemed like it would have been a good flight. Evan also stressed the importance of always thinking about safety; during this time in his journey with his wing, he was getting pretty lax. There is always a chance that a flight could be your last.
I wanted to know how Paragliding had not only changed the way his life was on the outside but also how it changed him within. As a person. Evan taught others how to fly and in retrospect, he feels this was a really humbling experience. Something that came easy for him was more stressful for others. He said that he also enjoys the fact that the sport is rare in terms of the numbers of people who participate: “It’e estimated that about 2,000 people, in the United States…fly [and] all things considered, that is a pretty small number.” Evan likes connecting with these types and “playing with the pros.”
On a deeper level, Evan says that within these groups of people, there is a common mentality about life and “enjoying life for what it is because in these [extreme] sports, there is that over looming possibility of death… It’s all about living, and living your life to the fullest. Honestly… Paragliding, for me, is living my life to the fullest. [There’s] this freedom…I don’t experience anywhere else.”
Evan said that if he were to give advice to a novice or somebody who’s starting to grow an interest in the sport, keep in mind that it can be expensive. He says that you can get addicted to wanting the best equipment and the best travel experiences. Evan boldly said, “if you don’t have the time or money, don’t do it because…you don’t want to throw your entire savings into it and two, if you don’t have the time for it…if you’re not Paragliding all the time it’s dangerous…you’re not 100%.”
He told me that this may sound cliche but safety has to come first with this sport, too. You have to “double check all your buckles.” You have to do your safety check, in this sport. All of this is on you.
So there you have it. My brother. The one who taught me how to overcome the rollercoaster ride of high school has also shown, not only me, but others as well, how to conquer the heights of the sky. His bravery and determination gives me courage to jump into the waters of my dreams and have fun with it. Evan’s training and patience skills have shown me that hard work and completing small steps towards a large goal is still gaining something and getting me that much closer to my overall vision. It's hard to compare others to my brother because I look up to him so much. He will aways be my hero.
You are climbing with all of your gear on your back. You gather your equipment and set the gear for take-off. You double, triple, quadruple check your work to make sure all of you knots are tied and buckles are buckled. You take a deep breath and make a silent prayer to God. You run and gather yourself in preparation for being solo in the sky. You are flying. You are gaining height. Things you were looking up to are now beneath you. You are a bird and are taking life and its turbulence as it comes. This brings you an amount of peace and calm. You are one with the wind and with God. God is with you and you shall rise.
… Inspired by Evan