Suit/ Commute: How running to the office might just be the ultimate in multi-tasking

It’s -3 outside and completely dark. Only the stars are visible and no slivers of daylight can been seen over the horizon. I’m still inside, wrapping up, debating how many layers will keep me warm once I get going. I settle on four layers. But really it’s just procrastination and I’m fairly toasty inside. I grab the door handle and actually have to count to three to will myself outside. 

Immediately I get moving but the cold takes my breath away and I’m soon labouring between running hard to keep warm and feeling like my lungs are already bursting. 
The sparkle of hard frost on the ground and trees does nothing to compensate for the slamming cold. I realise pretty quickly that I’ve got a minute gap between my gloves and wrist and quickly pull down my sleeves. My old faithful trainers have holes in the toes and this adds unwelcome ventilation. 
The path to the station is gloomy and few people are out. 
I’m running to catch my train, leaving just enough time to make it a competition with myself. I need to keep pushing hard to make it.
I choose the shortest line, crossing and recrossing the road to save time. I make myself run to ‘my’ sign. Some bit of street furniture which signals I’m close enough, I can stop now. 
Once on the train I start shedding layers, usually right down to a vest top, much to alarm of my unsuspecting fellow passengers, who don’t know if I might carry on until I’m totally naked. Dumping my stuff on a seat to claim it, I stretch in the corridor before taking my seat and steaming gently in the warm carriage. 
It isn’t ideal really, sitting still for almost two hours before setting off again. Once at Waterloo, I don all my layers again and set out through the city streets. It’s not my favourite thing – I’d much rather be out on the trails, in the woods – anywhere off road. But there are things about city running that are undoubted pleasures. You can people watch, which passes the time, and you spot all sorts of things as you trot by, things you’d miss on a bus, or even a bike. You can carry on taking the shortest route. No red lights can stop you, unless you happen to have to wait for cars, in which case you can claim a few seconds beautiful rest.
And then I arrive at work. If you’re lucky, there’s somewhere to shower at the office. And I cram a whole work outfit into my tiny running backpack. Yes, I’m usually purple and sweating on arrival, but I dive straight into the shower and – having left a duplicate wash kit – am soon at my desk. Usually I’m red-faced and boiling for a good half an hour afterwards. Exercise isn’t the instagram perfection we see every day. 
Is it a massive hassle? Not usually. Yes, you have to think about it the night before so you have what you need (I always forget something but you can usually improvise, borrow from colleagues, or just be laughed at all day). 
Why bother? Indeed, all that getting cold early and getting sweaty after that, couldn’t you just hit the gym or run at lunchtime? Of course. But running your commute generally beats everyone but the most earnest of bike commuters. You can be off the train and on your way. No waiting for buses, adjusting you saddle or queueing for a Boris Bike. Plus, that’s you done for the day. You’ve ticked your training session off, and can tuck into your energy bar/ porridge/ sticky bun with gusto. You feel better, no commuter stress here. You feel invincible, when you’ve forced yourself out the door into the freezing night and you’re the healthier for it. 
There are some downsides of course. I get lost now and then (more now than then, if I’m honest) which makes me late/ a laughing stock. If you prefer trail running you might find it hard on the knees. 
But I can’t really think of many other reasons why you wouldn’t want to both exercise and get from A to B, and that’s ticking two things off for the day before you’ve even got to your desk. 


Wild Camping in Midwinter

Setting out from the car park at 7.30pm, the early darkness soon enveloped us. I brought my youngest with me, which made me brave as we walked along the path and into the field below the ridge. I’d been hoping we wouldn’t see anyone, but we approached a man alone, which made me cautious. It turned out they were walking their dog, and that it was a dog (and owner) we knew – the advantages of microadventures in your own city!

We slipped through the gate and onto the path which ran parallel to the ridge. In the dark, we could see the lights of the city below us to our left, and a shallow pool cast from our torches. The night closed in around us and we chatted loudly and even sang to distract ourselves from the solitude. Everything looked different – I’d wild camped there before, but it must have been a summer’s evening, as I was struggling to spot the place where the path opened to the right and up the hill. We eventually found it, and started to climb. This was better – some primeval instinct in me felt much more comfortable higher up.

I’d remembered the best spot was beyond the trees and almost round the other side of the ridge, and we found a good place backed by high brambles but overlooking the city and the countryside beyond.

Pitching the tent and filling it with warm kit was the priority, as even though we’d warmed up nicely on the way up, we’d quickly cool down – I estimated the temperature to be maybe 3 or 4 degrees. Midwinter’s night was predicted to be cloudy but as we arrived the sky cleared and we could see the moon and stars, and the wind had dropped – the perfect midwinter’s night! There was a feeling of elemental contentment being out on the shortest night, knowing that we’d embraced it, not hidden away from it, and I had a big grin at the thought of everyone else wrapped up inside. We knew that we’d made it, that we’d soon be seeing longer days and lighter nights.

I’d parked on a slight slope, so we spent a bit of the night sliding down our roll mats, and I didn’t sleep much as the wind picked up in the night, but we were very cosy inside our sleeping bags.

I knew I needed to get up and catch the train back into London the following day, so – for the first time on any camping trip ever – I set an alarm. It was still dark as we worked to strike the tent, set the cooker going for breakfast and tea, and get everything packed away. Nothing tastes better than hot food for breakfast and we enjoyed porridge with blueberries with some very civilised vanilla tea. Suitably fortified for our descent (and a day’s work in London), we picked our way down again just as the light was creeping over the hill.


How fear brings you courage 

(Pic from Blue Skies Magazine)

How do you decide to take on a challenge? To do something you have no idea you’ll succeed at, or even enjoy? Surely the answer comes from practicing doing things you don’t know if you’ll succeed at. 

Slydiving has brought me the courage to take on new tests and challenges. A year ago, I’d never have dreamed of planning a trip to the other side of the world. 

First, I finally plucked up the courage to sign up for a tandem, then I booked my ground school and Advanced Freefall course before I could change my mind. I found myself jumping out of plane strapped to no-one. Falling through the air at 120 miles an hour. The first time I took the plane to altitude, and probably for 20 jumps after that, I couldn’t look out the window (I was afraid of heights), when the other jumpers (as a student, you get out last) left the plane, I couldn’t look, and stared at the floor between my feet. The noise as they fell away into the slipstream – something between a whoosh and a pop – made me want to cover my ears and take the plane down again. But. But. The feeling of overcoming that fear, the feeling of flying through the air as free in your head as you are in space and time, was unequivocally worth it. I don’t know how I made myself drive back to the drop zone some days, especially when I’d checked on YouTube to see what my lesson was that day and it left my knees literally knocking with fear. 

And the knowledge that I’d overcome that fear and found ecstatic, life-affirming, laughing-you’re-so-happy joy once I was out of the plane, made me believe I could do it again. And again. 

And if I could overcome such extreme fear to do that, why not conquer other areas of my life? Since the second I first left the plane on my first tandem (thank you Ricky Capanni) I’ve taken on things I never thought possible –  until then I never thought it was possible for me to jump – and it is in no small part thanks to  skydiving. Perhaps what kept me coming back in those – frankly terrifying – early months, was the need to keep checking if I still had the courage. Everyone is scared at first, it’s how you get around that to meet the reward that’s down the road. 
All the cliches are undoubtedly true – that is why they become cliches. ‘Everything you’ve ever wanted lies on the other side of fear’ has never been so apt. And for once it feels absolutely spot on. 

How I came to be the newest brand ambassador for Snugpak

‘And of what value was this journey? It is as well for those who ask such a question that there are others who feel the answer and never need to ask’
– Wally Herbert (from Mind Over Matter, by Sir Ranulph Fiennes)

Why Snugpak? Yes, I love a great British outdoor gear brand, which still manufactures in this country – a rare thing indeed these days. And yes, every soldier worth their salt has a Softie sleeping bag for chilly nights in drippy woods. But when I met the team, and I told them about my plan to ski to the South Pole, they believed I would from the very first moment. I don’t know if they could see it in my eyes (very earnest!), or that that they themselves knew the same yearning for adventure, but they were immediately keen to support me. Straightaway they were thinking up new prototypes and ideas for saving weight, advising on kit and giving me tips on safety planning.
That belief was a huge boost. I think they believed in me more than I did myself at that moment, and I could see me working with such a like-minded company. I was more than thrilled when they told me I’d be their new brand ambassador. Ok, I’m sure people think that I get a bit of nice kit and go on my way. But there is a huge responsibility on my side too, to help them grow and tell more people about their products, to be out testing new equipment in some pretty cheeky conditions.

There is now so much planned – from visiting their Skipton site, to product testing and a few Snugpak adventures! I’m so chuffed to be writing this as a brand ambassador. I really am ordinary – I didn’t grow up on a mountain, I wasn’t born on skis, or with wealthy parents – but thanks to someone, somewhere (Viking blood in my veins, my mother always says), I have the will to succeed and the curiosity to find out what else is out there. And that is more powerful to the ordinary human than any else.

So here I am with Snugpak, starting out on a long road to Antarctica, but I know they’ll be supporting me every step of the way. 

The higher you are, the easier it is.

ws-8I’ve never been to an indoor ski slope. The last time I went skiing was 20 years ago and it wasn’t exactly successful. I can remember going far too fast straight down and hill and having literally no control whatsoever. I remember I was pretty scared.

I wanted snowy pics and the chance to be on skis at least once before I go to Austria for my weekend’s touring. I realise downhill isn’t the same but there may well be times when I do end up needing to go down hill and I didn’t want my friend having to spend the weekend teaching me the basics.

I borrowed a jacket and snowboard trousers from my friend Mike’s wife, who is roughly the same size as me. I loved the black jacket with multicoloured spots, and I had some purple snowboard trousers that looked warm and waterproof.

We arrived a bit early and spent half an hour in the cafe watching the slope. I was really scared. It looked pretty steep and there were plenty of kids younger than ten who were whizzing down with no trouble at all. Then there was a girl more my age who was having a bad time of it – falling over at every turn and looking very fed up. That was going to be me, I was sure. I asked Hugo about a million times ‘so which foot do you lift, to go which way?’ How do you stop?!

The biggest problem was that if you can’t ski, or haven’t for ages, you’re supposed to have a lesson, which is three times the price of just going in for an hour. I was sure they were going to find me out within the first five minutes. I got some short skis (the shorter the better for beginners) and some boots. The boots were super-comfy – I remember them being awful to wear, more like ice skating boots, but these seemed good.

I didn’t even remember how to put the skis on, but I got them on and got poles (which I discovered after an hour were much too short) and pushed off. I was wearing far far too many clothes. It was about -6 and felt fresh but not unpleasant.

I was supposed to be able to use the button lifts, control turns and stop. I could do one of those things (the lift. Just about). We’d agreed to go half way up and start with a gentle snow plough. I let go of the button lift and pretty much started to fall straight back down the hill, as there was quite a ridge between the edge of the slope and the lift area. Hugo managed to drag me up and over but they’d stopped the lift on my account and I was sure they’d come over and throw me out! No such luck. It wasn’t too high but I really had no idea what I was doing. A YouTube video quickly cribbed the night before was not going to cut it.

I don’t really understand why a snow plough makes you go slower. I certainly had no idea how to turn as I set off and Hugo saying ‘you sort of shift the weight with your hips’ helped not one bit.

God knows how I made it down to the bottom (all of about 10 metres) that first time. Somehow a huge wide snow plough did slow me down and there I was, legs shaking, at the bottom of the slope. I hadn’t fallen over. So time to go again.

Pretty much the same thing happened – get half way up, get off button lift, try to get over the ridge, fall backwards. Snow plough down to the bottom. I was sweating already. After three goes like this, I suggested going to the top might be easier. It was a hell of a lot easier. But it looked steep and a long way to the bottom the first time. People were arriving, tipping over the edge and gliding to the bottom, one after the other like well-insulated lemmings. ‘After you’ I said about half a dozen times before I talked myself into plopping over the edge as well. This is it now, now I’m going to fall over and break my ankle. This is when they’ll realise I don’t know what I’m doing. But slow snow ploughs and turns got me to the bottom in one piece. I’m still not sure what I did to turn, only that I did it.

After half a dozen goes I was even starting to enjoy it, to push it that little bit more – can I turn twice in that space where I only turned once last time? Can I whizz right down to the bottom and half way up to the ski lifts again without getting told off? I found myself grinning from ear to ear as I let the lift carry me up each time.

I spent a lot of my payday cash on gloves and wrist supports in Snow and Rock. They were expensive so I’m hoping they’ll be suitable for to wear underneath mitts in colder temperatures. They’re goretex with liners and a leather palm. I figured I ‘needed’ them….

I only confessed to work colleagues afterwards that there was a snow-cam. They could have spent an amusing Friday lunchtime watching me. I still can’t work out why I didn’t fall over. No one has a natural talent for skiing, as it’s not a natural thing to do. And there was this time I fell off a skateboard…
But, after such a disastrous first attempt twenty years ago, it’s given me something as well as skill or experience. It’s given me confidence.

What’s the opposite of a death wish?

After initial testing, which showed my knot knowledge to be confined to granny knots (must work on that), I was ready today to take the tyre out for a longer stretch. I’ve been assured that tyre hauling can feel far harder than pulling a pulk as there’s a lot more resistance.
My usual running route starts with a pretty and gently undulating path through the woods. Perfect for half an hour out. I started out cheerfully, it didn’t feel too bad, and I can honestly say that, while hard work, it was great fun. It was almost like taking a large an unruly dog for a walk! In Antarctica there will be sastrugi. I had leaves, and a number of bridges over ditches where the tyre fell in and had to be hauled out.
It was a beautiful autumn day – windy, and cold to start off with, but I was soon pretty warm.
I met no one, which was just as well as it does look rather odd. I’m going to have to get used to that though…

When I turned back onto the road to head home, it suddenly felt ridiculously hard. I suppose tyres are meant to grip road surfaces…

I then met one of my neighbours.
‘Dare I ask’ he said as he was getting into his car.

‘Of course you can!’ I returned.

I explained what I was doing.

‘Antarctica? Oh, somewhere nice and close then! Do you have a death wish!?’

‘Oh no, more of a life wish. Everyone has a least one big adventure in them, don’t you think?’

‘I can’t argue with that’ he smiled and turned the key in his ignition.
A successful first day out. Planning to do one hauling session per week for now as it’s early days. I could feel the waistband of the harness starting to rub – will keep an eye on it but it’s well padded so perhaps it’s just a matter of getting used to it. I’m sure I’m going to feel today’s session in the morning!!

Facebook vs real life 

We all like to present our best selves on social media – especially if we’re trying to build a following or engage with sponsors. So off I happily went to document a bit of tyre-hauling. It was pretty hard work and I decided to share the ‘after’ pic with you as a) it’s pretty funny compared to the before pic b) it was quite hard work, and picture a doesn’t quite show that and c) this is what I often look like after I’ve made an effort.

I don’t think I’m alone in that – if you’ve tried hard on a run, or gym session, spinning or walking, you are red-faced, sweaty and with snot coming out of your nose (ok, maybe that’s just me…) and I certainly never wear makeup. Oh and matching kit? Almost never. My various collection of running tights and vest tops follow each other round in the wash and never the matching set will meet. I’m lucky if I can find a sports bra when I need one, never mind the mid-layer I bought with the leggings, or the non-clashing shorts and top, or the matching socks. I can hear my mother’s voice in my head exclaiming ‘it’s not a fashion parade.’  And it’s not – I want to be warm enough (or cool enough) and not have any weird seams rubbing in weird places. 

So here you have it, with all my 39 years showing on my face, my mouth has gone strangely rubbery with the effort and my hair, well. But this is who I really am, who you’ll really see around Salisbury when I’m out with my tyre or running through the woods. And it made people laugh – was that a tacit, knowing laugh as they’ve been there too? 

I tried for ‘before and after part two’ in the gym last night but the difference wasn’t a stark. I mustn’t have been trying hard enough……

Looking for cold

This weekend was the weekend I’d planned to try out my new Rab baselayer.  

It may be the middle of November, and we’ve had a few frosty starts,  but the main problem was that it was forecast to be a lovely sunny day. I was expecting Rab’s usual technical spec along with wearable design and attention to what really matters when facing the elements. 

As well as hauling tyres about the place and preparing for skiing across Greenland, I do love to jump out of planes. It’s an addictive mix of freedom and concentration. Add to that a little bit of fear – you are 13,000ft above the earth – and you’re about there. 

A perfectly still and sunny November day is the perfect day for skydiving. I learned in the winter, so I knew it would be cold. On the ground it’s sweater weather. In the plane it gets steadily colder until you reach altitude (no heating or pressurised cabins here). And then the door opens. The temperature outside the door at 13,500ft yesterday was ‘f-ing cold’ according to one member of staff. That equates to about -15, temperatures it’s difficult to find in the U.K. anywhere else. 

It’s about at this moment that I usually start to regret the whole idea on the basis that’s it’s just too cold. I had my base layer on, with a t-shirt and fleece and finally my jumpsuit. It was the warmest I’d been on a winter jump – apart from my hands, which even in gloves were numb from about 10,000ft. I was out the plane and holding onto a rail as soon as the door opened, followed by two fellow jumpers. After that, you’re so focused on the jump that you don’t really notice the temperature till you land. 

Back on the ground, I needed to set up and test my tyre-hauling gear. This is the closest thing you can get to hauling a pulk (special sledge which is used to haul camping gear on cross-country ski expeditions) without snow. You wear a special harness which then connects to your tyre – and off you go. It was pretty warm after five minutes, so I was in just my base layer and soft-shell trousers.

The trick, I’m told, is to pull from the waist, not the shoulders, and to try and keep as upright as possible. I could barely lift the tyre, and dragging it was fine initially, but I could feel it in my legs pretty quickly. So this is why you need to practice. If I’m going to be doing this for 8-10 hours a day, I’m going to have to focus on leg strength and endurance. 

Even on the flat Wiltshire roads it was tough going but although I was warm I didn’t get sweaty. I can see me needed more padding on the shoulders as it was starting to rub even after twenty minutes or so. Apart from the neighbours thinking I’m crazy, a great first day tyre-hauling!! 

The merino wool felt smooth and comfortable next to skin and the length in the body was enough to be able to either tuck in to trousers or provide decent coverage over the waist. The sleeves were just right – not annoyingly long or draftily short. I went for the charcoal/ black, which I even wore later that day with jeans. 

The town at the end of the World

Just after taking off on the flight to Punta, the scenery was suddenly breathtaking. The airport itself is surrounded by hills, hazy in the sunshine and dust. Five minutes after we left Santiago, the clouds became a sea of white, with the occasional black mountain top poking through. Such was the enormity of the view and the immensity of the horizon, I began to doubt my own eyes – was it cloud or snow? Cloud of course, as the snow wouldn’t lick the tops of the mountains and leave the crests exposed. Nevertheless, I was taking as many photos as I could. Twenty photos out of an aeroplane window do not a good blog make, but I was mesmerised by the sheer scale and beauty of the landscape below. 

I would have probably been more than a little apprehensive if I had been crossing Antarctica this time, as it would have been my first view of unending snow fields, crevasses and Glacier tongues. 

When we arrived in Punta Arenas, I felt Lou had undersold the place. I’d almost expected horses and carts and people in traditional Andean clothes. Instead was a beautiful town with colonial influence. It had clearly had its heyday a century or so before – and had a definite air of being an outpost – but it was otherwise a small South American town full of friendly locals and a bit of British history. 

The main industry had once been whaling and Punta Arenas (sandy point) is still a lively port town. The British had quite a presence there in the 19th and 20th century – you can still see many English names on headstones in the cemetery. 

The golden age of Polar exploration left its mark here too. With so many Antarctica journeys using Punta as a jumping -off point, there are still roads and restaurants named after ships and explorers. The Shackleton bar on the main plaza is a must on any adventurer’s to do list when they’re here. The tiny pannelled room is filled with leather chairs and Antarctic memorabilia- including a photo of Shackleton himself signed by his granddaughter Alexandra – line the walls. It’s not too much of a leap of the imagination to see Shackleton and his men toasting their journey here while waiting for the weather to be in their favour for their onward trip. 

Across three continents. And we’re not there yet! 

SPEAR17, a six-man team attempt to cross the entire continent of Antarctica, has been training and preparing for almost two years. They’ve been dragging tyres around on harnesses, lifting ever-heavier weights, and eating as much as possible for the 3500 calorie-a-day deficit. 

Their kit is as technically cutting-edge, as light and as carefully-researched as is possible. The team is as ready as they’ll ever be. 

As the sole media support for the expedition, I’ve been lucky enough to have been asked along to the first leg of the journey and the week in Punta Arenas when the team will sort kit. 

I’ve been with them on their journey to just get to the start point for almost a year – from pitching the concept, running launch events and pushing hard for press coverage. 

Now here we are – in Santiago, awaiting the last let to Punta Arenas – the jumping off point for most Antarctica expeditions. 
The flight from Madrid to Santiago felt long – not much sleep and not great food for vegetarians. When we were an hour or so out, Lou showed me the diaries which have been specially prepared for the trek and include various medical and psychological questions which will analyse the team’s wellbeing. 

Inside the diary, Jamie has written inspirational quotes (and a few bad jokes worthy of a Christmas cracker) at various points inside. On the back was printed ‘In Memory of Henry Worsley’. Henry was a former expedition team mate and friend of Lou’s, who died last year undertaking a solo crossing of Antarctica. 

That, together with many hours travelling and a sad film was enough to make me cry. It’s going to be very strange going to Chile with them, then waving them off as they disappear for 90 days. I’ve been with them every training weekend, media day and most nights out for six months. I’ve lived and breathed it – I’ve read books by the iconic Polar adventurers: Scott, Cherry-Garrard, Shackleton. And more modern ones too – Hempleman-Adams, Worsley, Aston. 

When I first heard about the expedition, I thought it was ambitious but ultimately not something which appealed to me. I’ve been tempted by MdS, ironman, done countless crazy or unusual challenges, but never thought about Antarctica for a second. 

After six months though, I can Polar geek with the best of them, I’ve read books some of the team have never heard of. I’ve spent time listening to adventurers talk, meeting lots of Polar nuts. And it normalises it – just as running marathons is nothing in a running club – people do them every week. It’s just everyone else thinks it’s crazy. 

And leaving them to go to Antarctica while I return to England is going to be hard. But, to counter that, I’ve started to think about my own journey to Antarctica. Not that I’m going to hop on the next flight to Union Glacier. But in 2017, a year’s time, I’ll be doing my own cold weather journey. I’m going to be realistic (unusual for me!) and start with around ten days in Norway. Then Greenland in 2018, then. One day, one day I will have the South Pole stamp in my passport along with the rest of the team. 

With my left hand free

You can read about how I actually broke my wrist so badly that student medics now write case studies about me soon. But this post is about what happened in the days, weeks and months afterwards. When I first got home from hospital, I couldn’t do anything with it. When I moved, I moved the whole of my right side together, like C3PO from Star Wars. Going out was impossible – someone MIGHT COME NEAR IT. It was lucky I wasn’t seen in public, as putting on clothes one-handed is harder than you think. 
Try it. Trousers: you need to do a crazy hip wiggle to get into them. T-shirts – only if they have short sleeves. Tights. Just forget it. I couldn’t put a bra on. I could have asked for help but that would have been too easy. I wanted to at least be able to dress myself, as I couldn’t work, or ride a bike. Or write. 

But the body is truly amazing – within a week, I had mastered dressing, eating and wiping my backside with my left hand. I was pretty pleased with myself as I was struggling to see how I was going to be able to do anything at all. 

At first, writing wasn’t much of an issue. A squiggly signature here and there, and texting (with my left hand, of course). 

When I went back to work, it was more of a problem. Meetings mean notes. I couldn’t have held a toddler toothbrush, never mind form letters, so I started to write with my left. 
It was illegible. I had to write slowly. But it did improve with practice. It definitely stopped me doodling. 

Now I can write with my right hand but am doggedly continuing to be a leftie. I’m hoping it might make me more creative (unlikely) or reveal an extraordinary and hitherto unknown talent (cricket? Guitar?) 

Who knows if it’s possible to continue long-term?

Either way, it’s true what they say – left handed people are in their right minds….

What is it like to jump out of a helicopter? (Answer can be summed up in one word)

Helicopter jumps are brought to you today with the word cold. So I’d arrived, had a drop zone orientation, done a regular jump, lost my helmet and found my helmet. It’d had already been quite a day. The helicopter was an hour or two late as the weather was preventing take off. 

When I arrived I was shocked to see something so tiny. I was expecting full on Lynx helicopter. This was a bubble with rotor blades. The pilot got out, then proceeded to take the doors off. The doors themselves cost £8,000 each, so he was quite keen we didn’t tread on them or fall over them while we were having a look around. 

He warned us not to wave as we approached the helicopter, or to jump up as we jumped out – or we’d be, essentially, toast. 

We all wanted to look cool and hang off the skids underneath – the main aim for any skydiver is to get great photos recording the moment!! So we all had a practice with the heli on the ground. It seemed pretty straightforward- if a long stretch- to climb out and onto the skids but everyone warned us it wasn’t so easy at 6,000ft with the blades going like the clappers above your head. 

We were put in lifts of 4 – all the chopper would hold after the pilot, and Catherine and I were going to be first out. We sat in the back either side of jumper 3, while jumper 4 sat in the front with the pilot. 

Taking off was great fun – we weren’t strapped in and were just holding on to a strap handle on the roof. The guy in the middle was instructed to hold on to us to stop us fallling out. The pilot tipped and rotated as we took off – the view was incredible. It took a very short time to get to altitude – maybe five minutes. But with no doors on in October it was absolutely freezing. Despite being pretty apprehensive beforehand, I was keen to get out so I could get down and get warm!

The jumper 4 in the front gave us the thumbs up after the pilot gave us the nod and it was time to clamber out. Not so easy when the skids were a few feet lower than they had been on the ground, and you had to get out sharpish and ideally at the same time as your jump buddy to avoid the helicopter going unstable. 

I could stand on the skids but while I was working out exactly how I was going to hang off them, I felt the helicopter give a little shake. I took that to mean the pilot needed me to get off, so I let go and did a less than graceful back flip off into the dead air below. I asked the pilot later and was told that the wobble was Catherine dropping off on the other side. 

We’d agreed to track (or move) away from each other so we didn’t collide. I’d seen Catherine and tracked right. The few seconds after dropping off were different to jumping from a plane – it’s been described as being more like a BASE jump. The air was still and didn’t whip you away. 

The wind was pretty strong and after I’d opened and worked out where I was in relation to the landing area, I realised I wasn’t going to make it back. No problem usually at Netheravon – the landing area is huge and the hazards minimal. Here I was with the following option : woodland, a building, the runway, or a relatively tiny field. I aimed off for the field. Heading towards and into wind landing, it was looking pretty tight, when I spotted power cables going diagonally across the field. I’m not a fan of swearing unnecessarily but it felt justified in saying the f-word on multiple occasions. 

By luck I managed to avoid the power cables by about 3 metres. It wasn’t the prettiest of landings either and I felt like throwing up for a good ten minutes afterwards. The ground crew came to find me – it was still two fields and two farm gates to climb before I made it back to the road. 

Catherine booked to do a night jump and I’d been keen in the morning but after landing off I didn’t fancy landing off in the dark with no idea where all the hazards were so I stayed to watch the others. It was cool to see them all with glow sticks and torches strapped to them, so I will definitely do that next!!