When someone comments that I must be an adrenalin junkie, I reply that flying isn’t about the adrenalin – if you’re getting that much adrenalin, you’re probably doing it wrong.
But, at the same time, you need to be able to deal with the adrenalin. You need to be able to respond in scary situations. And you need to get a kick out of things that others would run away from, otherwise you couldn’t do it.
…However, I’m now beginning to enjoy spirals. And I even got to try my first few SATs recently, even enjoying the really ugly spirals that go along with a failed SAT entry.
It won’t become the main focus of my flying – I’ll never be an acro pilot! But as the trip goes on, I may have been spotted doing the odd spiral (or 10) where I wouldn’t have done so before, and before too long, I’ll hopefully get the confidence to try another SAT or two 🙂
I really wasn’t feeling good about my flying today. My head was all over the place on the way up to take off at Chabre in Laragne and my first flight was a flop. I got a few decent climbs, but wasn’t happy with them and eventually pushed out front to try and find something that I could stick with. I found the landing field!
Getting back to take-off, I nearly got straight back in the car to leave without even walking up to take-off. But then thought I’d at least go up for a look.
Dressed in shorts for a quick top to bottom, I overcame my nerves and negativity and launched. Oh yeah – this is why I do this flying thing! As I started to climb with just one other wing in the air, things started to fall into place. Still nervous of the enormous (no, gargantuan) cliff behind takeoff, I kept well forward of the ridge until I suddenly found myself in a beautiful strong, smooth, wide climb that held me securely enough to drift over the back.
Looking back at the cliff, I was stunned. It had looked huge from the ground, but nothing like as intimidating as it did from the air. Going off behind it was a huge deal for me and left me feeling awed. And I was still climbing! When eventually the climb ran out (yup, I lost it), I knew there was no going back. I radioed back to Becky simply saying: “I’ve gone!” and set off on a glide across the back of the ridge, generally aiming for the campsite. I knew I should be using the speed bar as I went in search of the next climb, but I was so stunned to just be there that I contented myself with a sinky glide.
Catching another climb or two on the way, I realised this was now a *proper* cross country flight – not some one thermal wonder or something that someone else had mapped out for me.
As I reached the valley, I knew I’d need to find another climb to get back to the campsite, so headed for the volcano on the other side of the valley. Nothing! And so I looked at landing options and turned out over the road.
Blip, goes the vario as I approach my landing field. And then it goes beep. And then it does it again! So I turn, and it does it again! Watching the pilot I’d followed over the back packing his glider away in a nearby field, I was continually surprised when my vario failed to stop beeping as I turned in a slow climb that gradually strengthened and drifted me back across the volcano. I stuck with it for what felt like ages, climbing and climbing and climbing. I almost lost it once or twice, but then widened my turn until I found myself climbing again.
By now, I’d completely disregarded any thoughts of flying back to the campsite, as the climb had taken me in completely the opposite direction – a much more interesting landscape of lakes and ridges as opposed to the town. As I left that climb, I headed back for a nearby ridge, with the vario springing to life as I approached.
I started looking for the bathing lake at Serres – free entry to pilots who land there after an XC! But I was getting tired, stunned at the flight I’d had so far, and didn’t have my swimming costume (why is *this* the day I choose not to wear my bikini under my flying stuff?). So when the climb I was in got stronger at the top of the rigde, I decided my concentration wasn’t enough for it and headed for the road.
Torn between two possible thermal triggers, I ended up gliding straight between them, round a knoll and in to land right next to the road just a couple of kilometres short of Serres. I was chuckling as I landed and grinning from ear to ear as I packed away.
The whole flight was topped off by getting a lift with the first car that passed – a girl still buzzing from her first tandem flight at the weekend – who went out of her way to drop me all the way back to the campsite, where Becky handed me beer, and a nice Frenchman gave us fresh cherries 🙂
Thanks to Marianne and the guys at Allez-up for getting us up the mountain (twice) and the tips on take-off – wouldn’t have done it without you!
It was a good job we had something to drag us away from Annecy, otherwise we may never have left. Last time I was there, I fell in love with the place.
I love the atmosphere. It’s all about enjoying life and enjoying the outdoors, particularly staying with Joan and Irwyn at the lovely Maison du Moulin. People are friendly and want to talk and give advice. In the flying community, everyone looks out for each other. You can hitch around the place with ease and meet interesting people – often who will go miles out of their way to get you back to your car! The pace of life is perfect. The days are so long that you can take it easy. For flying, this means you can choose the flights and conditions you want – not like in England where you have to seize a small flyable window because you don’t know when the next one will be. And if it isn’t flyable, there are 101 other things to do with the day!
I still feel like I learn something on every flight here. My flights from Marlens and Plan Fait in particular gave me the chance to work on thermalling in quite tricky conditions – mapping the edges of the lift, planning where I’m going to want to turn before I get there, speeding up and slowing down the rate of my turn to make the most of the lift (yup – definitely still working on that one), watching the other gliders in the thermal to work out how and why they are getting more or less height out of it, when it’s more efficient to circle in lift and when it’s better to fly figures of eight and the concentration involved in keeping the turn on – particularly keeping my weight into the turn – when the thermal is trying to spit me out.
Another thing Annecy seems to help me do, more than most other places I’ve flown, is setting and achieving goals. Flying home from Semnoz in completely different conditions to the last time I’d flown it was a real buzz. But not quite so exciting as getting onto and climbing up Tournettes for the first time – such an amazingly beautiful awe-inspiring piece of rock – and I was only one of three pilots there.
I also decided to attempt to glide back to the Plan Fait landing field across the lake from Rocs des boeufs. This was a special moment as it was something I hadn’t thought of doing before. So I set off, continually assessing my height and glide. After a while, I wasn’t 100% confident I had the height to make it, so decided to turn back and landed in the field I’d already picked out as my back-up option. Good decision making is essential for good flying and I was very happy to have made both the decision to go for a challenging glide and the decision to abort in favour of a sate landing when the conditions were a little uncertain – ready to come bad and do it next time with a bit more height and a slightly better line.
Now I have a list of goals for different days and take offs and conditions. As well as coming back to do the glide to Plan Fait, I’m trying to do all the bits of the grand tour du lac separately, before putting them all together as one long flight. I want to get onto Parmelon – another stunning rock face. I have a couple of places to try and get to when I’m sat on top of roc des boeufs wondering where to go next. I want to experience an evening restitution flight. And even when there’s no lift to stay up in, I can practice my spirals, wingovers and getting the best glide from my glider in different conditions.
And even the “unsuccessful” flights teach you, as I proved with a bad landing at the foot of Entrevernes – where I got a collapse as I was making my final turn into wind and ended up swinging round into the ground. So from this I learnt not to fixate on a spot at the cost of setting up my approach nice and early – the official landing field was surrounded by other lovely fields – and also how early I need to set up my approach. While I may be able to turn in late doing a nil wind landing at Caburn in England, I won’t always get away with the same thing in a potentially thermic field in France. I also learnt to *always* counter the collapse immediately. I didn’t do this, probably because it was turning me the way I wanted to go, with the alternative being a cross wind or slightly down wind landing. But it was an uncontrolled turn, and when I tried to stop it, that fact sunk in – too late. A controlled downwind landing would have been better than any uncontrolled landing. And then finally, I didn’t even thing about doing a PLF as I came in – so that’s something I need to practice. But I walked away with just a mildly twisted knee (which has stopped me doing very little) and a slightly stiff shoulder (now better), when it could have been a broken leg, so I considered myself lucky and just tried to absorb the lessons.
So, away from Annecy, feeling happy and with some amazing flights under my belt. But probably only for a few days – it certainly won’t be long before I’m back to play in my favourite playground in Europe
I’d recommend a SIV course to anyone who wants to increase their confidence in the air. Excellent – scary, exciting and reassuring in equal measure. I’m starting to enjoy spirals (maybe a little too much!) and hoping to try a SAT if this rain stops. I’m getting my wingovers bigger and more even. B-line stalls were good fun. And while collapses on an SIV can’t be as startling as ones in normal flight, it’s made me much more confident that when I do get them, everything’s going to be pretty much ok. In particular, collapses and tucks on the bar were a real eye opener – nowhere near as aggressive as I’d imagined. On top of that, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how non-scary it is to stall my glider – hard, yes, and not something I want to do often, but nothing like I’d imagined.
So much was I enjoying my spirals and concentrating on the perfect exit that I forgot about the landing. With Tomas on the radio saying: “Go out, Jenni, go out!” I gradually eased up on the brake, imagining a beautiful smooth exit. It was only when I heard Tomas saying: “Go out now, Jenni, we are too low,” that I realised perfection may have to wait. But that’s the joy of being over the lake – no harm done, and while I didn’t quite manage to make the landing, it was only my legs (and boots and gloves and reserve) that got wet, while my glider landed neatly on the beach!
With comments like “This is the top of your glider we can see on the video now”, “Here, there is no tension in your lines,” and “Your wing seems to fly very well with a cravat”, I think it would be fair to describe my spin exit as ugly! I was startled by the feeling and let up my hand far too soon and too quickly. And then I froze and completely failed to brake the dive that followed. But I managed to weight shift and compensate for it, stopping it from going into a spiral and got to practice getting it out (wow, that stabilo line’s hard to find when you need it!). Lesson learnt! Not much more add really – I think the video says it all!
Yesterday morning, I woke at dawn at Devil’s Dyke to go flying. It wasn’t great, but a symbolic goodbye to the South Downs which have been such a significant part of my life over the past few years.
Fourteen hours and 200 miles later (having got lost only twice), I picked Bex up in Reims at sunset and off we set – the real start to our big adventure! Too excited to sleep more than a couple of hours each, we drove through the night, powered by Em’s amazing white chocolate and blueberry brownies and a much appreciated food package from Catherine.
After entertaining the guards at French/Swiss border with what is probably unnatural over-excitement for 3am (is it really a good idea to tell the border guards you haven’t really decided where you’re going or what you’re doing?) we carried on to see the dawn (albeit somewhat hidden by the rain clouds) at Interlaken, the home of adventure sports. Here, finally tired enough to sleep – too tired even for our planned dip in the lake – we rested for a few short hours.
As the rain stopped and the clouds started to lift, we headed off again on the final stretch towards Lugano. Pausing for breakfast when we reached the fresh snow line then onwards, upwards, over the Grimselpass (breathtaking — Groove Armada) and Furkapass (vertigo, what vertigo? — Orbital) and finally Passo San Gottardo (gentle little sister of the others – Supergrass).
And now here we are, sunset in Lugano, nearly 900 miles away from Devil’s Dyke, by another beautiful lake. I think I deserve a glass of wine and a damn good sleep before the fun and games before we start our course tomorrow. And so, goodnight!