Adventure and Peace in the Skies (Virginia USA)

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IMG_0225There is so much that Our Chalet offers to its guests and staff; of course this includes the peace for the soul and the challenge and adventure that founders Helen Storrow and Falk dreamed of. One activity that I think (surprisingly!) encompassed both was tandem paragliding on a day off with another spring intern: Joanne.

We took the train to Interlaken and sat outside the train station while waiting for our guides. We could see a bunch of paragliders soaring over us and the butterflies in our stomachs flapped harder and harder. We finally met our guides, Werner and Hans, who drove us up to the village of Beatenberg above Interlaken and Thunersee (Lake Thun). After a short walk, they put us in backpack-like harnesses as they unravelled the wings near a cliff’s edge. Werner, my pilot, gave me brief instructions and then we practiced running while clipped together. Then before I could think too much, we were clipped to the wing and running, running, step, step – air! Soaring!

We lean to the left to swoop up a little higher and I heard an instrument begin beeping. “That is a good noise!” Werner assures me and explains that it is his altimeter, or variometer, and that the faster it beeps, the faster we are ascending- maybe several meters per second! We wheel like birds, kettling higher and higher with other paragliders and hang-gliders. We swing in wide loops and climb through the wind and cold air on the sun-powered thermals. Pretty soon Werner and I are higher than all the other wings. His estimate was about 1800 meters or 5900 feet up! Almost as high as the Neiderhorn nearby!

The amazing thing was that you couldn’t feel yourself rising, dropping, or moving sideways as quickly as it was happening. It was interesting to look around and see other gliders in our thermal, or to hear Werner say something like “Oh it looks like he has some air over there,” and we would head for another glider who was looping up and up and up.

Looking down you could see chalets and fields with cows, the different blues of Thunersee, the train and the city of Interlaken. Further out you could see Niesen and the Jungfrau massif. Patches of sun lit the valley and beckoned our sail and our souls.

Virginia ParaglidingThe sun retreated a bit over the city, leaving us searching for the exciting updrafts. We drifted a bit lower as we neared Harder Kulm and the rocky cliffs above Interlaken, doing slow wide circles above a wind sock in the trees. We caught a small updraft before lazily drifting over Thunersee and town. Then it was decision time- do I want to do the “crazy flying?” The “rollercoaster?” as Werner called it.

My stomach seems ok- so I give a hesitant yes. Werner hands me the selfie stick that we are using and suddenly we begin to pitch and roll, wheeling through the sky like a joyful raven as I shriek with fear and glee.

Laughing I finally hand the selfie stick back to Werner as we swoop closer to Joanne and Hans. When I see her practicing running in the air, I realize that we are nearing the landing field in the middle of town. We begin dropping and stretch our feet towards the ground. The grass flies up to meet my boots, and I take a couple of steps before getting whipped around by the wing. We manage to keep our balance as Werner whips the wing down onto the grass.

I am grinning madly as Joanne lands nearby. Hugs, handshakes and thank yous before our pilots are off to pick up another pair of adventurers, and Joanne and I are left laughing and grinning, ready to take back to the skies.

Can you find peace for the soul through adventure? Of course! Because while I doubted it before we got in the air, I soon felt at peace soaring through the sky with the buzzards and the kites. But paragliding was nothing if not an adventure! I think both Helen Storrow and Falk would have been proud.

Virginia Miller – Programme Intern Spring 2016

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