Free falling through Interlaken
By Samantha Livengood (Kent State University)
The snow capped mountains of the Swiss Alps greeted me early Friday morning as the bus weaved along the hairpin turns. Slowly the town of Interlaken, Switzerland crept into view as the morning sun rose. At that moment, I knew that I had been transported not only to another place in the world, but to another way of living in it.
This was my first trip to Switzerland and this was the place where I was going to achieve my long-gestating passion for adventure and get the adrenaline rush of a lifetime. I had three items on my bucket list that I was planning to cross off that weekend: skydiving, canyon diving and paragliding.
The first activity I had planned for the weekend was skydiving. My thought was that, since I was going all out, I should start off big. Plus, I had heard that if the weather conditions weren’t just right, the flight would either be rescheduled or canceled. I am glad I listened. Our original flight time was supposed to be at 12:30 pm, but because of the fog, the pilot decided to push it back until 2:30 pm. 2:30 pm came and went and the van still hadn’t come to pick me up. When I got to the office, they told me that there was going to be a break in the weather around 3:30 pm, so we would attempt to go then.
As I got into the van with my fellow eight skydivers, we made our way to the hanger. When we got there, the three instructors were there waiting to get us into our suits and harnesses. They then split us into three groups of three to take us up. My plan had been to be in the first group and to be the first out of the plane, but, with the luck of the draw, I was in the last group and the last out.
Watching the first two groups eased my nerves and made me even more excited. By the time it was my turn, I was skipping down the runway. I was so excited that my instructor, Timmy, started filming me as I ran down the runway to board the plane.
As the pilot took off, he yelled back to us that we only had 24 minutes until sunset, so we needed to reach the minimum altitude and then we needed to jump. The Alps ripped past us, shrouded in fog, as our tiny plane soared through the clouds. As I looked out the tiny windows, the sun was just peaking out over the mountains. Before I knew it, the door was opened and out went the first two groups. As Timmy and I walked to the door, all my nerves and reservations faded away: I was ready to jump. The next thing I knew I was free falling through clouds, 45 seconds of free fall and then the parachute was pulled. Down we floated through clouds and the mountains at the exact moment the sun was setting. To say that the moment took my breath away would be an understatement.
When we landed, I found myself buried in four feet of snow as the parachute fell behind us. As I stood up and gave my final comments for the interview, Timmy asked me to describe how I felt now that it was all over. For the first time in my life, I was speechless. The beauty and the pure adrenaline I felt mixed with the serenity and calmness had completely taken my breath and words away.
The next morning, I woke up early for my next activity: canyon diving. I had been told that Interlaken was one of only two places in the world where you could do this. This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I wasn’t about to pass it up. After a half-hour drive through the mountains, we reached a small town that looked as if it was hanging off the mountain. We met with our “jump master” Ziggy, and followed him up the mountain to the jump site. The hike took about half an hour, involving hiking up almost vertical inclines, down glaciers, across a gorge and through a forest. By the time we reached the spot, all of us were frozen. We were then weighted and strapped into harnesses. Unfortunately, you can not wear coats with the harness, so we had to take off all of our warm, albeit bulky, clothing. Standing there in a spandex top and pants, scarf, gloves and completely soaked-through boots, I had never been so cold.
Because of the position, we couldn’t see the canyon until we were at the front of the line. For 20 minutes, all I heard were the screams coming from the people as they jumped. When I made it to the front of the line, I watched the guy in front of me take a shot of whiskey from Ziggy, look down the canyon and then over to us with a look of pure terror across his face. It took him a few seconds to compose himself to finally make the jump. As I watched him, I started to get nervous. I was about to throw myself off a tiny platform that was 90 meters above a very narrow gorge with nothing more than two climbing ropes harnessing me to the mountain. As I stepped onto the platform, a friend of mine started to record me. She asked if I had any final words to say. All I could get out was, “I love you mom, this is going to be okay!” Then I took a final look down and launched myself off the landing.
It was only four seconds of free fall until I felt the ropes pull, but those four seconds were the most adrenaline-packed seconds of my life. As I swung though the canyon, I heard Ziggy and the photographer yell “nice jump!” Then I caught a rope and pulled myself over to a ladder and climbed back up part of the mountain.
My final day in Interlaken started off with the most relaxing adventure sport of the weekend: paragliding. After suiting up in snow pants and a helmet, I met my pilot at the top of a mountain where he was laying out the canopy. After getting strapped into the harness, we took off jogging down the mountain until we were airborne. Sitting in the harness and gliding through the air, I had the most breathtaking views of the mountains, lakes and town. It was the clearest day in Interlaken since I had got there. I could see for miles and it was relaxing to fly through the sky and take in the beauty during my final hours there. As we started our descent, my pilot, Drew, asked if I wanted to have some fun, and of course I couldn’t say no. He let me steer as we made our way to the middle of town. Then he took back control and had us spiraling down to the park where we landed in the snow.
As I look back at my three days in Interlaken, I have come to the conclusion that, for me, adventure isn’t just about escaping from the monotony of daily life. It is about committing myself 100 percent to something. This trip was about proving to myself that I can chase my dreams, however scary and dangerous I can achieve them. No backing out, no second guessing, just throwing myself into the situation without reservations and not looking back.