Outdoor Tracks
“Go over the top of the river,” says Swede, “that’s where they are!”

“Sounds good,” I reply, pointing the camera down.

“There it is … the honey-hole!” he teases, as usual. Below us is a dark deep hole in the river bottom at the tail-end of a gravel island. We stop and hover over it, looking down. “That’s where we fish!”

“Now let’s follow the river to the west!”

I turn west and fly down the river at about 100 feet above the water. We can see the clear water, the fast-flowing shallows, and the dark, deep holes. There are several places that look great for fishing. The meandering river snakes its way lazily all the way from the horizon toward us, cutting a deep wide valley through the countryside. The shores are tree-lined, providing the perfect cover for wildlife.

“Are there any cables across the valley?” I ask. Flying into a cable or powerline stretched across the river would be devastating.

“No, you’re OK, there’s none there,” replies Penny, Swede’s wife.

Richie “Swede” Johnson is a friend from waaay back. Years ago, he owned the local butcher shop, and being in a small town, everybody knew everybody. A group of us used to ride horses into the mountains, staying out for a week or two at a time. We experienced some of the most beautiful and remote mountain lakes just teeming with trout eager to take a fly. We are both lovers of the outdoors and love to be in nature.  After I became a quadriplegic, I was no longer able to go on the horseback riding trips, but I wanted to learn how to smoke fish and make deer jerky and sausage. Swede — butcher, smoker, and sausage maker extraordinaire — was my go-to guy. He taught me how to brine the fish, cure meat, make jerky, what temperature and how much smoke to use, and how long to smoke them. He’s a wealth of knowledge in this area and even taught his expertise in college.

Swede, Kary and friends wave at the drone.

Swede, Kary and friends wave at the drone.

About this time, Swede and Penny built their dream home. Their place borders a river that is full of trout, walleye, goldeye, and I don’t even know what else. Outdoor living for them is paradise. From their home they see deer, moose, elk and more. The fishing in the river within walking distance from the house is incredible. Needless to say, they spent countless hours at the river.

As life would have it, Swede developed multiple sclerosis, which ended their river excursions together. He hasn’t been out there for a while. I guess we will never know why life is like this, but Swede has always been so positive and remains this way, which he credits to great family and friends to share life with.

First-Person View for Two

So here we are, a couple of guys in power wheelchairs, zooming over the river near Swede’s house checking out his favorite fishing holes with a drone and first-person-view goggles.

I had seen an article where people who were not able to get out very much were taken for a virtual ride with these goggles on. The goggles hook up to the drone and allow you to see in real time as if you are inside the drone. These can be linked to additional tablets, or cell phones, etc., so more than one person can view the fun. When I received my own goggles, I was amazed that I could once again explore inaccessible areas. And I got to thinking about my friend Swede, now a power chair user who could no longer go fishing on the river that is so close, yet so far. I got the idea to bring the drone and have him wear the goggles, and I would fly it using my cell phone as my screen. It is so amazing that two guys in power wheelchairs can be exploring, laughing, and zooming up and down a river with a drone. Swede is acting as tour guide and pointing out where the good fishing is while I do the flying.

Unexpected Gifts

Like most people with disabilities, it takes a lot of help for us to get to do the things that we want to do. I am so very grateful for those that help me achieve my dreams, and always hope that they get something out of it, too. Sometimes I feel guilty about the effort others put in for me, and then I remember a conversation with one of the pilots out of our flight club. He reminded me how much people enjoy seeing the smile on my face when I get to fly. He let me know how good he felt about himself after helping me to get into the sailplane and experience flight, and that he thought he should be thanking me for the gift. I had never looked at it this way, and was speechless.

So here I am, sharing my drone experience with a friend, and he is able to show me the old fishing holes and sights on the river that I’ve heard so much about. I think this is such a positive use for a technology that’s sometimes controversial. Swede’s smiles and excitement on seeing the inaccessible river for the first time in years made me feel so good about sharing my good fortune of being able to “fly” from my chair. It made my day. I know now what the pilot from the flight club meant.

Thank you for the gift, Swede!

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of drone are you flying?
We are flying the Mavic Pro using a cell phone as a screen and it is also paired to DJI Goggles.

Who is doing the flying?
I was doing the flying and Swede was guiding me as to where he wanted to go.

How far can you go?
The drones nowadays can fly for nearly a half an hour and the range is about 5 miles. You need to check the rules in your area, but around here you’re supposed to have a spotter that can see it at all times.