Hartland Hartbreaker 2014

June 9, 2014

A couple of months ago I managed to convince a few people to sign up to what looked likephoto a fun race organised by North Devon Road runners billed as  8 miles of hartache or 17 miles of hartbreak.  Thankfully Mark, Julia and Anthony either signed up without reading the blurb properly, or are also a bit funny in the head, and before we knew it we found ourselves woefully undertrained and on the start line in the beautiful grounds of Hartland Abbey.

It’s a small race only in second year (around 300 runners), aimed at raising money for the Children’s Hospice South West.  The atmosphere was super friendly and it was very thoughtfully organised with excellent marshalling, ample water stops and a great family friendly event village.

The course itself was fabulous. After spreading the pack out over some wide track and up the first hill or two, the course plunged downhill onto the woods where we followed a tiny twisting footpath amidst a sea of divine smelling bluebells.  Reaching the coast, the niceties were over, and we were faced with a brutally corrugated section of coast path.  The ups were so steep they were only just about walkable for most mortals, and after only a few metres of summit, the slithering down slopes or awkwardly spaced steep steps were not much respite before the next merciless climb.  Thankfully the views were amazing, so it remained a surprisingly pleasant experience.  After a brief flat respite round the lighthouse there were some more hills with some long, shallow grinding hills to add variety to the steep lungbusters, before a joyful downhill on the road back to the Abbey for the ‘8’ (nearer 9) mile finish. Here I shamelessly bailed as my legs didn’t have another 10 miles of this level of punishment left, and more importantly I was running so slowly they might have run out of beer before I got back to the finish line.  My more hardcore friends reported the second section for the ’17’ (or 18 and a bit) mile course was like the first bit, but steeper, higher, and with added river crossings.  There was also another even more glorious and twisty bluebell wood section that kept Julia bouncing with joy at the mere thought of for quite some time after the finish!  The boys’ GPS watches reported somewhere between 3000  and 5000 feet of ascent over the 18 miles – the course setters really had squeezed every ounce of ascent they could find in the area.

Rehydrating on some fine local ales in the sunshine, the pain of the race subsided and everyone agreed it was one of the nicest atmospheres any of us had experienced racing – promptly demonstrated by the lovely ladies from the ‘caked in mud’ running club insisting we finish off their leftover cake.  Oh, if we must…. and thank you very much, it was lovely!  I’d like to say the course was nice as well, but I might have to settle for surprisingly enjoyable as pure evil goes.

Thanks again to the race organisers, proper job! For more info: http://www.hartlandhartbreaker.com/



A change of scene

September 7, 2013

Posted by Jenni

It’s been a bit quiet here for a while, hasn’t it? Well, Becky and I set this blog up a couple of years ago when we were setting off on an adventure together. Since then, so much has happened that this one blog couldn’t contain me anymore! So, as I can’t juggle very well, most of my posts are now appearing on http://blinkandbreathe.co.uk/ – so if you want to follow my adventures, have a look there.

But don’t worry, this site is just sleeping until Becky gets going again – and the spirit of it lives on in everything we do 🙂


A long dark winter?

March 23, 2013

Posted by Jenni

This week was the spring equinox. As the days get longer, there’s definitely a sense of optimism and excitement as pilots everywhere start planning their next adventures.

Two overpriced storage units resisting being sold at every turn!

Two overpriced storage units resisting being sold at every turn!

It’s felt like quite a long dark winter – well, it is six months since we headed back from Spain in September to get rid of the expensive van-shaped storage units sat on the drive (well, that’s all they are when they’re broken and taking up space). But even that was my choice – a few little things needed sorting out once and for all, so instead of heading to Nepal to finish my instructor training, I decided to stay in Wales and focus on tying up loose ends.

Flying tandem over Rhossili :-D

Flying tandem over Rhossili 😀

Looking back, it’s actually been quite a productive few months. I’ve had enough good weather days to keep me sane – usually out teaching with the awesome Pembrokeshire Paragliding team and our even more awesome students. I’ve managed to improve my tandem flying skills and get my rating. I kept the promise I made to myself last year not to spend January (when winter feels at its longest) in the UK, with a few weeks learning powder skiing and ski launches in the mountains around my beloved Annecy base, and I’ve learnt more than I ever thought I needed to know about fixing vehicles, navigating Cardiff via its autoparts shops and how to get best value for scrap metal.

My mountains are calling!

My mountains are calling!

But spring is in the air and I can hear the mountains calling me home to where the sun is shining, thermals are beginning to bubble and the red wine is cheap! There’s a buzz among all the pilots I speak to – a video we’ll make, a route we’ll fly, a possible business venture. It’s a bit early to share all my exciting plans, but I’m looking forward to kicking off the working season with Pembrokeshire Paragliding‘s annual pilgrimage to Annecy in May. Followed by a mixture of competitions, mountain adventures with Graham and Maison du Moulin‘s Irwyn Jehu (possibly even a couple of UK firsts) and freelance guiding, it’s shaping up to be an exciting summer!

All that aside, I haven’t flown a single cross country flight since August and my UK belly needs to go! So, it’s almost time to say: “So long winter, bring it on!”

I can’t wait!


Winter wonderland

November 6, 2012

Take off at Les Ruinettes

“Are you a skier or a boarder?” ask my new workmates as we mill about in Geneva airport waiting for the last of our team to land. Err, I’m a paraglider…

If I had any doubts about dropping everything to go to Switzerland for a season when I didn’t even know how to ski, they are dispelled within the first week as the long awaited snow starts to pour from the sky.   I can count the number of times I’ve seen more than a few centimetres of snow on one hand before, and the heaps of snow that appear each morning don’t seem to lose their magic even when you have to shovel them out the way to find the hot tub again.

The masses of snowdrifts provide a soft bailout from my inept skiing.   I wobble, totter, slide and end up in heaps whilst tiny children whizz past gracefully.

Mid January to March is dominated by sunshine with a fresh snowfall once a week or so.  More often than not I head out the door with a paraglider rather than my skis to play in the winter  sunshine.  This was what I went for,  I have left my flight deck at home and finally get the quality time with my glider I have longed for.  I’m averaging 3-5 days a week in the air all through winter, its a dream come true :).   There are often thermals, but I can’t really catch them.  This is not too stressful as I know I can try again in a hour, or tomorrow, or the day after…   In February the air temperature is -20 and once or twice I am almost in tears on the landing field from the pain of my frozen hands, but i’m still smiling from flying with the whole valley to myself.  I go to my wednesday afternoon seasonnaire ski lesson and gradually the skiing starts to improve too.  I realise through the skiing I’m a really slow learner and  I need to practice things a lot in a safe environment to gain my confidence, so I try and be patient with the flying, hoping it will at some point start coming together.   I head to the house thermal trigger point and find excuses to run away most days, but by the end of january I think I have at least cracked the pitch control during my spirals so I always land with a massive grin :).

There is so much to learn about the mountain weather so I study the sky, the forecasts, the pilots in the air, though I think it will take a lifetime to come close to understanding what is actually going on.  On the days I’m not sure about the flying,  I go skiing and head down to the bar by take off at the end of the day to check out who’s flying and ask them about the air.  The local pilots are so lovely and patiently answer my questions.   I love the fact that people just let me get on with flying here even though my skills are obviously inferior to most of them, though when I tripped over while taking off  three pilots were re-laying my wing by the time I was back on my feet, and the experienced pilots warn me to watch out for the valley winds today or tell me that friday is going to be the best day of the week.   I finally find the space I need to play without feeling watched here, and no matter how ridiculous the locals must think I am, they treat me with absolute kindness.

Finally going up!

Finally going up!

By the end of March I finally get some thermals in the valley.  My thermalling technique is pretty poor though my glider is more than game for it, and I’ve never made it very far above the treeline here, even in summer.  Now my glider is my friend and my legs aren’t shaking and with some helpful instructions about how to latch into the bottom section I finally make it.  There are 40 or so pilots scattered across the sky and its the most perfect day as I rise up level with Mont Fort and finally get to view the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc from the air glittering in the late afternoon sunshine – small steps forwards :).    My last flight in Verbier is on a thermic day into a reasonable valley wind and I feel happy. I understand my glider better now, and feel I can finally start to progress as a pilot again. Mission accomplished!

The awesome Ski verbier crew

In April the snow comes back and we are engulfed in clouds. I still go up most days, skiing in the white outs.  I’ve always thought there is a kind of introspective cosiness to not being able to see much.  Once or twice I turn onto the wrong piste off a lift or start to stray off the piste in really thick cloud – a reminder I still have so much to learn!   I also feel happy enough with my skiing to have my first time alone on the mogul fields of Mont Fort and Tortin when the sun comes back. My technique is still shocking, but it feels so good to be out on my own and feeling serene.  The guys in my company are awesome and introduce me to skiing (or rather falling over even more) off piste and in the trees :).  Now I finally understand why people love skiing, and begin to choose my skis over my paraglider to eke out the last of my winter!

I am heartbroken on my last day then Aurelia arrives and we head up to the slopes as it is too windy to fly.  The mountain is quiet, and everywhere there is powder.  It is so incredibly beautiful, and the skiing so wonderful that I can only feel happy. We end up bumping into a group of local pilots in the Pub and having an awesome random evening to top off a truly amazing season.

Sunset on the way to work

Perhaps its because the nights have drawn in and I’ve had to dig out my winter duvet or that I sometimes catch the scent of woodsmoke as I head home in the chill autumn dusk.  But, when I close my eyes now, all I can see are the mountains; heaped in pristine snow, or swirling with cloud, or starkly outlined against the starry sky, and I finally understand why people get really excited about winter.

I have absolutely no regrets about breaking the routine to chase my dreams last year and am reassured that if you do get a nagging feeling that there is something you have always wanted to do, then it is advisable to go for it.  This summer has been a shocker for flying in the Southwest, but I hope the things I learnt last winter have stayed with me and I’m also really excited about going on some ski trips soon now the snow has come back! 😀


First impressions of Israel

September 5, 2012
Briefing the route to St Andre

Down here, over here, up there and you’ll be in St Andre before you know it…

Posted by Jenni

The first group I guided round the Alps by myself was a rowdy bunch of Israeli pilots looking for big distance XC and a taster of the French Alps.

I’ve worked and played with some of the best guides of the Alps over the past year. They’ve helped me get to know these mountains and given me a great foundation for my own guiding work – and also given me high standards to live up to!

Straight off the back of two weeks working on Passion Paragliding‘s Alpine XC Adventure, I headed back to Annecy in the rain. When I found my group I was relieved – very welcoming and not too scary! They were as keen to escape the rain as I was, so we wasted no time and headed towards Laragne, with the hope of an evening flight on the way at Aspres if the clouds behaved themselves.

As we approached St Hilaire, there were wings in the air. With thunderstorms further south a possibility, I seized the opportunity and took the guys up for a flight. St Hilaire is a stunningly beautiful place with waterfalls cutting through the awesome cliffs and the funicular railway running up between the two take-offs. Even so, I was nervous as I went to meet my group in the landing field after a slightly extended top to bottom. But it’s hard not to be wowed by your first flight there and even my XC hungry bunch were grinning from ear to ear.

Looking back at Chabre

Gal looks back towards the awesome Chabre ridge

At Laragne, with the Ozone Chabre Open happening, the task for my group was simple: outfly the comp. So I briefed the competition task with a couple of extensions. The clouds growing behind me gave me the perfect opportunity to talk about mountain weather and the need to be ready to adapt your flight plan, then we were off. As the clouds grew over one of the competition turnpoints, the task was stopped to prevent 70 keen competition pilots disappearing into the white room. A quick chat with local expert Rachel of Allez-Up confirmed my view that conditions elsewhere were still good, so I updated my group over the radio. A couple chose to land immediately, some continued to scratch their way to the deck an hour’s walk from the nearest road, while Chino, playing catch-up after initially taking off with a knot, outflew everyone, landing miles from nowhere.

Sunset at Buc

Enjoying the sunset at Buc

Back at base, the big clouds put me off trying for an evening flight at one of the local sites. Buc, off to the west seemed like the best option. But it was no sure thing – I suggested we had a 50% chance of flying. Just over half the group took me on the chance and were treated to a couple of hours boating around in smooth evening lift until the sun set.

The next day, with stronger winds locally, I took Israel to St Vincent les Forts, one of my favourite sites. Today’s task was a 50km route to St Andre les Alpes, one of France’s XC gems. The strong conditions, both in terms of thermals and the high level wind, weren’t to everyone’s tastes and three of the gang headed back to base. Meanwhile, Chino and Gal turned south. Helping each other through the first part of the flight, all looked good. Together, they weathered the battle zone, leaving just one last climb to put them in easy reach of St Andre. But it wasn’t to be. Choosing the most remote valleys they could, they landed safely at the foot of Cheval Blanc. Chino, not sure of his GPS coordinates, gave me the next best thing – the phone number of the hotel he’d landed next to. Thankfully, the proprietor thought nothing of some a random English girl calling him to get the address because her friend had landed in the garden! I was soon on my way to round up my flock, somewhat frazzled by the full power conditions of the southern Alps, but awed by the flight they’d just achieved.

Heading for home, I was surprised to get a text from Benny, last seen struggling above launch, saying he was just short of St Andre. But what I first took to be a joke, turned out to be true! Benni’s determination and patience had paid off to give him the “flight of a lifetime”! Despite him having landed just a few km away from where we were, the small mountain range between us meant we were at least a two hour drive away, so he set off hitching for home as we drove the same way. With my eyes drooping as I dropped Chino and Gal off, Avner agreed to go find his friend. Relieved to simply take the role of navigator for I while, I jumped in the passenger seat.

Benny waits for his retrieve

Benny in the last of the daylight waiting for his retrieve

Eventually, over a deserted mountain pass, in the very last of the daylight, we found a delighted Benny. With hugs and congratulations done, my pilots safe and sound, I crawled into the back seat to sleep through the drive back to camp where dinner was being served and wine was flowing.

The next day, despite my optimistic late night weather forecasts, conditions weren’t right for a much anticipated trip to St Andre. So, after a severe telling off for Israel from the campsite reception for their over-exuberance in the small hours of the morning, we slowly prepared ourselves to head back to take-off at St Vincent. But just as we were leaving, a text message brought the tragic news of the death of a friend and fellow pilot in Israel. With all thoughts of flying forgotten, my group quickly decided to head back to Annecy and friends there.

Briefing the route to Annecy

This is the way we would fly back to Annecy if the clouds were higher!

Regrouping a couple of days later, the group wanted to make the most of the last few days of the trip, so we headed to Chamonix to attempt the route back to Annecy. The weather was against us, so as well as the route home, I briefed a couple of possibly more achievable tasks to occupy the group. Three of us made it out just beyond Passy, but the low cloud base and late start to the thermals had us down after about 20km. As Gal and I chose nice fields next to a main road, Chino, true to form, selected a field where the “power lines cross over the river, next to the motorway” – a description that could cover most of the valley. An hour of searching later, we found him. But it’s hard to be annoyed with someone who’s grinning from ear to ear because of their flight, so after a little gentle teasing, we headed back to Annecy for a final evening flight to round off an amazing and eventful week.

Me at Buc

I get to play too! Joining the guys for a sunset flight

I sadly said goodbye, happy and somewhat relieved that things had passed (relatively) uneventfully. Of course I learnt things. Don’t be afraid to state the obvious – I remember my first time in Annecy with Matt Pepper talking through valley winds, anabatic winds, meteo winds and other local conditions you get flying in the Alps. I remember when I didn’t know what a gust front was. These are all second nature to me now and it’s easy to forget there was a time when they weren’t! Just because a pilot has more hours than me, that doesn’t mean they know about Alpine conditions and how to fly XC in the mountains.

But that was what was great about this group. I was honest about my experience, that several of them had substantially more hours than me. But they knew how much there is to learn about flying in the mountains and that’s what they wanted from me.

I also realised that it’s an incredible amount of work for one person! There’s a reason why guides normally employ drivers. It is possible to do it alone, as I proved. But I think it’s better for a group to have a separate driver so the guide is free to give quality air-to-air guidance. And yes, I am capable of working from 8am to 11pm, day after day. But I’m no iron woman, and it definitely helps to have a bit of support!

But all in all, a success! If your group describes you as: “the best air guide in the Alps,” you’re probably doing something right, yeah?! Even if you’re the only one they’ve had 😉

But I couldn’t have got here alone – huge thanks have to go to Irwyn at Maison du Moulin in Annecy, Toby of Passion Paragliding and David and Rachel of Allez Up in Laragne for all the experience and advice, which helped me get a rowdy bunch of Israeli pilots to experience some of the best sites in the Alps.


Reflections on a Spanish spring

May 3, 2012
Another day at the office

Another day at the office

It’s not been easy to write over the past couple of months. Working for Fly Spain has been great, but incredibly busy…

Getting to teach paragliding was an amazing experience – from the looks on people’s faces after their first 20 second hops off the training slope, to the satisfaction you get when you’ve helped a student understand something they were struggling with, the moment you’re laughing so much that you can barely shout the words “hands up” as you’re running after someone reaching for their lines, and the thanks – the knowledge they will always remember you as the person who taught them to fly! Then there was the continual banter with Graham, Ed and the inspirational Lee Tryhorn… I started to recount some of the moments, but I think you really had to be there…

Alex kiting

Unforgettable moments: Are you happy with the flight plan for this flight? Yes! Get to the bottom. Don’t die!            Photo: Graham Grant

And then there’s the frustration of the non flyable days – bad enough when it’s you that’s missing out, but almost heart-breaking that (albeit rare) time when you need to tell a group that they’re not going to be able to fly for the third day in a row. The bruises and the line burns! The exhaustion when you get home after 10pm from a 7.30am start, knowing you need to do it all again the following day. And seeing someone who wants to fly so much, struggle to master the skills they need to move on safely.

Sunset flights

Stolen moments, sunset flights 🙂 Photo: Graham Grant

Yes, it affects your flying, but not all for the bad. I wasn’t expecting to be able to fly much while I was here and I was right. But I got to rediscover the joy of a simple soaring flight when it’s a snatched half hour you weren’t expecting. No, I haven’t had much proper thermal flying, but an evening boat around as the sun sets is always a treat. And I’ve got the whole summer for big XC missions.

I’ve been able to tap into the advice of experienced instructors to improve my own flying too, particularly ironing out the problems I’ve had with my wingovers since changing my harness. Groundhandling, launching and landing approach demonstrations are a chance to refine your own skills. No pressure, but everyone’s watching! And watching others fly (both students and experienced pilots) and working out the things they did and didn’t do well, is a great way to learn yourself.

Lee at work

Thanks Lee – you’re an inspiration!

But now it’s time to move on… Being able to speak the language is a huge factor in making somewhere feel like home. And as much as I’ve enjoyed the work, it’ll be great to be the master of my own time again. So next stop France, and I can’t wait! And I have a few exciting little possibilities waiting for me there – watch this space!

Thanks to Rob, Nic, Lee and Ed and especially to all the students for making the experience unforgettable! Goodbye for now and safe flights and happy landings!

Happy students

Just some of the students who have made the last two months great – thanks one and all!


A different kind of flying

March 24, 2012
Buses loaded up ready to go to take-off

The buses all loaded up ready to go to take-off

While I was in Pokhara, I took part in my first competition – the 13th Nepali Paragliding Open. I didn’t do quite as well as I’d have liked, but it was a great experience.

Everyone’s heard about the perils of competition flying and it put me off for a long time. When I went to wind dummy for the Women’s Open in August, I chose not to compete. I was uncertain about what a competition involved and I was reluctant to put myself in a situation where I would be pushing myself to much. But I liked what I saw there and I’ve learnt a lot in the past few months and know there’s a lot more for me to learn, so why not?

At the moment I can do a 30 or 40km flight without too much problem, but I rarely go further. I fly in a relaxed way, climb as high as I can, take my time deciding what to do next. But if you want distance (or to fly with friends with more experience on hotter wings), this doesn’t always work. You need to be able to make the most of the conditions when they’re right, or if, like me, you only have the stamina for a 3-4 hour flight, you need to move more quickly if you want to go further.

I got to see the difference competing could make to my flying on the first day – competition flying is all about moving quickly.

The less than perfect conditions posed a challenge for the task setting committee. But the ridge based task for sports class (the lower category of wings) was pitched just right. I took off a bit too early, climbed to the top, then had to wait it out in a crowded sky until the start. Hating the crowds, I pushed out, losing height, but picked up another quieter thermal which brought me back above the start just a minute before the race began.

Local boy on landing

The locals in Nepal are always happy to help - a young boy rushes off to hold the jeep for me after landing out on practice day

When I left the house thermal, lower than some of the others, I was more trying to get away from the crowds rather than get a racing lead. However, I soon realised that flying to avoid the crowds meant I was holding my own in the front gaggle. Initially, I was frustrated that the same wing was always in my way when I wanted to turn in the lift. Then I realised he was simply racing, only stopping to climb when necessary. Aha – tactics! I hadn’t thought of that! So I push on along the ridge, keeping as much height as possible and soon tag the first turn point.

Sometimes while flying, I still get nervous when putting on my speed bar, even though I know from experience how solid my Epsilon 6 is. But in the race, with so much else to think about, I suddenly realised I was using the bar, adjusting for lift or turbulence, without even thinking about it. So much of my attention was on the other pilots around me, other hazards, the best route to the next turn point, etc, etc, that the business of just flying the wing was instinctive. A year ago, I had done one “XC” flight (if you can call it that) – a 7km downwind dash in Algodonales – so I still find this feeling of being a real pilot quite a novelty! But it’s thanks to putting myself in different situations like this competition that I’m getting to experience that feeling.

Coming back from the first turnpoint, I take the first good climb as high as I can to fly back along the top of the ridge back on one straight glide back into the house thermal. Using all my patience (a skill I’ve learnt while flying with some of the great pilots that come in and out of Maison du Moulin in Annecy), I make myself stay there until I see the lift is working most of the way to the next turn point. Then I leave, making the turnpoint and back to the house thermal without needing to stop.

But getting back to the house thermal low, ignoring good lift on the way back, I’m worried I’ve made a big mistake as I now need to find something quickly! But with a bit of luck, a strong climb kicks off exactly where it should be and up I go! The rest of the race is a repeat of the ridge run from the beginning. Confident with this now, I set off on bar, only stopping to top up my height when I need to, tagging the final turn point with two Nepali pilots. As we race to the finish in relatively smooth air with masses of height, I stand on the bar and push towards the finish, thinking I’ll get in ahead of both of them. But I didn’t feel too bad when the Factor 2 to my left suddenly pushed out and left my much slower wing for dust, easily beating me to the finish, particularly when I find out I’m the first girl to complete the task and fourth overall – not bad for my first task of my first ever comp!

But I also got to see how easy it is for pilots in competitions to push it just a little too far, with two pilots ending up in the trees – at least one of which, a good pilot with lots of local flying experience, was because of flying into rotor on the leeside of a ridge.

High cloud over the Green Wall

High cloud over the Green Wall

The next day, the task was cancelled because of low cloudbase. Day three gave us a longer task. While the big boys in open class headed off on a 60km route around the Korchon circuit, our sports class task was just over 30km, involving a short ridge run followed by a circuit of the Green Wall, one of Pokhara’s classic XC routes. Determined not to make the same mistake as the previous task, I waited to take off until about 15 minutes before the start. However, with a little bit of faffing on my part along with waiting my turn on launch, I ended up in the air just five minutes before the start, scrambling with 30 other pilots while waiting for a good cycle to come through.

By the time I got high enough to go, I was already 15 minutes behind the other girls. Trying to play catch-up, and keen to get away from the crowds as ever, I pushed on a bit low and ended up scrabbling again for a climb, which when it came, took me back to the ridge, but further west than I wanted. This meant I had to leave the climb and make a short push into wind to tag the next turn point. By the time I was leaving the ridge, I was nearly 45 minutes behind the rest of the girls, and Jessica, who went on to win the task and the competition, was already on glide back to Sarangkot before I’d even hit Green Wall. The superior glide of her Factor 2, coupled with the increase in the valley wind by the time I was coming back meant that while she made goal with height to spare, I was packing my wing behind the ridge.

Raft landings

The raft landings make for good entertainment on the final day

The next day, my friend Emily lent me her Mentor 2 to help overcome the difference of the performance in wings. But the decision backfired. A much more technical day, with small weak climbs, I would have been better off on the wing I know. After two hours fighting to get above the ridge, I realised that even if I did get away, I was now so tired that I would struggle to make the course. Admitting my competition was over, I headed for the landing field to nurse a splitting headache and slight disappointment at turning the first day’s victory into a decisive defeat!

But overall, I wasn’t really disappointed. I’d flown well most of the time and learnt a lot. Being able to fly the same routes as pilots on a similar level and later compare our routes, our good and bad decisions online using Xcontest was invaluable for seeing how I could improve my flying, and less than a week later, I went on to complete my first ever 50km XC flight. And now I know that when it comes to competing, as long as I can learn to be consistent, I stand a good chance of getting some decent results.

But even for those who aren’t interested in winning, I think competitions are still a worthwhile exercise. You get full briefings on the sites. You get lifts to take-off and retrieves. You get routes set out for you. You learn from much more experienced pilots and discuss ways round the route, things to look out for, information on what works and doesn’t.

Busy skies

Busy skies on practice day

That said, it isn’t for everyone. You’re flying busy skies, sometimes with pilots who are there to prove something and fly aggressively. And however hard you try to tell yourself and others: “I don’t want to win. I’m just here to fly,” as my friends would willingly confirm, it’s human nature to feel the stress of being in a competitive situation.

But for me, I think I can enjoy the flying while using competitions to improve my flying, hopefully even getting a few good results on the way.


Don’t spoil the dream – it’s safer that way

January 21, 2012

I may be excited about going to Nepal but that doesn't mean it doesn't scare me! Picture credit to m_bartosch

Dealing with fear is a constant thing in my life. Fear is useful. It can keep you alive and healthy. But it can be crippling. It can keep you in situations that are ultimately bad for you and stop you taking on the world and making it your own.

But I’m getting better at dealing with it, so I thought I’d share some of my ways of coping with irrational fear…

1) Recognise it – if you don’t recognise fear, it’s got you. I find myself making excuses about why I won’t do something. I haven’t had time to book that ticket, I’ll have more time to do something later, etc, etc. I get tetchy and think I’m too tired to do what I need to do. I procrastinate until I run out of time to do something. I set myself up to fail with conflicting or impossible targets. I tell myself that I don’t really mind, that something won’t be as fun as everyone makes out. These are all ways fear tries to trick my subconscious mind into avoiding a situation. If I spot myself doing any of these things, a siren sounds in my head and I try to get myself into fighting mode.

2) Never give up fighting – from the day I decided to go to Nepal, I’ve been a bit scared. It took me weeks to get round to buying the ticket. But even then, the fear kept trying to get me. I didn’t get round to having my immunisations until it was nearly too late. I tried to change my ticket to put it off a few more days and I’ve even thought about not going all together. I don’t have to go. I’d love to just jump in the van and drive back to France for the rest of the winter season. The snow’s amazing, the mountains are beautiful and I’d have a fantastic time! And that would be fear winning and me losing. And I don’t like losing!

Me, Irwyn, Dan and Bex on the way up to Aguille de Midi

Just some of the crazy people who have egged me on the most in the past year or two - thanks Irwyn Jehu, Becky and Dan Horeman

3) Get help – I would not be where I am now if it weren’t for the people I have around me. They egg me on. They help me recognise that what I’m feeling is just plain old boring terror. They talk about my ideas as if they’re really going to happen. They tell me that what I’m doing is awesome. And I believe them! I suppose I’ve always had people around me who would do this for me, but I never let them get that close – now they’re everywhere!

4) Take yourself by surprise – just say yes, don’t ask too many questions and get on with it. Do you ever trick yourself into getting out of the shower into the cold bathroom by turning the tap off on two while you’d told yourself you’d count to three? Or put your alarm clock onto snooze, then leap straight out of bed? It works for the big things too! There’s a reason why I haven’t don’t too much research about Nepal, why I don’t know where I’m staying when I get there or pretty much anything about the place – because all of a sudden, I have 11 days to go and it’s actually happening! I hadn’t thought much about it until the other day, but now it really is going to happen and there’s nothing I can do about it!

5) Practice, practice, practice – do things that scare you. Start small and build it up gradually. I remember my first high flights when learning to fly – and that little knot of fear I still occasionally get when ground-handling in stronger conditions. And I remember the buzz afterwards! The satisfaction at overcoming my fear and the joy of experiencing something I’d only ever dreamt of before. Dealing with those things helped me deal with the bigger challenges I’ve had to take on over the past few years.

6) Bitter experience – I’ve always been strong, but I forgot that for a while. I let fear stop me doing things and keep me in a safe, secure situation. I don’t regret too much of that – those years have set me up well to do all the crazy things I’m doing now. But I do know from experience how sad it can make you if you’re not living your dreams and what you can miss out on. Knowing that gives me a choice – but no-one in their right minds would choose to make themselves miserable, so I can really only choose to keep facing the fear and live my dreams.

One of my favourite lines in a book is from the Beckoning Silence – Joe Simpson talking about his fears about climbing the Eiger. This was something he’d dreamt about and held in his mind for years. And in a slightly cynical moment he found himself thinking: “Don’t spoil the dream. It’s safer that way.” And just as that spurred him on to take on one of the most challenging climbs in Europe, it spurs me on to tackle my fears – whether it’s going to Nepal, starting a new relationship, or just getting out of bed in the morning, I refuse to take the safer option and I won’t admit defeat. Not until I’m actually beaten…

Nepal photo thanks to m_bartosch



January 21, 2012

I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer, Usually my burning desire of the moment is a fairly simple, rejoicing in some beautiful moment or something silly; roll down that hill, climb that rock, jump into that water, cartwheel across that beach, run around in the mountains, and the like.

My dreams of late have been getting bigger though, and usually related to flying. Perhaps what I love about this sport is they way it opens up your perspective on the world more than any other sport I have tried.

I dreamed what it might be like to be an acro pilot and went for some SIV’s, tasting the delights of falling. Still many dreams to realise in this area, but the journey is so much fun I am happy taking my time :).

I dreamed what it might be like to travel around the best flying sites in Europe, and somehow it all came together as Jenni and I winged it for a month and had some awesome adventures.  A talk about a paragliding trip to the Himalayas actually motivated me to start flying and suddenly and quite unexpectedly at the end of June, I found myself at 3800 metres and walking out via a terrifying walk to take off for a most incredible flight from the Aguille de Midi.  From this vantage point it became much clearer that the valleys are pathways to explore, and I finally saw what the point of cross country flying was!

Last December, after months of crappy storms, followed by fun snow which annoying crippled the UK because no-one can deal with cold, I dreamed of spending a winter somewhere where snow is normal, and you can still fly, still get places, and everything still works. Thanks to a very lovely boss and landing a job in Verbier I’m living that dream now too .

With most afternoons off I have been getting in plenty of flying and skiing.  Mountain life is even better than I hoped, fun people, amazing views and a wonderful playground to explore.  So many passionate and talented sportpseople as well who are inspiring me to work towards new goals, but with plentyy of time to be relaxed about getting the places I want to go, as in reality my adventures are not very extreme and my skill levels in the sports I love still really low!

The last 12 months have been so incredible, and I don’t think I could be happier that I am right now.  The best dreams are it seems, the ones that you make happen.


Full circle

November 13, 2011
Heading up for the night flight over Lugano

Heading up for the night flight over Lugano

There was something very fitting about ending the summer in Lugano flying with the guys from Jemm – the very place that Becky and I started our adventure in June. Driving over the mountain passes on the Swiss Italian border – still some of the most spectacular I’d seen in the past four months – reminded me of our excitement at the new adventure.

In the last few months, I’ve had adventures I’d never dreamt of, made huge progress on my flying, met some amazing people and generally had the most fantastic time. But as I left Lugano, I realised that a switch had flicked in my mind. It was the end of the summer’s adventure. It was time to stop.

Cormet de Roseland

Changing seasons - flying in the first snow on Cormet de Roseland

So, back to Annecy, where the autumn rain falling was falling and the leaves where changing, to plot my next move. Which is how I now find myself back in England, (via a final fly in Gourdon and Laragne), back in London, straight into a similar job, almost as if nothing has changed…

But things aren’t quite the same, and thoughts of mountains and flying are never far away… So many possibilities, so many places to see! But I don’t need to turn them into plans yet. Not today, anyway…

Home sweet home

Back to London - home sweet home (for a while at least)