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, May 22, 2022

Gifts of friends and memories

Squalicum Harbor

Yesterday it was just Melanie and me walking around the harbor, checking out the flowers and boats, enjoying the cool breeze and delightful views as we covered a little more than five miles in full sunshine. We have finally seemed to make it to an actual springtime season, with the temperature here making it all the way up to the high sixties, and maybe today we'll make it to 70° (21°C) for the first time this year.

I have been reading about the awful heat wave covering the entire northeast of the country, with many places setting new record highs for the date. It seems to me that the weather everywhere is out of whack, and many areas having really weird weather. Take Denver, for example: after hitting 90°F on Thursday, the very next day a snowstorm dropped the temperature by 57 degrees and brought as much as 20 inches of snow to several parts of Colorado. I remember well a May snowstorm in Boulder, when we received three feet of snow overnight, and I and some friends brought out our cross-country skis and enjoyed a wonderful sunny day with lots of slippery ice to navigate. I couldn't seem to find just the right mixture of ski wax, finally ending up using klister, which is almost like slapping chewing gum on your skis in order to be able to make your way up the slopes. Sliding down was easy, but any climbing needed lots more skill than I possessed. It was fun, though, and I remember skiing in a t-shirt and getting sunburned (we weren't as careful in those days).

By late afternoon yesterday, we opened the windows in the kitchen and living room to allow the lovely breeze to cool down our apartment. It was warmer than I am accustomed to, but then again, it is still not anywhere near too warm. Last year in late June we had a terrible heat wave, with Seattle setting an all-time record of 108°F on June 28, hot enough to buckle the roads and close down highways. Here in Bellingham we set a record of 99°F on June 29. We don't know what's in store for us this year, but with all the rain we've had, I don't think we will be in any fire danger for at least a couple of months. But then again, all the rain caused many meadows to proliferate with grasses, which might dry out and become a fire hazard. It's really hard to imagine that, but it used to happen in Boulder frequently in late summer and early fall.

I thought it might be fun to reminisce today over some of my favorite skydives. Most summers during the 1990s I traveled to Quincy, Illinois, to attend the ten-day-long World Freefall Convention (WFFC). After a couple of years, I realized that there was a great need for a place for inexperienced skydivers to gather and make some safer, smaller skydives together. I got permission from the owners of the Convention to do it. So I ended up gathering a bunch of skydiving pals from Colorado to become load organizers and create that space. The more experienced skydivers were glad not to have people who were not ready yet to join larger formations have a community of their own. We specialized in getting groups of four to eight skydivers together to play together in the sky, with some very simple and fun formations as the basic format.

We had a huge tent and got couches and chairs for people to sit in, with lots of room to pack parachutes after a jump. Fans and a portable TV with DVR player helped to give us a way to watch skydives that some of our participants would film. These days, everyone has digital cameras attached to their helmets, but in the 90s, they were not as available. We made sure we had a chance to see and critique our performances in the sky.

Paul, one of our regulars packing his chute

I went looking back in my old archives for any pictures I might have of the WFFC to share with you, so you could get a better idea of the tent. Anyone who has traveled or lived in Illinois in August knows how hot it can get, so any shade was much appreciated. It's hard for me to realize that this picture was taken almost twenty years ago, probably with my little old PowerShot camera. Nowadays I don't take pictures with anything but my phone, but back then we didn't even have smartphones. Did you realize they didn't exist before 2007? How much has changed since then.

Not only did the WFFC have thousands of participants, they also offered plenty of unusual aircraft for us to jump from. I made jumps from helicopters, hot air balloons, King Airs, Cessna Caravans, and the workhorse that took us to altitude most often, the Twin Otter. And much more (check out the link I found to the Convention). From that link:
The World Freefall Convention has seen many successful years, starting with skydiving numbers of 700 to 800 participants in 1990 and rising to a high in 2001 of 5700 jumpers, from 57 countries that made over 70,000 jumps during the event. As the number of annual members in the USPA have decreased, so have those numbers attending the WFFC.

The last one I attended was in 2000. By then I was still skydiving, but the desire to spend so much time in the heat and humidity of Illinois in August had faded. I still have some of my old jackets from the nineties. And boy, do I have a lot of memories! I forgot to mention that for two or three years I jumped from a 727 Boeing JET! That means I have a D.B. Cooper number, which was issued to those who purchased a jump ticket and made the leap. They cost twice as much as a regular jump, but it was more than worth the price.

The jet had the seats removed and held 180 jumpers at a time. This particular model had a rear exit, with the stairs covered with plywood so you could just run down the short ramp and be in freefall. The way it was done was to load up all those jumpers and make two separate passes over the Drop Zone. But first, we had to load up the plane and secure ourselves with the seat belts on the floor. It was so hot that we were sweating buckets as we waited for the loading to be completed. Then once the plane took off, it was only three minutes to altitude! And we were frightened when a dense fog formed almost immediately after takeoff (it looked like smoke at first) from all those sweaty bodies. We relaxed when we realized it was fog.

We lined up when it was time for our exit, holding onto the shoulders of the person in front of us, then we quick-stepped together until we were out the door and in freefall. Since the plane was traveling very fast, we actually slowed down from exit speed to regular freefall speed of 120 miles an hour! It was very disorienting and exciting, but once we were in freefall, it was just a regular skydive. Not to mention that most of us landed off the field, since stringing out that many skydivers (90 per pass) meant it was impossible to have everyone land on the field. There were plenty of volunteer drivers who drove around and picked us up. I was in a pickup and thrilled to have done it.

In going back in time like this, I realize I've had quite an exciting life with plenty of memorable experience. And here I am in 2022, still hiking and walking and doing my yoga, even if I'm no longer skydiving. I know there are a few eighty-year-olds still out there, but the desire faded as I got older and realized I'd done just about everything as I gathered my jump numbers, which ended at 4,201 in 2015.

How can I be sad about having left it behind? In many ways, I can look back at my years and be incredibly grateful for the wonderful experiences I've had. There have been good times and bad, which is typical for most of us, but I realize I can concentrate on the good times. Attitude is everything. As my dear partner still sleeps next to me, I am looking forward to having breakfast with my friend Lily, who will join John and me this morning. This morning, I am filled with gratitude and smiling to think of those skydiving years I enjoyed. So, dear ones, until we meet again next week, I wish you many good memories to wrap yourselves in. Be well.


Marie Smith said...

Wow! This was a wonderful description of that part of your life. I can only imagine the feeling of free fall or sat in aircraft of various sizes waiting for that time to leap out of that perfectly good aircraft. The conventions with so many like-minded people must have been interesting, hearing stories of the exploits of others and sharing your own. Sharing such adventures with your husband gives you fond memories together which are always special.

Thank you for sharing your wonderful adventures!

ApacheDug said...

The more I read about the climate in your part of the country, the more I think I'm a transtater. (My AC has been running nonstop here in Pittsburgh since Friday afternoon; I'd much prefer cooler, cloudier Bellingham.) DJan, your skydiving memories were amazing! Over 4000 jumps, talk about beating the odds--and jumping from a jet no less. Love the DB Cooper reference. Well, you may not jump anymore but you sure haven't let age slow you down. Hope your week ahead is clear, cool & bright. :^)

Elephant's Child said...

Your memory banks are packed with richness. Which is truly wonderful. Thank you for sharing some of that wealth.

Rita said...

You have had one wild ride!
We went from 60s and low 70s to frost warnings.
Yes, the weather seems different, that's for sure.
Have fun at coffee with your friends.

William Kendall said...

Great memories to hold onto.

Here we've had stormy weather.

Gigi said...

Yesterday was in the 90's and it's expected to be in the mid 60's by Tuesday. Yes, the weather has been weird.

I remember when you gave up skydiving. Although you don't do it anymore, you have more than 4,000 memories of doing it. That's only the beginning of all your wonderful memories.

Have an awesome week, my friend!

Far Side of Fifty said...

Good memories that you shared! Fun times in the past should always make you smile...as they did me as I read your recollections! Down right cool here, it was almost freezing last night 34 F. Hope you have a marvelous week!

Red said...

Just thinking about the sky diving years gives you a rush. You skydived for so long , there isn't much you didn't do. Imagine jumping out of a 747 I think you said.

Arkansas Patti said...

Wow, though you aren't anywhere near there yet, you have enough rocking chair memories for a stadium full of people. Got a giggle out of the
DB Cooper reference.

Galen Pearl said...

Since I can't imagine ever skydiving myself, it is fascinating to read your accounts. What does it take that first time to do something so contrary to our instincts, which would be screaming don't jump out of a plane?! Ha! I'm also fascinated by the process of packing your chute. I can't think of too many things I normally do that would result in immediate death if done incorrectly. It takes a certain kind of daring and a love for the sky to do that. What wonderful memories you have!

Rian said...

DJan, I think the memory of free fall and all else that you experienced is forever embedded in your brain. So whether in dreams or in thoughts, you will always have that. That alone is a gift. As we age, the pace is slower, but still enjoyable if we take the time to appreciate it... (and I can tell that you do).

Davey Bacaron said...

I really enjoyed reading your blog posts, please keep on sharing. :)

Linda Myers said...

I remember meeting you once in Snohomish on one of your skydiving days.

Tabor said...

Your loveliness as a person comes through with each post. I would love to go walking with your past fern and fungus...and while I would go up to cheer you on in a jump. I have no desire to follow you down with a parachute. I am terrified of zip-lining!

Debbie V. said...

I enjoy your posts very much.