I try to control my life through logic. Still, my feelings will predominate in so many circumstances. The love and adoration I have for my wife. How I tolerate from my kids that which I would never tolerate otherwise. My love of the Oakland Raiders despite everything they’ve done to me the last decade. My beloved LA Kings who showed that sticking through the difficulties can be worth it.
And then there is skydiving. There were two activities that ever made me live in the moment and forget the past and future. Nothing else bothered me when I was: (1) playing guitar/bass in a band onstage; or (2) skydiving. Most who know me don’t see me as the type to do either. I like that. I can compartmentalize.
Skydiving was a whole new level of experience. An emergency procedure that was turned into a good time. I can tell you that it doesn’t matter what else is going on in your life, hanging on to the outside of an airplane at 13,000 feet above the ground leaves no room for thinking of first world problems.
I have a fear of heights. I have stage fright. The ten minutes before a show were to me like the plane ride to altitude. Second guessing. Self doubt. “Why the fuck are you doing this, you dumb ass” were thoughts that went through my mind. IN a band, the show must go on. People are there to see you.
The step outside the door and hanging on the floater bar. Fear sets in. Real fear. Everything that I thought about on the way up, even watching the hop and pops jump out at 5k, becomes focused on that moment. From 13000 feet, it takes about 10 seconds to drop the first thousand feet. After that, about 5.5 seconds for every thousand feet. Figure 10 seconds to get to 12k feet. 66 seconds from 12k feet to the ground.
I know that if I let go, I could be dead in fewer than 90 seconds. What the hell am I thinking? I am going to put myself in a situation where I am hurling myself bodily at a planet from two miles up. I know that when I let go, I am a dead man until such point as I save my own life. Sure, there is a CYPRES that will deploy my reserve automatically should something happen and I forget to deploy on time. So what? I’m still dead unless I land the thing correctly.
So bearing all that in mind. I can easily step foot back inside and ride the plane back down. Yes, you’d be amazed at how simple it is. I also know that there isn’t a skydiver who would hold it against me. I was smart. I did the right thing, I got back in because I just wasn’t feeling it.
Sure, there are other ways to do it. “What are the winds? 16 mph gusts? Okay. Too much. I’ll ride it down.” I’ve been so desperate not to do it that I looked for reasons not to. One time I was spotting from the window and saw a fucking passenger jet below us. The guys at the door were pissed when I pulled one of them back. The S&TA, Lob, demanded to know what I was doing. I pointed out to him the passenger jet. He told me, “Nobody else saw it. You’ll live a long time.” No, I didn’t tell him that I was scratching for a reason not to do it.
All the doubt. The fear. It comes down to one moment. Time to let go. And once I let go, there is an incomparable sense of freedom. Belly to the relative wind. Ease into a belly down position. I’m by myself, wind in my face, and have a minute to just take a look around. At 10k feet I look west. A simple equation helps: take the square root of altitude in feet and multiply by 1.23. It gives you the distance to the horizon in miles. At 10k feet, the horizon is 123 miles away. Catalina is visible. I look over that way and see it. I look down and get ground rush, even from that height. I check my altimeter and go through 7k feet.
Time to think about saving my life. I am inexperienced so I pull high. The only people behind me are Lob and a tandem. He’s pulling at 6.5k. I toss at 5.5k and see it’s there, it’s square, and I can control it. I’m 90% of the way toward living to tomorrow. Just me, a parachute, and the landscape around me. A 14 mph wind in my face. I’ve got 4 or 5 minutes to just look around, plan my landing. The beauty. The peace.
It isn’t always like that. A long spot once put me at 7k feet right over the I-15. A short spot once put me where I couldn’t get to the main landing area. Sometimes the deployment is just a step in solving your fuck up.
Set the pattern. Downwind. Base at 300 feet. Final turn. And a nice stand up. My God, am I glad to be on the ground. Thrilled to have experienced it. I’ve gotten injured playing flag football, soccer, rugby, football, tennis. And never had anything more than a riser burn from skydiving.
I wanted to tell the world how great it was. I did tell the world how great it was and become an insufferable ass (okay, an even more insufferable ass) as I told everybody how great it was.
My first skydiver funeral was in 2006. Shannon’s death was a punch in the gut. She hadn’t died skydiving, but was BASE jumping at the Perrine Bridge. I hadn’t skydived for almost exactly three years from the day she died. I had relocated. I had a whuffo wife. A son in 2004 and had a daughter on the way. There is no way I could justify to myself risking death with a family.
Shannon’s death told me I did the right thing. A few years later, after a divorce, I married a skydiver. We have two children together, and she hasn’t been jumping in five years. Our oldest is four.
I’m afraid. We’ve been in a drought here, meaning that about 330 days per year for the last three have been jumpable weather. I look to the sky and think, “Damn, I miss it.” At least 300 of those days per year. I haven’t played a live show in the same amount of time. Spend a weekend skydiving? Maybe gigging? Or be with my kids? It’s an easy decision. But it’s tough. I want to jump. I miss that rush. I know that my decision is the right on. I didn’t even decide to stop skydiving. I just didn’t do it as other things happened in life. Like gigging, it lost its relevance. Watching my kids play soccer on Saturday was more important. I didn’t decide it. It just is.
A couple of days ago, a local jumper went in. I’d met him a couple of times. Sometimes I’d head to the dz with my kids just to watch and reminisce. I have the urge to go join them. But it is not overwhelming.
The deceased ran the dz. His daughter was a jumper and assistant rigger. She lived the life. My daughter wants to skydive. I don’t want her to. I want to spare her the pain.
Doing so means keeping her from the joy. I will let her know that I went to his funeral, assuming the public is invited. I regret getting Julia into the sport. My biggest fear is not that I crater, but that someone I told bounced.
The internal conflict is there. The sport that I love so much. It gave me a wonderful wife and two kids. It gave me thrills beyond anything others may know who haven’t done it.
It brings pain. It brings me hurt. I hurt for Sarah, his daughter. I hurt for Tom. My friend who is hurting. The whole community mourns when something like this happens. I find myself sobbing about a man I barely know. Because he is my brother.
I will skydive again. When my kids are older. Because despite the pain, the love endures. Skydiving has given me so much. The good and the bad. The sky will always be there. My kids won’t. In a strange way, I want to jump to honor him. I won’t.
I love this sport. I hate the pain. Internal conflict. The resolution is to be determined.
And my heart goes to all those who were closer to him that I was. My heart hurts. I am mourning a man.