The Highest Massage in the World
“Run, keep running, keep your knees up, run as if you are running all the way to Chamonix. Good, now sit back between my legs. How is that, Cherie?”
I am flying in the lap of a French paraglider named Frank (pronounced “Fronk”). We just ran in the snow with a wing on Frank’s back and with Frank on my back off the side of a mountain at 7300 ft, the tree line. The town below looks like a relief map. The snow-covered mountains tower to my right. I can almost touch them. An avalanche has just thundered down above us. It is sunny and clear, beautiful weather, and I can see forever.
I am in awe, soaring like a bird on the currents. Then his hands were on my shoulders. “This is the highest massage in the world,” he murmured into my ear. Oooh la la, keep going, I’m thinking, but he needs to use his hands to pilot the paraglider. I think I need a cigarette, and I don’t even smoke. I ask him to go slow, take his time, we have all day. We chat about flying to Grenoble. Turns out he’s been the French champion of cross-country paragliding. Trees below, then high-altitude farms, then I can see between my feet that we’re over the town, directly over cars and streets and hotels. With a final swing around, we land in a field, “light as a butterfly,” he said. I have never felt so exhilarated, wanting to go back up again, from a higher point this time, for a longer ride.
We started out today with an 830am trip to the top of the mountain, to see the world at its most clear and fresh, sharing the cable car with skiers and climbers and their gear. We came back down for breakfast, then turned around an hour later to meet Sean Potts of www.fly-chamonix.com and his paragliding team at the base of the cable car for our flight. The guys get boots and I get gaiters as we have to tramp through the snow a bit at the top to get to the take-off spot.
At the 7300 foot level, we watch as another tandem paraglider team who arrived before us tried to take off, but couldn’t catch the air in the chute right, so fell back in the snow. They tried twice, then it was my turn. I received the running instructions and got ready. One, two, three, go and my legs are flailing in the snow as the wind turns us sideways, the chute collapses, and I end up in a face plant in the snow with Fronk on top of me. Hmmm… not the best start.
George and Sean give it a try. They go up, up, up, and away. My turn again. We run, run, run, then liftoff. I sit back. Amazing. Not scary at all, soaring with my Frenchman above the valley. We catch currents and go up a bit, then turn, back and forth, lower each time, until we land.
The girl who was trying to go before us took off, then it was Morgan’s turn. While George flew with Sean Who Could Explain All the Scientific Details and I flew with the Sexy Frank, Morgan got Baptiste the Acrobat, who dusted the tops of the trees with the bottom of their feet, let Morgan steer, and came down fast in a “death” spiral before landing perfectly spot-on in our field.
We help our guys pack their wings away in their huge backpacks and get a ride back into town. We are too excited to go back to our room and a little hungry, so we use our 2 day cable car pass one last time go back up the mountain, past our paragliding take-off spot, to the 12000 foot level to celebrate with lunch and beer. The clouds are coming in now and only Mont Blanc is visible. Suddenly, we are extremely tired. It’s all we can do to get down the hill and back to our room, totally spent. Everyone is satisfied. It just doesn’t get any better than this.