Back in December of 2007, Brazilian pilot, Leonardo Silveira called me, on the recommendation of a mutual friend. He wanted to talk about photography but I quickly switched the subject to a long time dream of flying a paramotor across Canada. Silveira wanted in and I told him that if he could gather the required sponsorships by the time I returned from winter flying in Nepal, we would run the trip the following summer.
I returned on May 1st of 2008 and no sponsors had hopped on. But then an email came in: Nirvana Systems, a Czech paramotor manufacturer, was taking a serious interest and it wasn’t long before we signed our contract. With less than two months to our last possible launch date; there wasn’t time to co-ordinate the cross-Canada trip, so we resolved to fly 2000km, across my beautiful home province of British Columbia, documenting the current state of our forests and the destructive wake left by the North American Mountain Pine Beetle.
And so on July 1st of 2008, we jumped in our beat-up work van with driver Amber Killback and ground support, Carlos Koppen and drove the mapped route backwards from my home in Nelson, 2000 km northwest, to the small costal town of Prince Rupert while marking all of the safe landing fields we could find in our GPS units. Entering unfamiliar territory, we realized that while the valleys provided endless farm fields, the mountain passes showed near none forcing us to consider tourist pullouts and stretches of straight road where we could see traffic approaching from a distance.
After four days we reached the coast and discovered that the low clouds and heavy fog greeting us were posed to become two straight weeks of thunder and lighting. Without much choice in the matter, we launched from a hazy, zero-wind golf course and begun our trip east through the mountains, keeping low in the valleys to avoid getting lost amongst the thickest clouds we’d ever seen. The only place we could re-fuel was a straight stretch of road about 75 km inland, a petrifying circumstance that went surprisingly well. I launched from that same road an hour later and then almost shat myself watching Leo running straight at an oncoming eighteen wheeler, getting airborne only seconds before crossing it’s path.
After the first 500 km we headed south from Smithers. Fortunately the winds did the same and helped us make up for time lost in coastal rain showers. While stiff tailwinds had their advantages, they made for horrifying landings, sometimes correcting full frontals only 30 meters off the deck! It was around here that pine beetle and clear-cut logging had begun devastating the landscape; from up high all you could see were red or grey pines, or black ‘burn piles’ where pines once stood. Wood processing plants that had completely shut down, 100’s of workers and their families had up and left small logging towns leaving them ghost-like.
Though our passion for flying had gotten us here, we quickly found that it was the amazingly kind Canadians we met that made this trip so special. As we flew towards Prince George, sudden gale-force winds begun pushing us backwards all the way to an emergency landing in a farm field belonging to a man named Steve Harrington. Steve wasn’t mad. Instead of the shotgun we’d expected, he came out running with a six-pack of beer! “That was damn near the most incredible thing I ever seen!” Steve continued, “Who are you guys? Wanna beer!?” The winds continued for another two days and we made ourselves right at home. Steve offered us a cozy cabin to stay in, hot meals, home-made moonshine and he even let us hay his field!
We found this incredible level of generosity again and again throughout the entire trip like the time we got stuck in Williams Lake having dodged rain clouds for the last 20 km of that day’s 100 km flight. We would have landed earlier, but couldn’t see anything but trees to the horizon! Good thing we didn’t! When we finally set down in Joan and Tanya’s field it couldn’t have been more than 30 minutes before we were sitting around their dining room table eating turkey and mashed potatoes! It was times like these that made the day-to-day troubles all seem worthwhile.
Our Rodeo engines didn’t let us down the entire journey and made even some of the sketchiest moments feel as safe as walking down the street. We flew along rivers for great lengths, Leo foot-dragging occasionally as I gasped. Sometimes we would hover over giant logging operations, spiraling around their giant smoke stacks. Other days we flew way above the clouds and occasionally through the surprise rainstorm. One day we spent relaxing in Vernon, Leo even chased me around a lake as I wake-boarded behind a speedboat! The very next day I flew down, the same lake, a satisfying 80 km all the way to Kelowna. Being Canada-day meant that the cottages along the water were packed with people cheering me on the entire way. I could only describe this flight as an incredible dream within an even greater dream!
Although we two were petrified of taking on this daunting task in the beginning we knew it simply had to be done. We had no idea what we were up against but knew that we were risking our lives for it. But after 50 amazing fights and countless unbelievable experiences, on August 10th, we made it back to Nelson safe and sound; just in time to begin planning our 10,000 cross-Canada trip for the following summer.
Pilot & Photographer