"Are you ready, Suzanne?" asks the man breathing down my back.
"Yes" I say with a confidence that belies how I really feel. But it's too late now to worry about what's ahead.
"Three, two, one, run!"
In Golden, B.C., adventure comes in many forms; paragliding is just one of them. With six national parks, two heritage rivers and a UNESCO World Heritage Site all within an easy drive, Golden could rightly bill itself as an adventure capital of Canada. If the idea of running off the side of a mountain doesn't appeal, there's hiking, climbing, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, skydiving, and stand-up paddle boarding on the Columbia River wetlands.
For something tamer, you can ride a chairlift over a grizzly bear sanctuary, or go for a guided walk with wild wolves. I just had three days, but that was enough to cram in multiple adventures. Here's how my three-waiver weekend unfolded.
Paragliding from Mount 7
Driving to the top of Mount 7 — named for the perfect number 7 formed by the snow that lingers each spring at the top of the mountain — Mike Waddington tells me what to expect. Waddington is a tandem paragliding pilot with years of experience and a calm, authoritative demeanor, characteristics you want in someone you're trusting with your life.
Waddington is also strategic. When we reach the top, walking the last 50 or so metres, he points to a narrow trail that disappears over the side. This is where the steepest, longest and fastest downhill mountain bike race in the world — the Psychosis — took place for ten years. I peer over the edge in horror. It's so steep it vanishes from view within a couple metres. Paragliding instantly feels safe, or at least safer. That's when Waddington hands me the waiver to sign, releasing him from any liability.
Moments later I watch as two paragliders ahead of us abort their take-offs, one after the other. Waddington assures me that won't happen to us and instructs me to watch the windsock on the side of the mountain. We're now strapped into the tandem harness and ready to launch. When the sock points directly towards us, Waddington tells me to run.
I'm afraid I'll run off the edge of the mountain before our wing inflates, but within three or four quick steps we're airborne. It's a quiet thrill with none of the mechanical noise and shuddering vibrations we associate with flying. Of course, all that's holding us up is a single wing made of gossamer thin fabric and thread. I don't look up.
The ground drops away and Waddington steers us toward a field far on the other side of the Columbia River, which winds lazily below us. I ask if we can catch a thermal and go higher but Waddington is reluctant to fly with clients close to the sides of mountains where the warm air rises. Instead, he offers another kind of thrill. "Do you like roller coasters?" he asks. "Love them," I say.
A few minutes later he pulls hard on a cord on one side of the wing, making the glider turn. Soon, we're revolving like a spinning top. The faster we turn, the harder I laugh, until I can't take it any more and beg him to stop.
Too soon we're heading for the field where we land as gently and as effortlessly as when we launched. It feels good to be back on the ground, but not as good as soaring soundlessly like a bird.
IF YOU GO:
Altitude Adventures provides tandem paragliding flights. Call 1-250-344-3214 or see www.AltitudeAdventures.ca
Stay: Kicking Horse River Lodge has comfortable rooms overlooking the river and Purcell Mountains. www.khrl.com
More information: www.tourismgolden.com
(Editors note: Pick up Pique next week for Part 2 of Suzanne's adventure in Golden).