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, June 12, 2022

Roses and rain

Cornwall Rose Garden first blooms

We seem to be stuck in a never-ending loop of rain one day, partial sunshine the next, and cool temperatures overall. We're lucky if we are able to leave our gloves at home. But I do know that I'll be complaining about the heat at some point this summer, the start of which is less than two weeks away. We have yet to see any really warm weather. I've learned that in the local gardens, everything is delayed one to three weeks because of the cooler and wetter weather. 

I really don't mind, since I am not a fan of heat. But there are many people who miss the summer sun and warmth. My favorite temperature is right around 60°F (15°C). Right now my old home state of Colorado is baking in triple-digit temperatures, which is one reason why we decided to move to the Pacific Northwest when I retired from my job at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. We've lived here fourteen years now and we've never been sorry we moved here.

Today I think I'd like to explore some old memories of memorable events that I've experienced in the past. As many of you know, for more than two decades I was an active skydiver, and for many of those years I was an instructor. For years I taught the First Jump Course at Mile-Hi Skydiving Center in Longmont, Colorado and took students out on their first jumps. These were not tandem jumps, since I don't think I was ever capable of such feats of strength. Few women are tandem instructors; instead, I became an AFF (accelerated freefall) instructor through a rigorous process. I failed the first time I took the week-long course. But in June 1994, I became licensed to take students on their first jumps.

Looking back, I realize I truly enjoyed that time in my life, and the people I taught were fully capable of saving their own lives in case of an emergency. The first line of defense is always teaching a person what to do in every possible circumstance. Since they would need to land a parachute for the first time, they were given a harness and container system with a large main and reserve parachute and needed to know how to use them. Once they were trained on how to activate the main, and what to do in case it failed, I made sure they had practiced enough to gain muscle memory in that event. I taught hundreds of students.

There is a real sense of accomplishment when you help someone learn a new skill and know that if they needed to, they could carry out the appropriate activity competently. Of course, I had to learn all this myself in my early days of my career. Under my tutelage, few students ever had to use their reserve, but there were plenty of other things that could happen. The way AFF works is this: two instructors are holding on to either side of the harness of the student, right at the center of gravity at the hip. Then the threesome moves to the door of the airplane and jumps out together. The student is taught to give the count and upon exit, thrust their hips forward as they leave the airplane. This helps us keep the threesome stable, and just like that, we're in freefall. The student then has tasks to do: touch the main ripcord handle three times, look at the instructors for instructions, and then to keep looking at the altimeter on their wrist to keep track of their position in freefall. We exited at 13,000 feet and by the time they get to 5,000 (about 30 seconds later), they were to pull the main ripcord. This would then cause the two instructors to let go as the student is pulled out of their hands and is now under a main parachute.

At least 99% of the time, that is exactly what happens on a student's first jump. While the student is left to orient themselves and fly the parachute back to the Drop Zone (DZ), the two instructors track away and open their own mains, locate the student (now above them), and fly back to where we began the adventure. The student had a radio attached to their chest strap, and someone on the ground usually directed them back to the DZ, while we landed ourselves safely. I would take as many as six or seven students in a single day during the long summer season.

It makes me tired just to think of how much work that all was, but I was younger then and could deal with it well. Tired and happy was the way I usually went home after a long day at the DZ. Occasionally a student would twist an ankle or land in an unceremonious heap, but hardly anybody was anything other than ecstatic and happy after having accomplished such a life-changing event. A good number of them returned the following week for another jump.

It was an exciting time in my own life, and I am very glad I never had to deal with a student fatality. One time a student was flying his parachute back to the DZ and hit a barbed-wire fence and ended up with a broken pelvis. That was the worst accident I remember, although other instructors did have students with more serious injuries. Broken bones were the most common, and the student was whisked off to the local hospital. Sometimes they would return to proudly show off their cast and let us know they were all right. But injuries didn't happen often; it was much more usual for the students and instructors to be just fine after a day of jumping out of airplanes.

Today, my excitement comes from more sedate activities: wearing myself out on a long hike or learning a new yoga posture. How grateful I am for those years of such adventure and accomplishment. Those memories will never fade completely, as long as I am alive, and it gives me great pleasure to reminisce with you, and relive those days.

With that, I've gone as far with this digital adventure as I can for today, but perhaps I'll recall more of these activities in the future and share them with you. For now, I've got to begin the rest of my day, now that my tea is gone and my dear partner still sleeps next to me. It's time to move on. I do hope that you will find happiness and love in your week ahead, and when we meet again next week that you will have had some adventures of your own. Until then, dear friends, I wish you all good things. Be well.


Linda Reeder said...

I wondered how first jumps worked. Thanks for filling us in on some of the technical aspects of sky diving.
We are at that place in our lives when we begin to look back and examine and reminisce aspects of our lives, the good and the not so good. Hopefully they are mostly good, like your sky diving career.

Sandra said...

I just found your blog. I can say with all honesty I would never jump out of a plane! That you did and then went on to teach others to jump out of a plane is quite fantastic. You are an adventurous soul. Nice to find you.

Far Side of Fifty said...

You were a good instructor! I can tell you care about safety...of course I would never have tried it because of my fear of heights. I am certain many skydrivers were thankful for your instruction! :)

Rian said...

Enjoyed this post, DJan. Although I still consider trying a skydive at some point (tandem), I may be getting too old and would require a doctor's note (at least this is what I was told when I watched my daughter do a tandem jump on her 45th birthday). But I can tell how much you enjoyed your skydiving experience... and it must make for wonderful memories. One of my favorite memories was riding... racing along with my cousin on horseback... feeling the freedom of letting a horse go all out. But that was many many years ago. Can't ride now because of my back, but do still have the memory.

Betsy said...

Our daughter tandem jumped several times and talked her pilot husband into doing the same with her, ONCE, just before they were married. He always said he didn't see what the point is in jumping out of a perfectly good airplane that he can fly! lol
We're baking in those triple digit temperatures here in Nebraska too and have been wishing to be back in Spokane where we lived for the past 28 years. We certainly miss it. It seems that it's been a strange year for weather everywhere.

Arkansas Patti said...

Falling 8000 feet in 30 seconds took my breath away. What an amazing life you've led that has to give you pride, pleasure and lovely memories. Not to mention a great read for us.

Elephant's Child said...

Our favourite temperatures are very similar. I am happiest at about 14C.
I loved travelling down memory lane with you this morning, and would be very, very happy to read more such trips. And yes, that is a hint.
Have a wonderful day and week dear friend.

Rita said...

I would love it to be cooler! It is 87 degrees right now in Fargo. Whew!
Your sweet memories would be a nightmare for me--LOL! But that's okay. I have a lot of sweet memories of my own. ;)

John's Island said...

As one who has never jumped from a plane, I find this post fascinating. I have to wonder about a couple of things, maybe you will tell us about in future post. First, how much control do you have over directing your fall to the DZ? When I think of times I’ve seen people in a jump, it seems like they were mostly going straight down or moving slightly with the prevailing winds. It doesn’t seem like there would be much directional capability. Secondly, I can only imagine the thrill of one’s first jump. Does that thrill stay with you after hundreds of jumps? Another thing I really like about this post … It gives me a good idea for incorporating stories into my own blog. From the beginning, I’ve considered my blog’s main purpose to be creating a digital journal using my photos to tell most of the story. Just as you recounted some memories today, you also put them down in writing for your own reading pleasure in the future. So, my next challenge will be finding a way to incorporate some life stories into a blog which has been mostly oriented to sharing images. Thanks, DJan, for a neat post and have a good week ahead.

Red said...

Jumping was always one of the things in the back of my mind that I wanted to do. You had a great sense of achievement with this part of your life.

gigi-hawaii said...

60F is a bit cold for me. I like 80. As for memories, Relish them with all your heart. Gigi Hawaii

Anvilcloud said...

What awesome adventures you had and helped there’s to have.

Except for that one early week, it has not been hot here. Indeed, the nights get quite chilly.