"Mix a little French high brow with a little German stiff upper lip with a little Italian style and get a heady whiff of fantastic Switzerland!"
The promotional pitch jumps out from the center-spread in bright, bold inviting letters the advertisement of a famous travel agency.
As a computer programer, I normally lead a very sedentary life and any outdoor activity is limited to the weekly run from home to the local supermarket. However, the lure proved so strong that by the next morning, I had summoned courage enough to take the plunge. A week later, I found myself en route to a new adventure that promised to give me a high like no other tandem paragliding in the Swiss Alps.
My destination was Interlaken. At the appointed hour, trembling with excitement (or was it fear), I reached the foot of the hill where introductions were already in progress among the assembled participants.
I asked my instructor-pilot how long she had been paragliding. Michelle replied, "To be honest, this will be my first time."
I could not keep the aghast look off my face, and on catching sight of it everyone broke into peals of laughter.
"I mean my first for today," Michelle continued with a mischievous glint in her eye. "I have nine more people lined up after you; and I have really been doing this for sixteen years."
I hid my relief at this assurance and pretended not to be alarmed when they asked me to fill out a battery of forms, all asking me for my next of kin.
Before long, I was standing at the edge of a steep precipice, wobbly legs protesting, knees knocking.
I took one look at the pitifully inadequate piece of fibre and shuddered, fervently hoping it would hold my not inconsiderable weight. Strapped into various harnesses, and helmets, and things, I began to fully appreciate the gravity of the situation. Never before had vertigo seemed so real. Never before had my comfortable chair at home seemed less boring.
Just as I began to contemplate how I might retract my foolishly hasty decision and get away while I could, instructions began on what to do and how to do it. I, however, was too busy concentrating on controlling my fluttering breathing to listen properly as belts were tightened, buckles clasped, ropes tugged. And so it seemed way too sudden and more than a little alarming to hear a voice call out: "Start running!"
A hop, skip and jump, and my pilot and I were away flying like birds, tiny specks in the sky. Astonished at having taken off so smoothly, I could only gape in wonder for a few minutes. That was before the wind picked us up and threw us higher, and the glider buffeted around for a moment like a twig in a tornado.
Gak! I should've called my solicitor to make my will. I squeezed my eyes shut and hoarsely croaked a small prayer. When I opened my eyes again, I saw white swirling mists all around us.
I thought maybe I'd died and gone to heaven until I heard, from somewhere above my right ear, Michelle's voice complaining, "There is too much fog here."
Eventually we broke clear of the cloud cover and found ourselves flying high above Lake Thun, with the city spread out below us like a map. I could see a train snaking its way into the railway station. I felt a frisson run down my spine. Oh the thrill! Oh the glorious excitement! Uh oh . . . groan . . . nausea.
Thankfully, queasiness soon gave way, and I began to revel in the floating sensation. Below, Lake Brienz came into view resembling a blot of pale blue ink. Then, a new fear seized me what if we land in the water? I can't swim!
That fright also died away as we passed onto land once more without mishap. I'd been airborne for twelve incredible minutes before it came time to descend.
Not for me a tame landing, though. I heard Michelle yelling over the roaring wind: "We will have to land in the wrong direction of the air current. Can you run fast?"
As the earth rushed up to meet our feet, I was unable to keep up with the momentum of the paraglider at touch down. In a most undignified way, I fell over backwards, and we were dragged several feet across a grassy lawn. Fortunately, I was wearing enough layers of clothing to give me the hide of a rhinoceros. I was unhurt, but the lawn certainly needed some repair.
Michelle emerged unscathed, too, having had the good sense to keep me below her at all times. We picked ourselves up, grinned proudly for the cameras and parted ways.
On the flight back home to England, I felt pleased with myself to have taken on a challenge and given myself a fresh new lease on life. Onward and upward, I thought, to my next adventure.
Oh, and the soil of Switzerland still sticks to my jacket, zealously guarded from maids and machines to this day.
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