OK, if you were shooting a video here’s what you’d see:
Behind me are the Dolomites, the rugged crenellated mountains that saw through the northern reaches of Italy. Facing me, maybe thirty kilometers on the horizon, the Gulf of Venice gleams in the summer sun and just to the right, barely discernible, Venice looks like a smudge on the sea (although describing Venice as a smudge seems sacrilegious). Above me my paragliding wing is a thin neon green strip of fabric outlined against the blue sky and 500 meters straight down the church steeple in the tiny Italian village of Dardago is peeking up at me between my boots. It's so far below me it looks like a child's toy village.
A funny sight that; it catches me off guard. I imagine I am Gulliver, my huge feet stomping through the village.
But this whole paragliding thing is catching me off guard. I was pumped for an adrenalin filled adventure, something akin to skydiving or bungee jumping. But this is different. Sure, it’s exciting but it doesn’t have that falling-to-your death feel of jumping out of an airplane or plunging off a bridge.
I knew from the get go that this was a different kind of adventure. I hooked into my harness, took a half dozen running steps down a gentle alpine meadow above Dardago and—almost belatedly—I realized I was no longer standing on Mother Earth.
I spy Michael and friend flying in formation near the valley floor a thousand or so feet below us. They are skimming along, seemingly able to touch their boots on treetops, although they later said they were much higher. It’s a beautiful sight, two brightly colored paragliders in a gentle ballet over the picturesque Italian countryside.
I suppose it sounds like a cliche to say I feel like a bird--in fact, I know it does because I say those very words a few minutes after landing and my son and his friend give me such a raft of crap I instantly regret it. (But just between us, it's true.)
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I loved paragliding. It’s a dichotomy, both exciting and relaxing. Paragliding is as close as a human can come to flying like a bird. I didn’t use any verbs like plummet, lunge or dive because this isn’t that kind of sport. Like any extreme sport, it can be dangerous but it doesn’t seem that way; when you’re lazily soaring over a gorgeous countryside, danger is the last thing on your mind.
Details: Pay your money and take a tandem flight, it’s that easy. But be forewarned, the sport is almost immediately addicting. If you get the bug you’ll want to get your (required) paragliding license. In the states, check out the U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, http://www.ushpa.aero/ for info on schools, requirements and tandem and solo flights.