Jeffrey Bernard has been jumping off mountains and soaring wingtip-to-wingtip with eagles, hawks, and falcons for longer than many of you have been alive. Earlier this month, the 48-year-old hang-gliding master of Danville, NH, swooped onto a beach in Ipswich where esteemed Phoenix arts editor Jon Garelick just so happened to be lounging. As it turned out, Bernard had just flown more than 100 miles, and boy, his arms must have been tired. (Although, by Garelick's recollection, Bernard appeared more mentally burnt out than anything else.)
The world record for long-distance hang gliding stands at 474 miles, but around these parts, 101 is totally a thing. When I interviewed him a week after his flight to Ipswich, Bernard used fancy scientific-sounding words I'm not going to pretend to understand to explain why a hang glider hitting the 100-mile mark in this region is a bit of a rarity. Something to do with the rocky topography and those notoriously persnickety weather patterns. What's more, 101 miles is Bernard's all-time high score, and puts him ahead of the pack in the Vermont Hang Gliding Association's annual XC contest for greatest distance flown.
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Bernard got his hang-gliding hobby off the ground during his collegiate days at New Hampshire's Plymouth State University back in 1984, and says he's blown through more than 500 miles in 12 weeks. During this phone chat, he imparted a plethora of insights into matters pertaining to being in the sky all the frickin' time.
CARE TO SHARE ANY EMBARRASSING CRASH-LANDING STORIES?
Do I have to? [Laughs] Um, the worst thing I ever did was a landing at one of my friend's barbecues. He had a horse fence in the middle of his yard. I got hit with a little bit of a tailwind and was off course by a touch. I took out the top rail of the fence with my knees. I didn't get hurt or anything, but it was embarrassing. As soon as everyone realized I was okay, they came over and took pictures.
DO YOU FEEL YOU RUINED THAT PARTY . . . OR WERE YOU THE LIFE OF THAT PARTY?
Anytime you do that, you're the entertainment. It's like car racing. People want to see the crashes. I actually flipped upside down. This was back in, like, 1989. We try not to do stuff like that on a regular basis, but it happens.
DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU'RE UP THERE?
You could, but I don't choose to. I don't think it's wise. You can listen to music on the way up and the way back to get yourself psyched up, but you want to be able to hear aircraft approaching.
EVER ROCK OUT TO "DANGER ZONE" FROM TOP GUN PRE-SKY GLIDE?
I'm trying to think of what I was listening to recently. I'm not big into music, but I'm trying to think of the name of this band. My friend brought me to their concert, so I saw them . . . it was Creed! You know Creed?