600 feet

We had finished our tour of Italy and were worn out from all of the clubbing. We needed to focus on something else besides women and boozing. Getting on the train in Rome, we set our sights on Switzerland. Our goal was to make a quick stopover to take on some adrenaline-pumping activities in the great outdoors. We had heard of this mystical thing called “summer skiing” and we were determined to check it out. Imagine throwing on some skis and hitting the slopes in the middle of July. This I had to experience. We also heard that one could attempt the highest bungee jump in the world. The drop was 600 feet and there was no looking back. The skiing was at the top of our agenda and if we got the nerve, we would also go for the jump.

Our first stop was a place called Zermatt. It was in this beautiful little Swiss hamlet where the skiing took place. The skiing wasn’t next to just some mountain. We would be cruising down the slopes next to the Matterhorn. Yes, the same Matterhorn that Teddy Roosevelt climbed to the top. This was definitely a cool place to check out. We arrived at the train station in Zermatt very early in the morning. In fact, it was still dark and nothing was going on. There was no way we could mosey down the street and find an open hostel. Our choices were limited and my buddy Khan and I decided to crash on the platform of the train station. This is a common occurrence in the backpacking world. Nobody ever seems to mind too much. Even though it was in the middle of summer, there was still quite a chill in the air. After all, we were at the base of an enormous glacier. So, needless to say, it was a damn cold morning sleeping on that concrete platform.

Not really getting too much shut-eye, we awoke very early, eager to get to a ski shop and then hit the slopes. One of the keys to summer skiing is getting out early. The window of opportunity for good snow only lasts until about 2 in the afternoon. After 2, the snow starts to resemble snow cone slush consistency. We found the nearest ski shop and soon emerged with all the gear to tackle the mountain. Next, we had to find our way to the base of the mountain. This was not like skiing on the East coast at Killington or something. To reach the top of this mountain, you needed to board a very large tram and take a 15-minute journey to the skiing area. The only way to ski in the summer is to ski on top of a glacier at a very high altitude. And the only way to reach that height is to take this tram ride. Also, we were not all bundled up from the cold. We didn’t even have any gloves on. The temperature was quite nice and all that was required was a long sleeved shirt with a turtleneck underneath.

Once we reached the top of the mountain, we were literally up in the clouds. Next to us was the majestic profile of the Matterhorn. It was a thrilling moment to look around and realize that you were near the top of the world, admiring one of its most famous mountaintops. Damn, what a thrill. I can still feel the exhilaration running through my body on that day. It was definitely a moment to pause and feel the power of nature all around you. After taking a few photos, we proceeded to ski our asses off over the next few hours. The skiing was excellent. For lunch, we cruised over to a lovely mountaintop restaurant that just so happened to be situated right across the Swiss line in Italy. Yes, that is right. We skied in Switzerland next to the Matterhorn and then dined in Italy for lunch. The journey from one country to the next was a mere 2-minute jaunt across the lower slope. Taking this fact in was pretty cool.

By 2pm, the snow was turning to slush. It was time to head back down. I mean the fact that we are even skiing at all in July is a bloody miracle. So quitting at 2 was fine with me. We had skied at the height of summer next to the Matterhorn. Enough said. Once we got down to the fairy tale town of Zermatt, we caught the next train to Interlaken. This is a must stop for all who enter Switzerland. It is smack dab in the middle of the Alps and just screams out breathtaking beauty. This was also the place where we were going to attempt the highest bungee jump in the world. In Interlaken, there is only one place to hang your hat for a few days. That place is Balmers. Balmers seems to be the only hostel around. If you don’t stay there, you’re not really staying in Interlaken. It is a very well organized place, with activities galore. If you want to go bungee jumping, hiking, or canyoning, you can sign up at Balmers. They have got the market covered. The only down side is that there are too many yanks staying there, almost to the point of a frat party breaking out. Hey, but if this is your thing, embrace it. You just might find your future spouse in one of the hammocks.

Our mission was clear: Wake up the next day and scare the shit out of ourselves. We decided to double our trouble with a warm-up run of canyoning. This activity is illegal in the States due to insurance reasons. The attire is a helmet and a protective life vest. You follow your guide down a series of canyons, cliffs, ravines and waterfalls. It is pretty fun when you are sliding down a natural waterway or repelling down a steep cliff into a waiting pool of refreshing water. You do have to exert a bit of muscle to make it through all of the obstacles, but the adrenaline rush can’t be beat. There is a dangerous side to this thing and it’s called drowning. If a flash flood comes down from the mountains, there is nowhere to run. When the water comes down, you drown. I didn’t know about this risk at the time. I later read an article in People magazine about 19 or so people who last their lives doing this same activity in basically the same area. That makes you think twice, but, hey, we were ignorant at the time.

After the morning rush, we had a quick lunch and then headed to the bungee area. Driving up to the scene, the emotions started to kick in. I could see the tram on the wire, set against a beautiful backdrop of cliffs and a magnificent waterfall. I think it was the highest waterfall in Europe. I couldn’t believe that we were going to ride that tram to 600 feet and jump. But that is just what we did. We boarded the tram with about 7 others and started our ascent to 600 feet. There were 2 jumps, one at 300 and one at 600. We stopped at 300 and half the group jumped. If 300 looked pretty damn high, how was the 600 mark going to look? We were about to find out. On our way from 300 to 600, the Tom Petty tune, “Free Falling” was playing in the background. These Swiss knew what they were doing. My emotions were reeling. I was up and down like a roller coaster. I wanted to jump one minute and then not the next.

We finally reached the magic number. The key was to just run out of the tram without stopping or looking down. The first guy, a Japanese tourist, ran to the edge of the door and then stopped suddenly. This was not the way to do it. He finally went out screaming. Khan went next and then I was set to go after him. The Swiss got me ready with the cord and the words “check, check and check” to make sure all was secure. I held my breath and jumped. I was screaming like a girl all the way with my eyes barely open. At the beginning of the fall, I noticed that my right arm felt tangled in the cord. In a split second, I maneuvered my arm to a more natural position. I would soon find out that this move made all the difference in the world. I bounced back up a couple of times and then was lowered down to the ground. That was certainly one rush I would never forget. Once down on the ground, people started pointing to my right arm. When I took a look, there was a terrific rope burn running from my elbow to my shoulder. I quickly ascertained that if I had not moved my arm, I would be writing with my left hand today. I believe that my arm was tangled and that I had freed it during that split second maneuver. The result of my movement was the burn. The Swiss handlers couldn’t believe it. They had never seen anything like it. The crowd boarding the next tram got a bit of a fright. That was pretty funny. Khan and I headed for the train station and our next adventure. I doubted that we would top these last 2 days anytime soon.