A long dark winter?

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 ūüėÄ

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 Pembrokeshire Paragliding team and our 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 season back in¬†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!

Reflections on a Spanish spring

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‚Ķ

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‚Ķ I started to recount some of the moments, but I think you really had to be there‚Ķ

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 ūüôā¬†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‚Ķ 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!