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Day 2

We woke to a blue sky. Ever hopeful, Stu and Gareth went to drop the cars in the valley. We knew if would be an early site. Whilst in Marlins, the guys from the local school told them the day would be stable . We needed to start high. Hmmm… that wasn’t really an option without a significant walk.

Back at the drawing board, we decided to relocate. More cheating! Round the corner, on the south end of the Aravis, we could get to 2000m+ with only a short walk. Off we went.

Happy days, until we came across some happy cows and an unhappy farmer. Cows can walk remarkably slowly when you desperately want to sneak past in a car. Farmer French Man thought it better that we wait for the cows to finish their morning stroll before proceeding with any driving. In hindsight, this was probably punishment for our cheating.

We arrived at launch to further punishment as other pilots overflew us at base, having come from our original location. Hindsight’s a wonderful thing, but I should have trusted my original assessment.

Gareth was first to get away, followed by myself. At the time I thought Mel and Stu weren’t so fortunate. In hindsight, again, they probably were. It seemed like it’d be a lovely wee flight up the valley. It wasn’t, but it worked. 16 or so km up the valley I called it quits as the overdeveloping clouds ahead of me merged. The flight would have been stunning, had I not been n the wrong side of everything, running with my tail between my legs!

On the ground, I started walking. Passy was our goal, where Pete had landed the day before. I walked through Megeve, covering about 10-12km on foot.  The more I walked, the more motivated I became. I felt the need to walk so as to not become disheartened by the cheating.

Mel and Stu eventually found Gareth who had run from overdevelopment on the west side of the Aravis. Getting dinner on the way, they picked me up dropping down the hill towards Passy. At least I deserved this ride.

With weather that could only improve, the “soft” start to the trip wasn’t such a bad thing.



As tempting as it is to jump to the present, I won’t. I’ll tell the story from the beginning…

Once upon a time, a long two weeks ago, we arrived in Annecy. Sleep deprived and hungry, we were in no state for our first day of flying. This day was only ever intended to be used to get a feel for the place so we were still on track.
We met up with Gareth and Stu, and were later met by Pete and Steve Marks. We set up camp and agreed on Le Grand-Bornand as our first goal. I say agreed, but it may be more appropriate to say that nobody disagreed.
Not wanting to wear ourselves out too soon, we cauch a shuttle to launch. One by one, we all followed Pete. As is often the case, he abandoned us, overflew our goal and landed two thirds of the way to Chamonix.
Meanwhile, Mel and I were left battling difficult conditions in a horribly crowded sky. About a hundred pg’s, 5 hg’s and a swift. Conditions down low were stable, but up high over developing.
Failing to get high, we decided to take a punt and slide off the end of the ridge. It was a long shot and it didn’t work! At least we escaped the chaos.
The “slide” was an entertaining welcome (for Mel) into flushings and european valley winds. Something we would become accustomed to.
In high hopes, still cursing at the others, we hiked to Feverges for an ice cream and Fanta.
By this stage we’d heard Gareth and Stu were in the bomb out. Both had got up, but not enough to go over the top. They were hunting us down in their cars, hell bent on making us cheat. It wasn’t too hard to convince us that we hadn’t really started and off we went to a launch overlooking Marlens, about 6km away as the crow flies. We set up camp in the forest behind launch, convinced that the cars would become stranded on day 2.

The tent…

Here it is…. a two man tent, weighing in at an astonishing 600g (including all accessories) or thereabouts. And much to most peoples surprise, it is waterproof! It’s a seriously cool piece of kit. Check out the ZPacks Hexamid Twin…



England’s Turn

Not wanting to be outdone by the Irish, I arranged for a terrible forecast to be converted into alternating awesome flying and rain.
We arrived in Keswick to see gliders up on Latrigg. So off we went. The lack of a bottom landing field was all the encouragement Mel needed to practice her slope landing pirrouette crumple. A move she’s been refining. Her first attempt was perfect, ending in a heap beside a bunch on nettles. The second attempt was nothing short of a perfect regular slope landing. Not nearly as entertaining, but far safer than the pirrouette crumple version.
After two days of tent waterproofness testing, England had sorted it’s weather out again. Mel suffered through stories of my early tandem flights as we walked up Jenkin. We were presented with 3 m/s climbs and a tiki tour along the face of Blencathra, back past Skiddaw and along to Bassenthwaite.
Thank you England. If you can provide similar flying next time I visit, I’ll be quite content in trying to jam everything into a rather busy week.
Next step… Europe.

Luck of the Irish

We had only two opportunities to fly during our week in Ireland. Being realistic in our expectations of Irish weather, neither Mel nor I expected to fly.
We got lucky… twice.
As a picture paints a thousand words, Mel’s facebook album tells a far better story than I could write, so I’ll keep it brief…
We flew on two occasions, once in the Mourne Mountains and once in the Burren. Both presented mellow thermic conditions, that any Irish pilot would dream of. None were to be seen, but in seeking light humor and bubbly characters, we had to settle for Swanny:-)
For the rest of the Irish story, check out Mel’s Facebook album here

Opera Singers, Tuberculosis and Craig Y Nos Castle

Craig Y Nos CastleMy training’s complete.

The 21st dawned a sunny day. With my sister’s car and decidingly little information, I was off to Wales. The Blorenge was going to be good…

Upon getting to Abergavenny, I needed lunch. In a hurry, I grabbed a bag of crisps. Much to my disappointment, the bag contained salt and vinegar popcorn. It turned out to be a day of alternating good and bad luck!

Cutting to the chase, I hiked up to launch, took off, climbed out, went over the back and landed 18km to the west. I kind of knew where I was. The next bus wasn’t for an hour, so I started walking and hitching back where I’d come from. A car travelling in the opposite direction pulled over and offered me a ride. They turned out to be pilots heading somewhere I’d never heard of. Not to worry… they assured me they would get me back to Abergavenny that evening.

We’re now on top of another site and my bearings start to return. I launch first and immediately get a climb to base. One of the other two pilots is hot on my heels. The other is not so fortunate and ends up back at the car. Off we head… Not long after, Joe shouts across to me that Ian was following in the car. I relax in the knowledge that I made the right decision and I wouldn’t be stranded in the Welsh wilderness.

23km down the track, we get stuck on a ridge. In my mind, it was the Welsh version of Laragne. By 6pm, the day was slowing down and I was lost. We slid off the end of the ridge to a small village. Setting up to land I was intrigued by giant model dinosaurs beneath me. Across the road was a manor like castle, a perfect place for a beer whilst we waiting for our pick up. A perfect day.

Not quite. Our driver lost us, turned around and was gone.

Whilst drinking beer, we established the last bus had gone, my face is sufficiently unattractive to the Welsh that our chances of hitching were zero, the castle was haunted by an Opera singer and children with tuberculosis and the rate for an ensuite room was £150 per night.

The bus stop was looking like a good option to shelter from the forecast rain if our latest plan failed. We knew we could get a taxi to the nearest town for £50. Our plan was to offer that for their cheapest twin room. Little did they know that we wouldn’t order a taxi, as there was no way to get home from that town either. We called their bluff and it worked. What’s more, they threw in breakfast.

Speeding the story up… dinner was ridiculously large, the beer was extremely tasty, we couldn’t find any ghosts, they gave us some more beer for free, we lit a fire, told stories, went to bed at 2am, had our breakfast, checked out the dinosaurs, caught the bus at 10am and got back to the car at 1pm. Just in time for chips, mushy peas and gravy in the drizzle.

Certainly wasn’t the trip I was expecting when I set off. But the randomness and spontaneity was perfect training for Europe. I’m now ready…

And so it begins…

Over recent weeks I’ve somehow committed myself to write a blog whilst I’m away. My track record for communicating whilst on holiday is somewhat poor! I’ll be impressed if I write anything, even more impressed if anyone reads it, and stunned if I can keep people engaged! I can but try!

We’d initially planned to hire a car, head to Slovenia, spend a fortune and have a good old time. As I’ve been trying to fool myself into believing I’m voluntarily unemployed, I came up with an idea to remove all luxury, certainty and comfort from our plans and set ourselves a challenge. And much to my surprise Mel was keen!

I think Mel’s performance in Nelson and Rotorua has changed her perception of her capabilities. With a lot of dedication, some planning, endless motivation and a hint of good luck, the impossible is now possible.

To cut a long story short, we’re off on a 420km vol biv adventure – Annecy in France to Garmisch-Partenkirchen in southern Germany.

Neither of us are super-human and we’re not trying to convince ourselves otherwise. Fortunately there is nothing in vol biv that suggests the need to walk! Vol means fly and biv is taken from bivouac, representing camping. So that’s what we’ll do. Fly and camp for 420km. We arrive in Annecy on the 10th June and we’ve allowed three weeks.

Obviously the objective of the trip is to have fun. We want to fly as much of the route as possible, but we’re not going to jeopardise our enjoyment by making ourselves walk for days on end in the rain. We will cheat, we will use gondolas, we will hitch rides to take off, and we may well jump on buses and trains if we start running short on time. Ultimately, I think the weather will decide how much cheating really goes on!

Much like our trip to India, this trip started as Mel and I… As our excitement has built, others have become more interested. The first addition was Glen Stevens. Glen will join us in Chamonix, a few days into the trip. A couple of days ago Gareth Gore and Stu MacIntosh confirmed they will join us for the first few days. Stu may well drag a few Italian pilots along too. And if that’s not enough, Pete Groves has just booked flights to do the whole trip with us.

I’m on a flight to Auckland at the moment…. And my exciting is building.