I'm standing on a rugged ridge near the top of mountain. "And when I count to three, you run and don't stop running until we're in the air!" my jump guide implores me. Run? On this nearly vertical runway? If I take even one step, I'll drop over the side of the mountain and then that's it. This dude cannot be playing with a full deck!
And what the heck am I doing here anyway? Jumping off a mountain with a parachute? After almost a hundred airline flights, my pale hands still grab tightly to the armrests when the plane hits a tiny air pocket.
But my bucket list included "paragliding." Because I'm sure it's awesome. Especially in the Alps. And we're in the Alps.
Three weeks of hiking and adventure in Bavaria. Promised to my boyfriend, who really wants to see more of Germany. And as much as I get a fit when I hear oom-pah music and see Oktoberfest goofiness, the mountains in this somewhat strange German state are simply terrific. And those huge, solid mountains are what we're going to jump off. Now. My tandem parasail guide has counted to three and I'm lying on my nose. I told him so!
After he somehow picks me up again and the paraglider yanks us into the sky with a huge jerk (and he still is able to keep the steering cords in his hand!), we just float out over the steep edge of the mountain. Into the sky. "Whoooooa!", I exclaim. It's totally surreal and my legs are dangling in nothingness.
I haven't been nervous all day. The expectation of joy while doing something totally incredible is greater than the fear. But then, of course, the wind dies down two minutes before we take off. While my boyfriend and his guide are already cruising back and forth 100,000 feet high above the equator—the two of them took off first, when the wind conditions were perfect. I am still standing on the steep slope, waiting. The wind is as enthusiastic as a banker giving a speech about the economic implications of snail slime. There is no breeze. We have to wait almost 20 minutes. 20 minutes to get nervous after all.
"Are you nervous?" my guide Franz asks me. Shit yes, man, we're jumping off a freaking 6,500-foot cliff into nothing!
"Ready to go," I mutter as my inner-thought transformer reformulates my growing panic into brave words.
Then the wind indicator begins to flutter. Franz starts to count, I miss the right moment, he runs into me. Yet somehow, despite everything, we are suddenly in the air.
The wind blows warmly around my pelican nose. On the ground below it is over 90 degrees. Up here it is pleasant. But it can certainly get icy cold when it's only 50 degrees on the surface below. Franz points out the surrounding mountain peaks and their names.
"Don't you want to sit down and relax?" he asks as we take advantage of the thermals to circle even higher. Sit down? Me? In the stratosphere? I begin to settle down on the really very comfortable seat hanging from the thin strings. Holy shit! The flimsy parachute really does not tear apart! Who would have thought that was possible!
The longer we fly, the higher we get, the more magnificent the view, and the safer I feel. An insanely beautiful feeling!
In an airplane I always think I am stuck in an uncontrollable tin can. Everything roars and vibrates. 35,000 feet above sea level. That's over six miles high, yo! The captain announces his name as The Red Baron as he sits in his hellish cockpit behind a sealed door. He is probably overtired, drunk, and engaging in suicidal thoughts. Somewhere outside, turbines roar, into which burning Canada Geese fly, ensuring that 12,000 gallons of kerosene are about to turn the entire Chicago into a fireball.
My tandem guide, on the other hand, sits directly behind me in the open air. He talks to me, literally holding the reins. He is definitely sober, has eleven years of experience, and when I look up, I clearly see the paraglider. Even as a physics slacker, I understand how the wind carries it.
Very briefly, of course, I suddenly think that all the winds of the world will abruptly stop, and we will plummet helplessly to the earth. Onto the small brown spots below, which are probably cows. That would be "cow tipping" in the action variant.
"There are always winds up here," Franz says. "Always. Even when there's no wind down below or on the mountain." I try to shoo from my head the memories of an old Mars documentary that explained how its atmosphere was blown away into space. Why don't I just think of Cookie Monster or chocolate instead!
We are over 6,500 feet in the air. My boyfriend tells me later that he and his guide were able to soar up over 9,000 feet high. I see the Königssee, a huge lake we had been on two days ago, appearing like a small blue fjord in the valley. Berchtesgaden, a large city, is far below us. And I can now see the top of the Jenner, the mountain we jumped off. Steep walls loom right next to us. Grass on gray, rough rocks. Wow! We fly for almost 40 minutes. Anyone can just jump down.
As the flight comes to an end, we approach the landing field. Hopefully I will land more elegantly than I took off. But then everything becomes quite simple. "Keep your legs up and land on your butt," Franz explains. "That's the part of the body that can take the most abuse and breaks the least."
Now to break the butt, that's it!
The landing is as smooth as the entire flight. We glide across the meadow like a kid's slide and smoothly come to a stop in the tall grass. A bunch of straps jimble around my legs. That's all that kept me in the air and attached to the parasail. I grin.
Guys, paragliding in the Alps was one of the most fun and safest things I've ever done! Even as someone with a fear of flying, it's not only doable and survivable, but has given me a whole new confidence in the air.
I can't say much about problems with fear of heights, though because I am fine with those.
What I can say and will always say is this: try things you've never tried before! Frequently, all
that stands between you and a new experience is fear: of the unknown, of change, or of an improper perception you have about something. Sometimes you can't just skip over it, and
you may just trip over it. But still, keep running. And then fly.
Find more of my adventures in the Bavarian Alps from my solo trip 2020 here: