Tuesday 31 May 2011

all in a spin


I admit it, I’m messed up. Stupid, deluded, obsessed, whatever you’d like to call me – I won’t deny any of it, nor will I defend it or try to pretend otherwise.

I learned to fly back in 2008/9 because it was something I’d always wanted to do, it was something I never thought I’d be able to achieve, a challenge financially, motivationally, psychologically and intellectually. I loved it, even the nerve-wrackingly terrifying parts of it, all of it was amazing and despite the immense financial burden it placed on me, I don’t regret one single second.

Of course the financial burden became too much when I left my secure full-time engineering job in the middle of the recession, and for well over a year I didn’t fly at all. At first it was tough, I felt like a junkie going cold turkey, but after the first couple of months of pain I eventually found I could live without the buzz and the pleasure I got from living a part of my life in the skies.

Moving on a few months to the point where I started doing contract work and found myself with some ‘disposable’ income again: I vowed to get back into the air – despite no longer ‘needing’ the rush, I never stopped feeling the pangs of desire each time I drove past an airfield or watched a Cessna float overhead. It should have ended at that. I should now be blogging about flying cross country, meeting people in different airfields across the UK and nearly getting lost in poor weather, but if you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll know that I’ve upped the ante somewhat and flying for me is no longer simply about being in the air, but about testing my limits and seeing the world from a whole different perspective.

On Saturday I went ‘normal’ flying again, for the first time in far, far too long. In fact, I’m currently desperately trying to get enough hours in to retain my license currency, having failed to pay attention to the fact that it will lapse next Sunday if I don’t get my finger out – and if that happens it will mean a repeat of the Skills Test. Frankly I’d rather just keep myself current, and so I’ve been flying in a PA28, going cross country and just generally trying to get back up to speed in conventional aircraft so that I can go and log some solo time again. Of course there’s a good chance I’ll fail to get in the necessary hours and will still have to repeat the test, but c’est la vie – at least I’ll be back up to speed enough to cope with it by then!

Normal flying is ace, I still love it and want to do more. My friend Matt came with us on Saturday and sat in the back whilst I flailed and fannied about trying to learn to fly a new aircraft type in some of the most windy and turbulent conditions I can remember ever flying in. Not once did he complain, but in fact seems to have really enjoyed the experience – so much that he’s now trying to talk himself out of wanting to learn to fly himself…Of course for me, knowing how much enjoyment the trip gave him, and how much he’s been buzzing about it afterwards is a truly magical feeling.


Saturday’s flight tested me mentally, in that suddenly I’d had to remember how to do everything I’d not done for a year an a half – plan a flight, do the calculations, prep the aircraft, fly it (whilst learning the nuances of another different aircraft type), navigate, cope with sub-optimal wind conditions, fly into an unfamiliar airfield without damaging anything or making myself look like a useless dweeb, all whilst also trying to convince an incredibly experienced and talented instructor that I’m not totally incompetent and can in fact pilot an aircraft by myself. I was nervous and not a little stressed, but I still loved every minute of it. I do have to also admit that the time I’ve spent flying the Pitts with Paul seems to have given me a degree of confidence I would otherwise have been lacking…

The previous day (Friday) was when I’d realised my somewhat urgent license scenario, after I’d been flying the Pitts again. Friday’s flight itself had been something really quite special for me though…I’d overcome a couple of mental barriers and been left feeling invigorated, positive and just a tiny bit sick.

Actually, I’ve understated that last part – Friday’s flight had left me feeling sick as a dog for the whole of the rest of the day in fact. My head had been in a spin, along with the rest of my body and the aeroplane. Several times…

Dread. Fear. Sheer bloody terror. When Paul looked me in the eye on Friday and told me I’d be learning to spin and recover, fear was what gripped me. Fear, verging on panic. There was nothing I’d been dreading more – I knew that I was going to have to learn sometime, not just from an aerobatic point of view but from a safety point of view too, yet when the moment came to climb into the cockpit and head off to deliberately start stalling and throwing the aeroplane into what for all the world feels like a uncontrolled tumble, I wanted nothing more than to run away and never fly again.

Being forced to sit down and talk it all through on the ground, to explain what it was that scared me and what I actually thought a spin was proved to be a revelation. Having someone explain in simple terms exactly what happens and why, and how you are actually controlling the manoeuvre and choosing to end it (as opposed to ‘recovering’ as if something had gone wrong, when sometimes it’s exactly what you’ve been intending) was exactly what I needed. I needed to understand, to know what I was going to be feeling, and to trust. I was still scared when it came to the first spin in the air, but knowing I was in good hands and trusting that those hands were pushing me forwards to progress was an exhilarating feeling. Finally gaining a degree of understanding of what was happening and then being encouraged and guided into a knowledge and a new capability of control meant that by the end of the flight I realized I was actually enjoying myself. Laughing and grinning uncontrollably, I was enjoying the feeling of pushing things, forcing myself forwards out of my old comfort zone and on into a realm that had been a closed door a few hours before.

I am addicted. I’m hooked. I never want to let this go again – I want to fly, to push myself, to push my limits and find out how good I can be. I want to be helped, guided, cajolled, pushed, pulled, bullied, coaxed, comforted, cuddled and held, beaten, battered and forced out of my comfort zone over and over and over again. I want to understand who I am and what I can be, I want to know where my limits really lie and how far I can push them.

My head hasn’t stopped spinning despite the rest of my body stopping, and I love it. All of it.

Tuesday 24 May 2011

compare and contrast

Monday: Bailed attempt at riding the Trans Cambrian way due to horrific levels of wind, and a severe drenching.

I would just like to offer an apology to everyone for the storms and extreme winds and bad weather we’ve been having – it seems most likely that Matt and myself are the main cause of said ‘less than ideal’ weather conditions, because we’d decided to pack all our gear onto our bikes and head off into the wilderness for three days on the Trans Cambrian Way. In fact, it’s probably my fault these storms have hit, as I’d made the bold statement prior to the trip, that the only reason we might not commit to the route would be if the weather conditions were actually dangerous…

For a while it was funny, hilarious even, to battle the winds on the ridge-top, but after an hour or two of cycling with a ten degree lean just to stay straight, and being forced into the lowest gears on the ‘granny ring’ in order to make progress on downhill sections (much of the up we’d had no choice but to push, no matter how shallow the angle – the wind was truly insane), we decided enough was enough.


By this point I was less amused – my feet were cold and extremely wet, my panniers were too damned heavy, and I’d really had enough of the wind

Drenched to the skin by rain that had been blasted at us at god-only-knows what kind of speed, exhausted from hours of fighting the conditions and getting next to nowhere and realising that at the rate we were progressing we’d have no chance at finishing  the route, we made the only sensible decision and headed for the nearest tea shop and then the train home.



Tuesday: A fabulous day out in the sunshine (still a little windy) on the Long Mynd and riding Minton Batch

Having bailed on our intended route, Matt and I decided to head up onto the Long Mynd today for a fun day ride – Minton Batch is a classic singletrack descent from the Mynd I’d been hearing lots about and really wanted to do, so we chose a route to incorporate it.


Up, up, up (not the most fun part)


There were some cracking views to be had today – you could actually spot most of the places labelled on the topograph for once!


Minton Batch – Shropshire Mountain Biking classic. So good we changed our plans to do it twice!


If you click on this one to make it bigger, you can just about make out the plastic pigeon Matt is having a conversation with just after we’d ridden the Batch descent the first time round…it was so good he just had to share!

Such a good day and such a fabulous place to mountain bike, Shropshire will be seeing a whole lot more of me and my trusty steed in the future I’m sure! Cheers for the laughs Matt!

Monday 16 May 2011

mud, mud, glorious mud!

I’m really starting to get into this mountain biking lark. Despite the pain and ultimate discomfort, there is a huge grin-factor associated with going down something steep and technical at speed.

Last Thursday I had a quick hit trip to Llandegla with one of my MRT buddies, Tom. We didn’t ride anything particularly technical trail-wise, but Tom did push me into the Skills area and onto the jump section, where he then proceeded to shout encouragement and abuse at me until, eventually, I was actually jumping! Oh yes, it begins…

Friday was an altogether more sedate affair, in that no jumping or extreme speed occurred (the mud was both too sticky and too slippery all at the same time). There were, however, a rather large amount of mud, sheep poo, water, rain, wind, stinging nettles and ‘navigational challenges’ involved as Matt and I ventured out into the wilds of the Ceiriog valley – out on the bikes away from the trail centres…

Both of us fell off in the mud. Both of us and our bikes got covered in some rather unpleasant sticky, stinky brown stuff, we stood around looking blank as we tried to work out which tracks to take and we even missed out on food in the pub, but we both loved it!

More time out in the wilds, being ‘adventurous’ is most definitely on the cards (and probably with a proper camera in future, rather than just our crappy phone cameras).



Sunday 8 May 2011

mountain rescue

This is a short self-indulgent one folks, there will be another gear review and maybe even an interesting outdoorsy post coming up soon I promise, but in the meantime you'll just have to put up with this from me:




Ok so what exactly am I so chuffed about? Well, basically just lately I’ve been putting in a whole lot of hours in travelling, training, meetings, ropework, engineering work, boredom, more travelling and the occasional bit of piss-taking with NEWSAR and many of the other English and Welsh teams, and I’m pleased to finally say that not only am I now a Full Mountain Rescue Team Member (as of last Wednesday, I am no longer a trainee!), but I have also been pushed into the position of team Comms Officer.

Oh, one other small thing (I lie, this is huge for me), today I re-took my Casualty Care exam (having very shamefully failed it a couple of months ago), and passed it. Guess I can have a crack at actually being useful medically as a Rescuer now. YES!

That is all.


Thursday 5 May 2011

life, the universe and aerobatics

Sadly the answer is not 42.

I’m not sure there really is an answer actually, but some slightly more specific questions will, of course, have slightly more specific answers.

Living life in the short-term is easy. You just think about what it is you want to be doing today, tomorrow, maybe even next week. You plan trips and holidays for later in the year and you think about ways to pay for everything and just focus on a means to survive. The medium-term isn’t much different. For me, the medium-term covers the next couple of years, the time during which I have definite contract work scheduled, time during which I know for sure I’ll have some form of income, as sporadic as it may be.

My dilemma comes in a variety of guises and eventually, when I finally focus enough to see through the outer layers, is revealed to really be a question of what happens in the long-term.

What has gotten me questioning things like this? Well it’s simple really – I’ve found a new love, something that has captured my imagination and my soul and is something that with things the way they are happens to be completely unsustainable.

Anyone that knows me will know that I tend to not do things by halves. A symptom of a chronic lack of self-esteem perhaps? A product of being bullied as a child and never feeling like I could ever be good enough? However you choose to look at things/me from a psychological perspective, the end result is that whenever I find something I feel is worth doing, I tend to throw everything I can at it. I’m a constant underachiever inside my head – no matter how others may view me and the things I do, deep down inside I know it’s never enough, which is why I keep on trying, fighting and flying.

And this is where we get to: flying. I’ve always wanted to fly. Gaining my Private Pilot’s License was one of my life highlights. Never before had I worked so hard for something that meant so much to me, which is why having to stop flying after I quit my job was so painful. Finally getting back into in the past few months has been something of a trial though – I’ve felt at once incompetent, useless and unconfident. Meeting Paul and taking my first few flights in the Pitts Special started to change those feelings though, and hence I now find myself in a short/medium/long-term dilemma…

I want to fly. I need it, this is a big part of who I am. It’s an odd thing to do though – many of the days I’m due to fly I tend to wake up in the morning full of dread, wishing for bad weather so I don’t have to go. I don’t understand why this should be, because upon climbing into the cockpit those feelings instantly start to melt away. Feeling the weight of your fears dissolve as the cushion of lift pushes you off up into the sky is something quite special, for me only topped by the challenge that finding a focus in the freedom of aerobatic movement has started to give me. I need this, like a junkie needs their next hit, somehow I can’t let go and in fact, I don’t want to.

Ok so it’s not as simple as just wanting to fly, I don’t just want to fly, I want to fly aerobatics. I want to learn to fly the Pitts Special, and by that I don’t just mean becoming able to get her into the air and back down onto the ground again safely (although these two elements are a major challenge in themselves), but being able to understand how she handles, feel instinctively how to treat her and fly in partnership with her, carrying out manoeuvres and sequences that at first feel impossible, but upon learning feel unlike anything else you could ever imagine.

There is another element to this dilemma though – being the way I am, just learning to fly aerobatics won’t be enough, I know I’ll want to do more. Is this something I could be good at? Really good? I don’t know, but I need to find out. Somehow.

Sounds simple so far doesn’t it? I know what I want so I’ve just got to find a way to do it right? Well this is where the long-term issues start to rear their ugly heads. How on earth do I afford this? In the short to medium terms, I have the means to continue but not for long, and in the long-term I have no way to sustain the habit, financially it is crippling.

“If you want it enough, you’ll find a way.”

So here we are, I need to find that way. I’m not sure my field of engineering can sustain me in the long-term, the radio industry is evolving rapidly at the moment and I can see it changing into something that no longer captures my interest, and I’m not someone who can live life working a job that I hate – I need to be inspired, I need to enjoy what I’m doing, especially if my life is dominated by the time it takes. It’s all well and good having hobbies that grant you freedom and satisfaction, but if the work you do in order sustain them leaves you resenting the need, then what is the point?

I’ve got some big decisions to make – I’m not looking for any sympathy here, this isn’t that kind of blog posting. I’m incredibly lucky – I have a life that has options, I have a husband willing to support me in whatever I decide and I have the chance to learn a skill that is truly breathtaking. I just need to find a way to make it happen.