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

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

Full circle

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)

Mont Blanc preparations

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…

Exciting possibilities…

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

A girly comp

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…

What a difference a day makes

Mont Blanc in the background
Les Saisies - with Mont Blanc in the background

I went back to Les Saisies on Monday after an amazing flight the day before. It’s a beautiful site with take off just under 2000m above sea level, almost in the shadow of Mont Blanc, with the Aravis chain behind.

The wind felt better than the previous day – straight on the hill and consistent, with a few nice thermals coming through. No-one was staying up yet, but after watching for a while, I decided to get my wing out. I suspected that they weren’t really trying, generally turning away from the house thermal as soon as possible.

As I was making my final checks, one glider finally went for it and turned right from take off and stayed up. Relieved I wouldn’t have to be the one to make the first move, I followed quickly and found strong lift everywhere!

Yesterday, my flight had ended as I’d wasted my height searching unsuccessfully for a climb above Rochebrune meaning that once I crossed the valley, I was scrabbling low for a climb, having to constantly watch the power cables between me and my landing options. If I got the same height today, I’d head straight across the valley and try to climb up onto the Aravis, then head towards Passy and possibly on towards Cluses, where dinner would be served later.

Les Saisies take-off
Looking back at take-off

And today, things seemed even better than yesterday! I began to get excited – the climbs felt similar to the day before, but I was soon well above the height I’d made on my first climb the previous day.

I made slow progress – my glide was interrupted as the lift was everywhere, tempting me to stop and turn and top up my height. But not a problem – one of my mistakes the previous day had been to rush, landing before 2pm when the day was probably just getting going.

The day before I’d only made the lift station on the other side of Les Saisies town – the next reliable thermal marker – because I’d found a climb from the bowl in front. This time I arrived with masses of height. The climbs were strong, but broken, so I lost them several times and had to search around for lift, but I was generally getting higher, so not particularly worried. Finally I drifted back a bit and found a much easier climb and wound myself up to 2,600m.

The fact that this climb was better further back should probably have warned me that the next climb wouldn’t necessarily be so easy to find as the previous day. But so far there had been lift everywhere! While it wasn’t necessarily easy finding the best bit, going up was not a problem.

So I headed straight for the next lift station, a usually reliable thermal source. I slowed for a couple of bubbles of lift, but didn’t stop, expecting a good climb ahead. Nothing! Going past the lift station, there was still nothing. I was getting low now and needed to make a decision quickly. I was too low to go back the way I’d come and see if I could make anything of the last bubble of lift I’d come through. I should probably have turned north towards Flumet, but thoughts of flying down an unknown valley  and how to get back if I bombed out stopped me. So I turned south to fly over the plateau where I’d found lift yesterday.

The cows watched lazily as I put my feet down ready to land and take off again if I couldn’t clear the hillock they were grazing on. They didn’t bat an eyelid as I picked my feet up and sailed past them, just clearing the ground. The gently sloping plateau in front of them kept giving me pockets of lift, which made me think I was saved, until I lost them and lost as much height than I’d gained getting them back. Being patient, lurking, keeping on working the scratchy lift is something I’ve been training myself to do. But I didn’t do this today. The birds seemed to be doing the same – working a patch of lift for a couple of minutes, then going off to find something better. The next possible lift source was always so close that I went looking to see if it would be better. And it was! But I was below the level of the ridge now, and climbing up above it proved impossible for me – as others had found earlier in front of take off.

Carrying on along the ridge, I could see the valley ahead with the official landing just beyond the town. I was surprised the valley wind was  weak, with the trees below me showing no sign of a breeze. I found one promising bit of lift which I worked for a while, pausing to politely return the wave of the holidaymakers in the houses below which were helping me climb. But like everything else I’d found as I flew along the ridge, it only took me so far – not enough to get back up the hill, and my general direction of travel was still downwards.

However, as I flew back and forth over the holiday homes, I had chance to look again at the ridge and the valley ahead of me. I realised that the valley I was looking at wasn’t the one with the landing field in, and that the reason I wasn’t feeling a valley wind was that I was sheltered from it by the outcrop I would have to pass to get to the landing field. But if there was a strong valley wind, it would be rough as the wind swirled round and over the outcrop. When another bubble of lift took me up, I felt the first bit of rotor and immediately turned and fled for the other side of the valley, my suspicions confirmed and a valuable lesson learnt.

Towards the official landing
Ah - that's the valley I was looking for - with the outcrop on the right that had been shielding me the valley wind

I reached my chosen landing field and found the true wind, which left me barely moving forward for a moment. I decided not to try and work the lift over here, tired of fighting to stay up and relieved to be safely away from the rotor on the other side of the valley. The cows in this field did what cows always seem to do, and watched lazily as I came in to land next to them, then sloped off to give me chance to pack up my glider.

No sooner had I unclipped than my phone started ringing. Freddy and Becca had watched my retreat from the rough air and graceful landing across the valley and were almost immediately on their way to collect me – a gold plated retrieve service!

I packed up wondering whether I’d have had more success climbing back up if I’d crossed to the other side of the valley sooner. I still don’t know – I’d have encountered the valley wind earlier, which could have helped generate better lift, but may have made it more turbulent and harder for me to get along the ridge. However, the three wings that flew over me, climbing as they went, as I limboed my way under electric fences to get out of my landing field, were suggesting that it would have been worth a try. The sky was looking beautiful and as we drove towards Cluses, I looked up at the lovely little clouds dotted along the top of the Aravis. Next time…

I got another lesson in Alpine weather as the evening came and the thunder started in the Chamonix valley about 6.30pm, shortly followed by torrential rain and gusts that brought down trees. I resisted the temptation to comment on a picture posted on XC Mag’s Facebook page from someone flying over Mont Blanc at 6.30pm – maybe they were flying with earplugs in as the thunder must have been pretty loud from there!

Same site, different days - track logs
Same site, different days

Flight log – day 1

Flight log – day 2

Pictures thanks to Becca Sullivan

A change of pace

Posted by Jenni

Flying over Charbon
Not bad for a slow month - flying over Charbon

Things have felt a bit quiet over the last month or so. Saying goodbye to Becky, variable weather, a bit of flying withdrawal (thanks to the weather) and my first little bout of homesickness made July an odd kind of month.

When I came away, I didn’t really think I’d be staying. I thought I might go back with Becky at the end of June. Or maybe stay for a month or so, then head back. But that’s changed…

Not bad for a slow month - climbing in Verbier

The beginning of July was OK, staying in Annecy, sorting out life, flying a bit and generally having a rest after the hectic adventures of the previous few weeks. But then I was on the road again. I love being on the move, but it can be tiring. And it’s different on your own. After a couple of weeks with a lot of driving, a lot of rain and what felt like very little flying, I finally fled back to Annecy to take stock and chill out a bit. I was feeling homesick and a bit lonely.

But then a few good chats to friends and family, a couple of amazing flights in and around Annecy – my first time on the Aravis and my first time landing out in the Massif des Bauges – put things back into perspective for me. The fact is, I’m having fun!

Port de Lers
Not bad for a slow month - flying at Port de Lers

It can’t be at the same pace as it was in June. That requires too much energy! So it’s time to find a balance. Building up a new life, finding work, making new routines and new networks of friends takes time. I’m not good at being patient, but I don’t really have a choice.

Camping in Ager
Not bad for a slow month - the view from my "bedroom" in Ager

It’s time for a change of pace – I’m slowing down and letting things happen. It doesn’t need to be perfect all the time – I’m making a point of loving the fun bits, taking opportunities that come along, seeking out new people to play with, turning the not so fun bits to my advantage as work or relaxation time, and giving myself time to work it all out. Time to keep it simple – flying, fun and adventures!