of ash and ahs

On the long way down,
The screaming girl approaches
Rocks and dam, she thinks.

Hello, friends!

This weekend I had the chance to do the world's highest fixed-point bungee jump without guide ropes.

Remember that scene from the opening of Goldeneye? Yeah. So that's the Verzasca dam in Switzerland (near Lucerno, in the southeastern--Italian--part of the country). It's about 4 and a half hours from Geneva by car.

Julius and Malte (my dear Jugger friends from last summer!) came down to visit me and to pile me and some of my coworkers into cars to make the drive. Five of us plunked 195CHF onto the counter and strapped into bungee gear. YOU CAN FUCKING DO THIS STUNT.

The dam is 220m high, and it's slightly concave, so the bouncing and such doesn't actually bring you anywhere close to the wall or the ground.  But it's a helluva long drop: 7 seconds of free fall before the rope catches you for your first bounce.  And what a bounce it is.

I was trying to come up with some epic clothing to wear for the jump, and Julius suggested that I put on a bikini and a pair of swimming goggles and dive off.  I desperately wanted to, and in fact wore the bikini up to the top of the dam and had the goggles around my neck (does anyone else type "googles" instead of "goggles" when not entirely focused?), but it was too cold and windy for me to manage that, so I went, instead, in a dress.  If I can't be James Bond, I can damn well be a Bond girl.  With a few extra square metres of fabric.  :P

So, about the jump!  I had called dibs on going first out of our group, and everything happened fast.  I guess dozens of people do this every day, and the Trekking.ch people (the website for the jump is here) are an efficient machine.  I had no sooner told them that I wanted to jump than I was given a form ("I am doing this at my own risk"), weighed, put into a suit, tied to a cable, and out on a tiny two-foot-by-one-foot platform looking down.  For those of you who are lazy with math, 220 metres is about two and a half football fields.  Seriously high.

I am a little girl at heart, and this terrified me quite a lot.  Skydiving wasn't this scary, in fact; I guess because that ground thing isn't so imminently visible from 13000 ft.  Anyway, they gave a countdown for the jump as soon as they saw that I had my, er, sea legs.  They had informed me beforehand that it's not just about falling off the platform, but more about jumping as far as you can towards your photographing friends several metres away.  So I pushed off, and almost as soon as my feet left the platform I began screaming like a ninny.  A really happy ninny, but a ninny.  According to the video, I then tucked my feet in and performed a front flip; the bungee cord trailing from my feet formed into a nice spiral behind me.

The echoes of my shrieks off the sides of the big concrete dam were awesome.  I imagined the people in the town at the mouth of the valley could hear them as I bounced wildly at the end of the cord, watching my shadow stretch and slip across the warped and stained concrete surface not too far away.

After getting all bounced out, I pulled a few of the ropes I was attached to and got into a horizontal position (so that I was no longer letting all my blood settle in my brain) and reached my hand out so the operators above could see.  They lowered a big hook to me, which I clipped into my harness, and pulled me up.  And that was that.  :)

We called my mom afterwards.

Me: Hi, Mom.
Mom: Hi, Valie Girl!
Me: So, I have some...
Mom: Where are you?
Me: Switzerland.  I have some news.
Mom: Okay?
Me: I'm (haha, guys, don't point that camera in my face) I'm pregnant.
Mom: !
Me: No, I just bungee jumped off a 200 metre high dam.  Is that better?
Mom: No, um, maybe, um...

Also, Italian Switzerland is gorgeous.  Now that it's spring, there were flowers everywhere and... well, it was awesome.  Piotr has pictures on his Picasa page.

Now, about that ash cloud.  The Eyjafjallajökull (pronounced kind of like "Ey, I forgot la yogurt;" thanks, NYT) volcano is Iceland is spitting crud everywhere, and it's closing airports in Europe like nobody's business.  I even read today that the easternmost airport in Canada has begun cancelling flights due to the ash threat.  From what I understand, there's basically a cloud of glass in the atmosphere, and people seem to think that that would be bad for planes.  Seems reasonable to me.  It sucks for a lot of reasons (my bosses are trapped in Boston, I might not get to go on my Croatian vacation this weekend, Patrick barely made it here and had to hitchhike from Barcelona, I don't know if it will clear in time for me to get home at the end of my stay here, it's costing airlines millions of dollars a day, etc.), but I'm excited that it's cutting down carbon emissions.  TAKE THAT, GLOBAL WARMING.

Except that now scientists think that the volcano is melting a nearby glacier that has been keeping another volcano dormant.  Could be a chain reaction, they're saying.  In the meantime, I guess I'll just stick to bike riding.

Additionally, this weekend saw some adventures related to Jugger and Freebording: my coworker Victor's put up a bunch of photos from both (and other stuff) on his Flickr page, but here are some I like in particular:



Sit, sit and type, type,
All day long in my chair.  Bah!
Let's go get ice cream!

My friend Victor pointed me at a comic strip called Nemi (Wikipedia article), which comes from Norway and is about a hilarious Goth girl.  I read this one just now, and sometimes I feel like this is what I do to the poor dudes in my office:


lake to lake (aka fml)

The rolling hills in
Rural France make for lovely
Scenes and my sad legs.
I like lakes. They're so peaceful and calm: the water just floating around and minding its own business, people milling about and enjoying grassy or sandy lakesides (especially on a warm day like this one), ... So I jumped at the chance to go to Annecy, France, with two other coworkers, namely Hugo and Piotr. It has a lovely lake and a gorgeous old town, and it's basically a composite built of all the things that Americans think about when they think of "romantic Europe." Except the Eiffel Tower. It didn't have that.
But there's this funny thing about lakes. They tend to form in low areas. That generally means that two lakes that aren't connected are separated by something like.. well, like a high area. In this case, it was a very high hill. I just did a map on mapmyride.com and it informs me that we climbed a total of 1210m over our 130-ish km bike ride. That's a shitload of climbing. The woman at the restaurant we went to in Annecy didn't believe that we had come from Geneva.
We did get a late start (about 11:30 we left from Genève), but we got back shortly after sunset. Not too shabby. That includes an hour or so spent in Annecy touristing through the old town and stuffing our faces with as many calories as possible (in the form of pizza and pasta and ice cream).
All in all, the French countryside was really beautiful. Unfortunately, France isn't so friendly to cyclists as Switzerland is; they don't have many bike lanes (we had to settle for the shoulder of small highways), and they lack open stops with fresh water. We were honked at and stuff several times, but Piotr taught me some curse words in Polish, so that was okay.
I now have a sunburn on my back like the ones I used to get when I had long hair that I left braided all the time: burn everywhere except for a nice white strip down the middle of my back where my racer-cut top sat.  Lovely.

Oh, and a map of the ride: Lake to Lake.

easter skiing

At twenty-one, I'm
Invincible!  Just ask the
Piste that my face smashed.

Some of my coworkers and I headed off to the mountains for Easter weekend: a tiny little town called Bourg St. Pierre.  It's about 2.5 or 3 hours from CERN, and it's adorable!  We got a great deal (about 30CHF/person/night) on an apartment that we could all share.  There was a kitchen and a dining room/living room downstairs, then up a spiral staircase sat two bedrooms and the bathroom, and lofted over one of the bedrooms was another couple beds.  The place was full of homey charm.  In the living room we had an old-school radio (like the one my grandparents have!  It lives in a box large enough that it is a piece of furniture rather than a gadget, and it has a record player, but we had no records.), and between the living room and the kitchen were several windows that could be opened so that we were never more than normal-voice-level apart in the downstairs.

Not to mention that the town itself was about 300 people, and at the time we went it was just a little way above the rapidly-receding snowline.  Spring's a-comin'.  Just outside town there were some semi-wild trails leading up into the Alps, and they were populated with a constant flow of cross-country skiiers.  Victor and I went for a hike up there one day, and when we saw some strange chimneys poking up out of the mountainside he explained to me the Swiss military strategy of "piss off to the mountains and cripple the infrastructure for your captors."  Seems like a reasonable enough idea.  :p

As you may have guessed from the blog post title, we did, indeed, go skiing!  I only wound up going once, for reasons which I will explain.  But the place where we went was called Verbier, and it's apparently a haven for too-rich English people trying to get in their last ski weekend before the season's out.  I listened to a couple bantering about their friend who had come to the area, intending to buy an apartment or two to rent, and fell in love and bought two houses instead.  And about their experiences gambling where they lost £250,000 or so.  In a day.  Ugh.

The day after we arrived, we all woke up early and headed over to the slopes (about an hour by car), paid our 66CHF for day passes (and I paid 60CHF more for a snowboard + boots + insurance), cried a little about how absurdly expensive that was, and set off on a telecabine.  It was a gorgeous, sunny day, and we had a lot of fun playing around in the snow.  Victor and Roman and I went off-piste, which was pretty exciting for me since it was only my second time snowboarding, and I discovered that going off-piste on a snowboard is way easier than staying on, if only for the fact that it's much easier to brake.  That, and if you fall, the snow around you is powdery and nice instead of hard and icy.

After lunch, Roman and I headed off together, and by that time the slopes were starting to get even icier as the sunlight and skiers melted the top layer and the layers underneath refroze it.  I was coming down a slope towards Roman when I caught the toe edge of my board on an ice clump and immediately pitched forward onto my face.  Then I continued going forward, my spine bending and my board flipping over my head, until I came to a breathless rest on my back.

Within seconds there were other snowboarders at my side speaking frantic English and French and asking me if I was okay.  Mysteriously, I was.  Teeth intact.  Nose not broken.  Nothing bleeding.  Board okay.  I never got it diagnosed, but in the following days I had sort of hazy thoughts, and I'm quite convinced that I was experiencing my first concussion.  No matter.  I finished out the day and learned a lot about snowboarding.

In the following days, we played a lot of cards (poker, mostly) and Diablo II (oh, those were the days).  The weather wasn't always nice for skiing, so we also spent Easter Sunday afternoon going down to Italy for a nice dinner and some touristing.  So now I guess I've been to Italy.  :)

Anyway,  it was a good weekend, if expensive and concussion-inducing.  I like these kids.  :D