While in Chamonix, France (the base from which hikers and alpinists get to Mt. Blanc), I would look up and see a dozen or more multi-hued sails floating through the air with two people attached to them: an instructor and a newbie, paragliding. It looked irresistible to me, and I decided I had to try it.
With the help of the wonderful staff at our small hotel, we found a company and I signed up for a noon meeting with my instructor, David, at the base of the ski lift that would take us to the jumping off spot. He checked all his lines (there were dozens) and helped me into my harness, which was similar to a climbing harness so I was a little familiar. He told me he would tell me when to run off the cliff and to not stop running until we were in the air. He also apologized that his previous customer, after insisting on doing aerial acrobatics, had thrown up on him and he hoped it didn't smell too bad. I assured him I couldn't smell anything. So we took several running steps and found ourselves airborne. It was amazing, thrilling, beautiful. Unfortunately almost immediately after take off I began feeling slightly nauseated – nothing two serious but a little uncomfortable. It was better when he talked to me so he pointed out several things including two small glaciers that we're right in front of us. He, as a Chamonix native probably about 30 years old, pointed out that they had receded drastically in his lifetime "due to global warming" he said.
I found this little exchange enlightening, like it was just a normal thing for a regular person (not a scientist or political activist) to bring up the issue of climate change, like it was just a fact of life and not controversial at all. Of course in France and just about everywhere else in the world outside the U.S., it is just a fact and not controversial at all. It’s also very sad (and devastating for the Chamonix economy) that the glaciers are disappearing.
We took several great hikes on our own before we were to meet up with the group and leader who would guide us through the three countries around Mt. Blanc. Unfortunately, an hour before we were to meet, Rob threw his back out and we ended up using our trip insurance to come home almost a week early, since he felt that doing several more days of rigorous hiking (and especially the downhills) would be either impossible or foolish.
He thought the problem started as we sat in the economy section of the flight going over, so we got booked on Business Class on a non-stop flight from Geneva to New York. That was a first for me and truly amazing. How was it different from what I like to call “steerage”? Let me count the ways. The bathrooms are twice as big, with free tubes of moisturizer available. We were offered a hot, damp washcloth at the beginning and end of the flight to refresh ourselves. There were tons of movies and TV shows available for free. The food – two full meals – was excellent. There was tons of leg room. And the seats were set up in alternating rows, so everyone on board had a chance to fully recline. (In other words, no one was sitting directly behind or in front of another passenger.) And one of the flight attendants came by and asked me by name if I needed anything.
Ironically, a few days earlier I’d read an article saying how damaging air travel is for the planet but suggesting ways to minimize one’s carbon footprint if one is going to fly anyway. It said that flying first class or business (which seem the same to me) can generate up to 9 times the global warming gases of a seat in economy. So it was a little ironic that as we flew in those seats, Rob was reading a book about climate change.