August 15, 2011

skydiving: It's nothing but "Wow!"

Thank goodness for discount deal sites like LivingSocial and Groupon. Without them, I wouldn't have had the time of my life last Sunday strapped to a barefoot stranger and falling to earth at 120 mph.

Katy & Joanne
Four members of my adventure group, Joanne, Katy, Sheryl and I, purchased a great LivingSocial deal for a tandem skydive and we were beyond excited! We booked our dive date and headed out to Warrenton Air Park in the Virginia countryside.  At least Joanne, Katy and I did. It turns out tandem skydiving is wildly popular and by the time Sheryl tried to make a reservation, they were booked solid for another month.

But back to our trip, Katy drove for about an hour and a half while I did a terrible job of navigating. Happily, we eventually found our tiny airport and were a little surprised to discover the grass runway, spraypainted directional signs and a pack of canine greeters.

My surprise was rooted in my past experiences. I'll admit right now that I have never been skydiving and I don't know anyone else who has. My expectations were totally formed by TV and movies and included harnessed soldiers packed into the belly of a big plane, instructors yelling "Go! Go! Go!" and dozens of circular parachutes drifting down over WWII France.  It wasn't like the Army. Not even a little bit. My experience was very laid back, more like camp counselors at 10,000 feet.

While the airport and staff were exceptionally casual, the legal waiver was by far the most intimidating we had ever seen.  Once it was signed and initialed in 24 places (really) AND once I'd paid an additional $85 for a video (more than worth it!) we were ready for harnesses and a few minutes of instruction. My instructor, Chris, was wearing shorts, T-shirt and a wrist cam but nothing below the knee. I suspect he enjoyed the feeling of wind between his toes. Finally, Joanne, two instructors and I squeezed into a little plane stripped of everything but a pilot and we were off. (Katy shared a plane with a kid celebrating his 21st birthday.) During our two-mile ascent, Chris, rechecked the gear, hooked our harnesses together and reviewed the dive procedure:
  • pay attention,
  • when leaving the plane, grip the front of the harness and ARCH YOUR BACK,
  • let your feet go back toward your posterior,
  • maintain this position until you feel 3 taps on your shoulder then arms out and enjoy 5,000 feet of free fall at 120 mph.
Free fall.  Honestly, I was not worried. Maybe it was because I had no responsibilities, maybe it was because I had complete confidence in my instructor, maybe it was because I'm not afraid of heights (though I was nervous on that 25 foot trapeze platform). Nope, not worried at all HOWEVER those first 10 seconds were crazy! As Chris opened the little door to my left, the wind and noise smacked me in the face. Then, suddenly there was nothing around us but air. The plane was leaving and we were alone in the sky accelerating, face first, toward the ground. I wasn't expecting noise but the wind in my ears made it impossible to communicate. I was so distracted by... well...everything that I missed Chris' signal to let go of the harness and put my hands out. I have no idea if I was arching or not but suddenly the parachute was up, we slowed from 120 mph to 40mph and it got quieter.  Chris "let me steer" then asked if I like roller coasters. He pulled on the right cord and we went into a rapid spiral. Lord, it was fun! We chatted for a few minutes then suddenly we were sitting on the runway right in front of the crowd filling out their waivers.
Katy's flight

I've posted my video below so you can get a sense of the experience.  If you're into heights and speed, this adventure is a winner!  Thanks, Kesha, for being our on-the-ground photographer.

August 10, 2011

Anne's 1000 Mile Challenge: Bruised, battered, and behind

Outdoor Contributor, Anne, has a new project and a new training journal.  She'll be writing regular posts about her 1,000-mile challenge.

Scenic view of the North Fork of the Flathead

I truly meant to write a post a couple of weeks ago, but I have been in recovery mode from a river trip at the end of July.  So far on my goal of moving 1000 miles and losing 10 pounds by labor day, I have moved 350 miles and lost one pound.

An Update on my journey

As expected, the weight loss has been elusive. I’ve already started reading headlines on the tabloids in the check out line at the grocery—lose 10 pounds in 10 days. My brain knows this doesn’t work, but it sure would be nice if there was a magic way to lose weight.  I am eating more vegetables, less cheese, and drinking a lot less.  I’m still hoping to see some results.

On the movement end, one of our planned summer activities was a river float trip.  My husband, Eric, and I been planning to go with some friends that have a raft and two young children.  We planned to take our canoe, knowing that we have a lot of canoe experience, and we work together well as a team. We decided to float the North Fork of the Flathead River. This beautiful river flows on the Westside of Glacier National Park.  Most of the time, the beautiful mountain crest of Glacier is visible, and there’s always the possibility of seeing moose, black bears, and even grizzlies. 

Me in the front of the canoe
For our expedition, we put our boats on the river at the Canadian border. Since this was the first multi-day float trip for all of us, it took some time to load the boats.  We didn’t actually get on the water until two in the afternoon. We paddled for a couple of hours before calling it a night at a primitive (no toilets or water) campsite. We wanted to rest up before the only real rapids on the trip—upper and lower Kintla Rapids. Both are rated Class II. The water is still really high this year. The flow on the North Fork is setting a record this year. Eric also tried to cover up the front part of the canoe because we were having to bail all the time.  We were carrying about 400 pounds of gear so the canoe was riding low.

On the second day we set out and the canoe was doing better at keeping the water out of my lap in the front of the boat.  After a couple of miles we got to the rapids. We set up nicely, straight down the middle. The waves didn’t look too high, but appearance from a distance can be deceiving.  We swamped. We had so much water in the canoe that only a couple of inches of the gunnels were above water.  We went into shore to bail and regroup before the next waves. We got out of the canoe while the water was still raging. Eric had no problems finding his footing, but somehow, I ended up being swept away and farther down the river. Judging from the bruises on the right side of my body, I hit a lot of rocks before I was able to get to shore again. 

Ellie and our homemade decking to keep the water out
After bailing the canoe and assessing our situation, we were missing one dry bag, a GPS, and not much else.  We looked down the river; there was one more small rapid to run.  We decided to take a conservative line that was going to require some hard paddling. Our friends in the raft went ahead. They had no trouble.  However, we did.  When we tried to cross the river to avoid a big wave, we tipped completely over. This time I was able to stay with the boat. So was Eric. We floated down the river about a mile, holding on to the upside-down canoe, before our friends were able to pull us in.  Needless to say, I wasn’t overjoyed about spending the rest of the day in the canoe. So we switched out with the people on the raft. Our friend Jody went into the canoe with Eric, and I rode in the raft with his wife Casey and their two kids. 

The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful. The third day I was in the canoe and had a great time. We learned a lot on this trip—always wear your life jacket and I don’t like whitewater canoeing.