Benjamin Jordan has spent his life learning how to be alone.
When he was 15, Jordan was at a camp when his group was unexpectedly taken into the forest by their counsellors. There he was handed food and water, and told to stay within a roped-off area on his own.
By the time the counsellors returned, Jordan was in hysterics. He hadn’t eaten, because he wasn’t sure how long he’d need the food to last, and was speaking in a made-up language. He’d only been alone for 12 hours.
“I thought to myself if I can’t be alone for a day without experiencing extreme terror, then there’s something that’s not in my tool belt as a person and I’m going to have a hard time in this world,” he says. “Because I’m sure that this is going to happen again and I’m going to need to handle this situation better.”
After that experience, Jordan made it an annual goal to go on a trip by himself. He started with one-night getaways on his bike and gradually worked to where he is now, which is to say alone on a mountain peak, sometimes for days on end with nothing but a ukulele to keep him company.
The kid who once couldn’t handle being on his own has made a career out of it.
“Being able to do that, it’s kind of like a magic trick that I’ve created that allowed me to go for the big records,” he says.
Jordan, now 39, is one of Canada’s top paragliders. In 2018, he became the first person to paraglide nearly the entire length of the Rockies in B.C. and Alberta, from just south of the Canada-United States border in Montana to south of Prince George.
The entire 48-day, 1,200-kilometre trip was captured in the documentary The Endless Chain, which was released last year and named Best Canadian Film by the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival in February. The festival is offering an online stream of the film from Sept. 9 to 16 at vimff.org.
The film features stunning images of Jordan floating over the Rockies, many of which he captured on his own with a small camera on a tether, and offers a unique perspective of the mountain chain.
But it also focuses on Jordan’s own internal struggles with self confidence and gender identity. As a child, Jordan was bullied and says he didn’t understand how to play with other boys. He prayed at night he would wake up as a girl.
“What does it mean to be a man?” he asks himself at the beginning of the film. As he soars over the mountains, searches for snow to make water, strums his ukulele or waits — sometimes for days — for the right weather to fly in, Jordan tries to find an answer to the question that has dogged him into adulthood.
“I feel very comfortable as a man now, but certainly growing up I never really felt comfortable as a man,” says Jordan.
“I always felt challenged athletically. I felt challenged in my confidence. There was just ways of being that confident guys could be that I just couldn’t be. This seemed like an important subject for me to try to inject into an adventure film.”
The Endless Chain, named for a visually striking stretch of mountains in Alberta’s Jasper National Park, may be existential in tone but is still centred on a journey that until recently wasn’t possible.
Landing and launching were previously forbidden in Banff National Park and Jasper’s park. Gliding over both parks wouldn’t be possible in a day without landing — the only nearby area to legally land was at Kinbasket Lake, which Jordan says is too remote to leave without assistance.
But in 2015 Jasper allowed paragliding on a trial basis. That allowed Jordan to fly over Banff north into Jasper’s park, where he could safely land and carry on with his flight north.
Jordan now lives in Slocan City, B.C., but when he spoke to the Star he was on a mountain peak in the middle of filming his latest paragliding expedition.
He still hasn’t found all the answers he hoped The Endless Chain would provide, but is at peace with that.
“I’d like to think that I’ll never really know the answer to what it means to be a man, because that way I can just always reinvent that for myself and allow other people to have the space to invent that for themselves.”
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