Hopfgarten, Austria / 20 May 2009, 5:16 PM
Today was the day I braved the skies of the Austrian Tyrol.
Here’s how it went down.
I greeted the day bright and early at 7:20 AM. That was actually an earlier start for me than usual; must’ve been the nerves. In anticipation of an upset stomach, I stuck with some bacon and a small portion of egg for brekkie. Our tour guide advised us to wear warm clothes, which for me translated to thermal pants under my jeans, a thermal shirt under a long sleeved-top and a fleece jacket over it.
Only six of us flew today: me, my brother and sister, a Kiwi woman and two Aussie ladies. We were fetched by a minivan at around 10:20 AM, and were driven up to the paragliding base. For some reason, my siblings and I were the first to go…it was probably so I wouldn’t have the chance to chicken out. My pilot’s name was Thomas—he was pretty nice and reassuring. I remember him telling me something like, “Don’t worry. I’ve done this plenty of times, some even flying with huge partners”. Thank you for that, Thomas.
We rode a gondola to the top of the mountain, which was where we were supposed to take off from. I’m sure the view on the way up was gorgeous with those rolling hills and yadi-yadi-yah, but frankly, I was too nervous to notice it. Did I mention that I have this pesky fear of heights? I kept thinking, “Oh my God, I’m not ready to die yet”. Pessimistic, I know.
Once we arrived at the top, Thomas started strapping me into a huge backpack-looking contraption which was actually the parachute. My brother and sister were all psyched up, snapping pictures of the whole process. Looking back at the shots, I see myself smiling, but distinctly remember internally choking on my anxieties. I kept saying, “I’m not sure I can do this; I really can’t”, but they were just telling me that I could and to just stop thinking about it. Yes, that’s always so easy to say, right?
My brother took off first, followed by sis. Then it was my turn. Watching them, I felt my heart pounding in my chest—and heard it in my ears. I so desperately wanted to back out, but felt embarrassed to, especially since I was all hooked up already.
The first few steps were the hardest—not just because of the fear, but because of the incredibly heavy chute that was wearing me down. But the feeling when the air caught the chute was…AMAZING. Those first seconds when the chute billowed up and I started floating were the most exhilarating in my life. I actually felt weightless. And the view literally took my breath away. To see the mountains, forests and houses below, seemingly so small, was mind-blowing. It’s awe-inspiring how beautiful the landscape was.
Then in the next few minutes, that insidious feeling of nausea crept up on me and my legs started getting restless. Maybe it’s just me, but that harness isn’t the most comfortable seat in town.
Thomas directed us higher then we kinda circled around. He had this camera mounted on a stick which he used to take pictures of us up in the air. The roll of film cost 15 Euros undeveloped, but I bought it anyway. Hey, it was a once in a lifetime experience.
It was funny because Thomas kept asking if I was okay, and at one point I warned him, “I’m feeling a bit nauseous already.” We saw my brother do the roller coaster landing, wherein you do those turns up in the air. I implicitly said, “I can’t do that, or I’m going to throw up.” I was already trying to repress my gag reflex then and just wanted to be back on solid ground.
So we did the normal landing…which turned out to be a bust. I could see my siblings landing one after the other, while our tour mates were clicking away with their cameras. Before I knew it, we were heading for the ground. We pretty much crashed into it—softly, though. I was so disoriented that I was just lying there for some time. Later on, I found out that I was supposed to keep my legs up so we could glide down smoothly. Guess I was too excited to be on land again that I wasn’t listening to Thomas’ instructions.
Anyway, no harm, no foul. That was probably the most terrifying fifteen or so minutes of my life, but I don’t regret going through all that anxiety and stomach turning. It’s definitely one for the books…After all, how many people can actually say that they ran off a cliff in Austria? 😉
This entry was taken from the pages of my journal, with some minor revisions.