Above: me paragliding in the French Alps in September 2017
Last year I took up the sport of paragliding.
After 2.5 weeks of intensive training in the Sussex Downs with Fly Sussex I qualified as a Club Pilot (meaning I can fly solo without instruction at designated Paragliding Club Sites).
Training was amazing, but tough.
For all the highs - pun intended - there were many trials too: I was dragged along the floor by the glider and gusty winds, had cuts on my legs from thistles, accidentally flew into and through thorny gorse bushes and did somersaults over the ground whilst being twisted in the strings.
Like an episode of Faulty Towers, but on the top of (or down the side of) a hill.
After you fly down to the bottom of the hill (A 'top to bottom') you have to trek back up. The hills are 200 - 1000ft and if you do this 5 or 6 times a day you're climbing about 2000-3000ft in a day, weighed down with a MASSIVE, heavy flying machine strapped to your back. All so you can repeat the process and fly back down for a few seconds.
This is a sport which at the beginning is absolutely knackering: but the little wins propel you on: The first time you take off nicely. The first great landing. The first time you ridge soar (that was what hooked me in)...
The exiting bit is when you reach a level when you can 'top land' (land back on the top of the hill) - which means you don't have the trek back up!
A training day typically began at 8.30am, which meant a 5.00am start and a two - three hour journey from Hackney, London to Glynde in Sussex. My schlep there included two 20 minute walks, a bus journey, a tube journey and two train journeys.
There and back.
Every time my alarm clock shook me awake from my slumber, I would hate myself for choosing to learn this particular sport.
However, as I blinked my eyes open and stepped out into the early morning light, I would start to see how beautiful the city can be at that early hour.
The feel of leaving the city - with all it chaos, grime and neatness - as the birds sing in chorus, is pretty damn epic.
I would appreciate my first sip of tea more whilst winding out of the city past the Victorian terraces and enthusiastic dog walkers.
I would arrive in the middle of nowhere - in a tiny village whose name I can’t pronounce - and walk past rows of cottages and allotments where people tend their prize marrows and design jaunty looking scarecrows.
Before training started, I would meet other wannabe paragliding pilots and share a ride to the designated training site for the day.
The nerves I feel when stood at the top of the hill were real - but looking out at the view over the hills to the sea twinkling in the distance was soothing.
And then it was my turn to fly!
"Wait a minute, you want me to run off this hill and FLY over there? That's 600bloody feet. The height of 10 average sized UK houses."
And all I have to rely on is that bit of refined plastic, some string and my common sense / training. Errrrrmmmm ok... [Insert expletive....!!!!!]
BUT...... Flying off the hill and into the air for the first time is pretty damn exhilarating: a mixture of total terror and sheer excitement.
One day I flew above (YES ABOVE) a hawk. One day I'll fly alongside them (yes, you CAN actually do that in Nepal).
On a tandom ride with another #paraglidinggirl (incidentally a British Champion) we flew 1200ft (20 houses high) above other colourful paragliders circling below us, before doing a spin dive down to a safe landing spot.
So WHY are you doing this? I hear you ask.
For me, It's about a resurrection of 'wildness' in my life.
The feeling of being out IN nature.
And being part OF nature.
The wind in your face, the breath in your lungs and the sun in the air. Exploring the world we live in from different perspectives.
AND Inhabiting the landscape as fully as possible - emotionally, physically and visually.
I want to learn the language of the skies and the systems of the earth.
And it's informing my art practice.... (I paint Cities from Space at night).
But most of all its about meeting new people, having a blast! And the dizzying heights of nature really are such a delight.