Tuesday, November 11, 2008
That’s the word that came to mind as we lined up in the frosty Elsinore air this morning. Shivering, shaking, cold wracked bones in a wet field watching mists rise off of Lake Elsinore appeared like a scene from a Hollywood blockbuster. With names like “Ripcord, Lurch, Peggs, Peg-leg, Gimpy, Creepy, Spot, Monkey, Grey Mike, Purple Mike, Pink Mike, Dopey, Brokeback, Harry Potter, Handsome Harry, we’re clearly a ragtag bunch of misfits, not even accepted by the USPA or FAI, the governing bodies of our sport. We’re different because we fly forward and are somewhat anti-social because we can’t quite share the air with our non-winged friends that also wear parachutes on their backs. We fly formations that ‘normal’ skydivers can’t fly; we can fly directly above or below each other, and travel ridiculous distances that no skydiver could ever hope to achieve. True, we can’t exactly fly backwards, and it’s very hard to fly on our butts, and we can’t fly downward as fast as most head-down skydivers, but we’re moving forward at speeds where we regularly pass small aircraft on their downwind, base, or final legs.
We’re weird. And we’re pumpkin-proud of ourselves. And we should be. This morning we put together more forward-moving people than ever before attempted in history.
And it was fun. And challenging. And exciting.
We lost a fair number of people in the formations this morning, and another fair number were moved around. Regardless of fame, big name, history, number of jumps, who you know….if you weren’t performing or if you violated a safety rule, SNAK! Went the axe. You’re cut. Two painful words no athlete wants to hear.
Even so…we’re tough. For example, we have one guy that was badly hurt in a collision with someone who is not part of the wingsuit formation attempt. His arm looks like every color of the rainbow and swollen in odd directions. Then we have Brian Drake, who has a peg-leg from a BASE jumping accident. This morning, Brian cut his finger on a sharp object, badly enough that his glove was dripping blood in the aircraft. On landing, he asked me to stitch his finger. The stitch slowed the bleeding, but I know it hurt like hell when I stuck a sailcloth needle with E thread through his finger. It was all that was available, but it worked. Mostly. I was afraid to hard-bind his finger, but Brian so badly wanted to be part of the event that he jumped with a broken left leg and a horrible, painful cut and stitch on his left hand. Brian, you’re an inspiration and my new hero.
The morning began with a cutaway from a nasty spinner, but fortunately the trash was recovered fairly fast. My first jump ended up in a nasty spinner as well. Hands on the cutaway pillow, I realized that there was a canopy below me, and another heading straight my way. I knew I had some time, although I was below my deck of 2k. I quickly unzipped both arms and legs and began the process of trying to get my slider down by untwisting lines. Sabre2’s are very forgiving wingsuit canopies as they’ll fly fairly well even with half a dozen line twists. Later, the jumper flying towards me told me that he had pretty good video of me fighting my canopy, and wondered why I hadn’t chopped. He wasn’t aware of the canopy straight below.
Jump five of the day, we thought we had achieved the record. Spirits were high, everyone excited. Luigi Cani had donned smoke along with another jumper and flew in as part of the fourth aircraft team (my team). We also had some new blood on the team and it seemed to be helpful. See my photos for images of the jump.
Unfortunately, while the formation was beautiful and symmetrical, it also didn’t fit the measurement standard exactly as Jeff Nebelkopf prescribed. So, it was back to the aircraft for a few more jumps. Either way, tomorrow is our last day.
Luigi is jumping an experimental 70 something Xbraced canopy that requires he carry a coat hangar with him. The canopy is so flattened that once deployed, the speed and flatness of the canopy causes the slider to creep back up. The slider is too high for Luigi to reach, even with short risers, so he has to deploy, use the hangar to pull the slider down over his toggles, and then stow the slider. Somewhat comical to watch.
Speaking of comical…I’ve long had a few silly opinions based on minor experiences with various wingsuits over the past year. Most of my opinions have been fairly well substantiated. This flock, contrary to the statements and opinions of some, is *extremely* varied in wingsuit type, body type, wingsuit brand, and talent. It’s probably most heavy on Birdman suits, with Tony Suits and Phoenix-fly making up the balance of the suits with a few SFly suits tossed into the mix. Some wingsuits simply aren’t made for flocking, and that’s all there is to it. Maybe if the flock had a greater forward speed or downward fall rate (we’re aiming for 66mph) it would be a different story. But… it’s obvious that some suits are better made for flocking than others. Bear in mind that this event is made up of some of the greatest wingsuit flyers in the world, with representatives from virtually every corner of the globe.
Another interesting point is that some countries have teams from their area that are physically struggling with the various flocking techniques and speeds that seem to be common to the USA. And then there are those that make you sit back, scratch your head and think….’how do they do that?” It’s been a tremendous pleasure to fly with a few of the TopGun guys like Costyn. It’s been even more fun to jump with my friend Juan Mayer from Argentina. I flew with him when I first began this wingsuit journey at the urging of Scott Campos. Juan is part of my team, and follows me in the formation, flying off my right foot. Damn….it’s fun flying with some of these guys.
Dinner was a blast; Hawaiian food courtesy of Ill Vision. We had another briefing, watched jumps of the day as filmed by Craig O’Brian and Scotty Burns, plus some ground footage I’d shot along with others. The rest of the group adjourned to a local bar while I went back to the hotel to finish the daily diary and upload video.
Tomorrow marks the end. Win or lose, this has been a monumental undertaking, and Jeff, Taya, Justin, Phil, Ed, and Mark all deserve a huge vote of appreciation, confidence, and gratitude for having put together an event that is not only exceptionally challenging, historic, and ground-breaking, but monumentally difficult to keep safety at the fore. They have. I’ve watched big-name people be removed from the formation without any show of mercy as the result of a safety violation. I’ve watched one friend give another friend a Yellow Card (reprimand) for a minor safety violation. The organizers have made hard, fast rules and stuck to them without favoritism. I myself have had my ass ripped up for working on video between loads, prepping the video for briefings. Collecting video from seven different sources per jump isn’t fast. And it’s necessary. But it still made me late for a briefing and dirt dive, and got me into hot water with the very people I’m serving. In other words….no mercy. You know where you need to be; be there. To quote Ed Pawlowski…”Don’t be the last guy here.”
Well…another long and rewarding day. Bonding and friendship abound, and no matter how it all falls out tomorrow, a lot of great strides in wingsuiting, skydiving, and friendships have been accomplished.
We’ll see if we can pull it off tomorrow….6:00 a.m. still comes too early…. Even for skypirates with strange nicknames and rebellious streaks such as ours.