So my brother, my uncle and I went backpacking/camping at Big South Fork. It went okay. If my uncle hadn't been coming off knee surgery, and if I weren't an overweight, short-winded lump, we could have hiked waaaay farther than we did. And possibly will, someday.
And as you do in these situations, we promised ourselves that this wouldn't be a one-off. We would do it again.
Then Christmas rolled around and there was more talk about 'Next Time'. Apparently, Uncle Milton mentioned that he had always wanted to jump out of an airplane. Under normal circumstances, there are lots of things that would keep you from jumping out of an airplane. The expense, the lack of opportunity, the complete absence of military training... a healthy fear of plummeting to your abject doom soothed only by the fact that only a tiny fraction of a second would be available to you to experience the pain of impact prior to your being able to experience nothing whatsoever.
I must have been mulling this kind of obvious thing in my head rather than out loud, though. If that seems odd to you because you rarely experience me in any form other than words on a page, it seems doubly weird to people who are around me 'cause it takes something pretty damned stunning to shut me up. I blather.
But my uncle and brother both said they discussed jumping out of a plane and I said nothing. Nothing! Not even, "That sounds scary and expensive but I hate to be left out of anything you guys are doing so take me along." Which I could have sworn I said. Or something like it.
Over the next few months, I caught the edge of whatever text messages were going back and forth. And then I expressed my interest in not being left out of what would be a great story, live or die.
"Okay, good! Glad to hear it," said my uncle. "So what do you weigh?"
"Uh-oh." I said. And thought. I'd been losing weight recently, but not much, and it's not easy. You know. Anyhow I answered "209" because I had weighed 209.6 that morning. And I'm not rounding up. I'm like those shoppers looking at the two pair of pants in the store, one slightly too large and another slightly too small. Those shoppers, and I, are LOSING weight, not putting it on, pal.
Turns out the max weight was something I could stay under. 225 or something I haven't yet achieved.
So, phone calls were made, websites studied, calendars compared... and the plans solidified.
We were going to jump out of a plane. I had a large book project to finish, and possibly another to start on, plus all the comic strips (Buckets and Hubris) to stack up before we could go, so I got to work to clear my calendar for a long weekend. Longish. Almost three days. Kind of a regular weekend with the chance of death in the middle. I dunno- I had work to do.
And the usual questions to ask, like "What's the safety record of this place you've booked us with, Milton?" "Only one death?" "Why yes, that does mean that it wasn't the whole planeload that croaked!" "Ah, and it also means that it wasn't a tandem jump, since there's only half the deaths you'd expect from such a thing!" "Why yes, that sounds like an excellent safety record, assuming they've been in operation longer than, say, a day or so.
The one death on their record isn't, for the record, very interesting. It's sad and worrying, but it's not one of those deal breakers for prospective tandem jumpers. I hesitate to put it in a humorous story. Let's just say it involved a specialty jump and there were some aspects to it that sound very suspicious to an untrained jumper. Aspects that make you wonder how generally happy or specifically unhappy the skydiver was well in advance of his making the arrangements for his jump. I don't know. I'm no expert. The opposite of expert is me.
One funny story they have is about a near death! Wanna hear my probably wrong version of that? Sure you do. Apparently some little lady panicked as she and her tandem instructor exited the plane. Not panic like "Oh, my gosh, I'm gonna have a heart attack up here," but panic like Not Thinking primordial brain-stem ocean-noise-static Terror. I hesitate to call it 'fight or flight' because that's just too damned easy. I mean really. Anyhow, she went toes-up banana whip crazy and started, apparently, clawing at the harness she was hooked into. You can tell from the photo above that the harness isn't some li'l fiddly thing. They're not really built to be got out of. Sounds like she got most of the way out of it, though. From what I heard, she was left hanging by her ankles or calves and with some king of grip on a shoulder strap or something, facing up into her tandem trainer. I can only guess that he or she had his or her own look of abject panic on his or her own mug. The lady didn't die.
And now we're that much closer to the story of jumping out of an airplane, then going for sushi.