LAUTERBRUNNEN, Switzerland -- Somehow, my sister talked me into this.
And not just me. My husband, my sister, her husband and I each forked over $160 for a trip on a paraglider, which looks like a cross between a kite and a parachute. We’ll be flying tandem, each of us paired with an experienced pilot. That means someone else will be in charge of steering, staying aloft and avoiding obstacles, a very good thing.
Now I’m standing, attached by a harness and carabiners, to a pilot. On his word, I’ll jog slowly down a steep grassy hill until the earth slowly drops away beneath my feet. I’ll soar like a bird for 45 minutes or so and then, hopefully, glide to a safe landing in the Lauterbrunnen Valley far below.
I squeeze my eyes shut, say a little prayer, and secure a death grip on the harness straps. My pilot counts down and we start to stride.
Before I know it, I’ve been gently lifted into the air by the rectangular wing that has unfurled behind me. Soon, we’re zooming over rooftops, watching cows and people go about their daily business in the tiny hamlet of Gimmelwald, which looks like Whoville beneath my dangling toes.
My pilot reminds me that I can release my grip. He invites me to lean back in the canvas bucket seat attached to my rear and enjoy the ride.
I do my best to relax, but I’m afraid of heights and even though I can see the broad, zen-like grin on my sister, who soars past like a giddy heron, I have to fight the urge not to freak out. We circle over trees, cut back into a canyon and skim over a cow that lets out a surprised bellow. And then I know what’s coming: The 2,000-foot precipice that marks the lip of the valley wall.
I gulp, tighten my grip and curse softly. Before I have time to think too hard, the pilot steers us over the edge. Suddenly we’re not just 200 feet over the treetops, we’re 2,200 feet over them.
I suck in my breath and look to the left — a cable car. We soar between the cables and the cliff wall, then zip past a rope bridge. We scoot alongside the rocky wall, then glide so close to a crashing waterfall that I can almost feel the spray.
My heart pounds, but I’ve never seen anything like this. The valley below looks like a scene set up beneath a Christmas tree. A river, walking paths, barns, roads and buses — they’re all rendered in perfect miniature beneath my airborne seat.
As I swirl through the atmosphere, I experience the closest thing to flying I’ve ever known. It’s quiet up here, no sound save the wind blasting past my ears and ruffling the sleeves of my jacket. I forget, just for a minute, about holding on for dear life. I gaze at the snow-covered Alps in the distance, then the rippled, velvet green carpet of the valley.
We etch smooth ovals in a bright blue sky, dropping lower and lower with each loop. Finally, the pilot braces me for the landing. I lift up my feet, he glides in and we settle back down on terra firma, like a duck with its wings spread.
I never would have done this on my own. But thanks to a little encouragement, I now know what what the birds get so excited about.
• Information: Airtime Paragliding in Lauterbrunnen, airtime-paragliding.ch/