The Paragliding Story

paragliding in Chamonix, France

In honor of Earth Day I’m resharing one of my most memorable experiences with this place we call home.
Written September 12, 2012

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You would think that after backpacking over 100 miles we would do nothing for weeks. Most normal people probably would, but not the Coulter crew. I have grown to love this about them. We are never idle which means we’re always experiencing something new.

The day after we finished the Tour du Mont Blanc, I woke up around 7:45AM, grabbed a book, left Dominique and Rachel sleeping in our room, and ventured downstairs to the lobby of our hotel to read outside and enjoy my last morning in France. To my surprise, I found everyone else sitting in the lobby.

Patty: “Where’s your pack?!”

Me, confused: “Uh, up in the room. Why?”

Patty: “We’re going to breakfast at 8:30. Are the girls up?”

The girls were definitely not up.

I turned around, went back upstairs with my book, and woke up the girls. They were equally confused. Our room did not get the morning memo.

As we were packing up to leave the hotel, I noticed a farmer’s market setting up in the middle of town, so we ventured out to the market.

Lucas bought us fresh, juicy peaches.

And after the farmers market, we hopped a bus to Chamonix. To give you a little context, Chamonix was the city we were overlooking from our refuge the last night of the TMB.The mountains in the background were where we had made our final descent of the Tour du Mont Blanc. It was incredible to stand in the city and be surrounded by the mountains we had just backpacked. Such a unique perspective.
This was our reenactment of the statue in the center of Chamonix pointing to Mont Blanc. Dominique was apparently pointing to a different Mont Blanc than Rach. And, this is what the statue points to:Seeing hundreds of paragliders in the sky the past couple of days on the trail made some people in our group want to give it a try. I was not one of those people. You see, I am a lover of being safely rooted on solid ground. I don’t like heights. But you’ll climb a mountain? Ok. So maybe I should say, I don’t like certain circumstances surrounding heights. For instance, when I’m standing on a small platform of a high ropes course, and the instructor says, “Just step off.” My response is, “NO.” I do not just step off into nothing, with or without a harness. It goes against everything in me. This principle applies to skydiving for me. “Just step out of this plane.” I say no, thank you.

So, when Charles said he had reserved 5 spots for paragliding, I quickly began counting (sane) heads and inquired as to who he thought was going to paraglide. I was on that short list. I mulled it over for a bit and then told Charles I was worried I might get up there, panic, and we’d lose the money for the ticket. He made me a deal. If I got up there and decided I didn’t want to do it, then he would happily take my spot. Win win.And then came the big moment. A van pulled up, five guys with enormous packs on their backs jumped out like the A-Team, and said in a thick French accent, “Coulter?”

Yep.

That was it. All of a sudden we were following them through the gondola turnstiles on our way BACK up the mountain we had hiked down the previous day.

Three of the guys jumped into a gondola car with their gargatuan packs and told me and Dominique to follow. In broken English, and zero French, we made our introductions and tried chatting with them during the sweltering 10-minute ride up the mountain. That gondola was akin to a sauna with no circulation whatsoever. We were sweating profusely and I was starting to get nauseous. And then one of the guys asked if either of us gets car sick. I raised my hand. All of a sudden there was a lot of chatter among the guys…in French. Dominique looked at me and mumbled under her breath, “They’re trying to decide who has to take the sick girl.” Real funny. Apparently it is common to get “air sick” because of the high altitude, winds, and well, because you’re spinning like a helicopter in the sky.

The gondola arrived at the top and we gladly jumped out. At this point, I think we were all expecting to be pulled off to the side in a small huddle, introduced to our pilots, given instructions on what was about to take place, assured we weren’t going to die. You know, the usual, sign the typical American waiver saying I am doing this insane thing of my own free will, no one is holding a gun to my head, if I die it’s my own stupid fault. Etc. Etc.

Nope. Each pilot just takes off toward the designated take-off spot, finds an open area on the grass, and starts pulling gear out of their packs. Literally, within minutes we were suited and ready to go. This was probably a good thing because there was no time to think or panic or anything. It happened so quickly.

My pilot was named Jerome. It does not sound like Jerome the way he says it. It’s more like “zscher ohm” with a bit of a throat-clearing in the middle. And my name did not really sound like Heidi when he said it with his thick accent. I have found that my name is not very conducive to foreign languages. So simple, but that H and the “hi” sound at the beginning throws everyone off.

Anyway, right off the bat, Jerome handed me a camera on a stick to hold while he fiddled with the equipment. I assumed I would be giving the camera back to him at some point. But no, I was holding that sucker as we took off.

Here’s Rachel running off the mountain. Our only instructions for take off were to put your shoulders down and run. Easier said than done. I was surprised that when Jerome said to run, I could barely run forward. The wind resistance was so strong that we were actually pulled backward at first. But, we made it!


Jerome was great about asking if I was feeling sick. I did get a slight headache and my stomach was nauseous near the end but otherwise it was so cool to be up close and personal with the mountains. We were about 3,000 meters (almost 10,000 feet) up in the air, and our rides lasted about 20-25 minutes. We found out when we landed that Carol had given her pilot a thrill when she threw up…in the air. Yikes. Poor Carol. We are still curious as to who got the pleasure of having that little treat land on them.

I sent Joey a text when we were back on the ground to tell him what I had just done. He responded, “WHAT?! My wife who is scared of heights?! I DON’T BELIEVE IT!” Believe it.

(Check out those SWEET tan lines)

We rewarded ourselves with four French macaroons that we each took turns sampling.


And after macaroons it was time for one last gelato before leaving France and heading to Switzerland to spend the night at Carmen’s house. I have to brag because my gelato was the best. I ordered two scoops (duh!), a limon sorbet, and a yogurt gelato. The combination was absolutely perfect. Refreshing and creamy.
We took a train from Chamonix to Geneva, and then Carmen and her husband drove us to their house in Switzerland where we picked berries and tomatoes in her amazing garden, and had dinner out on the porch.

The sausages were from the farmers market earlier in the day and almost all the salad was from Carmen’s garden as well. I could eat like that forever. I love it, and if I had any gardening skills whatsoever, I would have a garden just like Carmen’s.

This was my last night with the TMB crew. I flew out the next morning for my next adventure in Europe, James and Chloe’s wedding in England.

London, here I come…

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