My friend Harrison Fast died while speed flying off of Jungfrau peak near Lauterbrunnen in March, 2016. This is my story of how and why we became friends.
Boulder, Colorado – I ran down the mountain trying to launch into flight. A huge paragliding wing attached to my harness. The air grabbed my wing and pulled me off the ground straight out. It swung me like a pendulum before slamming me backwards. I hit the ground with a thud. It was my second crash in a row.
More about that in a moment.
I was an employee of RealD for 6 years. From 2007-2013 where I started in Finance helping raise equity to fund the company, then moved into business development where I traveled around the world doing business deals to help grow into new areas.
In 2012 I accepted a new role in RealD’s Boulder office to help bring new technology into the world. There was one concept I was passionate about and pitched my boss who said “you’re approved to move ahead but you can’t have any internal resources for the project.”
I wasn’t very good at listening to my bosses.
I immediately set up lunches with many of the engineers in the Boulder office asking them if they were interested in helping where they could. Everyone was busy working on immensely challenging projects with little time to spare, including Harrison.
But Harrison wasn’t someone to let their work load get in the way of passion, and he was passionate about my project so he said “I’m in. This is a great idea and I want to see it happen.”
Harrison’s commitment caused a few other engineers to commit, too, but they asked not to mention it to anyone since their hours were watched closely. We launched the project incognito and were on our way.
By 2012 Harrison had already been an engineer at RealD for a little while. We became friends at work through our mutual passion for outdoor sports. I was a former sponsored climber, ultra-runner, mountain bike racer, and Western Montana Mountain Rescue Team member -one of few teams specializing in high-angle rescue. Many of the things Harrison loved, too.
We could talk about business yet we related to each other in life. He understood the job wasn’t the end game, it was a tool that could be used for freedom. Where some of our friends were living in vans climbing, flying, and dirt-bagging their way around the West, he chose a high-demand career that paid well and gave him what he needed to do anything he wanted in the off hours. We would be talking about our project, but the conversations always turned to new ideas, how technical gear could be designed better, or cool trips we had in mind.
When I moved to Boulder from Santa Monica, California for the new role at RealD I lived in an apartment on North Broadway that looked out at the beginning of the Front Range. When weather was good I watched paragliders take off and fly miles into the sky. I was mesmerized by the beauty, color and skill in flying. I loved the idea of bagging a peak and flying down – something Harrison said was his speed flying goal.
Until then my love of outdoor sports immersed me in water, rock and soil, but I hadn’t yet engaged with the air. So I signed up for paragliding lessons and started flying on weekends.
Harrison found out and I’d never seen him so excited. He was just starting to speed fly and every Monday would show me a video from the weekend.
And then he saved my life.
“How are your lessons going?” he asked. “It felt easy the first few times I flew and then Saturday I took off and pendulumed backwards into the mountain. Twice. I was so upset I quit the rest of the day’s lesson. It seemed like my instructor was totally not helpful at the time so I agreed to meet him again tomorrow and see if we can fly again.”
“Who is your instructor?” he asked.
[Tells name of instructor]
“What?!!! That’ guy’s an ASSHAT! Dude, you need to quit going to that guy immediately. I’ve heard so many horror stories about that guy. Forget that guy. I’ll hook you up with the best guy I know.”
My lessons were prepaid. Hundreds of dollars, but I didn’t care. I quit going. The instructor called and called but I ignored him and set up lessons through Harrison’s friend.
Shortly afterwards I left RealD. Harrison and I stayed friends and hung out a few times in the Summer of 2013. I put paragliding lessons on hold to work on starting a company and Harrison was super supportive. We’d talk about ideas and he started projects of his own (better slack lining gear was one of his killer inventions. Talk about an activity that could use some dedicated gear!).
I moved to Seattle to build my business and though we didn’t see each other in person again, we stayed friends through social media. I watched him go bigger, higher and faster, thinking at times how I was the same way when I was 10 years younger but how Harrison was 10X. One of the most passionate, smart, fun people I knew – I wish I was more like him, even today.
But the story doesn’t end there.
5 months after leaving RealD my new company was an infant – just an idea really – and I knew all my time would be consumed by it. So I took a 9-day solo trail running trip to Maui with the goal of running as many trails on the island as I could while living in a van (to simultaneously write a camping/trail running guide for Maui). A last hurrah, before I thought I’d be working too much.
It was one of the best trips of my life, and one day on the way to running trails in the Kula Preserve up Waipoli road, I came across a paragliding launch site. I pulled over and watched as several really good pilots took off. Striking up a conversation with a former Boulderite and entrepreneur from Switzerland – we got to talking about the early days of flying. I mentioned Harrison to him (didn’t seem to know each other) and then told him my bad experience a few months earlier with Instructor ASSHAT.
“No Way! That guy almost killed me! He was my first instructor. My second flight I got stuck in a thermal and couldn’t get down. That guy was screaming at me on my radio and eventually had to fly up to me and show me how to get out of the thermal. I promised myself if I made it down I would never fly again. I quit paragliding for 5 years until I met some guys on Maui who taught me properly. Good thing your friend warned you off that guy!”
Harrison got a kick out of that story. I believe Harrison saved my life.
I’m sorry I can’t make your memorial, Harrison. I’m still working on building my dream and I know you understand that more than most. I watched your trip to Chamonix and Lauterbrunnen with envy. I watched your flying improve through your videos, and cheered as you launched your ideas. Thank you for saying yes to the project, even when it meant working extra hours. I am lucky to have worked with you, but more importantly lucky it made us friends. Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for inspiring me and many others to live better lives. Thank you for always having fun. Thank you for saving my life.