I woke up at 8:30 since I deserved one night of sleeping in (kind of sad that that is sleeping in for me). I walked down to reception to get some information on the skydiving companies and prices. Soon after, I ended up booking my spot for a dive. She told me they would be picking me up at 10 a.m., which I did not expect, so I would be having a heck of a kick start to my day. I went to the ATM/Bankomat (or “hole in the wall” as they say in Australia) to pull out the francs that would pay for this adventure (the ATM might as well have been draining my blood for everything I had since the pain of seeing that much money taken out my account was so excruciating). The car came around and I hopped in to meet a guy named Brett from Australia who would be joining me on the helicopter up for the jump. We talked about how ridiculous of a thing we were about to do and wondered whether we had experienced enough at this point in our young lives. At their skydiving office, I kissed my francs goodbye. Then, I decided to use the restroom before stepping into my jumpsuit so that I wouldn’t piss myself on the way down. The car ride to the point where the helicopter would meet us was one of the quietest car rides I’ve ever experienced. The tension in the air was tight as I thought over what I just got myself into. As we waited for the helicopter, my instructor broke down the procedure of what I would be doing. After a ten minute helicopter ride up to 14000 feet over Interlaken, I would be staring face to face with the highest peak in Europe, Jungfrau. Once there, I would stand on the helicopter skid looking down at nothing but clear skies to the city below before jumping off for 40 seconds of free fall at 120 mph. We boarded the helicopter and I got strapped directly to my tandem instructor Tony as we climbed upwards (at that moment I realized there was no turning back). The helicopter ride was a treat in itself as we climbed further and further up into the stratosphere with the homes below decreasing in size at a rapid rate. At the utmost point, I looked across to see the snow capped mountains that I was staring up at not too long ago. The door opened and wind rushed quickly into the helicopter cabin as the vast abyss taunted us mere feet from where we sat. First out the door was a crazy mother (an actual mother, not some crazy motherf***er even though she basically was) who jumped out solo. Next, my new friend Brett disappeared out the door. Now it was my turn. After talking about it for so long, the moment of truth finally arrived. With Tony behind me, we inched to the edge before my feet touched the skid. I was now staring way way way down to Interlaken. The comforts of earth were a distant memory as I looked out into the openness of the sky. Surprisingly, I was not desperately clinging to the helicopter as I awaited the cue to jump. That initial leap out into the great unknown was the ultimate stomach dropper. After recomposing myself, I enjoyed every bit of that free fall. The sensation was, believe it or not, peaceful and relaxing despite the wind rippling my cheeks. At no point did I worry about the parachute opening up and when it finally did I was comfortable with free falling for another 10 to 15 seconds. The rush of the parachute opening up pulled us back before easing out. Tony pulled on the strings and got us spinning in circles. I did not expect this but Tony told me to grab a hold of the reins to steer us around. With each pull of my right and left hand we whipped back and forth guiding our parachute to the ground below. Eventually he took control to take us down to our landing. We swept downward, gravitating towards the welcoming grass after hovering over the red roofs of Interlaken. I got to enjoy that beautiful feeling of touching ground once again after hastily approaching the surface and gliding across the grass. That complete sense of freedom was addicting and I soon realized that this would not be the only time I would skydive in my life; the adrenaline rush was so too pure and good to be had just once. As crazy as this sounds, I feared more for my life jumping off the cliff in Manarola. Since Brett and I both said we were planning on taking trains to hike the mountains today, we decided to team up for the trek. After downing my can of tuna at the hostel, I met him at the train station before we climbed upwards on the train to Grindelwald. The area has a beautiful mountain town filled with uniquely colored homes scattered in a valley amongst a fare amount of peaks. After walking around town for a little while, I told him I needed to climb something and pointed to a big bad mountain covered by snow and filled with glaciers. In this not so touristy spot, we started hiking up a path that passed rapids become ducking into the heavily wooded forest. In between deep gasps for air, we chatted about life and the differences between Aussies and Americans. At 30 years old, after struggling to find his way, he eventually chose a path he was comfortable with. He told me how he spent time at university flipping through degree catalogs unsure of what to choose and wasting time worrying about what direction he wanted to take his life. He gave me some sound advice to enjoy this time to travel while I am young and to not worry about knowing right now which career to choose. The most important part is to be patient and to not get lazy; I should be constantly trying new things and eventually I will stumble across something that fits me perfectly. Also, we talked about how even though our upbringings were great we were kind of sheltered as youths. So now, I am branching out to explore the world and more importantly explore myself. Even he made the comment that I won’t be the same person when I get back home. A quote I love from a movie I can’t remember says, in a nutshell, that upon arriving home you feel different and realize home hasn’t changed but what really has changed is you; it may sound sappy but it rings true). He told me several Aussie phrases and about how much of the media he sees and hears in Australia is from America. What a crazy place to meet someone while skydiving. After the hike he wanted to grab a beer but I told him it wasn’t in my budget, especially in Switzerland. Being the great mate he is, he offered to buy me a drink, which I couldn’t say no to. He ordered a pizza and with the beer mugs, we cheered to surviving skydiving and being in one of the most beautiful places on earth. To my surprise, he insisted I split his pizza with me. Heading back to the train, I saw a Swiss chocolate store out of the corner of my eye. After hearing Brett rave about the chocolates I had to give them a try. Walking past the sampler boxes, I thought I was in over my head with the prices. We joked that I should ask if they sell shavings of chocolate. I asked the woman at the counter to pick out some of the favorites for me. Into the goodies bag went a bar of chocolate filled with nuts and individual chocolate balls of coconut, whiskey cream, and a citrusy cream with a nice crunch inside along with a chocolate for my mate Brett (after he fed me a proper meal, it was the least I could do). On the train, I savored each last bite of some of the most decadent and satisfying chocolate I have ever experienced. Back down at ground zero we went our separate paths while offering if either happened to be in the U.S. or Australia to look each other up. Like every other day lately, I had been dying to swim in some water so I headed to the closest of the two lakes which happened to be the coldest one. Since the glaciers from the mountain ran off into the lake, I expected some fairly cool temps but the degree would soon even surprise me. When I got there I couldn’t find much of any beach so I ended up following an English family to a rocky “beach”. The mom and daughter wanted no part of the water while the two boys tiptoed into the lake. They complained how cold it was but I didn’t think much of it until I felt the bone chilling water brush my feet. I came this far to swim so I wasn’t about to let this stop me. I surged into the water and quickly lost feeling in my lower body; my toes might as well have not been in existence. While the boys chose stay in longer, I swam to shore. (As a side note, after spending the whole day with Brett the Aussie, I can’t help but type this post in “Australian”, using ‘mate’ and ‘proper’ a fair amount). Out of the water, I chatted with the mom and daughter who are originally from England but now live in French just outside of Geneva. After seeing the boys having some good fun jumping on an inflatable trampoline in the middle of the water, I had to join them. This inflatable contraption actually had two trampolines connected by a rolling plastic log. My first inclination was to run across this 15 foot long, precariously slick beam since I have been turning into quite the reckless daredevil lately. On my initial attempt, I nearly made it across but with one slippery step I splashed into the icy water. After my second attempt, I found myself once again in the water but with my side throbbing from smacking into the chilled lake. On the trampolines, I bounced around like the little kid I am in spirit. After practically losing all sense of feeling, the two boys and I swam to shore to dry off. I didn’t have a towel since I planned to dry off gradually on my walk back to the hostel but the mother of the family kindly let me use a towel of theirs. I ended up chatting with them for a little while longer until the family had to get going. Before they left, the mother offered her contact information so that if I happened to be in Geneva I should get in touch. It sure seemed like they were more than willing to show me around Geneva and possibly give me a place to stay. The sense of hospitality in Europe is incredible. Maybe I have the wrong impression but in America you wouldn’t invite someone into your house like that after just meeting them. I headed back to the hostel but took the long way back to enjoy the many views of the mountains longer. Also, walking past the uniquely old and homely houses of the Swiss was also worthwhile. Looking up at the snow capped mountains knowing I was up there with them earlier in the day is a crazy thought. I don’t know what makes mountains so special but something about these random natural occurrences beats anything a museum or big city can offer. Not only are the views priceless, the satisfaction and serenity gained from them are free. I took so many pictures of the Alps but no angle or expensive camera could possibly capture how beautiful it looks and how at peace I felt in that moment. I must have looked like a mad man when people passed by because of the immense grin I had on my face. In the Alps, no museums are around that I had to run across town to see; I could simply take my time, be in the moment, and hope time could stand still for just a while longer.
Day 41: Fear Is Nothing