Friday, January 4, 2013

Velocity, best served when terminal.

Liechtenstein.  A small country squeezed between the borders of Switzerland and Austria.  It started out as a fleeting thought in my head, to visit the country of Liechtenstein.  Then progressed into a challenge by some friends to make good on my word.

Having not a clue as to how to get to the capital city Vaduz by train from Milan, I walked up to the ticket office and asked for a one-way ticket to Liechtenstein.  This statement was received by the Italian ticket agent with a look of utter confusion followed by a blank stare. After a lengthy discussion in his broken english and my shattered Italian, coupled with some very elaborate hand gestures I had my ticket.

Nothing could have prepared me for how boring Liechtenstein would turn out to be.  Not the eight hour train ride with nearly double digit connections coupled with a 45 minute bus ride.  Not even the comments made by the police chief of Vaduz, who was kind enough to give me a ride from the bus station to the hostel, when he told me "yeah, it's pretty boring here" in response to my inquiry of exciting things to do in Liechtenstein.

Friday night in the heart of the capital city and there was not a hint of noise/music/people.  It was abundantly clear my imagination was led astray.  After my second conversation with a local Liechtensteinian ended with "yeah, not really a lot to do here" I conceded defeat to the sad reality that finally cornered my enthusiasm into checkmate.

How could I turn this non-adventure on its head?

-Terminal velocity of a falling body occurs during free fall when a falling body experiences zero acceleration. This is because of the retarding force known as air resistance. Air resistance exists because air molecules collide into a falling body creating an upward force opposite gravity. This upward force will eventually balance the falling body's weight. It will continue to fall at constant velocity known as the terminal velocity.-

I knew I was next to Switzerland, a country now firmly recognized in my mind as Liechtenstein’s alter ego. And in Switzerland I knew of the town Interlaken, where reaching terminal velocity is as common as ordering coffee in Seattle.

A rustic hostel in Interlaken provided accommodation and an appointment to fall out of a plane. I was scheduled for a tandem jump, meaning in addition to a parachute I would have a professional skydiver strapped to my back who, it is assumed, would also share my desire to not become "one" with the Swiss Alps at a high speed.

Once at the air field, a small group of us enjoyed the rather relaxed briefing typical of Europe’s laissez faire attitude towards “do”s and “don’t”s. The briefing from the jumpmaster, in its entirety, was something like "Have arms next to chest when exit the plane.  Don't pull on cords. I do that."

Outfitted in vintage jumpsuits, a group of us walked towards the plane. I waved to young children that were (oddly) allowed to ride their bikes in and around the runway. We boarded the loud and unruly plane, soon reaching eye level with the Alps.

Once we had reached the desired elevation the jumpmaster took hold of the buckles on my harness and clipped us together. We were going to be the first to go, seated right next to the elongated door, which the jumpmaster inched open enough to poke his head out and examine the drop zone, 13,000 feet below.

The wind consumed the inside of the airplane, you had to yell to be heard. "FEET OUT!" was shouted into my left ear. I thought briefly about discussing our options, but respecting his profession, I did as I was told and dangled my feet out the door.

Out the door and falling 125 mph I was certain my face resembled Jack Nicholson's “Joker”. I was told later, 8 seconds into the 50 second free-fall we hit terminal velocity. After the parachute opened I looked across the soaring Alps in the direction of Liechtenstein. I decided that should anyone ever ask if Liechtenstein was worth seeing I would say:

"yes, preferably falling from 13,000 feet above Interlaken Switzerland."

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