Jumps 10, 11, and 12

A little over a month ago I jumped from 5000 feet and had about 10 seconds of freefall. I thought it was awesome. Every little step that I make in learning to skydive is fun and exciting, like I’m a baby who’s aware of my progress growing and learning to walk and talk. Yesterday, though, was like the way some people teach their babies to swim; by throwing them in the pool and making sure they don’t drown. That’s not a complaint at all, just a comparison.

When I arrived at the airport in the morning, there were already a few people. Within an hour, there were ten. The weather was absolutely gorgeous. Almost no clouds, beautiful sky, very warm, and light wind. Larry asked me what I had done last time, considered a moment, and then told me I would be going all the way to the top with everyone else and learning to do 90 degree turns. This meant I would be going up to 13,500 feet and jumping out of a plane completely unfamiliar to me, falling for almost a minute, with 9 other people. Needless to say, I was a little nervous. I was going to have an instructor watching me the whole time, and falling 9000 feet isn’t very different from falling 1000 feet, but just the idea was a little mind-boggling.

We all got on the plane and figured out the jump order and opening altitudes and all the important stuff, took off, and made our way up to 13,500 feet. They opened the door and a blast of colder air reminded us we were a couple miles above the ground. The first group went out. I counted a few seconds and followed after them with my instructor and another jumping out right after me.

In short, I thrashed for a bit. I was able to get mostly stable, but it was very tenuous. When I tried to turn, I couldn’t control it, and I would end up flipping over onto my back. I’d right myself and try again, turning a little, then losing it and turning a lot, then flipping again. It was crazy. With only a few thousand feet left before I was supposed to pull, I figured things out a little better and was able to get in control and make small turns. Then I stopped turning for a thousand feet and maintained a stable position with one heading, waved off so others knew I was going to pull, and pulled my pilot chute.

My first reaction after my chute opened was that it was awesome. My second, only a fraction of a second later, was intense pain in my ears. My third, another fraction later, was the realization that falling 9000 feet in a minute must really screw with the pressure in one’s ears. I got things sorted out and took stock of where I was and where everyone else was and where I needed to be. The wind had changed direction, but the people who had jumped before me hadn’t taken it into account, so they ended up landing with the wind. The people who had jumped after me had faster chutes, so they landed before I did and they landed into the wind, so they had no problem. I set up my pattern and made some modifications on my way down and enjoyed the ride and landed only a couple feet from where I had intended to land. It was pretty slick.

In the debrief, it turned out that my arch wasn’t the best ever, which was part of the reason I was flipping. Also, the suit I was wearing was too loose, and I’m a tall and skinny guy, so I was floating a lot, and the instructor had a hard time staying with me. Finally, while my fall wasn’t ideal, it was pretty average for a beginner.

I was immediately ready for my second jump. It was the same drill this time, except I was supposed to not suck. We were the last out. This time I was in a different suit that was tighter and didn’t have any wings at all, so it was better, and I had a better arch, so I didn’t flip at all. But for some reason I couldn’t stop spinning. I was always turning clockwise and I couldn’t figure out why or stop it. I would try one thing and it wouldn’t help, so I’d try something else and I would spin faster. I was really struggling to figure out what I was doing wrong. Then I got into a much faster spin and had to really twist to stop it. When I looked at my altimeter I was already 500 feet past where I was supposed to deploy so I quickly waved off and pulled at 1000 feet below my target. Under canopy I did fine and I landed standing, but I knew it was a bad jump. The instructor talked to me afterwards and said that the spinning wasn’t so bad but that I wasn’t doing the right things to start and stop the turns. However, it was not so good and could have been dangerous that I hadn’t pulled my chute at the right altitude. By falling too far, I was starting to get into the airspace of the people under canopy who were moving a lot slower than I was, so a collision could have been deadly for me and someone else. I wouldn’t be able to jump on the big plane until I showed I could have some altitude awareness.

That’s when we got the smaller Cessna 206 started up. This was the small plane I was used to. We waited for the big plane to go up and drop a load before we went up so we wouldn’t interfere with them. Two other guys, the instructor, and I went up. The two guys jumped at 8000 feet and we continued up to 11,500. This time I jumped out and had a good arch. I maintained my heading fairly straight for a while, then tried turning. I wasn’t in complete control of my turns, but I was a lot better than the previous jump, and I was a lot more aware of where the instructor was and what my altitude was. It also helped that I was looking up at the horizon and looking in the direction I wanted to turn. I waved off at the right altitude, pulled my chute at the right altitude, and had a great stand-up landing. I was happy to end the day with a good jump.

In the end I had racked up a little over 2 1/2 minutes of freefall and learned a lot about controlling myself in the air and watching my altitude. I suppose I could have been a quicker learner and not screwed up that second jump so badly, but I can’t do it over again, so I’ll just learn from all those little mistakes and not do them again. I’m really glad that I’m learning at this drop zone. Everyone here is concerned about safety and making sure you’re comfortable but challenged, that you know what you need to do to improve, and that you have the right equipment and good training.

Tasty Elk

I was fortunate enough to acquire some elk from my grandpa during the holidays. Three t-bone steaks and some back strap, as well as some sausage and jerky. I wanted to do something good with it besides just eat it alone over a few days, so I invited six friends over. Only one had ever had elk before, so they were excited to give it a try.

For hors d’oeuvres I had a plate of five different cheeses, a plate of crackers, and a plate of elk sausage and elk jerky (and some pepperoni in case they didn’t like the elk).

The last person was arriving late, so we agreed to put off dinner until they made it, which was no problem because we had good conversation. I started the steaks in the oven under the broiler and right after they were done, when I said “it would be ideal if Carolyn showed up right now,” she walked in the door. It was perfect.

For dinner we had a salad, french bread, rice pilaf, scalloped potatoes made by Carolyn, wine from Bill and Lindsay, and the steaks. After dinner we munched on the cheeses and meats. Finally, I whipped up some cream to put on the pumpkin pie I had made earlier in the day.

In all, I was happy with the food, and especially happy that I got to share it with people who appreciated it.

The next day I brought the rest of the pumpkin pie to work and wandered the halls giving it to anyone who wanted a piece. The pie was really good, but I enjoyed giving it away more.

Jump 9

I arrived at the airport at 10:30. Larry was there, and two guys who wanted to jump. This was not enough, as we needed 5 people to jump, and a pilot. We called everyone we knew, but only managed to round up one other, bringing our total to 4. We called the pilot, and he refused to come over until the Seahawks game was over. We were watching the game at the same time and were dismayed for a few reasons when the game tied and went into overtime. Sadly, the Seahawks lost, but shortly afterwards we got our own game into gear. We decided to split the cost of the 5th person among the four of us, so we could still jump. The pilot arrived, but we had some issues. First, the car with the gas pump wouldn’t start, so we couldn’t go get the plane out of the hangar or put gas in it. Eventually it started and they got the plane. Then they couldn’t find the key for the lock on the gas pump, so they couldn’t put gas in the plane. Then the battery was dead on the plane, so they couldn’t taxi it over to the pump directly. After charging the battery for a bit, they got it started, went over to the pump and got gas, and came back. I wasn’t sure if it was the universe telling us that we shouldn’t be jumping today to have had all these setbacks. It wasn’t until 2pm that we actually got in the air; almost 4 hours after I had arrived at the drop zone. I’m not complaining about all the setbacks. In fact, it was more a comedy of errors that make a great story. I also got to hear some stories from the other guys.

After my gear was on and checked, the jumpmaster told me what I was doing. I hadn’t been diving for over a month, so I wasn’t sure if he was going to make me jump from a low altitude or do an instructor-assisted deployment or what, but he just told me to jump from 5000 feet, count to 10 and pull at about 4000 feet, then told me to get in the plane. This was 1500 feet higher than I had jumped, my first time without a radio at all, and I had only pulled my own ripcord once before, over a month ago, so I was a little uncomfortable.

We reached altitude, got over the drop zone, and I was the first out. My arch wasn’t textbook, but eventually I corrected it and faced belly to earth. I counted to 10, checked my altimeter, decided to fall a couple more seconds, then threw my pilot chute. It was so much fun, surprisingly peaceful and easy, and it felt so natural. At about 3800 feet I pulled my chute, so I had quite a bit of altitude to bleed, and I was on a beginner chute, so it was going to take a long time to bleed it.

Until this point, I haven’t mentioned the weather, mostly because until this point it was inconsequential. There were very few clouds in the sky at all, but there were some at about 4000 feet a couple miles away, so it was neat to be looking above some distant clouds when I jumped. The more important part of the weather, though, was the temperature. It was about 10 degrees F. all day, but I hadn’t been too worried about it. It was very lucky that I had been loaned gloves, because while I was under canopy, the cold really got to my hands. The higher the altitude, the colder the temperature, and under canopy one is traveling ~25mph, so I had a cold breeze going through my hands for the entire time I was in the air. By the time I landed my hands were hurting really bad and I barely had the dexterity to gather up my chute correctly.

It was still a lot of fun, though. One of the guys who jumped out behind me brought his canopy near mine while we were coming down and did a couple tricks in his harness, so that was neat. I enjoyed the scenery and planned my descent, which was a little harder because there was no wind at all. I started my pattern too early and landed a little far from the center of the field, but still on the field, so I was happy with that.

Any jump where I land without injuries is a good one, and since I landed safely on the field and had some freefall and did it all myself, I’ll consider it a fantastic one.

A Great Weekend – Skiing, Dancing, and Skydiving

What a great weekend! I wish they were all like this.

Saturday morning I woke up early so I could meet up with people to head out to White Pass for some skiing. I played around with my breakfast and ended up scrambling some eggs with cheddar cheese and smoked salmon. It was fantastic. We were a little slower than I would have liked leaving their place, but we eventually got on the road. Our party included me, Ed, Ben, and two women from Sweden named Emma and Louise who were visiting. Once we arrived, I got my ticket and rented some skis and met up with everyone else. Ben stayed behind to teach Ed to ski, and Emma, Louise, and I had a couple of runs. The weather was spectacular, and my skis performed well. We found Ben and Ed and waited with them for a few minutes. The girls got hungry, and Ben and Ed were taking a while, so we all split up. I usually have my pockets stuffed with fruit snacks, water, pepperoni, and sometimes homemade prunes or cheese sticks, so I just snack while I’m on the lifts to take advantage of as many minutes as I can.

While I was skiing alone, I never stopped. I explored all over the mountain, going through moguls, trees, and especially going fast. I really like just getting my skis about shoulder width apart, crouching low, and bombing straight down a run. There were slalom poles set up on one run, so I played in those a few times, and doing much better than I expected. Eventually I ran into the rest of my party (not literally), and we skied as a group for the last hour. It was a lot of fun.

On the way back we stopped at a place in Yakima called Miner’s, which is an independent burger joint that has the largest hamburgers I have ever eaten. They are huge, and perfect for a day of skiing.

We arrived back in Richland and separated ways for a couple hours to prepare for the night. At about 10:30 Ben, Emma, Louise, and I met again and went to a bar I had never visited before called the Branding Iron. I had never been there because it was a cowboy bar, complete with live band, older men with cowboy hats and boots, and women with teased hair. Oddly enough I knew some people there from dancing in other places, so I quickly made myself comfortable. It was interesting seeing some styles of dance that were completely unfamiliar to me, but entertaining nonetheless.

The next morning I was up around 9 and headed over to the airport for some skydiving, but that’s a separate story.

Jump 8

Today was also my 8th jump, and certainly my most interesting. You are supposed to do your first solo rip cord pull immediately after your final practice rip cord pull, so I had to do two jumps today. It was raining lightly as we got in the plane. The wind sock couldn’t make up its mind at all, and the ascent was just as bouncy as before. This time I jumped closer to the drop zone, but not by much.

I exited the plane, counted to 3, reached down and grabbed my rip cord, pulled it out and threw it, and waited a couple more seconds for the chute to deploy. It was a completely different experience from all of my other jumps. Since I didn’t have the chute pulling me from the beginning, I felt myself move forward more so that I was parallel with the ground. It was great. Then once my chute came out I felt it pop as it caught the air and watched it completely deploy. I let out a whoop, grabbed the toggles and made a turn to indicate to the radio on the ground that I had control.

But though I had control of my canopy, I had no control over the wind, which was blowing in an unfriendly direction. I faced directly into the wind and was still being blown backwards. I knew there was pretty much no way I was going to land on the drop zone. I tried a few tricks to reduce my drag, but nothing helped me move forward. I suppose I could have started spiraling so that I would drop faster and not be in the air long enough to be blown back, but it didn’t occur to me at the time.

I started to look at where else I could land. There were some softball fields downwind that I might have been able to make, but there were fences and trees and it would have been a stretch to make it that far. There were a couple parks, but they had trees, and I didn’t know how big they were at 2000 feet. There was a sewage treatment plant to my right, so I knew I had to avoid that area at all costs. Below me was ok. It was essentially light brush, so I figured I’d go right below me as much as possible.

Fortunately, at about 1000 feet, I managed to penetrate and started moving forward. There was no way I was going to make it to the drop zone, but at least I was going to land in really light brush right next to the runway. So I steered myself a little bit and managed to land 50 feet to the side of the runway. I didn’t even bother to try to stand my landing and instead tried to not hurt myself. It turned out that the ground was amazingly soft, but densely populated with ragweed, the incredibly thorny and sharp bush. I wasn’t affected by it, but I was really concerned for the chute, which could easily have been torn by it. It was also starting to rain more, and wet chutes are not a good thing. So I carefully extracted my chute from the weeds and rolled it up. The pilot came and picked me up in the airplane, taxiing down the runway in the manner only a small airport could get away with.

So I have now pulled my own chute and done a solo dive, and boy was it awesome. Now I start getting to do more freefall, going to ever higher altitudes. I’ve also got some practical experience with wind and weather patterns and finding a good landing spot.


Jump 7

Today was jump 7, which was my third and final PRCP (practice rip cord pull). It was an interesting ride up. The weather is getting worse, and it was raining last night. When I was about to jump, it wasn’t raining, but there was quite a bit of unpredictable wind, and some fun turbulence on the ascent. The jumpmaster was new to me, and he didn’t seem to have a full grasp of what was going on. He wanted to take me up to 4500 feet first, and thought I was pulling my own chute, despite being told twice on the ground of the plan. We got it all straightened out, though, and circled around again. When I looked out of the plane, I couldn’t see the drop zone before I jumped. We were being put out far from the landing area, which also made me a little nervous.

The jump went well and I reached my fake ripcord and pulled it out perfectly. My chute deployed correctly, and I tried to make it back to the landing area. The wind was blowing hard, and it was a little bumpy at times. Essentially, I faced almost perpendicular to the landing area the entire descent, facing into the wind so that I wouldn’t be pushed too far downwind and would eventually make it onto the landing area. Fortunately, I did make it, but it was quite a ways and I was amazed that I did. I flared at the right time and had a standing landing. The jumpmaster and another student weren’t so lucky. They ended up a few hundred yards away because they didn’t make it far enough. The wind was really unpredictable, and I started to feel drops of rain on the descent, but it was great practice and a lot of fun.

Jump 6

Yesterday I went to a friend’s house to help him build a roof in the back yard to provide shade over the patio. I was there for an hour, and the wood hadn’t arrived yet from home depot, so I took the opportunity to go for another jump.

In a word, my jump was flawless. I hit my arch immediately, waited a couple seconds, reached down and pulled my fake ripcord and threw it, went back to the arch, and waited until my chute had finished deploying. This was my second practice ripcord pull. The instructor had pulled my real chute as I was jumping, so I was practicing pulling and throwing a fake ripcord.

I descended for a couple thousand feet under canopy, but as I was about to start doing my maneuvers to get back on the ground, the guy on the radio started giving me instruction, and it was nowhere near what I expected. I looked at the windsock and saw that it had changed direction from what I was used to. I immediately knew what was going on and how I was going to end up on the ground. My landing was awesome. I flared at just the right time and was able to stand without even needing to take an extra step. If I had had my hands free, I would have thrown them up like a gymnast after landing.

The next time I go will be my last practice rip cord, and then the same day I have to go up again and pull my own ripcord for real. I’m really excited about that.

To finish the original story, as we were circling and jumping, I kept watching my friend’s house to see if the wood had been delivered. I still hadn’t when I was in the air. I made it back to his place in under an hour after leaving, and managed to beat the wood by a few minutes. We worked hard to get most of the wood up. It was dark by the time we were ready to start putting the plywood on, so we put that off for later.

New best game – until I choked

Today I was rockin’ at disc golf. On the third hole I birdied thanks to an amazing drive that landed me within feet of the goal. On the sixth hole I birdied again, and this one was even more surprising because you can’t even see the hole until you’re right on it because it’s behind a bunch of trees. Somehow I managed to get it to the right side of the trees, and then it arced left at just the right time and landed under the basket. For the first nine holes I was at -1.

My luck continued and I kept hitting par with a couple missed birdies. On the fifteenth hole I managed to get another birdie and brought it down to -2. Then things started to get bad. On sixteen my drive broke left instead of right and my approach hit a tree, so I got +1 on that hole. Then disaster struck on hole seventeen where I destroyed any hope I had of getting par for the course with a dismal +3 on that hole, putting me at +2 overall. Eighteen was looking bad, too, when I hit a tree and really slowed down my drive. My second throw was even scarier, as it looked as if it had gone straight into the pond. Luck was with me, though, and I finished out the hole with +1, ending the course at +3. This is tied with my best score.

If it hadn’t been for that darn hole 17, I would have made par. I usually make par on that hole, so it was very odd for me to choke so badly there. Oh well. It was my best game to date, except for that hole.

Jump 5

Yesterday I did my fifth jump. This time I did a practice rip cord pull. This means that my chute is still being deployed as soon as I jump, but now I’m reaching for where the rip cord is supposed to be and pulling out a wadded up rag as practice. A couple more times and I’ll be pulling the real thing.

I also had less help from the guy on the radio below. I basically guided myself down the whole way. I landed on the field, which is good, but I wasn’t happy with how I guided myself. I was way too high when I was getting ready to land, so I tried to bleed off altitude, but I was too low to do it properly, so I made a bit of a mess of things. It’ll take me a bit of practice to get it right, but I’m definitely making progress towards being able to jump on my own.

I’m not sure what I’ll do after I get to that point, though. I really like jumping, but it’s extremely expensive. When I think about how many hundreds of dollars I’ve already spent on this, it not only boggles the mind, but it also makes me feel guilty. There are so many better things I could be spending money on. I could be donating it to charity, I could be saving more towards retirement or a home, I could be investing in the market more. I could even be spending it on a vacation or cruise. On the plus side, it’s not like I’m addicted to crack or hookers. And I’ve got stories that I’ll remember, too. We’ll see what happens.

Rafting the White Salmon

Yesterday I went white water rafting on the White Salmon river. I’d already done it the year before, but it’s a fun trip, and I was with a lot of friends, so it was a guaranteed good time. We got up early and met nearby at 6 in the morning. Then we began the drive. I was in the front of the caravan of two cars. It was about a 2 1/2 hour drive there, and we covered the ground pretty quickly.

We watched some Futurama episodes in the car, which was fun. I have a PDA that I often bring with me onto which I put different episodes of shows. I can plug the headphone jack from the PDA into my car and listen to the episode using my car stereo. I also have some velcro on my dash so that I can put the PDA up over the gas guage. I have seen all of the episodes so many times that I don’t need to watch the video to know what’s going on, so I look at it about as often as I check the spedometer.

Anyway, we arrived at Wet Planet, the company that was guiding the raft trip. We put on our suntan lotion and wetsuits and headed up in a bus to the put in. There was very little that was spectacular about the trip. It was pretty, and I was frequently drenched (a consequence of sitting in the front) with very cold water. We got to a point where we had to stop and walk around a rapid. The water narrows significantly and goes through a small area that we can’t go over. Just after it goes over the falls, though, the water gets really deep, and the rock walls along the side are pretty high, so it’s perfect for cliff jumping. It’s only about a 20 foot jump, but it’s still intimidating. Nonetheless, I jumped and landed safely in the water and came up and was pulled aboard the raft with no problems.

At the end of the trip, there is a huge fall. We had to prepare for it a couple times before we got there, but once we went over it, we had no problem. Right after the fall is another small set of rapids. Our guide told us that frequently people celebrate just after the fall and then flip over the second set. We knew that and it didn’t trip us up. The second group after us, though, had a bit of a problem, and their boat flipped over. We managed to pick up a couple people and everyone was ok, but it was funny to watch them do exactly what our guide said could happen. The group after them also had some problems and a couple people fell out and only one made it back in. We grabbed the other one.

During the whole thing, a film crew for a German television station was with us. They had their fancy expensive cameras in clear dry-bags and they were filming us and themselves going down the river. So some time in October in Germany there will be footage of me and my friends rafting on the White Salmon. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the footage from them, and they were in a hurry to get out of there and didn’t want to talk to me, so I might never see the film they got.

After the rafting, we had a barbecue and ate hamburgers and chips. Then we headed out. We stopped by Stonehenge, which is a World War 1 memorial in Maryhill, which is an astronomically accurate concrete structure, then finished off the trip back home. On the way back, my odometer rolled over from 99999 to 100000. It’s a 2000 Neon, and I got it used with 18,900 miles on it, so they aren’t all mine, but I’ve certainly put a lot of mile on that car. It’s treated me well.

After we arrived at home, I had a quick nap and then went to a birthday party at a coworker’s condo. It was a great day.