A Mighty Wind For A Lofty Pursuit

A Mighty Wind For A Lofty Pursuit

I step to the edge, I stand and look down, fold my arms across my chest and with no time to mess around, I laugh to myself and … FREE FALL …. into the upward rushing air from below. I'm precariously dangling horizontally in midair over what appears to be a patchwork of extra thick cage wire in a transparent vertical wind tunnel. I'm not asleep; it's not a dream, not a nightmare and I'm not attached to anything. I'm actually flying — hovering in the air surrounded by sheer walls of torrential air - hanging motionless and speeding faster than I've ever moved in my life, all in one moment, all in a single frame of time.

The guy beside me is my flight instructor Jason, his hand on my shoulder, speaking words I cannot hear over the noise of a 120 mph wind. But, we communicate with some pretty simple hand signals. He has me gently tilt my chin downward, extend my arms and hands forward and upward and bend at the knees, arch my back a little more and I'm flying higher and higher.

Suddenly I'm in a place I have never known and that can take to me a place where I have never looked. Life offers us moments where the rush of intensity melds with such richness that your world radiates with clarity. This is one of them.

From the beginning

So I'm hanging out with some friends in our Voice Studio working on some ideas for podcasts. Minding my own business - not bothering anyone - and for some reason I happen to tell them that I've always wanted to learn how to skydive. When I was a kid in college I wanted to take lessons but couldn't because I had knee surgery.

One member of the group, Angie Dijanic - a friend and colleague - was a part of the conversation. I made the mistake of telling her that while Krista Carter and I had been in Denver for training I saw an indoor skydiving training facility located in the suburbs. I commented that indoor skydiving would be a really great way to get some skydiving experience. But like everyone I had an excuse, not enough time, not enough money, it's a long and expensive drive …. The next thing I know - she has signed us up for lessons and we are making a morning drive to Colorado.

With A Rebel Yell: Passion before Paycheck

I embark upon yet another Adventure; my life, this summer, has been full of them. Expensive, time consuming, incredibly memorable, envious adventures, I love it, and want more. "Passion before Paycheck" is my rebel yell for decadent adventurous pleasure.

It's a nice, warm, sunny day as we arrive at the training facility in Lone Tree, but we are chilled with anticipation. Why would anyone want to trek jungles, explore cities, cave dive, zip line, snorkel in the ocean with sea lions …. SKYDIVE? "Because mother told us not to, that's why."

We check in with the receptionist, sign liability waivers and go upstairs where we watch in amazement, with other "newbie's," as the flight instructors demonstrate their skills by performing incredible aerobatic feats. My fellow adventurer, Angie, and I put on our knee and elbow pads, flight suits, earplugs, goggles and helmets. Incredibly, I've reached the age where this is the same equipment that I have to wear for safe sex. Anyway, we are just standing around now - dumping adrenalin and wondering what we're getting into.

We are introduced to our Instructor Jason Russell who ushers us into a classroom with another flier, a 14-year-old boy named Dylan, whose mother bought the flight time for him as a gift. He too is a first timer. Also, included in our group is an experienced flier who is working out and being coached on some bellying flying maneuvers.

It's indoor training, what could go wrong?

This place is not just for beginners. Professional stunt skydivers, competition-grade divers, and even the military uses this wind tunnel technology to train and practice set maneuvers before taking them to ten thousand feet. But Jason tells us not to be intimidated. It's suitable for almost anyone. Hopefully, I'm anyone.

The warning signs are everywhere - this isn't a thrill ride, this isn't virtual, this isn't a game … this is an active sport - and like other recreational pursuits that involve risk — requires regimented instruction designed to eliminate as much risk as possible. For the beginner initial instruction takes about thirty minutes, explaining the basics of hand gestures, form, take off, flying and landing.

After all you can fly into the wall, fly out of the tunnel, fly very high and come back down on your head - but, according to Jason, its all going to be okay if we just remember - chin up to go down, chin down to go up and no exaggerated movements. His speech is very reassuring - "this stuff is idiot proof." OK, "idiot proof." Now he's got my full attention, as I look around the room at the other fliers. Angie - a PhD —, obviously not the idiot, a kid - who was smart enough to tie his shows extra tight — and an experienced flier. I must be the idiot. The voice inside my head silently screams, "He must have been referring to me!"

We move from the classroom to the staging area. Thoughts, questions, inquiries, are racing through my mind. What if I can't do this? What if I go into a roll and just keep on rolling? What if I fall like a rock? What if I smash my face into the wall? What if I turn upside down and all the blood rushes to my head? What if I puke? What if I forget everything I've been taught? What if…???? What if there is NO GOD and I'm thrust into oblivion?Breathe …

I'm watching and taking in everything around me. How do they go up? How do they go down? How do they turn? How do they ….????? How do they get silly putty to copy pictures of comic strips and bounce too? I'm not frightened, but my heart is pounding and my brain hurts, yet I'm externally stoic.

Buy the ticket, take the ride

My thoughts start to float and I think of gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson as I anxiously await our flight. Okay, we bought the ticket - we shall take the ride. Finally, the time has come. We're ready to fly. Fifteen minutes and seemingly countless rehashes of the training in my head later, conditions are perfect, and I'm sitting on the jump bench waiting my turn.

I recheck my equipment and rehearse every move Jason has instructed us on - and I continue this ritual as the other flyers in our group jump - Jason beckons to Angie - "Ready!" She shakes her head yes and swims into the "jump center" air. She does great - she is flying - zooming up into the heights and back down again - her face is ear-to-ear grin. She has made it clear she wants to fly high and she is doing it. I think to myself, "No fair! She owns a trampoline."

I keep pulling my goggles away from my face and blowing to clear condensation. Nerves are coming on, but they're familiar, almost reassuring, from all those times stepping off ski slopes, mountaintops, high rise buildings, climbing pyramids, snorkeling in the ocean, zip lining through jungles, racing ATV and Jungle Buggies through the Rainforest, exploring underwater caves and other adrenalin laced adventures. A little fear keeps you sharp.

It's my turn, after all that time to think; now it's time to act, to enjoy. I move forward with a silent mantra, "The air is my friend, be one with the air, trust in the force (the air force, hahahahaha!)." At the "pit" entry I lean inward and upward. I feel the wind change around me, I feel acceleration, one step, fall forward and swoosh, the wind and the reality of it all flood in. I'm defying the bonds of gravity, and experiencing the exhilaration and sensation of free falling at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. Jason is beside me and motions for me to "watch him," Chin up, arms out, palms flat, back arched, legs bent - I'm soaring - tilting my chin a little higher, slight movement of my hands, legs, arms and I'm floating side to side, down, then up again, fast then slow - I'm flying - not falling.

I'm supposing one of the primary differences between this training and open-air skydiving is the rapid ascension. I go up, sometimes incredibly fast and high, then down, sometimes a bit faster and lower than I like, I'm flying. Just like in open-air skydiving, I'm in a direct stream of wind, propelled into flight just as if I'd jumped from an airplane and without the inherent dangers. It's all so surreal that for some reason I feel strangely calm. I'm even smiling. I'm enjoying this - what a rush.

There are people all around the outside of the "jump center" walls watching, smiling, and making friendly supportive gestures. But I'm in sensory overload, that transcendental mode when the brain must select what to receive, what to store.

In what seems longer than it is, I check left turn, right turn, up, down, around. I feel a firm jerk on my suit's harness and I'm gently gliding toward the exit - as I get close to the screen, walls and doors, things seem to move a little faster - but still the "drop zone" is patiently coming my way.

As I reach for the edges of the "drop", I pull myself in and move my feet gently to the ground. Jason gives me thumbs up and a high five, Angie and the kid are smiling hugely, the experienced flyer gives me a few pointers. And I'm back on line - we are ready to go for our second flight. The nerves are gone, substituted by excitement and exhilaration. The flight this time is pure bliss. All too soon our flights are over. This was hugely fun, but it is a sport, it does constitute exercise, and we are a bit winded (hahahahaha!)(I'm hilarious).

The other fliers, instructors and staff at this place are great. You might expect the Hollywood version of adrenalin junkies who do not relate well to others. This is entirely wrong. As our group steps out of the "drop zone" we are greeted by smiles, high fives, and backslaps as we walk into tightly nit groups of some of the most friendly and talkative 'adrenalin junkies' you will find anywhere. Everywhere around us there are experienced fliers and "newbies" side by side, flight instructors, and facility staff chatting and relating their experience to anyone who will listen. Also, they all seem to be more than helpful when it comes to recruiting virgin fliers into the sport. However, ……. ominous warning coming ……

I DO NOT Recommend this Adventure!

I'd like to tell you that I highly recommend this Adventure - this SkyVenture — for you. But I can't. I'm sorry but I'm greedy, selfish, impatient and don't want to have to wait my turn next time because all you guys are there in front of me. Stay home. Unless we go together. That would be so kewl! ……

Angie and I, we bought the ticket, took the ride and got the t-shirt too. Future flights, you ask? Oh yeah, smugly sniffing, we get them at a reduced price. Why? Because, unlike you guys, we are now experienced fliers. Angie wants her own flight gear, none of that rental stuff for her. With raised fist we demand more and vow to be regulars as we shout our rebel yell, "PASSION BEFORE PAYCHECK!"

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