Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Any Landing You Can Walk Away From

In addition to being a digital artist and cartoonist, Friend Of The Blog Jennifer, who sometimes comments here as "Namowal," is an experienced skydiver. Well, 75 jumps is more experienced than some and less experienced than others, but I'm sure she learned a lot from her latest jump in which she broke her arm and leg, and wound up in the hospital for more than a week.

Luckily, fortune's slings and arrows are mere fodder for a cartoonist. Jennifer has posted Part One of a harrowing yet funny comic describing her accident on her blog. You should go read that and then check back later for Part Two (EDITED later to add: Here's Part Two!). Jennifer's drawing of her left arm flopping uselessly in the wind as she plummets to earth will pucker every orifice you've got.

Namowal, take care and get better--and get jumping--soon!

* * *

I skydived a few times when I was in college 30 years ago. I think it was a different sport then. First, it was a lot more Bohemian and laid back. Second, instead of starting with a tandem jump (strapped to an experienced skydiver) at 10,000 feet, we started with a series of static-line jumps at 3000 feet. The jumpmaster assessed your form and landing, and you gradually worked your way up to pulling your own ripcord at higher altitudes. I never progressed past static line but had good form and landed well, except for the one time I had the wind at my back and plowed a furrow with my face that was later used to plant a half-acre of corn.

The school's instructor and jumpmaster, George, was a character. A Korean War paratrooper, George had a girlfriend half his age and undoubtedly first-hand experience with mind-altering substances, but took teaching and safety deadly seriously. Training was rigorous, and nobody got into the plane until George decided they were ready.

One cold morning, George and a couple of us were gathered around a fire blazing in a steel drum, which George periodically fueled with a squirt of gasoline from a 5-gallon can. We eyed him warily, and I think someone might've even asked if that was such a good idea, but George was cool. Suddenly, an arc of flame leaped up the stream of gasoline to the can and ignited it. Everyone scattered as if a grenade had been dropped--everyone but George, who calmly placed the can on the ground, put his foot over the spout, and stood there like Captain Morgan with flames licking at his boot and pants cuff until the fire was snuffed. That combination of reckless risk and calm crisis management is my enduring memory of him.

As I say, I only jumped a few times and probably wouldn't have done it again even if George hadn't died while skydiving in 1983. But that sealed it. First, George was my jumpmaster, I didn't know or trust another. Second, I figured if a split-second accident/mistake could take out a Zen Master with more than 3000 jumps in his log, I didn't stand a chance. One of the first real articles I wrote in my new job as a cub newspaper reporter was George's obit.

I figure there's enough real risk and thrill in life without me needing to manufacture it, but understand and respect--to a point--those who feel otherwise (that point being a family or real obligations to others, after which I think it's unnecessarily selfish). Ah, but to grasp the strut of a plane's wing, arch your back and step off into space . . . feel the canopy gently open overhead and see the ground rising slowly between your legs . . . now that's a memory to last a lifetime.

Few people are fortunate enough to have photographic documentation of the exact moment in their lives they were as cool as they were ever going to get. I do. Also, if your skydiving school isn't run out of a broken-down VW van, you're doing it wrong.

7 comments:

Namowal said...

Wow, thanks for the mention! *blush*
You are correct that learning to skydive was a different world in the early 1980s. From what I've heard, it was the sort of like the wild west, with ramshackle equipment and settings.
Not sure I would have volunteered to try back then! Kudos to you for taking the challenge.

Jim O'Kane said...

Scary stuff. I don't think I'd ever be able to skydive because the instructor would probably tire of my screaming and my bodily evacuations. A fascinating sport to watch from the security of a Youtube screen, though.

Brian, that pic of you is excellent. Did Biggs and Wedge ever show up? :)

Brian Fies said...

Jennifer, I think my school's pilot was Orville Wright.

Jim, it was just like shooting womp rats in Beggars Canyon back home.

Linda Wilhelm said...

Sorry, but I never understood the need to step out of a perfectly good airplane. I do get the thrill though. I did the weenie version at iFly.

Anonymous said...

Wingusits. "Grinding the crack" on Youtube

Billy said...

Love that photo of you!

ronnie said...

What a ripping comic! I can't wait to read part 2!

Brian, you were quite the dashing thing... and is that a *VW bus* behind you?

Living the dream!