Tuesday, March 17, 2015

hi ho, hi ho, into the canyon I go

I spent the evening warming up, and going back and forth between paragliding and canyoning in my head. Did I want to fly through the air for a few minutes with one stranger in control of my life? Or did I want to (sadly) attempt to conquer the canyon with a group of strangers in penguin suits? 

Ultimately, I'd rather do a group venture than something essentially by myself. Canyoning it was...but was it too late to sign up? I shot off a frantic e-mail to the company and set my alarm just in case. It was in Swiss hands now...

It was no mistake that I dreamt of falling over large cliffs. Or maybe that was the bed. My alarm sounded and I checked my e-mail. Nothing. I padded out to the bathroom with no lock and prayed no one would walk in on me peeing. I checked my e-mail once again...I had heard back from the company and they wondered could I be ready in time for the 9am canyoning departure?! I had to call and let them know.

I bolted down millions of stairs to my favorite lady at reception and asked to borrow the phone. "Why?" Negative Nancy asked. 

"NANCY I DON'T HAVE TIME FOR YOUR SHIT!" I wanted to scream. Instead I politely and rapidly explained my time crunch. I had less than 15 minutes to call and arrange my certain doom in the canyon, get dressed, and pull myself together mentally for this adventure. Although, I was pretty sure no amount of time would prepare me for what I was about to do!

I quickly grabbed anything I figured I might need, and since the company had promised an extra towel for me, the towel-less, I was as ready as I would ever be. Then the van was there to pick me up to bring me to the pre-canyoning location. I was glad that it all happened fast, giving me less time to dwell on the fear radiating through my body.  

I arrived at the "offices" of Alpin Raft, and after signing my life away on a bunch of forms, joined the rest of the canyoning group for instructions. To my surprise I spotted a familiar face. My Swiss hippie friend, Matty, was there with a big smile. 

"You made it!" he said. I had. Turned out the other photographer couldn't work, so he took the trip. I was glad to have a buddy accompanying me on this frightening activity I'd chosen. 

The realization sets in...

We gathered gear in our size, and wrapped it all up into a bundle of adventure. Since I had missed the instructions due to my last minute arrival, Matty helped me compile my items. Next, and probably most importantly for me, we had to choose a helmet. Not just any helmet though. A helmet with a name in bold on it, that our guides would refer to us as in lieu of our real names. This was right up my alley. I reached in and grabbed one. Poof. This would be my name for the day. Poof.

I jumped in the van armed with my new persona, and we were off. To the canyon we go! We were split up into two vans for our ride out, with a good looking guide as our driver as a bonus. I was in a van with a group of fun, young, english speaking people. I was glad I had chosen to do a group adventure, giving me the opportunity to meet new people. 

After a quick pit stop, we arrived at the "dressing" location. If you're picturing a large, open field on the side of the road for everyone to put their gear on, then you are correct. 

We unwrapped our adventuring packages, aka wetsuits and booties, and attempted to get into them. I say attempted because it was NOT easy. Time was also of the essence seeing as it was about 40 degrees and we were all standing there in our bathing suits trying to squeeze into the skintight material. 

After we were all dressed up for the canyon, we were split up into our groups for the actual canyoning. Since I was a loner, they threw me in the mix with the group that had ridden in the other van. I'd be lumbering through the canyon with a small Korean gang. None of which spoke English. And the one other loner, a young Indian guy donning the name "Fanny" on his helmet. 

We drove up and up, until it became apparent that we'd have to go down at some point. My face was frozen in terror. I knew the first thing on the agenda would be rappelling down into the canyon. But surely this was higher than 150 feet? Matty looked back at me and winked. "You'll be okay Poof" he said. Right.

Our van was first, which meant our group would be the first to go over the cliff. Which meant I was mere minutes away from rappelling. My legs were shaking as I exited the van. We lined up, and listened to instructions. Matty positioned himself with his camera to get the best shots of us hurling into the abyss. We peered over the edge, into the canyon. It was then that I realized my mistake. I had been thinking 150 FEET all along. BUT IT WAS METERS, PEOPLE. Big difference, and much further down. My inner freak out grew exponentially. 

"See you down there!" he said. 
"Yeah, I'll be shitting my pants" I replied, my teeth chattering with cold, but mostly fear.
"I'll make sure to get really good pictures of that" was his witty response.

I was feeling generous, so I allowed everyone else in my group to go before me. Ha. "You're going to have to go at some point!" the guides assured me. "I know" I squeaked at a decibel probably only dogs could hear. I stood there, knowing that in a matter of minutes it would be my turn. I tried to recall my days of Girl Scouts, knowing full well it wouldn't help unless we'd be making brownies. 

I watched each member of my group go over the edge, with my heart pounding wildly in my chest. At this point everyone was aware of how scared I was and I wasn't sure my shaking hands and legs would even work properly. Then, it was my turn. They snapped me into the harness and I thought I would throw up. I looked down into the canyon at the now very tiny Koreans (and Fanny) waving up at me. I was the last to go, and they were all cheering me on. I couldn't let Korea down. 

If I could just will myself to put my trembling leg over the guard rail. Somehow, I managed and I was now on the wrong side of the guard rail, gripping on for dear life. "Lean back!" the guide said. He sounded very stern so I figured I better listen. I moved my hands from the rail to my harness, and leaned back as slowly as humanly possible. I was now dangling 150 METERS above the ground. If this didn't challenge my fear of heights, then I don't know what would. 

Most likely where the "shitting of the pants" occurred

I was expected to move, and start "walking" down the side of the cliff. I took the tiniest of tiny baby steps, of course. The stern, yet good looking guide appeared semi-annoyed. I wasn't making much progress, so I stepped up my game a bit and took bigger steps. He helped this along by letting out more rope at an increasingly quicker rate so I basically didn't have a choice. 

Pure terror

About half way down they told me to stop, and push off the wall of the cliff, letting go of the harness with my hands in the air for an optimum photo shot. YEAH FREAKING RIGHT. "Just do it!" they yelled. I did the weakest attempt possible to shut them up, and kept on my way. 

I was about halfway now, and the guide's patience was wearing thin. He speedily gave more rope, and I could hear the Koreans getting louder. I was almost there! Suddenly I landed in the water. I had done it! I rappelled down into the canyon! I watched as the guides and Matty plunged themselves into the canyon by literally running down the cliff wall. Show offs. 

The celebration with Fanny and the Koreans was short lived, because, in fact, we still had to traverse through the entire canyon. But even so, I had done the thing that challenged my fear of heights most thus far and I felt accomplished; and cold.

I jumped up and down continuously in my struggle to keep my extremities from going numb, since it was in the 40's and we were in freezing cold water. The Koreans thought I was funny. The guides told us to follow them, making sure to take the exact path they went, and not to veer off in any other directions as it may not be safe. The canyon seemed unpredictable, as did the Koreans at this point seeing as they didn't understand any of the directions they were being told. 

Let's go over the cast of characters here. I follow in line with our two guides, one who is a cross between Bill Murray and John C. Reilly (from Stepbrothers), and one who is some sort of Swiss God of the canyon. I'm in the mix with Fanny, the very young Indian guy I mentioned previously, and the Korean gang composed of a few guys and girls. They are not actually a gang, but, although despite this fact, they continue to throw random gang signs out there when posing for pictures. One of which, the largest of the pack, thinks he's Spiderman. No, really.

We trudge along for a few minutes, careful not to slip on the rocks, or lose our footing and be swept away, until we reach our first obstacle. 

It is here that I learn that I am meant to lay on my back and be pulled via my feet by the stern guide and rock slide backwards into some water riddled with boulders. Excellent.

I land in the frigid canyon water, sputtering, as the water seeps into my helmet and penguin suit. Brrrr! Once I recover (mostly), I feel slightly exhilarated by the fact that I had made it through the first two obstacles. Bring on the next one!


Immediately I want to take that thought back when I witness what's up next. There's no harness involved, just a free jump into the waters of the Arctic. The Murray-Reilly hybrid stands with me at the edge and starts counting.."3,2,1!" 

But I don't move.

"I didn't do it." I say plain as day. "I noticed" he responds. Ok, I'm really ready this time. Only what if I don't land the exact right way they told me in the instructions and break both my legs off while simultaneously smashing my head on a boulder? I didn't have time for this nonsense, neither did the Korean gang, so I jumped.

I call that series of pictures "hideousness in the canyon." 

The chubby Korean is at this point, shooting his pretend web out of his wrists all over the GD canyon, since he is, in fact, Spiderman. Fanny keeps creepily whispering words of encouragement to me as we trek along, and it's SUPER difficult to move like my usual (nimble) self in this wetsuit. All true.

Next up, the we-harness-you-in-and-lower-you-backwards-down-the-biggest-rock-you've-ever-seen portion of the adventure.

And because Matty was taunting me for a picture in which I didn't sport an expression of absolute horror, I delivered.

Cheesey thumbs up for Matty

Next up was a natural waterslide. 

This seemed fun but I needed a little push seeing as it was pretty much a 90 degree angle.

Next we had to traverse through a tiny sliver in the canyon via zip line and I wondered two things:
1. would chubby Korean Spiderman get stuck?
2. would he use his own line of web for the zipline?

Shooting webs out of BOTH arms 

For our last trick we would zip line a ways and then drop into the water below when they yelled at us to let go...

stellar form

nailed it

And so, it appears that I survived the canyon. Just as I was internally celebrating my victory, chubby Korean Spiderman approached me and pointed. "You panda eyes" he said, laughing. Right. So maybe I was a bit disheveled, but I had done it.

Gang's all here...literally

 We headed back to the field and I could not wait to get rid of the wetsuit and be warm. If only I had a towel...

Matty to the rescue. He let me borrow his, and I was grateful. I just had to get myself out of this wetsuit. Easier said then done. Fanny took it upon himself to assist me. Which at first was fine, until it wasn't. That moment occurred around the time that he was struggling to peel off a part of my wetsuit and exclaimed, "Sorry if I'm being rough."  

I made eye contact with Matty who had overheard, and now could barely contain his amusement. 

All around me, my fellow canyoners were almost naked, attempting to get dressed and dry off. Naked in a field on the side of a Swiss road. I was famished.

As if reading my mind, the guides set to work chopping and slicing at a makeshift table, and we all built tasty sandwiches and drank beer. 

With a half of beer still in my hand, it was time to leave. Just as I was about to get rid of it, Matty informed me that I could bring it along in the van. "Road sodie?!" I excitedly exclaimed. All of the guides wore smirks.."sure if that's what you Americans call it." We did. And I happily sipped my road sodie on the van ride back. 

Turns out Fanny was becoming increasingly a little too comfortable with the group as he sat shotgun on the way back. I was directly behind Martin, the guide that lead the other group but that I thought was pretty damn hot. His accent didn't hurt either. Fanny proceeded to talk Martin's ear off the entire ride back, from his life story in India to his opinionated thoughts on women, marriage and his definitive stance that "wives should cook" and belong in the kitchen. 

I was about ready to smack Fanny and could barely contain myself when we arrived back at the canyoning offices. As Fanny jumped out of the car, he had the gall to ask me for my facebook information. "I don't use facebook" I lied. 

As he walked away Martin commented, "Careful, I think he had plans to make you his wife." 

Not in a million years Martin, not in a million years.

*All photos courtesy of Matty, from Alpin Raft.

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