Day 22: A Coincidental Accident in the Alps

Day 22: A Coincidental Accident in the Alps
Wednesday, June 21, 1995
Interlaken, Switzerland

Today was like any other at Balmer’s…except for the damn rain. This weather may put a damper on my plans to go rock climbing. I got up anyway and had some breakfast by myself since Stacey, Dave, and Ketan went into the mountains early this morning. I didn’t go with them so I could go climbing—it would really suck if I miss out on climbing….

The adventure guides said that they would know by 12.00 if the climb would go on or not. I spent the rest of the morning lounging about, meeting newcomers, and writin’ in the log…waiting, just waiting for 12.00. I met Cooper and his friends from Arkansas.

Noon finally rolled around. I talked to the guides and they made some phone calls…it was on! They were going climbing! I was about to go rock climbing in the Swiss Alps! It was surely the best news all day. I ran to the luggage room to throw together my daypack with some climbing supplies. During the 9.00 – 17.00 lockout, all the Balmer’s residents store their packs in this giant room—sounded sketchy to me at first but it was actually pretty safe. It was almost another hangout. Although it didn’t have any furniture other than huge racks, you’d be sure to find guys and girls talking TOGETHER while they changed into swim wear for activities, or put on new clean clothes, or simply applied another layer of perfume or cologne to cover up the aromas of traveling!

Speaking of naked bodies, I forgot to mention how dangerous canyoning was. At any point, if you lost control or footed a loose rock, your body was subject to the mercy of the river. I was often thrown against rock walls on the banks or boulders located in midstream, by the churning water. That’s what made it so exciting! Some people weren’t lucky enough to brace themselves correctly or safely. One guy, who was a few groups ahead, broke his arm as he attempted to brace himself. Another rather beautiful girl was thrown butt-first into a rock wall. Unfortunately for her, she hit the sacral area—the tailbone—and not her soft little butt. Mmmm, she was a very nice girl. Heh heh. As she was hobbling into the shower after canyoning, I asked her what happened. She answered me with the story you just read as she proceeded to remove her bikini bottom to “help” me visualize the degree of pain she was in. I empathized, and stared at her naked little butt—oh Mama Mia! If she only knew the pain I was in at that moment! Nice girl, nice butt, and nice little b…oh, sorry. Where was I? What was I doing?

Oh yes packing a daypack for climbing. I tossed in some fruit, a chocolate bar (Swiss, of course), my new Swiss Army knife on a ‘biner, my anorak, and a sweater. I am pumped—climbing the Alps! It gets no better than this, fellas! Oh, but it does…

It was already 13.30 and I still didn’t see any large group of people waiting to climb. The guide showed up a few minutes later and informed me that he needed two more people to go or the climb was off. In the next ten minutes, I literally became friends with everyone lounging around Balmer’s in search of fellow climbers. None. Pissed. Bored.

I spent the rest of the day lounging around…until the van filled with pilots pulled up to pick up three girls—Monique, Annie, and Robin (super-cutie) to go paragliding. I heard this, grabbed my anorak and jumped into the van. I didn’t care how much it was. We took a 40-minute ride up a narrow (1 car at a time), windy road, stopping once to change into a pair of Solomon gliding boots. During this insanely beautiful ride up the side of the mountain, I learned that Monique, Annie, and cutie-cutie Robin were going to Nice next as well. I also met some guy from PA who knew Lehigh. He towed and flew gliders and was VERY excited to paraglide!!

We finally got to the top, walk several meters to the take-off point, and the guides began to lie out the chutes. The harnesses we wore would soon be carabinered to the chute and were inlaid with a board that hung by the flyer’s butt. It was both awkward and funny looking, but once airborne would serve as a seat—it was just like sitting on a swing. Flying was simple and all maneuvers were executed via the right and left steering lines. Taking off was also a snap. Once we were all strapped in, we just started to run down the hill. After the first two meters or so, the chute quickly filled with air and rose above my head. The lines became taught and it was much more difficult to run. At this point it was important to lean into the tension and continue to run like hell. It would be just a few more steps to miraculous flight!

The ground fell away from my feet but my legs continued to run. I was pretty sure this is what birds feel like. This was the most exhilarating feeling ever! Like a 360o postcard. It is so different from flying in an airplane. There are no motors, props, or even a fuselage to separate you from the land beneath, the mountains around, or the clouds beside you. I thought for a minute that my feet could scrape the treetops, but wouldn’t be possible since I was soaring at 1800m above the earth (measured from sea level, of course). The landing site was at about 600m. Thus our cruising altitude at the moment was about 1200m above the drop zone. We were falling as fast as 4 m/s sometimes. Other times, by pulling down on both lines HARD, I could almost stand still in mid-air! After a few seconds of decent, it was time to learn my chute and try some tricks. By pulling down on the left (hard) and loosening my grip on the right, I fell into an intense counter-clockwise spin. Of course the same in the other direction for opposite movements.

The entire glide lasted just under 10 or fifteen minutes. If it had been sunny, it would have lasted longer due to some thermals we would have been able to pick up on the way down. As the ground approached faster and faster, I readied myself for a landing. The chutes were so easy to control…we didn’t even have to run on the landing. Wow. I can’t wait to get the pictures back!! I think it was well worth the 150 SFr…!!

On the way back we tried to explain the difference between ‘coincident’ and ‘accident’ to our guide. He asked, “Is it right if I say ‘it is a coincidence that you [the three girls] are going to Nice with him [me], but it would be an accident if you [Robin] fell in love with him on the train’?” She blushed. I really didn’t know how to address that question. All I did know is that I sure wouldn’t mind falling in love with her!!!

I met up with Dave, Ketan, and Stacy. We traded stories as usual. It seemed they had a rather tiring day hiking in the Alps. Dave and I passed the next few moments @ the fúsbol table. We had about an hour before our train for Nice left. We all ate some of the famous Balmers Chicken & Chips with a big ol’ Rugenbräu. Then back to fúsbol. I was 1∙1∙2. Now Balmer’s truly feels like a fraternity house.

Dave and Ketan walked with us to the train station. This was a real goodbye. It would be the last time that we see them for a while. We are all embarking in opposite directions now, so even a chance meeting is impossible…well, improbable. I put a franc on the track so our train would flatten it as we passed by Ketan & Dave. Dave said he would send it to me when he gets home.

This was a rather interesting 13+ hour train ride. Before it started, I met up with Robin again. She sat by me while Monique and Annie sat a few benches down. I like that. She is so cute. I am a sucker for cute girls. She manages a restaurant in Newport Beach, CA. She is travelling for three weeks, so there is hope! I’ll still be able to travel while working! Tan(it will sure be interesting to compare logbooks of my first and second trips to Europe…) I also met Sam, a cute girl with an even cuter smile. She is out of money. She has 3 months and only $300 USD left. She is 19 and is traveling to Nice to find work…good luck Sammy! It was also on this train where I met Jeremy and Matt Bohlson—who, I might add, are #10 and #11 on the list of Lehigh Alums over here. They were also at Balmer’s, but I only saw them once. The train was late—for the first time on this entire voyage. It was a problem. Assuming that it arrived on time, we had 20 minutes to figure out what train to catch in Geneva, find it, and jump on. I also needed a mailbox for my postcards. Now, the fact that our train finally arrived 15 minutes late didn’t make me very happy…! We made our connection, barely, but needless to say, I didn’t mail those postcards!