I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Summer is not over yet

Woods Coffee at Bellingham Bay 
I took this picture with my iPhone yesterday morning after finishing a nice brisk walk with the Fairhaven walking group. I had already checked the weather and knew it wouldn't be a good day for skydiving, but today, Sunday, looks much better. We had a couple of days of rain, and now it's looking like we'll have more summertime weather for the upcoming week. That's good, since I'm going on another "extra" hike tomorrow, a trip down to the Mountain Loop Highway with some of my hiking friends.

Pretty busy life I'm leading, it seems. I woke this morning feeling some sadness about the change of the seasons, coming up as fast as it does. Only another month or so for this skydiving season, and then I'll put my gear away until springtime. Some of my equipment will be out of date by then, and I'll have to spend more money to get it back up to speed, and that means making some decisions. I never thought I'd still be skydiving at this age, but I can't quite seem to stop just yet. The winter layoff gives me time to figure things out.

And then I remembered my first jump back this spring. It had been more than six months since my last one, and I was nervous and really wondering if I should still be doing this. I wrote about it on my other blog here. When I had gone up and faced my fears, I was ecstatic with joy about being under canopy again, remembering why I love this activity so much. Now I'm at the end of the season, wondering if next spring I will be going through this same activity or not. At some point, the "or not" will be the appropriate choice.

However, before the end of the season I'll be making another trip down to Lake Elsinore with Frankie, another septuagenarian friend I met in April, and we'll be trying to make a record formation with all jumpers over the age of 70. I will travel by bus to Portland and stay overnight with her before we will fly to Lake Elsinore for three days of playing in the air. That will probably mark the end of the skydiving season for me, with my gear going out of date somewhere in the week after I return. Your reserve parachute must be repacked every six months and inspected, and mine was last packed April 26. Of course, this assumes that I will not need to use my reserve before then. If I do, then it must be repacked before I can use it again.

I've only used my reserve a couple of times in more than 4,200 skydives, but you never know when you might need to use it. Just thinking about it makes my heart rate increase. The last time I needed it was many years ago in Arizona. When I opened, my parachute went into a hard turn and I saw that one of the brake lines had come loose. I tried to fix the problem, but it only got worse, and fast. When you are spinning, you're losing altitude very quickly, so I made the decision to release my main parachute and deploy my reserve. I reached for my handles to do just that, and they were not where they were supposed to be, since I was spinning so quickly that my harness had shifted. Once I got ahold of them, a good six inches higher than where I expected them to be, I just did what I had practiced so many times. I had so much adrenaline going that I didn't even realize that one of the released risers had whacked me under the chin, and it wasn't until the next day I saw the big bruise and knew what had happened.

By the time I had landed under my reserve parachute, the efficient organization that is Skydive Arizona had followed my released parachute into the desert and brought it back to me. Many skydivers had seen my actions and came up to congratulate me on my successful cutaway and reserve ride. My knees were weak, but otherwise I was just fine. I was able to get my gear to the rigging loft so that it could be repacked and I could jump again the next day.

Reserve rides seem to come in spurts. When you are hanging around between jumps, watching the canopies open after a skydive, you will sometimes notice that someone has a problem and you see them drop away from a malfunctioning main and the blossoming open of their reserve. The statistics are something like one reserve ride every 800 skydives or so. Like I said, it's been a long time for me, but I could have another one today. My friend Christy had one a few weeks ago. I wasn't there, but she told me she hurried to pack for one more skydive before the end of the day, and she must have stepped through her lines and packed it without noticing. When she opened, she was unable to release her brake lines because of a severe twist in the risers. She will be back to using her own gear when we meet today and, hopefully, nobody will be needing to use a reserve parachute!

But you never know. It's like having a blowout in a tire when you're driving down the highway; all you can do is what you have practiced. Nothing that we do is without risk in the world we live in, and we must think about how we will perform if things happen to us unexpectedly. Minimizing our risks by checking the tires, getting your reserve repacked and inspected, or locking the doors on your home when you leave—it's all part of the same package, part and parcel of our daily lives.

I am hoping that I'll have a good day today and tomorrow, and that all will be without incident, and I can only hope that your own days will be the same. It's always comforting to log onto my computer and see what my cyber friends are up to, and I'm always happy to hear when everybody is safe and sound. Life is a gift that we have all been given and are sharing with one another. Let's seize the day, shall we?


Anonymous said...

You sure do have a physically active lifestyle, one I can only dream about. If you stop skydiving and hiking, what are your plans for the future? I suppose you could spend more time at the gym, perhaps soaking in the hot tub (if there is one). David enjoys chatting with his friends in the hot tub.

Rian said...

I would think that as long as your health holds out, your age shouldn't affect your skydiving? Hiking is great exercise and probably keeps your bones strong, so the 2 sports kind of compliment each other. I agree that life is not without risk and we shouldn't fear risk, just be cautious. And don't overdo.

troutbirder said...

Interesting DJ. I can somewhat relate to the days when I took my teen age sons troutfishing in Montana and we reviewed what to do upon encountering a grizzley bear. Be Prepared...:)

Linda Myers said...

I'm glad you haven't put away your gear yet. I suspect you'll have at least one more season.

Red said...

You write an interesting account of deploying a reserve chute. It's a safety device but i can tell that the adrenalin was pumping. You will know when it's time to quit. as long as it's still fun you jump.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Wow. Solid preparation and the ability to keep one's head are pretty important, and you passed the test! As Peter likes to tell the grandkids, some mistakes you only get to make once. Have a great week, DJan.

Gigi said...

Have fun playing in the air - and I'm hoping that no one needs that reserve chute! I think as long as you are having fun you will continue to jump out of those perfectly good airplanes! ;-)

Arkansas Patti said...

I actually felt terror when you reached for the handle and it wasn't there. It made me realize, I could never do what you do.
I like what Rian said. Your two sports compliment each other as far as physical preparedness.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

How about writing a book on the inner experiencing of skydiving? This is a terrific post. I have a much clearer sense now of what went wrong in my daughter's 2nd tandem several years ago.

amanda said...

Wow, my adrenaline picked up just reading that.
I hope today has been beautiful, and that tomorrow is perfect for seizing too!

Far Side of Fifty said...

You will know when the time to quit has come...until then seize the day with gusto!
I always think about you on Sunday flying around someplace...the trip sounds awesome and I hope you have clear skies this time for historic jumps!:)

Friko said...

There you go again - skydiving.

You’ll never give up, skydiving will have to give you up.

Just stay safe.

O-town Ramblings said...

I frequently wonder if during an emergency my knowledge and training would really take over or would I panic and make things worse? Would I remember what to do if I encountered a mountain lion in the foothills (a legitimate concern near where I live)? Would I know what to do if a bear started coming towards me? Bears aren't an uncommon sight in the mountains near me. Would I remember CPR if my daughter needed it? I hope that like you deploying your emergency chute, learning and training would kick in.

Sally Wessely said...

I think you will know when it is time to hang up the jumping gear. I also think you have at least one more season in you.

Dee said...

Dear DJan, I trust all went well on your Sunday skydives. I can't imagine the feeling you must have had when your main parachute didn't function correctly all those years ago.

Your reflections on life and living--your philosophy of being--always touch a cord of understanding in me. Peace.

Unknown said...

nice blog and good sharing, keep it up buddy.

Rita said...

I'm always glad to hear you are back home safe and sound--and enjoyed yourself to the limit! But I'm glad everyone always has a reserve chute. Don't you wish we had a reserve or backup for all life's unexpected flailings. :)

Glenda Beall said...

What a beautiful photograph, Djan. Makes me want to be right there right now.