Friday, August 30, 2013

The Leap of Faith - With Pics...

August 15, 2013 - Chamonix

Today, we head to Chamonix, while keeping our base here in Geneva. Breakfast, then "on the road again." (Go ahead, have the earworm for a while.)

I'm very, very nervous about my Leap...
Street in Chamonix

1:20 p.m. -- Well, I just saw Hubby off on his Leap. AND I SURVIVED MY OWN!! My pilot was Aaron (I think Caroline said that - I heard "Erin" but I don't know the actual spelling) and he is not only quite a dishy French guy, but very calm and capable. The entire journey lasted about an hour, and we walked off a 7,000 foot ledge. Soared up to somewhere near 10,000 feet and then landed in an athletic field. 

It was very scary. We took a gondola ride to the area where I was to jump, and as we're going up in the gondola, I'm sitting there with this pilot I just met. All the equipment is in the gondola with us. I looked down, and thought, "Holy Crap." 
Gondolas up to jump site

I had a 20-lb. backpack with my harness and seat. He had the rest of the gear. I got caught in the turnstile of the gondola, because I hadn't known to tuck the "seat" part up under the strap. But we got me loose and off we went. We hiked about 75 feet from the gondola (going up, of course) to the launch area. There were about 15 other parasailing folks up there in various stages of "going." Some of them were singles, but most of them were tandem.

Our sail was yellow, trimmed in orange. Caroline, the woman who runs the company, told Hubby what to watch for (wait, it gets good...). I got my instructions from Aaron, which were thus (imagine this with a lovely French accent and really quite good English): "Walk until I tell you to sit and keep looking forward. You will have a lovely surprise." He then straps me into the contraption, straps himself onto my back, and works the sail. 

The sail fills immediately - there's a great whack of updraft, so we've got the thing inflated before we even start walking. You walk forward (he's speaking softly into my ear: walk, walk, walk, walk) and you feel a slight tug. Then "sit back" and you're aloft. We dipped slightly before we caught another updraft and then flew up. He told me "it might be a little bumpy" but seriously - there was more turbulence in the airplane. We went off the ledge to the right, along a rocky ridge studded with trees. 
My pilot

It was quiet. The noise of the wind and the sail were just about all we heard. There were a number of others sailing that day, but in spite of the traffic, it all felt very safe. 

Aaron pointed out Mont Blanc, and I fulfilled Kid #2's request of a photo. Took quite a few shots of the other gliders and the fantastic views. He was very good about warning me as to turbulence and didn't chat overly-much. He'd been paragliding since he was 13 and was in his 30s. He told me the best place in the US to do it was Utah, and that nobody does it in the Rockies in Montana because "it's too wild - not enough places to launch or land." That makes sense. 
My shot of Mt. Blanc

(NOTE: I wrote this journal entry sitting at a small sidewalk cafe, and I have in my notes: "I wonder how long I can hold my breath - the second-hand smoke is killing me!")

Hubby took a look at my shots afterward and there were a few klunkers, but that's when we caught a bobble or skewed in another direction. We circled the Mt. Blanc side for most of the trip, then the town, and then headed to the landing area. 
Part of my route

I didn't get to steer, which was fine with me. And we didn't opt for the GoPro shots, which was also fine. I like what I did and I'm happy with it. Aaron says, as we're preparing to land, "We either land on our feet or on the butt." And apparently, we have no control over that... It's all up to how the wind acts. We got VERY lucky, and I did a standing stop. 

He said, "Raise your legs" as we went down, and then he said, "Step down" and within 4 steps, I was down. The sail was down behind us. 

Bird's eye view of Chamonix - my flight
Unfortunately, I couldn't share this bliss with Hubby, because he was apparently directed to the wrong landing site... So he missed it. Crud. I ended up going back to the gondola area, told Aaron that he was flying with Caroline, and since I hadn't a franc on me, Hubby would take care of BOTH flights in the afternoon, then Aaron left to get his next passenger. 

I took a side trip to where I thought we left Mildred. She wasn't was a VW. Was getting a little more than annoyed, and then spotted Hubby on the steps by the gondola. The "farmer's whistle" came in handy and we were able to meet up. 

He subsequently met up with Caroline, and I told him I'd go to the little cafe next to the gondolas for a bite to eat and he could meet me there. 

Hubby's pilot in pink jacket
It's a wonder that half of these people here aren't dead of lung cancer...Bleagh!!! And why, in one of the best culinary climates in the world, do you get canned Lipton PEACH iced tea?? Hey, I was thirsty, so I drank it anyway. I sat at the Cafe Kimbo, right by the lift/gondola area, just a block over. I was shooting for the little hotel lunchroom, but they were closed. I tried to get upwind of the smoke, but I was foiled by new customers coming in. 

Hubby's flight path
I ate salad cheve chaud and had the iced tea. I was sooooooooooo nervous that morning that I could barely gag down some hot tea and yogurt. The cafe is on top of the street - as in you have to cross the street to get to it and it is completely next to the street; no sidewalk. Hubby got all turned around downtown looking for me, so we figured this little spot was the best place for me to be while I waited for him. Again, a nice leisurely lunch. Not rushed, not glared at. Lunch came in a large-ish red melamine bowl, consists of the following: butter lettuce, red onion (I picked it off), fresh tomato. Of course, basket of crunchy bread. On top of the salad was a sliced baguette (about 4" long) with a total of 4 very generous rounds of fresh goat cheese - this had herbs on it and was slid under a broiler just for a tiny moment to crisp up the bread and warm the cheese. After removing the offensive onions (sorry, don't like 'em), the salad was lovely; light and refreshing - and filling. And the cheese-bread combo? Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. It was nice to just sit and people-watch for a while. Looks like lots of locals gather here. I'm at a high-top table under the awning with a pink and white geranium in an ancient clay pot for a centerpiece. 
Close to the rocks...

I'm watching cars go up and down this extremely narrow street. They park tight to the buildings, but still have to "pull their ears in" (move the mirrors close to the doors of the cars) to keep from obstructing traffic. Drivers barely leave 2 coats of paint as they go past! 

So I actually went back to the gondola area; the smoke got to me. I briefly thought about a short walk into town, till I took about a dozen steps down a very steep sidewalk. "Down" would mean a walk "UP" and it was warming up quickly! It's so steep! So I have my knitting, my Kindle and the journal. A bottle of water is handy. Time to find a seat. 

There are small-ish wisps of clouds crossing Mt. Blanc now. And I don't see as many gliders, though I'm sitting in a niche next to the ticket counter, so I'm not facing the mountain we jumped from this morning. I did get the keys to Mildred and Hubby showed me where she was parked, so if it gets terribly warm, I'll go hang out with her. The breeze is great right now and the sun is strong; glad I'm in the shade. I've got on jeans, hiking boots, my hand-knit wool hiking socks and a light jacket (which got shed quickly). 
Clouds - Hubby's flight

A number of people have come to the gondolas to ride up for a hike down. I see an elderly gent with his family. One cane and 1 walking stick. He's got his hat and backpack and looks ready to go. The paths are little goat-width ruts. You'd have to train for a year (in altitude, not on the flatlands here in IL) to attempt the 8-hour hike up to the top of Le Brevent, 2,525 m up. The stop where I jumped off was 2,000 m up - the updraft got us to 3,000 m up... 

Hubby's Leap is a lot higher and involves quite a hike. He takes off from a glacier. Caroline, the pilot for his flight, is about 100 lbs. soaking wet. She's very no-nonsense and direct as to whether she thinks you'll be ok on the flight. He could, though - he's been training for a while and is quite fit. I know, however, that I wouldn't be able to do the flight he chose. I'm quite happy with what I did, and glad that I ignored a very strong inclination to just not go. 

Chamonix street
2:41 p.m. -- Just saw some gliders in the area Hubby said he would be jumping. I wonder if one of them is him? I heard someone say that you could take the gondola to the first jump point "and walk down - about an hour." Now, DOWN I could do, but probably not UP. I had considered bringing my walking poles, since it looks like they're standard equipment here, but I didn't and that's fine. Maybe if we come back! 

3:10 p.m. -- Glad I had the 11 a.m. flight. That wisp of cloud got bigger and bigger, and looks to obscure Mt. Blanc soon. It clouded over a bit, but there's still lots of blue in the sky. The spot where Hubby jumped (I think it's that spot - not sure) does have more clouds. Not sure I'm happy with that, but we're in the mountains...conditions change at the drop of a hat. The gondola stopped a couple of times while I was writing this and the silence was a blessing. I had tuned out the constant motor noise, but I realized when it was stopped that it was quite peaceful! There are houses packed right up next to the gondolas, and I'm sure these folks are happy to go to work, since I doubt they run at night. 

We were sitting and talking about his trip, and he's saying how "safe" parasailing is, and we see a guy go horizontal and start spinning down. As I recover my breath, I see a few more doing that, and we realize that these single flyers are probably practicing emergency moves. Whew... The spirals look particularly scary, but I know we did a few - they were just gradual on my flight so it's not as bad when you're actually up there. 

Just saw a large bird riding the same thermals we took. There are at least 2 gliders ABOVE the bird. Hubby's video will be awesome, but I'm still glad I didn't take the GoPro. Hubby's top altitude was about 12,000 feet up. 

7:40 p.m. -- Walked around Chamonix and did a tiny bit of shopping (some beautiful posters of the mountain ranges). We stopped for ice cream and gave a belly rub to a beautiful female Siberian Husky. She didn't understand a word of English, but she knew from "belly rub." 

We drove back to the Holiday In Express - and I'm sorry, the driving still freaks me out here. But before we left, we stopped at a little sandwich shop and picked up a "hotel room dinner." 

My hand-knit socks kept my feet nicely warm up in the chilly air, but being wool - they are a little heavy and now that we're at the hotel, off they come! Not bad for hand-knitted socks! Must remember to NOT wash them in the washing machine at home. 

We'll be "round-about" geniuses by the time we get home. Here, it's all about the round-about. And for the most part, drivers are observant and mostly courteous (except in Italy...). The highways constantly monitor speed via radar and they can change speed signs on the fly. They tell you to keep space between vehicles (especially in the tunnels) and 90% of the drivers do that. When they merge into the right lane onto the highway, they don't try to automatically whip over to the far lane. They stay there for a bit. Refreshing, even though my brain is having a hard time translating m.p.h. from km/hr...On exit ramps, they give you a speed, then they slow you down, then they do it again: THREE speed changes. Lots of toll roads, though. I used the "Holy Crap" handle liberally today as we took a mountain-side road and there were a few newbies to driving on those curves...Good thing Hubby knows how to do it. 

And I also observed that in this part of the country, graffiti is apparently an art form... As well, with the public art? The kids are climbing all over it! There was a very tall statue of the man who "found" Mt. Blanc with his guide pointing to it -- and kids were on top of that, next to the 2 figures. About 6 - 8' off the ground, and nobody was having a heart attack. The other thing I noticed while waiting for Hubby were the number of people who came off the mountain clutching handfuls of either Linden or wild Chammomile. I'm very used to the US system where you don't remove anything from a park. But perhaps they allow foraging here, as long as they're not stripping the area bare. 

The sandwich was great (ham and cheese on fresh baguette) and Hubby is reviewing his video (he took our GoPro and had theirs, too). Almost makes me wish I had done it, but nonetheless, I'm proud of "doing one thing each day that scares me."  

Only 6 tunnels today. Lightweight!

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