Jeff Styles wears many hats.
There is his radio talk show hat, his adventure sports hat, his movie-making hat and his well-worn cowboy hat, which he wears during all his activities — except mountain-boarding and paragliding, when he wears a helmet.
Styles spends his workday as the host of "Fred the Show" on Chattanooga's Talk Radio, but when not behind the mic, the 56-year-old displays the same wide-eyed wonder for the outdoors as a child exploring beyond his backyard for the first time.
"There is still so much to discover," Styles says. "Most people develop an aversion to briers and steep climbs. But I'm constantly fascinated by what you can find around one more corner."
From his home atop Lewis Chapel Mountain, Styles often goes on old-fashioned adventures. He chases water snakes, discovers new caves and paddles gar-filled lakes, always recording his escapades on his GoPro camera. Later, he splices the clips together and adds a soundtrack.
In one such video, Styles paraglides in tandem across the Sequatchie Valley, diving and gliding to Journey's "Spaceman."
Don't be so wise, I was born to fly.
Not without a place in the wind.
Walked off a cliff, then I closed my eyes.
Ooh, I'm not a spaceman.
"That's Journey before Steve Perry robbed them of all their good music," says Styles, who, as talent coordinator for local music festivals Riverbend and Riverfront Nights, also wears a music connoisseur hat.
Styles has not always been a mountain man. He was raised in Dayton, Ohio, in a neighborhood he describes as "very Spielbergian."
"All the houses looked the same. We were right by the Air Force base, so it was a very international community. My family was literally the only American family in my immediate neighborhood," Styles says.
Then, when Styles was a high school freshman, his family moved from suburban Ohio to rural Georgia.
"Think of the culture shock! I thought I was in hell, at first," Styles says.
Styles had a grandmother who lived in Bowdon where his family relocated. He was accustomed to visiting there and already had a friend in town — a kid named Brian Williamson who introduced Styles to his circle of friends.
"These guys practically lived in the woods. They all had their own permanent campsites they'd been working on since they were young. They were woodsmen," Styles says. "Not rednecks, but true woodsmen."
Prior to meeting them, Styles had little outdoor experience. He had spent his school years playing football like his father, who Styles says was a legendary athlete.
"To him, sports meant football; maybe basketball," Styles says. His father, Styles says, did not understand his son's new lifestyle. Nonetheless, Styles was smitten. He was learning to camp, fish and hunt.
"We ate anything we shot, no matter what it was. Birds, squirrel, deer. Those guys were very honorable," Styles says.
During the summers, Styles and his new friends wandered the countryside in search of swimming holes.
"The goal was to find the highest thing to jump off of into the water — cliffs, trees, whatever. We wanted to take it bigger and bigger," says Styles, who continued his quest for elevation through high school and into college, where he studied journalism. Upon graduation, he moved to Chattanooga to learn to hang-glide at Lookout Mountain flight park, considered one of the best flying schools in America.
"I don't remember anything from that first flight but the rush of the takeoff. Flying is always such a surprise. It's blissful. It's beautiful. My god, you're flying! Its just you and the wind," Styles says.
Styles now lives two miles from Henson Gap launch in Dunlap, one of the region's most notable takeoffs for hang-gliders and paragliders. Sixteen hundred feet below sprawls the Sequatchie Valley, a mosaic of pastures framed by dark mountains.
"I like to think about these places when I'm having a bad day — how they exist on my worst day the same as they do on my best. The birds are flying. The streams are flowing," Styles says.
Lately, he's traded his hang-glider's V-shaped sail for a paraglider's parachute.
"People my age have discovered [paragliding] is more gentle on the body," Styles says. Still, he argues that the sky is one of the safest places to be. "The only thing that can go wrong is during your contact with the planet," he says.
So he takes precautions — during all of his adventure sports. He trades his cowboy hat for a helmet. He straps knee pads on over his jeans. He hikes with a walking stick — which is also useful for pushing-off once he is on his all-terrain mountain "skateboard." As he rockets down the ridge, the board's wheels kick up pebbles, like tiny asteroids shooting through space.