All along the Alps by tandem
The start is bumpy. A heatwave has settled over Europe, the airmass is looking increasingly stable. This is not good for flying, and it is too hot for hiking. The 36 to 40 kgs of flying and bivouacking equipment they must carry between them becomes significant. “We needed a whole week to get from our home in Barcelonette to the northern side of the French Alps. I flew the same section a year ago in less than eight hours,” explains Sébastien; somewhat frustrated. Although the pair have hardly set themselves a target, they would like to get to Slovenia in their four week holiday. Even so, Céline and Sébastien put the concerns at the current "delay" behind them, and take each day as it comes.
Morale builds with increasing altitude, specifically when they reach the high Alps. Their first big cross-country flight along the southern Mont Blanc massif far into Italy is impressive. “We have now left home behind us for good and are discovering new, unknown terrain from here on. The holiday has begun," says Celine. Above all, they also enjoy the time spent outdoors, and sleeping in a tent. The daily routine slowly settles in: find a place to sleep, pitch the tent, cook, sleep, pack everything, plan and decide. But what is the actual distribution of roles? "We decide together and take turns with everything, both in the air and on the ground. Sébastien, however, is the one who pushes forward and takes the initiative to fly. I, on the other hand, am sometimes more tentative and slow him down a little," Celine smiles.
The two of them cover most of the distance through northern Italy in flight. Conditions are promising, even on the day when Céline and Sébastien fly across Lake Como and turn into the Valtellina – the thermals are strong and it’s windy; challenging flying conditions. Sébastien is “command pilot” on this flight, fortunately, because Céline is not so keen on these conditions. But the two make good progress and in the afternoon Piz Bernina appears: it’s the easternmost 4000 metre peak in the Alps. Another milestone, a satisfying moment. To celebrate this 94 km flight, the duo treat themselves to some Italian ice cream.
Céline and Sébastien have been underway for 16 days. Tiredness slowly creeps up on them. “We compensate for this by trying to stay methodical so that we don’t make mistakes” says Céline. Was there a low point on the trip? "Yes," says Sebastien, "I once forgot to fasten my backpack properly before takeoff. We were very lucky because I was able to get hold of it in the air and fasten it. But that was the moment when she let her emotions run free and told me what she thought about the incident... That's the downside of being a couple," he smiles.
On the morning of the 22nd day Céline landed the PIBI in Austria. Slovenia is not much further, but the sky is grey. Hiking is called for. After an unexpected flight the next day they discovered a potential takeoff on the map, near the Slovenian border. “It’s tomorrow or never”, says Sébastien. But tomorrow’s forecast looks gloomy, and they have to reach this takeoff spot first, 15 km as the crow flies and 1000 metres of climb up. It’s already 18.30...
However – no sooner said than done. After a monster hike, lit by a lunar eclipse, the pair reach the takeoff at 3:30 a.m. There’s not much time to sleep: at sunrise Céline skilfully manoeuvres the tandem into the air between trees and skilift. After a 10 minute glide the couple’s feet touch down on Slovenian turf. The goal has been achieved. There’s still a couple of kilometres to walk to the nearest bus stop, then the holiday is over.
The two return by bus and train and are back at work three days later. For the last three and a half weeks they have only lived in the moment, pure luxury. "Sébastien didn't want to go home at all," Céline tells us and laughs.
Céline Mehouas and Sébastien Remillieux live in Barcelonnette in the South of France and are both physiotherapists. They have flown the paraglider for around 8 years and both have a tandem licence. They already have some tandem volbiv experience together, including a crossing of the Pyrenees.