Archive for the ‘Posted by Becky’ Category


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:



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! 😀



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.


Les montagnes et la mer

June 21, 2011

Breakfast at Croix de coeur take off. I love this place!

Posted by Becky

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the adventure playground that is Annecy, but my heart belongs to bigger mountains. We finally dragged ourselves away from Annecy through the lunar eclipse to sleep under Mont Blanc, a mountain that holds an incredible fascination for me. The weather was turning a bit so we thought we’d pop by Verbier to catch up with some friends and felt sure that the magical Val de Bagnes would let us have some air time.

Verbier remains my favourite place to fly, but understanding the weather and the wind systems here in the high mountains is difficult, so we called upon the lovely boys at Verbier Summits for some guiding. We had a great little thermic flight until I decided to explore the ridge more, where I found that there were no more thermals (doh!) Still I was grinning like an idiot as I cruised down around the valley admiring the glacier and the beautiful mountains and Jenni got to practice more spirals and wingovers :).

The Summits boys called it a day after that flight as they said the weather was coming in, so Jenni went for her first outdoor climb (yay!), whilst I decided to hike up to les Ruinettes.  Though ever optimistic that the rain might just turn around and go away, I made sure I grabbed my raincoat as they know what they are talking about. As I walked up the grey clouds started pouring over the tops of the mountains and the sunny day vanished.  By the time I was nearing the top it was raining hard. You just can’t see the weather coming here and it’s pretty amazing how quickly it can change. I can’t wait to find out how to read the mountains better.

Entrance to the Gorges de Verdun

After a second mellow fly at Verbier and with a monster low covering most of Europe we decided to head for the Cote d’Azur to see some friends and maybe even get some flying in after our first day off flying to play in the spectacular gorges de Verdun.

Ozzy the party octopus loving Cote D'Azur life

After an awesome morning at L’Estrelle a locals beach near Cannes, we headed to Gourdon. We didn’t really know that much about it other than it was half an hour from Karine’s house and you could fly there.

As we turned up in Gourdon, (a beautiful village on the edge of the cliff), we spotted a paragliding school van, and after a quick chat followed them to take off. It’s only after you take off at this site that you really appreciate how jaw droppingly beautiful it is. We were both speechless as we played in the thermic ridge lift on a spectacular ridge with views over most of the Cote d’Azur, this place redefined coastal flying for me! We liked it so much that we went back again the following day 🙂 what an amazing site!

Gourdon, a bad photo of one of the nicest places I've ever flown



June 11, 2011

We stayed a couple of extra days in Lugano as it was flyable after our course and everywhere else was a bit hit and miss.

The weather closed in after our last flight on the morning of the 7th we decided to make a run for Austria where Jenni had to go and see someone. It looked like there might just be a window in the morning at Stubai so we drove through the rain and a phenomenal amount of tunnels and slept near a mountain stream. In the morning it was a bit cloudy and still, but definitely flyable woohoo!

Elfer take of - going solo!

We turned up at the local paragliding school, checked out the landing field and got a quick brief from a local instructor. The school is right next to the lift up to Elfer at about 1750 metres on the take off (big smooth ski run niceness). The sky was mellow, the wind was perfect, I couldn’t have asked for a more ideal place or conditions to fly on my own in an unknown site. I have very little faith in my piloting skills and judgement so I just wanted a nice well executed boat about. Which is exactly what we got with a lovely bimble around with very gentle bubbles of lift.

We went up for a second fly but it started raining as we went up the lift. We hung out for a few minutes and Jenni spotted a window coming, she launched as the rain eased off and had an awesome little flight catching thermals in the last of the sun and landing before conditions deteriorated.

We woke up the next day and looked at the forecast, whilst it would be possible to do lots of top to bottoms in Stubai it looked better in France so we decided to pop to lake Garda via the Dolomites and then on to France. Jenni introduced me to one of her favourite places for skiing – Selva and it was beautiful (even in the rain). The Dolomites have such a different character to the Alps and I’d love to fly, ski and climb there one day! We then wound through the spectacular valley between Bolzano and Lake Garda under an unstable and ferocious sky, even the driving on this trip is fun!

Magical Lake Garda

We were driving along the spectacular Lake Guarda under a clearing sky, when Jenni spotted a windsock and a group of what could be pilots… Of course we had to nip over to have a chat. The school on take of pointed us to Hotel Ideal, where two brothers Marino and Claudio look after the local club. They were absolutely lovely and told us that it had just become flyable and they were all going up to take off in the lift with a couple of SIV groups who were there. The take off was massive and beautiful, full of huge yellow buttercups and the view was incredible. After Lugano the slight backwind wasn’t intimidating, and we both had magical sunset flights playing beside the gentle clouds forming off the mountain and enjoying the views in silky air.

After free beer from the club on landing (bless!), dinner and a quick swim in the lake we headed through the night and some spectacular thunderstorms to France (arriving at Annecy at 4.30 am!) where the forecast for the next day was peachy.

I haven’t flown properly with Jenni since Switzerland last year. There she was a good pilot. Now she is a seriously fantastic pilot, her reading of conditions and her flying are awesome and pre and post flight discussions have been both enjoyable and useful for us both, and I’m learning so much from our trip. I feel like I’m finally fledging into a pilot who can look after myself  and really enjoy rocking up and flying new places, which is an amazing feeling, and Jenni is fledging into a pilot who can seriously kick ass in the sky and lead a days flying. Nice work lady!  :).  We are independent enough to do our own flying, at our own pace, without worrying about what the other is doing, but have such fun discussing our flights at the end of the day, I couldn’t wish for a better paradventure buddy, thanks 🙂 xx


Raising the bar

June 7, 2011

Posted by Becky

I’ve had an awesome SIV course in Lugano with JEMM paragliding.  It’s been really interesting to feel the difference in the response of the Rush 2 compared to the Atis  and I’m having to fly a lot more carefully to get the best from him. It’s also really comforting to find out how sweetly the Rush pops out of frontal collapses and how nicely he flies even when over 50% of the wing has collapsed!

How not to exit a stall mark 1

Unfortunately my left shoulder is still very weak after injury and this has made stalling a bit more challenging, as I can’t hold my left arm down that well, (click on the pictures in this post to link to some entertaining video footage!). This has meant having to learn how to deal with asymmetric exits. The first was appalling piloting, bang, before I knew it I was stuck with a cravat that would not reopen and ended up in a locked spiral. I made stupid mistakes, because I was caught up with trying to pump out the cravat (which was easy on the Atis in the same situation) instead of thinking about exiting the spiral.  Height =  time and Tomas on the radio helped me to finally get out of it!  By the end of the first day although my asymmetric exits were getting more controlled, even when I did manage to exit symmetrically I still ended up with small cravats (tucks) in the wing tips.  I used to enjoy stalls on my Atis, but on the Rush none felt right.

How not to exit a stall mark 2

A lot of advice from Tomas and a couple of test pilots gave me some pointers in dealing with these problems. They taught me to fight the asymmetric exits much earlier and control them a bit better as well as trying to open the stall up  little bit more, so it was more stable and less jolty.  I’m pretty sure most of my problems are caused by my weak left arm being higher than my right and it losing the fight against the pressure. Leading the stall with the left and leaning on my weak arm seems to help and finally my stalls are feeling stable. Slowing down the exit meant the wing reinflated properly and it finally felt nice to be falling again, woohoo finally!!

Finally a non ugly exit!

How not to exit a stall mark 3 - Cravat with double riser twist

I’m still way off being ready to do proper acro manoeuvres, but remain absolutely fascinated by the subtlety required to achieve them.  I may not ever achieve my dream of dancing in the sky in perfect harmony with my glider, but it’s definately a lot of fun trying! :).

Now we move on to Austria (probably) where I can give my shoulder a rest from deep braking and concentrate on getting back to the basics of flying with my new wing.  Now I know that he is more demanding than the Atis, and slightly less tolerant of some mistakes, so I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me!


It’s not the sky that’s the limit, it’s my mind (or sometimes lack of it).

May 5, 2011

Posted by Becky

It’s been a frustrating winter for flying in the west country, and 2011 has been particularly rubbish for me.  I’ve managed one fly a month, but probably had an equal number of days where I have been sat in the hill watching other people fly, often standing there ready to go, but not quite having the courage to take off.  It’s a bit of a vicious circle as you miss an opportunity, you curse yourself, your confidence is further corroded, and you miss more opportunities.

I am usually extremely happy in the air but I do seem to have a bit of a mental struggle with launching and landing.  I’ve been thinking about what is holding me back on launch, as in this fickle country for flying you can’t afford to let an opportunity pass, and on our big adventure I’m going to have to launch and land in a lot of unfamiliar places! So here is a little lecture to myself to get myself out of this bad habit I’ve aquired :)!

1.  Don’t dress up excuses as sensible flying decisions.
I missed a fly at freathy saying to myself that it was too strong and that if it picked up that I would be in danger of being blown backwards. What I really meant was ‘its flyable but there is no beach to bail out on and I’m really scared of the top landing because the back of the field is rotory and I don’t trust myself to get it right.’

2.  If it’s good go!
At maker I missed out because I hesitated and waited when conditions were good but launch was tricky and missed my opportunity. Allen just went for it (though he is a much better pilot than me), and got two flies in on the same day.  Whilst I’m not ready to be the wind dummy yet there is no excuse not to be second or third off the hill!

3. If you screw up a take off, get going again immediately.

I really hate launching in front of other people, I’ve definately got better in the last year and have even been first off the hill on occasion, but i still get embarrassed, especially when I mess up in public – mostly I’ve been letting my new wing overshoot me as its speed is still a bit of a surprise. Still when I do mess it up its important to quickly identify what went wrong, set up immediately and get going again trying not to repeat the mistake.

4. Groundhandle, groundhandle, groundhandle some more.

My groundhandling isn’t great which I think is the root of a lot of my launch fear.  I put this into practice a bit on Corn ridge which is a beautiful site in north Dartmoor, but also my least favourite type of launch as it is lumpy, tussocky and strewn with little but vicious granite boulders.  I’m quite scared of the boulders, they have the texture of cheese graters and can tear me or my glider quite badly if landed on or dragged across!  at least they are not hidden in bracken at this time of year!

The wind was light and for an hour or two and pilots launch into small thermic cycles and make the most of the lift before landing out.  I couldn’t bring myself to launch as squeaking in between the ruts and boulders is my idea of a nightmare.  Finally the wind picked up a bit and I got my head sorted and myself in the air, I landed out about halfway back to the cars with about a km to go.  I decided to groundhandle back which was really good for me (and a much lighter way to travel) running down paths leaping over bogs. I got thrown back by a big gust I had to relauch in the middle of a boulder field, I leaped over some boggy bits and finally I picked my way through the final boulder field! YAY i did it I was ecstatic! – I could pick my way through the boulders after all. I was grinning like a cheshire cat and practically dancing with glee as I headed to a nice patch of grass by the vans.   ‘Bex’ called the boys…

5. Complacency is more dangerous than fear.

‘Bex, have you seen the wires?’  I snapped out of my reverie and in front of me over the vans were some power lines I had failed to notice in my general frolicking about.  They are about the same height as my glider, (they have caught other pilots i’m told),  I stopped quite carefully, and shamefacedly crabbed away to a safer patch of grass.  What an idiot!! On launch or in the air I would have noted and avoided them, but having been running around for ages and paying attention to the ground, I had forgotten to pay attention to the fact I was also about 10 metres tall in my general over excitement.  Hmm a very useful lesson  learnt and thanks to the boys for the warning!!

Had some really nice flies on King Tor a couple of days later, weird how I feel so totally relaxed in the air yet can get so stressed on the ground.   Just waiting for a break in the howling winds to get out again!