“Oh oh!”, yelled Hugo. “What?”, I screamed. “Da ving collapse” yelled Hugo with his thick Austrian accent. “What?!”, I screamed. “Da ving it collapse”, yelled Hugo. “The wing collapsed?’, I screamed? “Ya”, yelled Hugo. “Oh oh”, I thought.
Hugo pulled frantically up and down on the paraglider cords with both arms. Up, then down, up then down, harder and harder, faster and faster to try and get the wing to reinflate. I looked up at the wing. When we took off from the side of the mountain the wing was a sleek and silky big purple bird gliding us through the warm summer sky. Now it was a jumbled ball of coloured nylon, deflated and limp like a punctured child’s birthday balloon.
I looked down at the town of Golden below. I could see people and roads and cars and the faint shape and colours of the 7-Eleven. The pressure of the upward push of gravity on my stomach made me nauseous.
“Damn,” yelled Hugo. I didn’t say anything. I just gripped tight on the straps of my harness. “Damned ving,” yelled Hugo as we started to spin downward. I closed my eyes.
I thought something like this might happen but took the job anyway. I had been hired by an advertising firm to shoot photos of paragliding. They had heard that I make my living doing, what I call, Natural Selection photography and asked me to come here- to Golden British Columbia- to fly with legendary Austrian paraglider pilots Hugo and Felix. I don’t trust gravity, and as a climber, I am used to being attached to the side of the mountain with a rope. So, I am always skeptical about new things where gravity can make the physics of fun a bad adventure. But I took the job anyway.
We launched off the side of the mountain an hour before by running down the slope; me strapped to the front of Hugo. We ran and ran until our feet were pedalling air. We floated through the Columbia valley following Felix who was flying ahead of us. Up down, back and forth we flew around the green valley full of mountains. I loved the shooting. It was a stunning seen of mountains and the orange glow of the calm, summer evening light and the colourful paraglider and the green and the river. Click, click, click. The memory cards filled quickly with the amazing scene. Then I heard Hugo yell. Now all I could feel was the taunting pull of gravity and the warm air whipping past my face.
I opened my eyes and looked up at the wing. It spun wildly. I got more nauseous and felt sick. Remembering that someone had told me the trick to not being nauseous was to try and stare at a fixed object, I tilted my head to stare straight out. I tried to focus on the mountain in the distance, but the spinning changed the view to another mountain and then sky and then down the river valley and then mountain, then river, then mountain, then sky. Mountain, river, sky, mountain, river, sky and around and around and around we spun. I felt like I was going to throw up.
“Shit,” yelled Hugo. I looked down and saw the roads and the cars and people looking up at us and the red 7-Eleven looked bigger. Around and around and down and down we spun, me harnessed to the front of Hugo like an infant. I could feel his heartbeat. Hugo flapped his arms frantically to try and keep us in the sky. The scenery smeared by my view as a streak of brown, green and blue. Around and around and downward we spun. I dry heaved.
My head hung down staring at the approaching gravel and road and people- their eyes wide. They were yelling something. Hugo kept flapping and tugging and yelling at the wing.
Seconds later we spun in a hard circle to the right and I felt the firm, rough road scrape my feet, then my knees and felt the weight of Hugo crush me into the paved parking lot. I could see people running toward us and the glow of the 7-Eleven sign looming above me.
We untangled ourselves from the mess of nylon and cords and stood up. I was bleeding a bit and Hugo’s flight suit was torn at the shoulder. We spent the next hour sitting on the nearby grass sipping Dr. Pepper Slurpee’s.
Later I drove home to Canmore stopping every few minutes to stand barefoot on the cold night pavement to dry heave into the darkness.