This little blog turns five years old today. Five years feels a long time and a short time. Much has changed, and, strangely, much has not. When I started blogging, I split my time between England and Norway, and I was midway through a PhD. Now I live in Norway, the PhD is long finished, and there is a new little human in our lives. I have enjoyed posting these little postcards to myself and to the world.
To celebrate, over the next five days I will repost one of my favourite posts from each year of this blog. To begin:
July 2007: Parapenting
That’s paragliding. In French. We return with brown arms and peeling noses, serious leg muscles, and – almost – two paragliding licences. Eight amazing flights, but no photos. Too many other things to think about. I shall attempt a slide show in words.
Image 1, Monday: Despair
Our attempts at paragliding always involve highs and lows. In the past we’ve battled floods and weeks of unflyable conditions. This time it seemed too good to be true – Monday morning, up on the mountain bright and early, light wind, perfect conditions, arranging our lovely new wings ready for take off. And then the instructor takes a closer look. Where’s the gutesegel? Wings flown by German pilots in Germany are required to be certified by the DHV – the German hang-gliding and paragliding association. Our wings are certified by the European association, not the German one. No matter that we are in France, we live in Norway and England, and the flight school is Austrian. We cannot fly.
We sit on the back of the launch site, our shiny wings crumpled around us, our heads in our hands, as other people launch. It had been too good to be true, after all.
Eventually a very kind man who already had his licence offered to swap gliders with me. His wing was ten years old, but at least it had the right certification! And we were the same weight, which is important. I got two flights. Poor Michael carried his glider back down to the landing field. The next day the school found one he could rent from them. All was not lost…
Image 2, Tuesday: Rain
We lie in the back of the snuggle-car, and read. Rain falls on its roof and the windows, all day and all night, turning the camp ground to mud.
Image 3: The French Cat
White, brown and ginger patches, beside the red geraniums.
Image 4, Wenesday: The Climb
Despite the shuttle service, you still have to lug your 15kg glider on your back up the mountain for at least 15 minutes in the sun. That’s where the leg muscles come from.
Image 5: Take off
You can’t take a photo of this, anyway. The weight and the balance of it, as you plunge forward and the glider lifts behind you, and now is above you, and you run, and are suddenly weightless, and the wing that you carried now carries you, and the hillside disappears below, and you sit back in your harness and the air is all around: gentle, smooth, free.
Image 6: Treh
In the afternoon we go to the high mountain. There are gliders everywhere: launching, hovering, spiraling up in the thermals, crossing against the sun. Like great multicoloured birds, like a carnival.
Image 7: The Thermal Flight
Now it is my turn to launch. The wind is quite strong but I’m off with no problems, and the instructor says fly right, fly into the thermal, fly circles. Soon I am high over the launch site. I am flying up, for the first time. My first thermal. Other gliders kite around me, but I seem to be in the perfect spot, I go up and up and leave them behind. I am at cloud-base. The air beneath the cloud’s grey belly is slightly misty. It’s much colder up here, 6000 feet above the valley floor. My t-shirt is not enough. I wish I was wearing gloves. The mountains stretch below me in every direction. I can see the whole valley. I can see white clouds beside me in the sunlight. I can see the other gliders far below, distant and tiny, like tic-tacs. I hover there easily. Eventually, slightly nervous that the cloud will swallow me, I fly out towards the landing site. But I do not come down for a long time, nearly an hour, shivering with cold and with joy. The sky is reluctant to let me go.
Image 8: Wind
The next day the wind is too strong to launch, but we play about with the gliders anyway, practicing. The lovie does fine. Come, Meli, come, he says, you try too. Apprehensively I hook myself up to my glider. The wind seems to get stronger. Just hold it there for a minute, he says. But the wind is insistent and it shoots up anyway, dragging me sideways until I manage to get it up properly, controling it above me. But the sky likes me too much. Suddenly I am four metres above the ground, and I’m not coming down. The lovie stands below me, more scared than I am. When I do come down, he grabs me and pulls the lines, and we tumble over together and the glider miraculously stops. No harm done, and I got an extra little flight. Heh.
I can fly. I can fly. I can fly.