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Author: Jeff O'Brien Created: 5/13/2009 2:45 PM
Jeff O'Brien revolutionized his life when he learned to hang glide in 1998. He dropped most other interests and promptly moved to Utah to fly full time. He's flown hang gliders on five continents and began competing in 2005. Jeff is probably most known for his wing mounted photography which can be seen in hang gliding publications and press worldwide.

KEEN is a cool shoe company.

KEEN shoes give you wings. Click on this.

My narrow miss at a Darwin Award...

On a bike ride a week ago, I spotted a snake on the trail. Stopped to have a look at it. A good size snake with the markings of a rattle snake, but an imposter. I continued on without disrupting the little guy.

Yesterday I was biking up the trail in nearly the same spot, and a snake was laying across the trail. As I skidded to a stop, I couldn't get my right foot out of the pedal. My sprained ankle has left me with little twist strength. As I began to teeter over falling toward the snake, I looked down to see a few rattles on the tail!! As I fell nearly over the snake, I thought, "you've got to be F-ing kidding me." My hands and arms landed close to the snake who half coiled up in defense.

The next moments I don't remember, but I found myself standing up next to my bike on the ground with a sore ankle, my flight response having righted me. I turned my attention to the little dude. He laid stationary, not rattling. When I moved closer, he was keen to get away. I took out my phone to get a photo, but each time I cut off his path, he'd turn in a different direction quickening his pace. His body was warm and he had plenty of speed. Rather than stress him out and provoke him, I let him slither into the trees.

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Had a photo gathering session on the south side yesterday. Threw the Go Pro Hero cam on for a few.


Airtime: 1:30. Flights: 5.

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One more photo from the South Side a couple of seasons ago by Adam West or Alex McCulloch

Rented Seth a falcon and met him out at the south side. Started low on the training slope and worked quickly to the top. His last flight he soared and pulled a top landing when he after sensory overload from the flight. Made his month perhaps.

I took hops on the falcon in between Seth's flying.

Great to see the KAVU and KEEN folks this past week.

Airtime: 30. Flights: 5.

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I was hanging at the outdoor retail show in SLC this past week and Seth Warren (KAVU) was in town promoting himself, looking to film, and fly.

A couple of photos taken a while ago out at the south side by Adam West or Alex McCulloch:

We were late, but it was on when we arrived at 10am Thursday. Will Viktora, a photographer from Flagstaff happened to be in town and he joined for the morning.

I jammed my glider together, followed Seth's direction with the shots he wanted, and had a nice session. Sliders, downwind passes, low level flying... we made the morning work.

Airtime: 1:00. Flights: 5.

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On Saturday I went up to Squak Peak, set up my glider and a camera mount in the heat and proceeded to sweat profusely waiting on launchable wind. It never came, and for the first time in years, Inspo. had completely skunked me.

I got up at 5am on Sunday and headed out to the south side to redeem myself. Winds built during the morning and there were a few pilots out from Colorado on their way to King.

Gabe and Julian, the Telluride boys diving for cover.

BTW - in case anyone reading this cares, there's absolutely no boycott from US Team pilots regarding the King meet. Zippy's in Zapata, Shapiro has to work, I have to attend the outdoor retailer show in SLC which is in direct conflict with the meet, and Dustin and Davis have no interest in King. The underlying politics over Big Spring and the King meet is BS and only undermines the sport. I hope the King meet has cu's til sunset and records are broken.

Had a great morning trying to get just the right shot. Did slider after slider after slider and finally twisted my ankle well enough to end my day. Swollen and sore today.

Airtime: 2:00. Flights: 10.

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A couple days after returning to Missoula with Shapiro, we put camera mounts on our gliders and "had a fly" as Joshie likes to say ;)

Dead trees behind launch.

Frankly the flight was just ehh. I got up over 12k in a sharp thermal a couple of miles to the south, but I think the poor handling from the camera mount and perhaps fatigue made it less enjoyable than it should have been. Flying beats most activities on any day though, and I told myself to appreciate it more...

The commercial jets coming into Missoula do pass right through the HG airspace and one airliner came floating out of the blue like a shark underwater and glided past. I turned away from it as it passed well beneath me a mile away.

I was thankful for the decompression and creative time with Jeff and his family. We're like minded and motivated and enthusiasm was bred over a few pots of coffee and some work late at night in the basement. The past has been great and the future will be even better as we continue to bliss out in the present.

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Since arriving back stateside I've been a rolling stone without too much time for wrap up and reminiscence. Finally put together clips from the last days in France:


The trip was obviously a high point to the year, but there was no sadness when it concluded. It's simply the segue from great times abroad to great times back "home". The party never stops.

Driving from Laragne to Dusseldorf via Chamonix was an adventure. We were packed like sardines among our gear with a pile of stuff atop the van. 3km from our destination in Dusseldorf, the autobahn cops stopped us. They were stern and gave us concern as they scrutinized our gear and weighed the vehicle with portable scales. Smiles and shit talk started after they mentioned it would only cost us 35 euro to be on our way. Oh and we'd have to throw stuff off the top of the van and come back for it. The coppers were just flexing their authority and caused us some hassle. No worries in the end.

We snuck off one more flight in Chamonix as a "team" minus Davis between rain storms. The view from take off just down valley from Chamonix looking over at Mont Blanc.

The four of us worked the lightest bubbles of lift right at launch height for almost an hour doing daisy chains around one another and strafing launch when possible. Finally, we all got up to cloud base against the face behind launch.

Click on the photo above. Shapiro about to enter the white room next to !!! Brings a smile to my face now. All HG pilots have had experiences like this. The ineffable ones.

The conditions turned on enough for us to branch out and see if we might be able to jump a valley and land in Chamonix. Dustin pushed deepest and had to land in a sloping rotor LZ with an angry land owner.

Zippy, Shapiro, and I were able to get back to the main LZ, each of us using the altitude for individual expression. Zippy took advantage by diving into the weeds upwind before using all his energy to zoom up, swoop downwind, turn 180 and land. The clip is in the video.

We were all amped up from our experience and continued the buzz by going through the pile of left over full wine bottles in the van. We had a serious shine on when we retrieved a stressed Dustin a valley away.

I've had my flying shoes since Australia in 2007. They've likely flown over 5000 air miles, and I chose to leave them on the windsock pole in the LZ. Not the most environmentally friendly thing to do, so I hope a local threw them in the trash eventually.

Airtime: 1:40. Flights:1.

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Meeting challenges with success.

Chabre upper launch.

Launched off the north side and promptly sank to within 500ft. of the valley floor. Repeating the mantra, "You've got it, you've got it," over and over, I went to the last hills before I'd have to land. Found broken light lift that I turned in for the next thirty minutes and finally got to cloud base.

Played a good start game and was running fast to the first turnpoint. Had a great run for the first 20km after the first turn. Was with Andreas Olsen and Nene. Before Gap, things started to deteriorate and I found myself ridge soaring deep in a gently sloping mountain bowl covered in grass and wild flowers. Andreas went in, so I followed, I wouldn't have chosen to go so deep otherwise.

A fine venue to watch the evening.

We made circles swooping to within 40ft. of the terrain on the backside of the turns. I got puffs of wildflower smells every circle. Andreas found a better core, I waffled downwind eventually.

Tried to cross the valley, and found myself again just a few hundred feet off the valley floor staring at farmers roofs and desperate. Again I searched for a long time in broken lift before attaining cloud base many minutes later. Turns out many had a hard time in this area and got slow.

The traveling US circus prepares to hit the road.

I ran into Shapiro and others at the second turnpoint and was motivated to try and "catch back up" to some of the leaders. I felt like I was working only the most substantial lift and pushing hard. This was my mistake. There were good clouds, but the day was getting on and it was after 6pm. It was time to top out and slow down and I kept pushing on.

I deviated WAY off course to stay on the windward and sunny faces, but nothing got me high enough to connect with the cloud lines again. Again I was just a few feet over cliffs working my way to the town of Sisterone. At nearly five hours into the flight, I gave up a bit. I was low with the possibility of going for it over a ridge, but it would have meant a difficult retrieve if I didn't get up. I opted to work the area where I was which had less promise of lift, and eventually landed. I was happy with the way I'd met challenges during the task, but I'd made a mistake and gotten impatient.

Julia continues the legend taking Wasabi to Russia, Red Square, and beyond.

Airtime: 4:55. Flights:1. Miles: 75.

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Weaving baskets

We go to Aspres - therefore I fly with flowers...

They call a 114km task with SIX turnpoints before goal at Ribiers. The light lift before the start creates swarms of gliders. The thickest traffic yet in the meet. I snug up to several pilots. It's amazing no one has mid air collisions with such congestion. You'd think someone would stop paying attention momentarily.

Those impressive peaks behind launch.

I head across the valley for a better start strategy and hang back for the second start. Somehow I find just the lift I need and just get to cloudbase as the start ticks over. Most of the field is off to the east, and I get a wicked run for the first 15 miles.

I'm in the lead, and there's reasonable clouds ahead, so I press on when I get to Laragne. A dozen pilots are turning just behind me. I plummet. I get WAY down in the valley before I'm able to find something to fight in and regain a footing. I've made a costly error. Not going to win a day in the first 20miles. I should have hung back and used other pilots. Lesson learned.

It takes me a long time to work my way back up to the clouds in the next three thermals. I'm angry and determined to regain ground. The climbs over the peaks are working and I'm flying 60+mph between thermals. We hit a couple of VERY strong climbs to cloud base and I run into Jonny 4km before the 4th turnpoint. I'm 8km behind.

A little Ruhmer.

All the clouds are working over the peaks and I'm dolphin flying over 9000ft. Davis gets on the radio to say we've got glide through the last two turnpoints to goal from our height. I press on. There's an unknown pilot in my path and for fun, I skim a meter off his top surface. Speed up so he can't catch me to repay the favor. :)

After the next turnpoint, we run into blue conditions and a 25km headwind. Pilots are plummeting and landing. As I near the last turnpoint, I see a pilot land downwind!!! They do a quarter spin on flare and plop down. It's Shapiro! I didn't know, but he'd landed on a steep slope. Pilots were falling out of the sky in the mountain rotor.

Hmm... insult to injury at the end of our day.

I made two turns over Jeff in lift to make sure he was moving and to ensure I had goal. Flew in and landed in the strong, turbulent conditions. They stopped the task 14 minutes later. With the scoring system, they go 15 minutes back from the stopped time and I missed getting scored in goal by less than a minute. Terrible news for me. I went from 13th to 20something on the day and lost over 200 points. It penalized me HUGE. Pilots were irate as the weather wasn't that bad. A terrible call.

Airtime: 3:40. Flights: 1. Miles:71.

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