The journey so far had been uncomfortable but quite normal. Our open backed, long wheelbase landrover had left the resort of Olu Deniz and travelled slowly uphill on a surprisingly well-laid road (For Turkey) and on to a village in the foothills of one of the highest mountains in the area. The engine strained to pull its load and at times we hardly seemed to be moving. A look at the speedometer helped little, it was broken, yet I had been assured this vehicle was maintained to the highest standard and more than capable of taking on the mountain I could see before me. At the village we turned right and were fast running out of road as we rounded a final turn that saw us staring at a pine tree covered hill that was the base of ‘My’ mountain.
We had arrived in Olu Deniz earlier in the week after a Mediterranean cruise taking in Egypt, Israel and Cyprus. This was to be a relaxing few days, doing very little with the exception of a couple of trips out to discover a little of what Turkey had to offer. From the start, we couldn't help noticing the number of parachutes descending to the beach in front of the hotel. Sometimes not even the beach, but the promenade. This was a quiet village, so men and women dropping in under their coloured canopies was not really a big issue, you just moved out of the way, but you couldn't help thinking that back in England, health and safety rules would ensure that an area the size of a football pitch would be roped off to keep you at a distance from these Tandem Parascenders.
Over the next two days I became obsessed with the idea that maybe I could do this. This remember is the same Dave that struggles to cope on a ladder and can feel quite sick looking at pictures of high cliffs, yet here I was with three other folk in the back of a landrover heading towards the top of a 6500 foot mountain in order to throw myself off.
We left the road and continued on a track, that to be fair, showed signs of being maintained but not to any great degree. We drove into the forest that surrounded the base of the mountain. There were pine trees as far as the eye could see and rising each side of the road to block my view of the journey we were making. Occasionally the wheels would slip on the dry gravel but safe in the knowledge that our driver had made the journey several thousand times I tried to relax, but it wasn’t easy. If we made the top in one piece I then had to descend again.
The day before, Barbara and I had spent a few hours at the ‘Blue Lagoon’. This was an area almost cut off from the sea, about a mile North of the village. Here the shallow and calm waters provided the perfect conditions for Barbara to dip a toe or two and for me to lay back and watch the parachutes pouring out of the sky. At this distance we could see the whole mountain framed by a blue sky, the village laid out beneath it and the coastline stretching towards the southern horizon. It can’t be hard I thought. All I had to do was strap myself to an experienced “Pilot” and walk off the side of a very high hill. Yes, I know it’s a lot further up than my ladder in the garage but surely I could somehow do it.
Thirty minutes into my journey and the track was now rising up through the trees with the occasional turn and my new acquaintances were chatting away, taking pictures and looking forward to the adventure ahead. Still reasonably calm, I smiled politely and tried to assure myself I was not completely mad. From time to time we’d take on a sharper bend followed by a rise in ground level that would test the capabilities of this ageing vehicle. While it was clear that the side of the mountain was falling away, the view was fortunately obscured by a mass of trees that seemed endless.
Another parachute and its crew narrowly missed us as we walked back from the Blue Lagoon. We were surrounded by people watching their (parachute) descents and the local people employed to meet the fliers and then repack the equipment ready for another flight. The last part the parascenders journey took them low over the village, but the final few seconds were it seemed uneventful. There was no bumpy landing or rolling on the sand. Two shorts steps forward and your thirty minute flight had ended by seemingly walking off your ‘Chute’. This can’t be difficult, everything was becoming quite clear. No pain once I had walked off the top of a mountain, what could be easier. I can do this, or can I?
The trees had started to thin out and it was becoming apparent that the mountainside was dropping away at an alarming rate. The landrover continued on its journey seemingly oblivious to the danger that lurked beneath the wheels. The track was barely wide enough for our vehicle, so not surprisingly my mind was questioning the chances of surviving an encounter with someone coming down. There was a distinct lack of passing places and I could only hope that should we have to make the manoeuvre that would allow us to pass another vehicle, we would not be on the outside of the track. The rest of the passengers seemed to be enjoying this part of our day but they were much younger, The dreaded vertigo had not yet invaded their lives and they appeared quite comfortable and almost cocky with their confidence. I on the other hand was truly terrified with at least another thirty minutes of this nightmare journey still to go and then that walk off the top.
The evening before we had enjoyed some pre dinner drinks and eaten, before a stroll from the hotel grounds took us along the promenade. Late into the night stall holders were encouraging us to buy their wares with shouts of “Asda price” and “Luvely jubbly” There were several shop fronts displaying videos of the parascending and the smiling faces of tourists who had overcome their fear to fly. Barbara reminded me that I had once suggested that I would jump out of an aeroplane if I could be sure that the parachute would open. Well here I was being assured that the parachute is open and full of air while still standing on the ground. What could be simpler, just pay and go.
By now the track was getting steeper, narrower and by the look of it, less well maintained, if it had ever been! We were close to the top and to be honest the views were spectacular. My friends were standing up and holding on to the rear of the cab, taking pictures of the passing scenery. I was doing the same but from the relative comfort of my seat. Bouncing up and down I grabbed the side of the vehicle with one hand and held my camera in the air with the other hand and pointed it roughly in the direction everyone was looking, while I looked at the floor of the landrover. I pressed the button and hoped that I had caught a reasonable image. I probably hadn’t but it was going to have to do. The top was a few hundred yards away.
Thinking back, the thought that I might be able to make this jump had completely overtaken my holiday. I could think of little else. I had to make a decision. Either do it, or forget the whole thing, move on and then enjoy the rest of my holiday. The day before, I had handed over my money and was committed. I struggled to sleep that night and come morning, I went through the mechanics of eating breakfast but tasted little. It was almost as if I was having an out of body experience, looking at this person who was about to take on something that he couldn’t possibly have even thought of whilst on last week’s cruise.
Nearing the top of the mountain I considered the facts. Here was I, scared of standing on the garage roof but about to jump off a mountain that was half as high again as Ben Nevis and even higher than Passo Tonale, a skiing resort I had visited in the Italian Alps. This was madness. The last turn of the road took us onto the top of the mountain. This well used take off spot (About 30,000 flights a year) had recently been tidied up and an area the size of two tennis courts, block paved, was full of parachutes ready to grace the morning skies. The ground sloped away towards the sea but our resort was out of sight, tucked beneath the cliff face some 6500 feet below. Every thirty seconds another parachute lifted into the air as the pilot and passenger walked towards the edge of the mountain and soon it would be me.
I was still in the landrover with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach as the pilot prepared for our flight. I had to make the effort to disembark and did so holding on to the side of the vehicle until my knuckles were white. I tried to take some pictures but I couldn’t hold the camera steady with just one hand. A chute went past me overhead flying the thermals but as I looked up and lost sight of the ground, again I felt I had made a big mistake. I’d given it my best shot and I could just write off the money, but what was really concerning me was the possibility of travelling back down the mountain in the landrover, which would have to be ten times the white knuckle ride that it was coming up. At that moment I decided I would have to fly down. My thoughts were disturbed when the pilot called me over. The long oblong parachute stretched out before me, meant that I had to circumnavigate the canopy making the journey even longer. I must have looked ridiculous sidestepping my way around it, fearful of a trip, which could see me rolling down the incline towards a very big fall. My 20-yard journey probably took me about a minute and when I arrived all manner of things were attached to me. For a moment I felt much safer. As I looked upwards and towards the sea a few moments later, that brief piece of comfort seemed a long time ago.
My concern for personal safety didn’t diminish when my pilot ran through the take off details. “Dave, there isn't much air up here today, normally we would expect to be feeling an updraft across the top. That means it will be a little more difficult to take off. Once we get the merest hint of a breeze we will begin to walk forward”. I was in front, almost as if he was riding piggy back. “You will find it a real struggle to move at first but when the chute is up in the air above us, things will be a little easier. At that point I will ask you to walk a little faster, whatever you do don’t hesitate as we near the edge because with so little wind the chute might come back down again”
So there I was on a glorious, sunny, Turkish day in October, walking towards the edge of a 6500-foot mountain with someone I had just met tied to my back! The edge was rapidly becoming closer and still no lift. “Keep going Dave, we'll be up in a moment” I certainly hoped so, we were about to run out of block paving and the edge was clearly visible. Sweat was pouring off me and I must have been just a moment away from reviewing my whole life in a few seconds when the ground dropped from beneath us and we were airborne.
Over the next 25 minutes I took pictures, looked at a beautiful azure sea and gazed down on the Blue Lagoon at the people who like me just two days ago, were probably looking up wondering if they could do the same.
It was a comfortable landing and the rest of the holiday was much better for not having to worry about jumping off mountains, but I had done it. A few days later I was back in Lincolnshire cleaning the house gutters on a stepladder feeling very uncomfortable, standing just six feet above the ground.