The e-mail was short and to the point: “Would you prefer to go jet skiing or paragliding?”
It’s one of the perks of travel writing: At conferences and such, we often get invited to participate in fun activities — anything from ice climbing to hot-air ballooning. The reason: Hosts hope that we’ll be able to cover their activities in the articles we write about a destination.
I sent back an immediate reply: Paragliding, of course.
I mean, soaring over Switzerland and the Alps… How was that even a question?
At 3 a.m. the next morning, I awoke with a start. I’d be flying thousands of feet in the sky. Dancing with gravity. Hanging from a giant kite.
Physics is a fact. Physics has laws.
Surely, there would be a weight limit?
And yes, this could be an issue. A similarly proportioned woman of average height would have no problem with the weight limit, but I am tall. I have a large frame. And even when I’m in good shape, I constantly hang out at the high end of those height-weight charts This had not been a “good shape” year. In fact, my go-to strategy for dealing with bad news being avoidance and denial. I hadn’t stepped on a scale in the last 10 months.
I could think of nothing — NOTHING — more embarrassing than being forced to stand on a scale in front of all my travel writing colleagues — me, Ms Adventure Travel Writer — and being told I was too fat to fly.
Long story short: I checked the weight limits, and yes, the paragliding companies all had them. Then I checked my weight.
The first number was lower than I’d hoped, The second number was higher than I’d feared — 17 pounds above the weight limit, and that was buck-naked before breakfast. If I wanted to account for clothes, shoes, a cup of coffee, and the fact that I’d be in Prague on a food tour the week before paragliding, I’d need a safety margin of another 10 pounds. Which meant losing 27 pounds. In 7 weeks.
While I like a challenge as well as the next adventure traveler, this was one I could do without. Indeed, I wasn’t sure it was even possible.
I dithered. Maybe I should give up the idea gracefully and just go jet-skiing? I pictured all my adventure-loving colleague heading to the sky while I stayed below trying to look cheerful about my “choice.” It was just too pathetic.
On-line research told me that people often lost a lot of weight quickly on a low-carb diet. I was dubious, but I also really really really wanted to paraglide.
Long story short:.. I followed the plan I chose almost to the letter — meat, fish, fat, eggs, cheese, salad veggies. After two weeks, I’d lost 13 pounds. After another four weeks, on the morning of my flight to Europe, I weighed exactly 27 pounds less than when I’d started.
Now I just had to keep it off for the week I’d be spending in Prague, a city known for dumplings, desserts, and hundreds of kinds of beer. Travel is at least in part about cuisine, and I’ve always been glad I wasn’t one of those travel writers with complicated dietary restrictions. Now I was (although I’m hoping I can do it quietly, so no one will be inconvenienced by it.).
For the Prague food tour I decided to eat my strudel and have it too: I figured my 10-pound buffer would allow me to sample a few carbs — so in addition to apple strudel (my favorite desert in the world).
I sampled Czech knedlicky (dumplings), poppyseed kolaczki, (cookies), and of course, a couple of locally brewed pivo (beer). But mostly, I skipped the carbs; carried some sausage, cheese, Brazil nuts, and pumpkin seeds around for snacks on the fly; and stayed on plan — leading one concerned waiter to inform me that my meal would not be “complete” if I didn’t add dumplings or potatoes.
When I arrived in Switzerland, I skipped breakfast before going to the paragliding office — I didn’t want the weight of breakfast to tip me over the limit.
As it turned out, there was no weigh-in: The weight limits are written on paper, but not in stone. One variable is the customer’s perceived fitness (you have to be capable of running or jogging to pull the kite up and get airborne). Conditions like air pressure and winds factor in: Weight limits are lower in winter and when winds are quiet; higher in the summer and when winds are gustier.
No one looked at me twice.
- I didn’t look like I’d fall out of the sky.
- I could have had breakfast.
- I got to fly.
So thanks to Swiss tourism — and to the threat of a weigh-in and public humiliation — I’m now 30 pounds lighter, healthier, and on a path to stay that way.
And the weight I’m not carrying around is going to make my life climbing to the treeline a heck of a lot more fun in the future.