I couldn't even remember who had suggested this crazy idea. At that point, I didn't care. I could feel my breakfast from two hours ago sitting heavily in my stomach. God, was it only two hours ago? It seemed like a lifetime had passed since I had been sitting in the hotel restaurant with my three friends and chatting excitedly about our upcoming adventure over fruit and croissants. Looking back, I wish I hadn't eaten so much.
As I was waiting for my turn to participate in this crazy adventure, I reflected in awe at my situation. I was just outside Innsbruck, Austria, an ocean away from my home in Canada and everything that was familiar to me. At age 21, I had hit the jackpot when I became the lucky recipient of a free, two week European study tour. Before I knew it, I found myself in the gorgeous, mountainous country of Austria. If I'd only known the role those inconceivably high mountain would play in my near future.
Suddenly, I was jarred back to reality as it became my turn to do the unthinkable. I dropped my head and stared at the ground below me, gulping in the thin air and trying not to panic at the last minute. Oh, solid ground! How much I adore you! I took a cursory glance at the bright yellow flight
suit I was wearing before I lifted my head with determination and resigned myself to the fact that a few minutes from now I would be hurling myself off a mountain 6000 feet above sea level and parasailing off the Swiss Alps!
I began to listen avidly to my instructor's directions. Despite our busy surroundings, it wasn't difficult to hear the native Austrian since he was attached to my back with a dozen harnesses and straps. Thankfully, he would be the one controlling the parasail.
"See that girl over there?" he said, pointing in the direction of one of my friends who had run down the grassy, mountain slope in synch with her instructor, leapt prematurely in the air, and floated lamely back to earth.
"Don't do that", my instructor finished.
I nodded firmly and then it was my turn. We positioned ourselves on the sloped area of the mountain that was our take-off point and my instructor yelled "Go!" Together we began to run down the mountain, fighting against every natural instinct in our minds. Suddenly, our bodies were pulled to a standstill as the parasail opened up behind us and resisted our forward motion. After a moment of shock, I bent my knees, leaned impossibly far forward, dug my feet in, and slowly regained my speed. I could feel the sail begin to lift me off the ground, but remembering the premature jump of my friend a few minutes earlier, I continued making a running motion even as my instructor and I were lifted skyward. I wasn't taking any chances.
And just like that, we were airborne. It was the most thrilling and terrifying feeling in the world to know that my entire life depended on the bright piece of fabric overhead and the single instructor controlling it. I spent the next 15 minutes drinking in the scenery around me as we circled the mountains. The sky was dotted with other adrenaline junkies, some manipulating their parasail so they could corkscrew or flip in the air, others simply enjoying the ability to drift on the wind as effortlessly as a bird, the closest they will ever come to human flight.
One by one, we began to descend towards the grassy field designated for parasailing landings. I waved as my friends who had already had their turn called out to me in excitement, cameras poised to capture my arrival. As we reached the ground, I stepped onto it as effortlessly as if I had just reached the bottom of a staircase, the giant parasail folding onto the ground around me.
My instructor began to remove the multiple harnesses and straps as my friends rushed towards me. I looked back up the mountain in the direction we had come from. The Alps reached so high into the abyss of that cloudy sky that I couldn't actually locate the take-off point.
But as I turned to my friends with a smile, I saw out of the corner of my eye a bright red parasail emerge from the clouds above. Another adventure.
Another human defying gravity.