After a rip-roaring time in Alaska I set sail for the shores of bustling Europe. First I stopped at Koblenz, Germany then I InterRailed my way to Interlaken, Switzerland. I’ve already written of my tiny tent, my view-riffic hike, and my drunken date-crashing caper. But that’s not all I got up to, there is still more to recount about my first visit to that wonderful place of small multi-tools and wooden birds.
When not hiking or generally soaking up the mountain freshness I wandered through the town, marvelling at the whimsical architecture and well-kept streets. I felt free and relaxed, which clearly showed outwardly as I was approached more than once by strangers asking for directions as if I were a native. This easily-approachable aura is actually something I aim for. It’s often nice not to be targeted or ostracised for being “just another tourist.” However there was one time when perhaps I blended in a little too well and was almost arrested for vagrancy …
(More on that in a later post about Poland.)
As part of my ever-ongoing food exploration I naturally wanted to taste some of that sweet sweet Swiss cheese. Unfortunately, the posh restaurant I chose to visit only offered Fondue for a group of two or more. In slightly-matured hindsight I now realise I should have just asked for the dish, paid the full price and done my best to eat two portions. However, at the time I was too conscious of being in a foreign land and reasoned to myself
Hey! It says it’s for two people! Don’t come over here and start messing with their customs!
So I settled for a cheese platter.
The Most Scared I’ve Ever Been
For each country I visited on my European tour I had a specific goal or theme. For example, Italy was “Architecture and Art”, Poland was “Auschwitz”, and Romania was “Dracula.” I’d read that as well as being lusciously beautiful Switzerland is also well known for adventure sports. So, this became my theme. Bungee Jumping appealed vaguely but the prospect was just a bit too terrifying for me – especially as something to do alone, with no friends for moral support. I learned of Zorbing, and although it sounded like some kind futuristic disco style the thought of rolling down a hill in a big spongy ball seemed a damn sight safer than leaping off a bridge with a bit o’ twine wrapped roun’ the ankles!
I didn’t book anything in advance in case new options opened up to me, so it was on my second or third day that I sat in the fluffy green grass of my camp-site mulling over the options in the tender sunshine. It’s amazing how stepping out of your comfort zone causes said zone to expand even further. Just being there, alone in another country, forced adrenaline through every extremity. Suddenly Zorbing was more akin to a child’s pastime than a wild adventure. Maybe Bungee was the way forward after all. Then my eyes landed on another phrase on the page.
Not only was this the most expensive option on the list, but it also seemed to contain the highest potential for death. I considered my situation. After this trip around Europe I was set to attend University. After that I was destined to be in debt and forced to live like “normal” person. When would I ever again find myself sat on sun-smothered grass, shadowed by monolithic mountains, staring at a chance to feel the air that flows above those titans with my own skin?
I signed up. It cost four hundred euros. I told myself
Just do it.
When the time came I went to a designated meeting point where I climbed into a small van with a couple of Texans. We were driven to the airfield which was out in a field away from the main area of Interlaken. The two guys from Texas were friendly enough but I didn’t see us forming a life-long friendship. They were rather blasé about the impending experience as they’d already done Bungee Jumping and the like.
At the airfield we filled in various bits of paperwork that used words such as “liable” and phrases such as “in the event of.” We met the pilot and the rest of the crew. We were instructed in what to do, including how to land after parachuting down to the ground. Heavy emphasis was put on the way we should lift our legs before the moment of impact. If done incorrectly we could break our legs.
Just do it.
When I had finished writing my personal details on a form, my tandem diver came up, looked at the paper and said, in a heavy Swiss accent, “I’m sorry, you’re too young.” My jaw went slack. I looked up at him. What did he mean? I’d just turned twenty! How old did one have to be? I was pale, the butterflies roared in my gut. He tapped the form and said “You’re too young. Ha, ha, ha.” I was distraught, the butterflies raged in my gut. He raised an eyebrow, tapped the form again and said “You put today’s date instead of your birthday.” I was paralysed, the butterflies blustered in my gut. “It’s a joke,” he said flatly. Released from my trance I wiped my brow and drew a quivering line through my mistake.
Just do it.
We climbed into what felt like a toy helicopter. I was strapped to the tall Swiss funny-man, my back to his chest. The helicopter took off and began to climb steadily. We reached our target, ten thousand feet above the Earth. I gingerly retrieved my camera from its hiding place and tried pathetically to capture the wonder, the splendour, the reverence, of the vista laid out all around and beneath me.
The time came to jump. Naming it thus is slightly misleading as it’s really more of a “lean and fall.” Remembering what I’d been told and following my tandem-guy’s proddings I shuffled over to the small, open door of the tiny helicopter. I placed my feet, one at a time, out onto the left strut that hung suspended over so many people and houses and trees and rivers and valleys. I kept my head up, facing the clouds as we were told to do, while I stiffly drew myself up to stand. My arms were pinned tightly to my sides, a fear that I would irrationally shoot them up over my head into the deadly rotor blades consumed me. There I stood. Above the world. Looking to heaven. I began to lean forward.
Throughout this whole experience I wasn’t afraid. I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t trembling in my booties. I was numb. I was out of my body. My mind was just a solid granite slate with three words chiselled there upon:
Just. Do. It.
At no point was my numbness more notable than at the instant my face followed my body in staring straight down from ten thousand feet. Most people shout or woop over the thrill. In that moment a single, near-imperceptible, flat sound popped out from between my limp lips.
From there, through free-fall, I was silent. My eyes were prized open by awe and wind. The verdant fields spread out beneath me, the population as indistinguishable as grains of sand on a beach. After a short while my aerial guide opened the parachute and our fall became a glide. I thought of taking my camera out at that point to snap a few extra pics but I felt queezy and opted to simply soak in the perspective.
We landed smoothly, I thanked my funny-man and we were taken back to town. I said before how I felt no fear throughout the experience. I later learned that I had only been able to hold it back. That evening, alone in my tent, the rain beating down, it broke through. I wasn’t afraid when I leaned and fell from that mini hovering precipice above the world but that night I shook, I cried, and wondered at how I’d done it.
That night I was the most scared I’ve ever been.
Have you ever been Sky Diving? Were you less of a wimp than me? Share your experiences with us below.