I am a photographer. When I wander, I wander with a camera. One evening, while out exploring a new road in the desert east of Bend, I happened upon a group of paragliders. I watched in wonder as they peacefully flew in random patterns. As I took photos, I found myself wishing to be up there with them. I went back several times to watch these pilots ride the late-afternoon thermals across the sky as day turned to night.

By chance, on one of these evening wanderings, I met Kimberly Phinney, owner and instructor at White Owl Paragliding. With camera in hand, we discussed photography and paragliding. I learned White Owl Paragliding is the only legal entity allowed to fly commercial tandem flights in the area. We spoke of Desert Air Riders, a local paragliding club. Within a couple of weeks, I was invited to join the group and document a tandem flight.

My pilot Chris McKeage ran me through the hows and whys of flight, including instructions for takeoff and landing. We then loaded up the gear and started hiking to the launch point. We laid the wings out—which were more like parachutes—donned our helmets, and strapped the camera down. He said he’d give me a 1-2-3 count. One means get ready, two means start moving forward, and three . . . we were flying!

Upon lift off, we quickly gained altitude and proceeded to make turns to stay in the lift created by the thermals. Floating high above the earth, a handful of other pilots zipped by us using smaller and faster wings.

It was an exhilaratingly peaceful experience up there—just Chris and I circling in the wind like eagles.

We floated for 45 minutes, ending at a small patch of cleared desert near the launch point—a soft landing to an amazing flight. The event concluded with a celebratory beer as we packed the gear.

I’m a photographer. When I wander, I wander with a camera. – Gary Calicott

Flying in a paraglider was something I had always wanted to do and I am thankful to have received the opportunity. I guess not all who wander are lost!