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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

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Dreaming…

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.

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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)

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A Mont Blanc adventure

October 10, 2011

My Mont Blanc trip’s finally beginning to sink in, but not quite enough to write about it yet, so here’s a sneak preview…

Day 1 - climbing above the clouds

Day 2 - crossing the Grand Couloir

Day 2 - climbing

Day 3 - halfway up to the summit as dawn breaks

Day 3 - the final ascent to the summit

We made it! (L-R: Jon, me, Colin, Darren and Irwyn)

Happy! Me flying off with the summit of Mont Blanc in the background 😀

My lovely Geo II in the sun

Back at base, pouring drinks over ice brought all the way from the summit

I’ve had quite a few questions about the trip, so want to do another post answering all these in one place. If you have any questions, post them here.

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Mont Blanc preparations

September 19, 2011

I woke up this morning with the rain drumming on the roof of the van, once again thinking we must be absolutely nuts! It’s cold, grey and raining – probably snowing up the mountain, much like it was yesterday when we headed up the Aguille de Midi for a bit of acclimatisation in the wind and snow. It’s looking like we’ll get a narrow weather window next week, so we need to get the acclimatisation in now.

Checking out the knife edge arete - is that a smile or a grimace of fear?

This cold snap should reduce the risk of rock fall, even if we may be trudging through powder to get to the top. It’s not going to make the arete down from the lift station any better though. I was genuinely terrified when I went down it in June and it’s even worse now – it looks like a knife edge.

The big thing now is to assemble all the kit. I resisted the temptation to buy the down filled mini skirt at Vielle Campeur, and limited myself to a new head torch, energy supplements and climbing trousers. We’ve stocked up on food – carbs galore, enough food between two of us to feed a small family for a week. I’m also investing in a proper pair of mountain boots. I’ll do a full kit list post before we go.

Obviously the most important thing is weight – and the heaviest thing is my flying kit. I’m really looking forward to getting my wing – I’ve been promised a lightweight wing from Ozone, which is almost certainly my best bet for getting ice back from the summit to Maison du Moulin. It looks like we’re heading off tomorrow, so I’m really keeping my fingers crossed it arrives today, otherwise logistics are going to be VERY interesting…

The guys I'll be cooped up with for the next few days - lucky they seem like a good bunch!

The guys I'll be cooped up with for the next few days - lucky they seem like a good bunch!

There’s still some running around to do, but everything’s falling into place. I think we’re nuts! I’m nervous about the whole adventure. Will my kit be suitable? Am I fit enough? I haven’t done any real training, other than stomping around the mountains for a few months, being generally bouncy and hyperactive and splashing around the lake. But I’ve met the lads and don’t seem to be too far behind them in terms of fitness. And Irwyn’s taken me up the mountain before and has faith in me and that gives me confidence in myself…

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Exciting possibilities…

September 12, 2011
Heading up to the Aguille de Tour

My first proper bit of mountaineering - heading up to Aguille de Tour

I wasn’t really keen on the idea of flying off Mont Blanc. Or, more accurately, the flight should be awesome, but I had my first mountaineering expedition last month and it was tough and it hurt. I wasn’t sure I was up for walking up to the top.

But I’m easily led! As I talked it through with Irwyn, it started to become a real possibility. And rather than a simple flight straight down into Chamonix, we started to think about ways to make it a little bit more interesting…

So now I’ve accepted the challenge. And the challenge is to launch from the top of Mont Blanc with some ice from the top, and get it back to Maison du Moulin in Annecy for the post flight drinks. It’s just over an 11:1 glide from the top – with a bit of a tail wind and little bit of lift, it’s tantalisingly close.

Mont Blanc at sunrise

Mont Blanc - an exciting possibility or a really daft idea?

Now, I’m scrabbling around for lightweight kit, working out how I can juggle a bit of training around an almost equally exciting visit from my big sister and, most importantly of all, where in France I can get some decent rum for my post flight drink!

Watch this space for updates or see Irwyn’s blog

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A girly comp

August 30, 2011

Today was a bikini briefing – you wouldn’t get that in another comp. Ok, it’s not exactly what it sounds – we didn’t have our briefing in bikinis. But goal was the lake for swimming and relaxing and pilots who didn’t make it could get a retrieve to the lake instead of the usual situation where you get taken back to HQ.  

That’s just one of the things that makes this comp different. Maybe we shouldn’t be, but girls do sometimes get intimidated by the blokey nature of paragliding. It’s not so bad on your local site where we get to know people over time – although even there, it’s got easier over the past couple of years as more of the girls have been out flying more often. But starting out at competitions – or even finding out enough about them to decide whether you want to do them – feels hard.

I was nervous about coming to Ager, even as wind dummy, but so far, it’s been great. The whole competition is about having fun in the air and finding out what competing is all about. It’s OK to admit you have no idea how your GPS works. And whether pilots get to goal or bomb out before the first turn point, everyone wants to share and learn from their experience.

OK, so I saw a lot of that at the British Open in St Jean. New pilots were welcomed and coached by the more experienced pilots and there was a great buzz about the competition. 

But there’s a different atmosphere here. Every single person seems to want everyone else to do well and learn from the flights. This is an entry level competition and everyone seems to have something they can teach to the other pilots. And besides, I can imagine the looks I’d have got at St Jean if I’d gone up to one of my competitors and given them a hug in congratulations because they’d overtaken me 200m before the end of the race! 

It’s the end of day 2 now and it’s not looking too promising for a task tomorrow. Fingers crossed for the rest of the week though as the first two days have been awesome, with my two best flights yet! But in the meantime, we can get back to plaiting each others’ hair and having pillow fights. That’s what girls do isn’t it? 😉

Sorry – no pictures as my camera’s broken – see the Women’s Paragliding Open Facebook page for the latest…