Sorry, mom, but yes, this happened…in more ways than one.
I would say that I’m a pretty big fan of outdoor sports. Skiing, rafting, zip lines–I love them. But sheer heights? Ehh, not exactly my style. So, welcome to Interlaken, Matt! The home of countless literally high adventure sports.
In the process of deciding how to spend my free day in Interlaken, I knew I wanted to do something a little adventurous. I’m in Switzerland–why would I not take advantage of the activities available here? The only problem was that practically all of them absolutely terrified me.
The most popular for the group was canyoning, a trek involving rappelling, zip lining, swimming, and jumping along an alpine river. Imagine white water rafting, but subtract the raft. I was so amped to get to go through the canyon and be in the river, but as soon as I heard we would be jumping from relatively high locations into thigh-deep water, I got cold feet. Theoretically, there is so much potential to break legs, a neck, an arm, if only you land a couple feet too far to the left or right or if only you land slightly too vertically. Not only was I afraid to jump from the heights, but the shallow water full of unseen boulders was also a fear. Nevertheless, I signed up. I knew I might struggle with jumping and dealing with nerves, but why not? I had a feeling I might regret it down the road if I didn’t go canyoning since I am a pretty “outdoorsy” person. That being said, I know some people didn’t go canyoning because it just wasn’t their thing, and they had an absolute blast. For me, though, a little excitement is always welcomed.
I did it. I superman jumped into the 4 foot deep water from 9+ feet above. I endured the frigid glacier water rushing past me. I went canyoning. And I loved it.
Next on my list of potential adventures was hang gliding or paragliding. I didn’t really know the difference, but I did know that they looked insane. For those on CR with me, you definitely are aware that I am terrified of heights. So, why would I even think about flying through the air, strapped into a parachute by only a couple carabiners? To be honest, I don’t really know the answer to that one, but something about it peaked my interest. Maybe it was the aesthetic of the multitude of chutes floating down into the city park. Maybe it was the breathtaking views of the Alps from above. Maybe it was my gross misunderstanding of what paragliding actually is. Who knows? In the end, I chose to take on paragliding that afternoon. Because of the way the time slots worked out, I went up the mountain not with the rest of the group but rather a van full of French speakers. I also only had about 45 minutes to recover from canyoning before loading up for paragliding, so that made things interesting as well. (In hindsight, the packed schedule gave me maximized time to explore the city that afternoon, so I count it as a win.)
After about 20 minutes of driving up the mountain, we finally arrived at the long hill where we would run into the sky. I met my pilot, Steve, from Birmingham, England (not Alabama as he tried to convince me with a hysterical attempt at a Southern accent), and we prepared for takeoff. Strapped in, we began to run as soon as our turn arrived. He instructed me to run as hard as I could, pulling him in a straight line down the hill regardless of which direction he ran or swayed as he fought the parachute behind us. I threw one leg in front of the other with as much force as possible until finally I lost contact with the solid dirt beneath me, and Steve exclaimed, “We’re flying, dude!”
I initially imagined that paragliding worked just as it sounds: you run off the hill and merely glide down to the landing site. Wow, was I wrong. We lifted into the sky, and Steve maneuvered the chutes in upward spirals to catch a pocket of rising air. After some difficulty finding the sweet spot, we suddenly flew into the heights with a whoosh. He asked me periodically if I was nauseous, to which I surprisingly responded with, “No,” each time. So, we continued. Eventually, Steve noted that we were higher than he had ever been with a tandem paraglide–approximately 11,000 feet. We were high about the mountain ridges and nearing the cloud bank.
Now, Steve has a pretty free spirit, so he decided to have a little fun on our experience. Usually, paragliding provides about 20 minutes of airtime, but Steve wanted to do a little bit of cross country paragliding. Our airtime nearly doubled. We soared above the mountain we embarked from, traveled along the next ridge over, and sailed around the Niederhorn. Eventually, we were high above Lake Thun, several towns over from where we started. We turned back to return to Interlaken, and in the process Steve again wanted to have even more fun. We spun and whipped through the sky like a pendulum until we finally turned full flips in the air. I was blown away. First, by how I didn’t get sick. But second and even more so, by how incredible the experience was. For a person so terrified of heights, I loved paragliding–even more than canyoning.
I may not be as adventurous as wing suit BASE jumping Steve, but I would say I made a pretty big step in terms of my fears in Interlaken. Whether I was afraid of drowning or crashing into rocks in the canyon or running off that hill into the sky, I had people around me supporting me the whole way. In the canyon, each and every one of the other eight in the group were cheering one another on as they stepped up to the jumps. They wouldn’t complain about waiting longer for some. They wouldn’t ask how you could possibly find it scary. They wouldn’t laugh at you for having nerves. They were there for you. Before sending off to the mountain, I had multiple people, from Mollie to Michael Drake (who isn’t even here but wanted to send his CR support regardless) encouraging me to be bold and live in the moment.
I jumped off a couple cliffs in Interlaken. Some may argue that the cliffs in canyoning are more like high boulders and that you actually run off of a hill for paragliding, which is all pretty true. However, I jumped off more than just physical cliffs. I threw myself off of mental cliffs of fear that I never expected to face. I threw myself into my time in Switzerland and never looked back.
They always ask the question, “Would you jump off a cliff just because your friend jumped off a cliff?” And the answer is always a no. However, in this situation, I’m telling you as a friend: if you ever get the chance to visit Interlaken, jump off a cliff. You won’t regret it.