My down jacket rustled under my arms as I strode alongside the river, mountaintops rising into dusty gray clouds that hung overhead. The town of Interlaken, Switzerland, was tinged blue, even the nestled clusters of cottages had a tint that seemed to reflect the expansive cool mountains.
The guide standing at the small wooden hut had a wash of brown stubble and was bundled in a bright winter jacket. As I waited other tourists in our parasail group gathered at the hut, the guide chatting and joking.
People descended from the clouds and landed on the grass across the street, giant neon parachutes following them.
He led the group into a van, and we began climbing up winding mountain roads into the tree line – where there was only patches of snow and brown withered grass. The peaks of the Swiss Alps stretched as far as I could see, snow caps peaking through wispy clouds.
We were strapped into harnesses, the guides tugging and pulling at dangling pieces to be sure we wouldn’t shift mid-flight. The guides instructed us to run full speed down the mountainside, them attached at the hip behind us until the parachute filled with air and we lifted into the clouds.
I watched as others hustled down the grassy slope, the guides waddling behind them with legs wide as to not be kicked until the parachute bloomed behind them and they disappeared into the grey sky.
It was my turn to jump off a mountaintop.
My combat boots slipped on the matted grass as I jogged down, the parachute billowing behind us and pulling backwards until my feet lifted from the ground. I pulled the cloth seat underneath me and sat back as we soared over the tops of pine trees and into the cold moisture of the clouds.
The sky opened up and the pointed steeples of churches and thatched roofs of homes appeared underneath us.
The sun beamed through the mask of clouds and lit up the wide blue sky. We took a controlled and steady descent towards the curving river and roads lacing through downtown Interlaken. It felt like the many flights I had taken before, but the without the dirty carpeted floors underneath my feet or weathered seat pockets hitting my kneecaps.
That is, until the guide asked me what level I wanted him to descend onto the ground with.
I chose medium, and our parachute quickly shifted behind us, my seat turning parallel to the ground in the beginning of a wide spiral towards the grass. The frigid air hit my face and turned my cheeks pink, knuckles white clasping the black harness. The mountains and rooftops below swirled around me in a disorienting blur as I tried to calibrate how far we were from the grassy landing zone.
Gradually our spiral became smaller until we faced the landing straight-on, the guide instructing me to run onto the grass as if stepping onto a treadmill. We stumbled onto the lawn, my heart racing, adrenaline still coursing through my body from our dizzying spiral downwards.
The guide unhooked our carabiners and led me back to the hut to loosen our harnesses. I collected my bags from behind the desk and slung them over my shoulder before beginning the trek to the train station.