I’m sitting at a wooden desk behind a glass window, across from a real estate office that looks out into a narrow street, for eyes to follow the casual Saturday life that passes by. Actually, I’m across from a “well-being Korean snack and coffee shop.” Next to that is a real estate office. It’s a dreary day, perfect for curling up in bed with a movie, or a book, and spending the whole afternoon there, until it’s nearly dark and close to dinnertime, until it’s time to get up and make a pot of soup. Earlier today, chilled mist hung in the air, enough to warrant a scarf, and about twenty minutes ago, the mist morphed into flurries barely noticeable against anything but a blackish background. I didn’t acknowledge the truth for the first ten minutes of it. “Must be street dust,” my voice of denial whispered to no one in particular. Now, the pillowy clouds are thinning to gauze, revealing pockets of pale blue sky. It’s been a strange combination of weather to have in a day.
Exactly a week ago, the sky was bright. Wind conditions were, as we’d heard, ideal for casually floating down from a mountain with a parachute strapped to the back. What luck! Because that’s exactly what we did.
I’ve said this before, but I want to say it again. Autumn in Korea is so, so gorgeous. The season lingers here, like winter lingers in Minnesota, but it’s a welcomed houseguest, and I don’t want it to leave. Autumn in Korea lives up to its reputation. So when I heard of an opportunity to paraglide from the top of Mount Yumyung, in the middle of a season full of turning leaves, heights and fear-of-death-by-falling be damned. I was going.
The ride to the top of the mountain was worse than the actual jump. When we were halfway, the driver jokingly swerved his van even closer to the edge before letting out a big belly laugh, as if he hadn’t pulled the same trick on every other group he’d driven up the mountain, probably hundreds of them. I closed my eyes and spoke meditatively of more comforting, less petrifying things, like puppies, guacamole, and tequila shots. I don’t like tequila shots, but at that moment, they sounded nice.
We hopped out of the van to take in the view and to be paired with local experts. We suited up, and moments later I was walking toward the runoff, my tandem partner behind me. Our only instructions were to run, to not, whatever we did, stop running, and to keep our feet up while landing. Before I knew it, there was another man in front of me, pulling me, running backward, shouting “go! go! go!” and my feet were in motion, struggling to run as fast as conceivably possible with a full-grown man attached to my back. The man in front wasn’t letting go, and he said something that made me think I was supposed to stop, even though I had worked hard to remember the simple instructions I was given. I stopped. And when I did, a look of panic crossed his face as he wide-eyed our parachute, presumably to make sure it was going to catch air when it was supposed to. He shouted, “no no! go! go!” and so I went again, running as hard as I could. He jumped out of the way, and suddenly my feet were touching ground no more. We were airborne.
I would remember the second instruction as we came in hot at an angle, forcing onlookers to scramble from their chairs out of the way. Other than our haphazard takeoff and characteristically ungraceful landing, the rest of the flight is a bit of a blur. I know that I didn’t want to smile for the camera as my partner clicked shots for memorabilia, and I definitely didn’t want to hold it as he took a video. I wanted to look at the trees and absorb the reality of our circumstances. Before long, my feet were touching the ground. It was over so quickly. And you know what? None of that was my favorite part of the day.
So what was? Hands down, our impromptu lunch in a free standing shack down the road. It looked like something out of a horror flick. Sawdust covered the tables. Hornets nested cozily in visible nooks and crannies of the exterior. A colossal, razor-legged spider guarded the entrance. Jars of ginseng and honeycomb filled the shelves against one wall. The connected room was littered with work boots, power tools, and a cooler stocked with sodas. After a few minutes of poking around, a women appeared, and she was willing to serve us noodles. We sat around the table, and she cooked in the back kitchen. In about ten minutes, she brought out a tray of oversized bowls, steaming with spicy ramen, a poached egg floating in each, sliced scallions speckling the top. As we slurped our noodles, I felt something for the first time since I’ve been here. At that moment, in that dusty room, with that mixed group of friends and strangers who were about to run off a mountain together, I was exactly where I was supposed to be.