There have been three perfect moments in my life; watching Paul Osborne’s around-the-corner offload to Dave Furner during the 1994 grand final, seeing my girlfriend for the first time, and soaring above the unreal azure waters of Interlaken. But they say the darkest night is before the dawn, and that was certainly the case during my first solo paragliding trip through Switzerland.
Interlaken has dozens of launches, but I decided to head to th 1060m-high Luegibrueggli (know as Eggs by the locals) for my first flight – mainly because it’s easy to get to by bus from the middle of Interlaken. After 20 minutes scraping up the hill from town, and a brisk walk through the woods, I found myself in a tiny clearing looking out over the most beautiful lake in the world. I set up my gear, took a deep breath, and cruised out into the clear Swiss air.
It took me about five seconds to realise something was wrong. Very, very wrong. After narrowly missing a tree after launching, I realised my left brakeline was tangled, meaning I couldn’t steer the bloody thing and was being dragged dangerously close to town by the swelling valley breeze. I was a kilometre above the Earth with barely any control over my glider, a thin stream of urine dribbling down my leg and regret on my mind. I needed to use all my experience as a pilot to somehow drag my glider down to the green valley floor, and drop into the tiny landing zone. When i finally landed safely, I took a moment to scrape the fright shite out of my pants and reflect on how close I’d come to disaster.
As I sucked on a frosty can of Tell that night whilst watching the sun set over the Alps, I was still thinking about what had happened. I’m so proud of myself for having reached a stage of my flying that I can travel to a foreign country alone, find flying spots, check out the conditions and take to the air by myself, but I always have more to learn. Today’s lesson was patience – and to wear dark-coloured undies when I fly a new spot. The next day, I promised myself, would be perfect.
With great conditions forecast, I took the bus all the way up to the 1280m-high Waldegg (known as Eggs by the locals) launch. After quadruple-checking my lines, I once again launched into the beautiful alpine valley, and this time everything was absolutely perfect. I hooked into a thermal and climbed up into the clear, blue sky, as the magical scenery shrank beneath me. Dozens of other gliders were dancing through the sky and heading off in all directions, and I managed to cross the valley and play above the monumental peaks of the Andes. Finally, I was able to see what all the fuss is about when it comes to Swiss flying – and I was doing it completely alone.
After a couple of hours of the best paragliding imaginable, the wind picked up and it was time for me to head down, down, down to the ground. I spiralled towards Lake Thun, watching its crystal clear water rush towards me as I ended my ride. And then, just like that, it was over. As I packed up my wing and graciously accepted an ice-cold Rugenbräu from fellow pilot Hans, I looked up at those indomitable mountains and smiled as I thought about cruising over them. Paragliding is all about ups and downs – both literally and figuratively – but the apex of this wonderful sport surely exists in the pristine skies above Interlaken.