Do you have the guts to take to the skies?
I must confess that I’m terrified of heights. Whenever I’m up in the air,
I’m visited by a familiar fear that’s been with me ever since I first rode a ski lift as a kid—
“If this cable breaks, how am I supposed to get back down?!”
Published: January 31, 2011
Let's Go To
The Shishiku Kogen highlands!
One day in November, my friends and I suddenly decided to try paragliding. Two of them were studying in Kanazawa for eight months as trainees, and were about to return to Mexico. Having experienced the list of normal activities—Karaoke, Izakaya, Salsa dancing, and bowling—we wanted to spend our last days together doing something memorable .
I sent them a message on Friday. “You guys interested in sailing through the air? Let’s go to the Shishiku Kogen Highlands to try paragliding next Sunday.”
The Shishiku Kogen Highlands is a ski hill famous for paragliding. Located between southern Kanazawa and Hakusan city, it's a short 40 minute drive from the heart of downtown Kanazawa. Finding the correct parking lot was trickier than I imagined. I parked my car near the gondola station, but the paragliding was actually closer to prefectural highway 103. The school has a parking lot next to the landing spot, so be sure to use that one!
When we arrived, a female instructor told us that it was too windy to take off just yet. She suggested that we watch a video introducing the school until the wind died down. Following that, we filled out our application, paid the fee, and took a bathroom break, just in case.
Oh sure, it looks easy when you’re watching it on TV…
Time for our gondola ride to the top! They drove us and our equipment to the station, where we bought a one-way lift ticket. The gondola was backed up with people there to view the autumn leaves, who gave us and our huge chair bags curious stares. On our way up we were treated to a beautiful panorama of red and yellow foliage, and the pulsing adrenaline fed our natural high.
“Who wants to go first?” Asked the female instructor at the top of the gondola station. We nominated our friend, Perla! Her fear of heights made her a tough sell, but we managed to talk some sense into her.
The instructor continued as she helped Perla into her equipment, “Keep running until you achieve takeoff! She took a screaming Perla by the arm and connected their equipment together. “No no no no! Wait! Aaaah!” Perla pleaded, but it was too late. They shot up in the sky as if snatched by a giant eagle. I didn’t know that paragliding could be so majestic. From a top the mountain, we watched them circling slowly, growing smaller with each revolution.
Now it’s Absalon’s turn! He was quick to send an enthusiastic response to my e-mail invitation. You’re a real man, amigo! The helmet is very becoming. Absalon and the female instructor are ready for take off! Run! Run! Run!The cloth chute wavered upwards for a moment before rocketing them into the air! It was worth coming just to see that. A round of applause sounded from the crowd with every takeoff.
My turn at last! Should I be terrified or excited? In either case, its time to suit up. They recommend that you bring a pair of gloves and wear long sleeves or a jacket and pants. I mistakenly assumed that this was to keep warm on the mountain. Needless to say, the thick tights, shorts and long moccasins weren’t proper attire!
They had me wear a flight suit to protect my body in case I fall down as I land. You can end up with scrapes and bruises even on a clean landing, so better safe than sorry. Plus, you feel like an astronaut wearing it!
My instructor double checked our restraints, and the next thing I knew, whoosh! I was in the sky. Is this for real? I’m supposed to be afraid of heights! But I stayed calm, and grabbed my chair to level myself off. Still, the height is frightening. The instructor suggested that I take a picture, but I was too scared to take my hands off the chair. I needed to feel connected to something solid. My instructor chuckled at my fear. “Shall I take us into a spin?” Um, maybe next time. “But Perla did it. Twice!”
The last member of our group, Takayo, was right behind me. I readied my camera to snap her as she came down. “There she is!” An instructor pointed to the sky. It was between four and five in the afternoon. The glow from the sunset silhouetted her paraglider for a beautiful shot. Takayo circled down slowly and finally landed safely. We all made it! Will I be going again any time soon? Well, I am curious to see what it’s like to spin...