Paragliding in the clouds above Bright

Originally published on Writing Out Loud

I ran off the side of this mountain

“RUN!” he shouted. I hesitated for a second – if someone told you to jump off a cliff, would you do it? – so he yelled it again. “RUN!” I did it. I ran.

My paragliding pilot, Fred – who I had found through RedBalloon – had downplayed this scenario when I asked him how scary it would be: “Even my mother’s done it,” he laughed. Yeah, but it’s still scary, I insisted. He shrugged, but then again he’s done this before (“five or six thousand times” was his guess). So I’m here to tell you that running towards the edge of a mountain and then jumping off and trusting a total stranger to keep you safe IS scary.

I screamed as my feet left the ground, and my legs kept moving in a step-like motion for a few seconds longer than necessary. Habit, I guess. So, now what?

“We’re flying up to that cloud,” he said as we whirled around and around in the thermal.

“How high is that?” I asked.

“About 14,000 feet.” (That’s skydiving height!)

Getting this high was a matter of luck, and if I’d hesitated any longer it wouldn’t have happened this way. Fred had got us caught in the middle of this thermal, meaning we could rise higher and stay in flight for ages, while two others took off twenty seconds later and landed on the ground soon after. It’s all a matter of timing in this game, and I just happened to be on the flight of my life.

But at that point I wasn’t sure who I felt happier for: me, at 14,000 feet in the air with nothing between me and the ground but a harness, or those others who were safely on the ground. I smiled as Fred asked how I was – “All good!” I replied, putting on my bravest smile as I tried to forget that nothing was between me and the ground but a harness. “This is amazing!” Which it was. Terrifyingly amazing.

That green patch is the take-off point

Our shadow in Bright's pine plantations


It looks so peaceful up there. Gliders dangle in the air, creating shadows over the town of Bright in the Victorian Alps all the time, pretending gravity doesn’t exist. After we’d spun around and around to get higher, we glided along and I had the chance to focus my awe at the land.

That view. Everywhere I looked were mountain ranges. Mountains Buffalo, Hotham, Feathertop, even Bogong – Victoria’s highest – looked like little mounds on one of those scaled models in a tourist visitor centre. When you’re in Bright you know you’re in a valley surrounded by mountain ranges, but you don’t really get it until you see it from up there. This place is surrounded for as far as the eye can see, and then further still.

So it was peaceful for a while, until Fred asked me if I wanted to do some spins and tricks. “Sure! Sounds fun!” said I.

He pulled a few strings, angled his body differently and within seconds we were pointing sideways, twirling around – fast. When my laughter turned to a sickened sound, he queried it: “Just scared or feeling it in your stomach?” I confirmed it was the latter and he stopped straight away. I’m tipping he’s had some unfortunate experiences up there with sick passengers.

Back to peaceful gliding, except now my mind and my stomach were in overdrive. “Don’t be sick, don’t be sick,” I chanted silently to myself over and over.

Looking down over Bright town

 

My nervous smile

As we were coming in to land, Fred told me to get ready to take some steps. It was odd to realise that I wasn’t sure I could, and I awkwardly practiced some fake air steps in preparation for hitting the ground. As we got closer to my family, I waved and Fred asked me, “Do you want to show them another spin?” I didn’t, but then again I really wanted to show off, so I said yes. He spun us around… until I made that sickened sound again…

… and then promptly fell to the ground. I tried to keep being brave and walk over to my little audience, but my legs just wouldn’t hold me. I seemed to have misplaced my stomach up there, my head was spinning and I sat down on the grass in the hope that I could avoid embarrassing myself by either falling over or being sick. Or both.

It took a while for my mind to catch up with it all. I’d thought through the process of the glide, but I hadn’t thought about afterwards. There was motion sickness right to the pit of my stomach – I can still feel it as I write this – mixed with the feeling that comes with having done something amazing and “Now what?” suddenly occurring to you. How does one finish off a day after that? What should you do after you’ve jumped off a mountain, caught a thermal 14,000 feet into the clouds and then glided down?

This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, something I’d wanted to do since I was a kid on holidays in Bright seeing the gliders dot the air. Now I’ve done it, and that’s a brilliant feeling.

The jump itself is scary, the flight exhilarating, and the landing on my feet a shock to the system. Just like life, really.

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