Sunday, July 18, 2010

Paragliding and Zell am See, Austria

We had hoped to get in early and explore Zell am See. We didn't, but I did get to see the World Cup final. Super bummed that Spain won it, but glad it did not go to penalty kicks too. Zell am See reminded my brother of Camden, Maine. I thought it was a little too outdoorsy for that, but if you want outdoor activities and tour goodness, check it out. Beautiful spot with a lot of stuff to do nearby. For us, that meant paragliding!

The landing zone for paragliding.

Any time that I do something I am unfamiliar with that is too far removed from what humans are built to do, I get anxious. Fear kicks in. When I got SCUBA certified, that irrational fear washed over me as I submerged myself in the pool and tried to breath. It is so unnatural. I briefly considered bailing out of the class, but I love the feeling of pushing through and succeeding despite my internal struggles.

Our first take off zone.

When planning our trip to Austria, my brother decided that when we stopped over at Zell am See we should paraglide. I knew that same fear would be coming along because I hate the feeling of falling through the air. However, I didn't wait to rain on his parade and, if I could get over myself, I would enjoy it, so I agreed to it.

Tait and Jill are the two paragliding specks above the cloud.

As we drove over to the landing zone, I could feel my whole body tightening up. I was able to do some breathing excercises to mellow out a little, but my body was still preparing itself for excitement, firing out adrenaline, trying to empty itself out. Unfortunately, I wasn't going to get to go for a while. There were only two pilots available so one of us would have to wait. I knew that the best way for me to get through was just to do it and not give myself time to think about it. So, in backwards psychology, I opted to wait to make getting over myself that much harder and that much more fulfilling.


We all loaded up into Hans' van and off we went to the gondola. Hans tossed me his keys and had me drive back to the landing zone on my own without any directions. Tait and Jill carried two of the four gear bags up the gondola. I couldn't help but appreciate the difference from the US where everything would be done for us. I like being more involved.

Post paragliding thoughts.

After getting back to the landing zone, I just waited. Eventually, I saw some parachutes at 2000m. That was Tait and Jill winding their way down. Claus is more aggressive so Tait got a much longer and more exciting ride. He thinks Claus is crazy though. They both came down with spins, twists, and smiles. It was hard to get pictures of them. No pictures would convey the experience anyway.

A real smile from Tait!

After they landed, we repacked the parachutes and loaded the van again. It was my turn. Time to buck up. I could feel the nerves really starting to chat it up, but I just focused on breathing and whatever task they set me to. We rode the gondola up to some spectacular views of Zell am See. When we got to the top, it was go time. There was no exploring or picture taking. We hustled over to the launching zone, harnessed up, and unpacked the parachute. I thought we were all set to go so I got myself mentally ready. Unfortunately, Hans got a phone call and started chatting it up. Waiting. Then, the wind died. More waiting. More time than I needed to let my mind undo itself.

Jill after paragliding. I think she liked it or likes being on the ground.

I could start to taste the fear. If you don't know what this means, I don't think I can explain this. I think it is tied to the realeasing of pheremones. It tastes bad and I've experienced it whenever I pass a cop going to fast and think I am going to get a speeding ticket. It happened when I have been in car accidents. It happens when I see a bad wreck coming on my snowboard or bicycle. In New Zealand, my friend Galit thought I might be a supertaster, which I think means I'm super sensitive to bitter stuff. That might be why I can taste the fear. I don't like it. Sign me up for ice cream afterwards.

Tandem paragliding.

Instead of dialing in to get over it while waiting, we moved to a new take off zone with better wind. There is nothing like getting the adrenaline ready and then not being able to use it. At the new landing zone, there was a fence in the way. I don't know why it was there, but Franz gave me his gloves, told me it was electric, and had me go clear 60m of it. No, I'm not kidding. It was a welcome relief from just sitting there waiting though.


In that spot, the wind was whipping by pretty well and soon we were off and running. I saw the steep edge coming and started to get concerned. However, it didn't matter. We didn't even get to the edge before the parachute filled and I was running on nothing. I was like a cartoon character getting ready to sprint. As soon as we went airborne, my body tried to fall back down to earth in my loose harness. I only moved an inch, but it made me remember how much I am trusting man made equipment to overcome nature' laws.

Landing. Feet up, bum down, thump, slide, stop.

A little later, we had the seat out and I didn't even need to worry about the harness pulling up so hard every time a guest of wind came through. Our next challenge was gaining altitude to clear the ridgeline. Hans is a little heavier, especially with me tied to him, so getting higher took a little more work. For a short while, I wondered if we could clear the trees and when Hans told me to lean right, raised his voice said it again, and then did it one more time with even more authority because I wasn't leaning enough, it gave a little fuel to my concern. We were fine though. Just my inexperience talking. I finally settled in to enjoy myself.

I think I liked it!

After a short bit, Hans asked if I liked action. Wanting to get the most out of my experience, I said sure. He started rocking us hard left, then right, then back again until the sun was catching the underside of the parachute. Eeek!! After that, we tucked into a downward spiral that might have had more G forces pulling on me than I have experience at any other time in my life (roller coasters?). We just spun and spun. I had watched Jill go through this same move and it had seemed so gentle from the ground. It isn't. Not focusing on a single point while we spun didn't help. A small wave of nausea washed over me, but it didn't matter. We were done. We buzzed a final tree in the landing zone and came rushing toward the ground. I thought we were coming into a little fast, but at the last second Hans pulled the parachute up and slowed us almost to a stop where we just picked our feet up, hit the ground, slid a meter on our butts, and stopped. The only thing left was smiles. Lots of smiles.

Full video:

Paragliding in Zell am See, Austria

Lake Zell.

The town of Zell am See, we paraglided off the backside of the top of the mountain.

Tait and I on the shore of Lake Zell.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful video and story. Now that I've seen a flight I can wait a little longer befoe trying that myself, but maybe some day. :)