Cross-Country Skiing Part 2

One of the downsides to being a travel rep is that days off are rare. When you do get time off, you can never have more than one day at a time. Therefore, if the langlaufen course runs over three consecutive days, you’ll only ever be able to attend the first lesson. Although I still looked like a freestyle skier who had accidentally picked up the wrong equipment from the locker room, my first day on langlaufen skis had gone well. Unfortunately, due to the nature of my job I’d then had to miss parts 2 and 3 of the course. These had included minor pockets of knowledge such as how to stop, how to get out of the tracks when you pick up too much speed and what to do if you get into trouble. So my next outing on my langlaufen skis was a few days later with Gabi, my colleague who was already a confident cross-country skier. I’d made a deal with Gabi that if she learnt to alpine ski, I’d learn to langlaufen. So far she’d stuck to her end of the bargain, so I couldn’t really back out when she told me I needed to progress out of the beginners area and onto a more challenging loipe. Astrid, the head of the langlaufen school, looked horrified when Gabi told her which route we would be taking that day. Langlaufen loipes are graded as blue, red and black (the same as alpine slopes) with black being the most difficult. The loipe that Gabi was proposing we take was a black. In Gabi’s head, none of the langlaufen loipes were as difficult as any of the alpine slopes. So by her logic, as an alpine skier I should have no trouble with a black loipe. To this day I am grateful to Astrid for stepping in, and she persuaded Gabi that maybe a red loipe might be more suitable. Well, how hard could it be? I thought. It’s all on the flat, right? The outing got off to a good start. Once I got into my rhythm I was confidently making my way around the loipe. Cross-country skiing is a bit like working out on a cross-trainer in the gym, it’s easier to stay in rhythm if you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing. I should have learnt from my alpine skiing experience that it’s never good to get too over-confident, regardless of what winter sports equipment you have on your feet. Gabi warned me that we were coming up to a steep downhill part of the loipe, and suggested I may want to come out of the tracks as hills are easier to navigate from the smooth, groomed snow that the skaters use. As I’d missed the lesson where I would have learnt how to ski outside the tracks, and my langlaufen skis still felt like a pair of really long, unstable ice stakes, I decided I felt more comfortable staying in the tracks. Don’t worry, I told Gabi, I’ll just keep in the tracks until it flattens out again. After all, I am an alpine skier and therefore used to going fast. How steep could a langlaufen track be anyway?
As I reached the bottom of the hill and the snow beneath my skis began to flatten out, a huge sense of pride came over me. I could handle this cross-country skiing malarky. What was all the fuss about? My triumph was short-lived as I realised that the ground was starting to slope downhill again. The slope that I’d just conquered was only a pre-cursor so a much, much bigger hill. Gabi glided past me and smiled, completely missing the look of terror on my face. A few seconds later, I overtook Gabi again, travelling as a speed that would have scared the hell out of me on my own skis, and completely incapable of doing anything about it. The best course of action, I decided, was to stay upright for as long as I could. That point turned out to be about three quarters of the way down, when I popped up out of the track (literally) and rolled the rest of the way to the bottom, destroying most of the nicely groomed loipe on my way. Yes, I had done what I had previously thought impossible. I had wiped out on a langlaufen track. I can still hear the tuts and other noises of disapproval from my fellow skiers as they skied over me.

A word of warning – If you are thinking of trying cross-country skiing, the most common injury is a bruised coccyx/tail bone. I wasn’t convinced of this fact until I fell on mine and couldn’t walk properly for six weeks. So when you’re buying your leisure pants, maybe choose some with some extra padding in that area.

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Cross-Country Skiing Part 1

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m lucky to be able to say that I’ve worked in some fantastic ski resorts during my career overseas. Although they are usually called ‘ski’ resorts, though, it’s not all about the skiing. One of the benefits of my job was that I got to try out some of the other winter sports that go on in the mountains and add lots of ‘new activities’ to my list.

First and foremost, I am an alpine skier. When I first learnt to ski, snowboarding was becoming increasingly fashionable, but I decided I wanted to learn to ski first as people told me it’s easier to go from skiing to snowboarding than vice versa. I have since learnt to snowboard, I wouldn’t call it ‘snowboarding’ but I can at least get down the mountain on a board. I just don’t like my feet being strapped to the same board, though, and I have to say that personally I prefer to be on my skis.

Snow-blading proved to be a good way to improve my balance on my normal skis. If you lean too far forward or too far back on these, there’s nothing to stop you cartwheeling down the hill, as demonstrated by my colleague Simon when we guided a snow-blading day together. We also had two snowboarders in our group, who proved the theory right that it’s easier to go from two boards to one than the other way around. They so weren’t used to their feet moving independently of each other on the snow, and ended up looking like Bambi on snow-blades!

Whilst working in Seefeld, the snow-shoe guide Mary asked me to help her guide an unusually large group of guests one week. It sounds like the easiest thing in the world, a sport where essentially all you have to do is walk. You’ve been walking since you were two years old, right? How hard can it be? I was supposed to be assisting anybody who fell over, but I was too busy laughing along with the guests and taking photos of them to be of much use. It was so much fun!

Snow-shoe walking in Seefeld – it’s not as easy as Mary made it look

Putting me in charge of anything with an engine probably isn’t a good idea, but I have also tried skidooing/snowmobiling. Tearing around the countryside in the dark, trying desperately to follow the tiny light on the back of the skidoo in front of me, I felt like I was in a James Bond movie. I also apologise profusely to Inghams for breaking their ten-year safety record by crashing my skidoo into a stream. Don’t worry, nobody was hurt and a helpful Irish holidaymaker came past and helped me to pull it back out again.

The one winter sport that I surprised myself by really liking is cross-country skiing, or langlaufen as it is known in German-speaking countries. As an alpine skier, I’d always considered langlaufen to be something people did who…. Well, to be honest, I’d never really thought about who did it or why. They just always seemed to be there, usually at the bottom of a valley, skating round in circles. There are two types of langlaufen, classic and skating. Classic langlaufen is where you propel yourself along in specially prepared parallel tracks in the snow. Skating, as the name implies, is a much freer style. Skaters ski alongside the tracks on groomed snow. Langlaufen skis are very different to other types of skis. They are long, very narrow and lightweight. You wear small, sneaker-like shoes that clip into the ski binding at the front of the shoe, and you use very long ski poles to help you keep yourself going forward. Langlaufen has never been the most fashionable of winter sports, but I imagine that since Pippa Middleton’s participation in a langlaufen race, it may suddenly experience a resurgence in the near future.
Before working in Seefeld, I’d had one experience on cross-country skis. I’d previously worked in a ski shop in Whistler BC, Canada. Part of my job was to rent out cross-country equipment, in particular for the cross-country taster that was held every week in aid of a local charity. I’d confidently guide the customers on how to use the equipment and advise them of the conditions of the cross-country track. In all honesty, I did not have a clue about cross-country skiing. To this day I could not even tell you where the cross-country track in Whistler is. Whilst not really paying attention in a weekly staff meeting, my ears pricked up when I heard my boss mention the company’s famous annual cross-country race. As I’d never heard of this famous race, I was even more surprised when my supervisor assured our boss that our team had been in training for weeks. More than a little concerned, I pulled my supervisor aside and explained that I’d never actually been on cross-country skis. He told me not to worry, and was so confident in my abilities that I didn’t put a pair of cross-country skis on my feet until the start of the race a couple of weeks later. Unfortunately, to add to my challenge, we’d had very little snow that season and the actual cross-country track was already a cycle path. Don’t panic, my ever-confident supervisor announced, we’ll use one of the slopes instead. It wasn’t even a nursery slope that they picked. We drove halfway up the mountain and sneaked onto an intermediate downhill run that was pretty icy even for an alpine slope. One of my colleagues put me into my equipment and before I knew it I was in the middle of a cross-country relay race. I tried desperately to at least keep going forward up a very steep, very icy slope that was only ever intended to be used to go down. Think trying to roller-blade on ice and you’ll get the picture.
Once I reached the turn around point, I was given a drink to down, and then one of my colleagues literally had to turn me round on my skis. Those things have no edges, how are you supposed to turn on them? He pointed me downhill, told me to keep my skis straight, and let me go. I did as I was told, and thankfully another colleague caught me at the bottom before I disappeared off into the back-country. It would be a few years before I put cross-country skis on my feet again.
Finding myself working in Seefeld, a mecca for langlaufen, it would have been rude not to give it another go. I got the equipment I needed from the ski shop, booked myself into a beginners lesson with some of my guests, and I was all ready to go. Well, almost. My colleague Gabi, an experienced cross-country skier, looked at me in despair.
‘Do you not own any leisure pants?’ she asked.
‘Do I look like someone who would own leisure pants?’ I replied. As a freestyle skier, a helmet and belt were higher up on my list of things to pack.
‘Well, at least try not to look so baggy.’ Gabi advised. ‘You’ll only get yourself caught in something. Remove some layers as well, it’ll be warm out there.’
Twenty minutes later, I was glad of the advice. No wonder cross-country skiers always look so slim. It feels like you sweat your body weight after the first 100m. Even with Gabi’s advice, though, and no matter how hard I try to fit in, I think I’ll always look like an alpine skier on cross-country skis.

Some graceful skaters in Seefeld village. Please note: I definitely do not look like this on langlaufen skis.

Coming up in Cross-Country Skiing Part 2… A giant leap forward in my langlaufen training – Gabi decides I’m ready for an intermediate loipe (cross-country trail) and I answer the question ‘Is it possible to wipe out on a cross-country track?’

Winter is most definitely here

Over the past couple of weeks, we have definitely noticed the sudden slide into winter and the beginning of the run-up to Christmas here in Cardiff. Outside temperatures have dropped a good few degrees, everyone has turned their heating on at home, all the teams at work are busy organising their staff nights out and the TV is flooded with Christmas movies. All we need now is for the Christmas Coca Cola commercial to be aired and it will be official.

More importantly to me, though, the start of winter marks the start of the ski season. I love skiing. Since my dad took me on my first ski holiday to Andorra when I was fourteen years old, it has probably been my favourite sport to take part in. During my time working overseas, I was lucky enough to be able to work in some fantastic ski resorts such as Kitzbuehel, St Johann, Whistler, Seefeld, Scheffau and St Anton to name but a few. I literally was living my dream, working mainly as a travel rep and doing the job that I’d wanted to do when I was a child. Although I worked long hours, I had the mountains on my doorstep and could go skiing on a regular basis.

Since moving back to Wales, I miss being able to go skiing without having to book time off work and catch a flight to Europe. We do get (sometimes a lot of) snow here in Wales, and we certainly have lots of hills, but unfortunately it’s not the right kind of snow and we can’t ski on it. Nicole over at thirdeyemom posted some pictures of her neighbourhood this week and talked about how their local ski season will be starting soon, and it made me sooooo jealous. Don’t get me wrong, I love being back in Wales. There are lots of things that I get to do here that I couldn’t in the Alps in the winter like rock climbing, spending time with my godchildren and generally doing normal things like going to the cinema with friends.

I don’t know yet if I’ll get to ski this winter. For the mean time, I thought I’d share with you some of my photos from my time living in ski resorts.

Rosshutte, Seefeld
Enjoying the sun in Saalbach
The first hint of winter in Interlaken
Llama trekking on the Austria/Germany border – well, it’s not all about the snow

Aqua Aerobics and Aqua Zumba

As I said in my last post, Swimming, a ‘new activity’ can be something that you’ve rediscovered after some time away. That’s kind of the case with me and today’s activity, but with an up-to-date addition. I first went to aqua aerobics over ten years ago when I was a student in Newport, South Wales. A friend of mine convinced me to go along with her and give it a try, and we ended up attending the class every week. I don’t usually like normal aerobics on land as I get bored and distracted, but for some reason putting it in the water makes the difference for me. It’s a great work out, because you’ve got to push against the extra friction that the water creates, and it’s really nice to be able to cool your shoulders and head off in the pool when you over heat. A couple of years ago, when I moved back to Wales, I tried to find another aqua aerobics class to go to, but it seemed to have gone out of fashion. Then another friend of mine asked me to go along to her weekly class with her, forty five minutes of aqua aerobics followed by forty five minutes of aqua zumba. I was excited to be giving aqua aerobics another go, but I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to like aqua zumba before I even got to the pool. For those who have never heard of aqua zumba, it’s a revamped version of aqua aerobics. Zumba is a combination of salsa dancing and aerobics. There are going to be lots of people, women in particular, who won’t like me for saying this, but salsa and zumba are just not for me. In my book, they sit alongside line-dancing, which was a huge hit in the early nineties, i.e. it’s dancing for people who can’t dance. I went to a salsa class once, and I don’t plan to ever repeat the experience. I was staying with a friend of mine in Devon and she asked if I wanted to join her at her weekly class. You know me, always willing to give something a go, so I went along. We had two classes to choose from, beginners and intermediate. Although I’ve done a fair few dance classes in my time, I was a newcomer to salsa so I suggested that the beginner’s class would probably be best. Cue one whole hour of men standing on my feet and hitting me in the face with their ‘salsa arms’. I wouldn’t even mind if they could stand on my feet in time to the music, but they all had the rhythm of a frog in a blender. I was so relieved when the class was finally over, only for my friend to suggest that we stay for the intermediate class too! Not wanting to hurt her feelings, I made out that I thought it might be a bit difficult for me so I’d just watch. Imagine my shock when the intermediate class started and it was all the same men that I’d been dancing with for the previous hour! None of them were beginners at all. According to my friend most of them had been attending that class for at least two years.

Aside from my dislike of salsa, I was a little disheartened to find that every other exercise in the aqua zumba class was repeated from the previous aqua aerobics class. It seems the two aren’t that different after all. As for the zumba bits, well, as expected I hated them. Not even the instructor had rhythm in this class. To be fair to us in the water, though, it’s hard to dance in time when you’re chest deep in a swimming pool. It took all my concentration not to loose my grip on the slippery tiles and completely immerse myself. So forgive me all of you who attend zumba/salsa/aqua zumba classes. I applaud you for your commitment to what you enjoy, but you won’t be seeing me in a class anytime soon.

Swimming

Trying a new activity doesn’t mean that you have to suddenly take up an extreme sport such as rock climbing or scuba diving, it can be something simple or something that maybe you tried as a kid but have let slip to the roadside since.

I’m the product of two very different parents. My mum’s grey-blue eyes and my dad’s brown eyes mixed to give me multi-coloured eyes. My dad’s very academic, and my mum’s a sportswoman with a knowledge of physical biology. I’m not really either, but I am very artistic (I think my genes gave up on this one and decided to head in a totally different direction). And my mum is an excellent swimmer, and my dad can’t swim. When I say my dad can’t swim, people assume that he just never learnt. That’s also what all the swimming teachers at his local pool assumed when he started taking lessons there. They soon changed their mind. My dad proves the theory wrong that all humans naturally float. Since a young age, my dad has literally been able to walk along the floor of a swimming pool right up until the deep end. He’s quite happy down there, and he accepted long ago that he’ll never be able to swim properly. He just wants to be better at it than he is now, and that’s why he goes to his lesson every week. My mum, on the other hand, grew up swimming in Lake Windermere. My dad was the first person she’d met who couldn’t swim, and I think before that she’d always supposed that it was instinct. I wouldn’t be surprised if my family made bets on whether I would ever be able to learn to swim. It didn’t look good for the first 10 years. Although my mother optimistically took me to the local swimming baths every week, it looked like I’d inherited my ability in the water from my dad. That was until my last year at primary school, when our new headmaster decided to come along to our weekly swimming lesson with us. I will always be grateful to Mr Dempsey for that. Until that day, no teacher had ever actually got in the water with us. Us kids who couldn’t already swim were usually left in the shallow end whilst the swimming teacher busied herself with the children who didn’t need to learn (figure that one out). I genuinely learnt to swim in one day.
I’ll never make it to Olympic standard, or probably anything more than 50 laps at a slightly lob-sided breast stroke, but I can swim. Whilst I was living in Greece, I found swimming a great way to keep in shape. Working as a rep is a very busy and unpredictable lifestyle, so making plans to do anything is virtually impossible. You usually get free access to hotel pools, though, so going for a quick swim was an easy option. It also keeps you cool in the 45 degree heat! Since I’ve moved back to the UK, I’ve tried to continue swimming. I try to go to my local baths at least every couple of weeks and swim 40(ish) lengths. As well as being great exercise, it’s probably the only time of the week when I relax and empty my mind. Thinking about it, I must look like a swimming zombie because I really zone out sometimes.

I’m hoping to be able to fit some private swimming lessons into my schedule over the next year, so that I can learn to swim properly. Although I can swim on top of the water, and underwater, I never got to grips with the breathing properly so I can’t go in and out like you’re supposed to. Until then, I’ll continue with my forty lopsided lengths.

Facing My Fears 2 – Scuba Diving

Back in September, I told you about how I Faced My Fear of heights by taking up rock climbing. Another of my phobias is the sea, although I don’t believe that this fear is entirely irrational. I didn’t learn to swim until I was eleven years old, and I had a scary experience at the beach when I was just six. Where I grew up on the North West coast of England, the Irish Sea is a wild and dangerous stretch of water that only the bravest, or craziest, swimmers tackle. Unlike the calmer shores of the southern and eastern seaside resorts in the UK, Blackpool and it’s surrounding coastline is attractive for its sandy beaches and bracing air rather than it’s water. About 8 miles north of the bright lights of Blackpool town centre, my village has it’s own little stretch of beach that my dad used to regularly take me to as a child. It was on one such visit that I was caught by a freak wave and dragged out to sea by the current. Luckily, very luckily in fact considering that he can’t swim that well himself, my dad managed to rescue me, but it put me off swimming in open water for life. I remember my dad sitting me in the front of the car to try and dry me off and warm me up, and thinking that I hated the sea. I also remember my dad suggesting that maybe we shouldn’t tell my mum about what had happened when we got back to the house, and me pointing out that she might question why I was soaked through with seaweed sticking out of my hair.

So that, along with a dislike of swimming with fish (I have no idea where that one came from), is why I have a phobia of the sea. Just like with my phobia of heights, I decided to tackle this one head on. My chance came when I went to work in Rhodes in summer 2004. One of the benefits of working as a holiday rep is that you get to experience a lot of the excursions that you sell as part of your job. In Rhodes, one of our most popular days out was scuba diving with Waterhoppers.

From absolute beginners to qualified PADI divers, Waterhoppers are a great school to dive with. Even if you don’t want to dive, it’s still worth going along with those in your party who do. You can have a go a snorkelling, or just chill out on the boat and sunbathe. The Waterhoppers team encourage all the reps to take their PADI course whilst working on the island. Not only does it give you an in-depth knowledge of the sport to be able to sell the excursions, but it also gives you the opportunity to work for the diving school yourself someday. Although I never got round to taking the course, I did have a go at the introductory day.

Working as a holiday rep is incredibly hard. You’re on 24 hour call seven days a week, you work long hours and you have to deal with every situation that you could possibly imagine might happen whilst you’re on holiday. So, when you only have one day off a week, dragging yourself out of bed in the earlier hours to go and meet the diving boat isn’t easy. The first up in our building was Steve. Steve was always the first up in our building. Before becoming a rep, Steve was in the army and had not got out of the habit of tackling everything with head-on military determination. He forced the rest of us out of bed, including Neil who wasn’t actually diving but just wanted to come along and laugh at the rest of us in all the gear. We grabbed a quick breakfast on the way to try and head-off our hangovers from the night before. The diving instructors had told us not to drink alcohol the night before we dived, but on our one night off of the week that instruction and been forgotten about by the time we finished work at 9pm. Refuelled, we headed down to Kalithea Bay where we would be meeting the boat and diving from. ‘Kalithea’ means ‘beautiful view’ and the bay is situated just north of Faliraki, the famous party town of Rhodes.

We boarded the boat and joined a group of holidaymakers for our briefing. After learning the basics of diving, what signals to give when and what safety aspects to be aware off, we were split into smaller groups and sent off to relax on the beach until our designated time. Relax is probably the wrong word to use. Steve had dived before, so he was far too excited to relax, and the rest of us were more than a little nervous. By the time our group were called up, I’m sure I was the same colour as the seaweed.

The first time you put on a wetsuit, before you’ve learnt that trepidation is not the way to go about it, is always interesting. Especially when you’re on a boat that’s bobbing back and forth in a small bay. After about twenty minutes of wrestling ourselves into the suits that looked half the size of us and constantly bumping into each other in the process, our group were all zipped up and ready to get into the water. Even though we were on Rhodes, known as the sunniest island in Greece, this was early May and the water was freezing. Afterwards, one of the instructors commented on how good my diving posture was because I wrapped my arms around my body instead of using them to try and swim. I omitted to tell her that I was only like that because I was desperately trying to keep myself warm in the water, good diving posture was the last thing on my mind.

Before I tried diving, I’d always assumed the hardest part for me would be swimming so far under water with all those fish. Weirdly, once I was under the water I was absolutely fine and all fears of being in the sea completely disappeared, Instead, what I found incredibly hard was just putting my face in the water with my regulator on before I even properly got into the water. I felt so stupid. All I had to do was put my face in the water and breath, but it was the hardest thing in the world to do. Even though I knew I could just pull my face out of the water again if I had to, it took me ages to fight against my instinct and breath through the regulator. Once that was out of the way and I’d acclimatised to the temperature of the water as best as I was ever going to, I was away. Steve, as always, was like a kid in a sweet shop, zigzagging across the seabed every time he saw something that remotely looked like a fish or a stone. He was kicking up sand in everyone else’s faces, the instructor desperately trying to hold him back with the rest of the group. Due to the underwater sandstorm that Steve was creating, I wasn’t able to see much for the first part of the dive. Help came in an unlikely form. Another of my colleagues, James, had incredibly white legs (which were still the same colour six months later after a whole summer of Greek sun) and under the water they were so bright that I was able to follow them through the murky sand. I don’t think I would have seen much on that first dive, anyway, I was concentrating so much on just breathing and being in awe of the fact that I was actually scuba diving. I loved it, though, and signed up for the second optional dive as soon as I got out of the water.

The second dive was much more interesting, and Steve had calmed down a lot by this point so we were all able to see a lot more. The instructor took us to a cave that has a hole in the top of it that opens up above ground. The sunlight streams through the hole and into the water, and from your underwater perspective it really is the most incredible sight.

Although I loved my day scuba diving, I never did go back again. Unfortunately I was diagnosed with sinitis shortly afterwards, and my doctor forbade me from diving again that summer because I would be unable to equalise. Equalising is when you hold your nose and mouth shut under the water and blow. I have to do it a lot when I’m skiing, due to the altitude and my useless sinuses, and when I was diving I was almost constantly equalising. I had to resurface at one point as well because the pressure was hurting my head too much, and as I was being lowered back into the water the photographer chose this point to take my picture so my souvenir photo isn’t as cool as everyone else’s. I’m very proud to say that I have got my photo, though, and that I tried scuba diving at least once.

Scuba Diving

Facing my Fears

I’m gutted. Due to my ridiculous treadmill injury, I’ve had to miss out on three climbing sessions this week. I thought it’d be fun to look back at how I felt when I first started indoor climbing about 2½ years ago. Here’s what I blogged about climbing when it was one of my new activities:

‘There I stood, numb with fear. I was suddenly very aware of the daunting task ahead of me. A strange man came up and clipped an odd looking metal contraption to the front of the harness that I was wearing. I was wearing a harness! What was I thinking?
It had seemed such a good idea when I’d booked. But now, as I stood at the bottom of the obstacle-ridden, incredibly high wall in front of me, it dawned on me that maybe indoor rock climbing wasn’t for me.
This wasn’t my first experience of climbing. My brother had taken me climbing outdoors a couple of times when I was a child. Unfortunately, the outings hadn’t gone well. The problem is, I don’t like being pushed to do things until I’m ready to do them, and my brother doesn’t have much patience with me. The combination of the two resulted in lots of shouting (him), a helmet thrown on the floor (me) and no suggestion of the two of us going climbing together ever again.
So what made me want to try climbing again? A few years ago, Boulders Climbing Centre opened in Cardiff. As I’ve said in previous blogs, I always try to tackle my phobias head-on, and one of my phobias is heights. The local press had been running lots of articles about the new climbing centre, and it occurred to me that if there was ever going to be any way for me to learn to climb properly, this would be it. When a local radio station advertised an introductory offer of a climbing taster session for £1, I spontaneously picked up the phone and booked.
When I found myself stood at the bottom of the climbing wall, all roped-up and ready to go, I wish that I hadn’t been so spontaneous. I think I made it about half way up the wall on my first climb and then, paralysed with fear, I asked to be belayed back down. The hardest part wasn’t the climbing itself, although once you move on to harder routes you definitely need to learn some proper technique. Like with most sports, the difficult thing is getting over the mental blocks. You have to argue with that little voice in your head that’s telling you that what you are doing isn’t natural for a human. In climbing, it’s overcoming your instinct and letting go of the wall once you reach the top. Your mind is telling you that if you let go you’ll fall, even though the instructor had logically explained to you that the equipment makes that impossible. I’m a keen skier, and one of the best pieces of advice that I’ve ever received to improve my skiing is to trust my equipment. This is something that I bear in mind when I’m taking part in any sport, and it’s what I was quietly whispering to myself when I had to let go of that wall. Needless to say, I did let go and I didn’t fall.
I’m now a Gold member at Boulders and I go climbing there a couple of times a week. Not only is it a fun way to exercise, but I’ve made new friends (after all, you can’t climb on your own) and it’s filled a gap in my life where skiing used to be. There’s not much skiing in South Wales, but there sure are a lot of places to climb. What I wasn’t expecting was the mental stimulation that I get from climbing. Tackling new, more difficult routes requires real thought and problem solving. The Boulders team make it impossible for you to come up with an excuse not to climb. They offer courses for every age and level, coaching, social climbing for those who don’t have a climbing partner, a play area to keep the younger members of the family entertained and the Boulders Café to refuel in.’

Travel Theme: White

This week’s travel theme from Ailsa is White.

My favourite white thing in the whole wide world is snow. I don’t mean the slushy, grey stuff that brings the UK to a screeching halt most winters. I mean high mountain, virgin, clean, pure white snow that I can ski on.

When I stand at the top of the piste, I know how privileged I am to be allowed to travel down one of Mother Nature’s beautiful creations, the mountain, on two planks of wood and fibreglass. As much as it’s my playground, I also have ultimate respect for the mountain and planet Earth. To me, there is no more peaceful and honest moment. Before I commit to my descent, I say a prayer to Mother Nature. For she is the one who will protect me, as long as I respect her whilst I am laid bare on her mountain.

Convincing myself is the hardest part

‘Try something new’ is a common theme through my blogs. I’m constantly encouraging people to attempt different activities and make manageable, positive changes in their life. So I must be the most super-extrovert, confident person in the world, right?

Wrong. When I try something new, I am the biggest scaredy cat in the world. I get nervous at the thought of doing something that I don’t already know how to do, I worry about meeting new people, and I generally just convince myself that I’ll mess up and everyone will laugh at me. To be fair, that has happened to me, although thankfully very rarely.

The thing with me is, though, that deep down inside I really want to be that super-exrtrovert, confident person. So I make myself take the plunge. I ignore all my own excuses, and force myself to go to that new exercise class or sign up for night school.

This week, I forced myself to go to climbing club. For the past couple of years I’ve pretty much climbed with the same partner. We met on a climbing course and discovered we liked each others company, plus we were able to climb at times that suited the both of us. This happy union continued until this summer, when my climbing partner dropped the bombshell that she was moving to London. Although I was happy for her, I was also petrified at the thought of having to find a new partner to climb with. The only other option would be to quit, but I really like climbing so I don’t want to do that.

Instead, I’ve been using guerrilla tactics to solve my problem. I put a notice up on the ‘Looking for a climbing partner?’ notice board at my local climbing centre, I’m phoning other people on the board and I’ve started going to climbing club.

I won’t lie, I was bricking it the first time I went up to the social secretary on duty and asked if anyone else was climbing the same level as me. Rather than laugh and point, though, he welcomed be with a handshake and introduced me to Phil, who I spent the next couple of hours having a laugh and climbing with. It really pushed me in my climbing too, and I ended up climbing at a much higher grade than I usually would.

Today a got a message from another climber who saw my advert on the notice board. We’ve arranged to meet up tomorrow at the wall. I am, of course, really nervous. Somewhere inside my head, though, my little rational voice is fighting to be heard, and it’s saying that it’ll be OK.