Recently in skydiving Category

...and with that, I think I'm done.

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I had such a busy weekend, that it's hard to recall the details of exactly what I did, but I'll give it a shot. After the work whistle blew on Friday, I snuck-in a quick run of around 4 miles before working on the Harley for a bit.

With the Hog all cleaned and ready to roll (complete with new tires!), I took it for a quick spin down to the Memorial Union, where I listened to a really terrible band play some "music." It was so bad that I left almost immediately; that and it was incredibly hot outside - high 80s, no breeze, and humid - all at around 8:00pm...

Saturday had me riding in a truck with my co-worker, Dan Christy. He purchased a 1971 VW Beetle from a VW-nut that lived somewhere in the middle-of-nowhere-Iowa. The VW didn't run, so he needed someone to ride along to help him load and unload it. I volunteered, and as such, spent many hours riding shotgun in his 1997 Dodge Ram truck.

The Beetle was in shockingly good condition; very little rust, and aside from needing some minor work, appeared to be nearly road ready. We pushed it onto the trailer, secured it, and hit the road for our 5+ hour return trip. I thought I took some pictures of the Beetle, but either my phone failed, or I accidentally deleted them...

One nice thing that came out of the trip: Dubuque, IA. What a cool looking town. I think I might sneak over there on the bike some weekend and hang out for a bit. I'm not sure what there is to do there other than gamble, but I liked the vibe of the place.

Because we left for Iowa at an ungodly-early hour, we returned with plenty of time to do things at night. So, I once again fired-up the cycle and went for a ride. I stopped in Mount Horeb and snapped several pictures - here's a teaser photo (there will be more to come; I have to edit/clean-up the photos a bit):

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After the ride, I went for a run (man, was it HOT - 90F+, humid, windy), and then met my friend Chris Shubak out for some beverages in downtown Madison. It was great to hang with him and his girlfriend - they're super nice and I enjoy chatting with them.

I woke-up early on Sunday morning so that I could go for a run before the weather got too unbearable. 4-ish miles at 6:00am were just what the doctor ordered. After a shower, I hopped in the car and made the drive out to Seven Hills Skydiving Center, where I would meet-up with a large group of friends from the MidTown Pub for a day of diving.

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You may recall that it was this very same group that inspired me to try skydiving last year. Well, they decided to return in 2012, only this time, they coordinated the jump with the Sevenhills Boogie.

A Boogie is a large gathering of skydivers from various clubs from around the United States. This Boogie had folks from Iowa, Colorado, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, and other places. They brought up a special plane from Chicago so that they could accommodate larger numbers of divers, and so they could get up to altitude faster.

Every dive that I did last year (I did a total of 21 jumps) was from a tiny, rickety Cessna 182 that could hold a total of 4 people. To exit the Cessna, you had to climb through an opening about half the size of a normal car door, and stand on a super tiny platform while grabbing on to the wing strut.

Conversely, here's the plane the club rented for this year's Boogie:

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That thing could hold at least 16 divers and featured a large opening at the rear of the plane that you simply jumped out of. It was so much nicer. It also climbed to 13,000 feet in a matter of minutes; the Cessna took at least 30 minutes to reach 10,000 feet. Talk about an improvement!

So, the Boogie was breaking all sorts of skydiving records. From what we were told, they shattered the record for number of sorties flown by that type of plane - it made 37 flights on Friday; the world record was 34. They also set some skydiving records with respect to formations, but I didn't catch the specifics. To say they were in a good mood would be an understatement.

Now, I would normally have jumped solo - I'm close to earning my A-license, but with the nature of the weekend, the club wasn't offering any instructor assisted jumps. You either had to be fully licensed to jump solo, or you had to jump tandem.

Since I had never jumped tandem, nor had I jumped from 13,000 feet, I figured it was worth the price to try it. I paid my $179, put my name on the manifest, signed all of the waivers, and waited.

...and waited... and waited... The MidTown crew consisted of nearly 30 people, all of whom were jumping tandem. There were also nearly 100 other divers all waiting for opportunities to jump, so the queue was quite long.

We arrived to the school at 9:00am, and I didn't jump until around 3:30pm. That's a lot of waiting around, with absolutely nothing to do, other than watch people land.

But, at around 3:00pm, I received the call to "suit-up" - or, in this case, put on my tandem harness.

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The tandem harness allows you to be tethered to a jump master, so that the two of you fall as one. He has the parachute strapped to his body, and thanks to the special harnesses, the passenger is attached via four points to the master. The master rides on the back of the passenger.

In what can only be described as a bit of comedic irony, my jump master (Leon) was all of 5'6". Here he is behind me, cinching up my harness and making sure the attachment points are in-line.

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We boarded the plane and made the quick ascent to 13,000 feet. The door opened, and four solo divers lept from the plane, doing somersaults as they exited. I asked Leon if we could somersault and he said, "Absolutely!"

We made our way to the open door, knelt to one knee, and catapulted ourselves from the plane. I counted at least five somersaults; that's quite a rush when you're falling at 140mph. We stabilized ourselves and then free-fell at 140mph for over a minute.

I deployed our canopy (parachute) at 4,500 feet; it cleared, everything looked good, and we were enjoying the spectacular view and peaceful calm of the canopy fall. Leon mentioned that we could do some windmills - he pulled hard on one of the toggles and went into a high-G turn that would have us "windmilling" over the parachute.

Windmilling drops altitude quickly; the loft from the canopy is lost, so you fall at a much faster rate. We scrubbed 1500 feet in a matter of about 20 seconds, so we quickly found ourselves nearing final approach.

Leon was kind enough to let me guide us in, so I took the toggles and with his navigation, brought us in to our true final approach. When we hit about 100-feet, he took over for the final landing.

Here you can see how much bigger I am than Leon, as we're attached in the tandem rig. We're at about 60-feet at this point.

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Leon was an absolute master with the landing - he set us down just perfectly, although the wind caught the chute and we toppled over while trying to separate the tether. I felt bad for crushing the guy... Here we are, just prior to toppling over.

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Despite the awesome experience of jumping from 13,000 feet, somersaulting, windmilling, and all of that fun stuff, I think I'm done skydiving.

Why? The time commitment is simply too great. I lost the entire day to being at the jump site, and I got in one, single jump. That's about par for the course... there's just too many things to do rather than sit around a rural airfield for 8-10 hours. Not to mention the hour+ drive to and from the place.

It's also expensive. A solo jump runs about $60. And once you do get your license, the equipment is outrageously expensive. A used solo rig will run around $5k. A new one can eclipse $10k very easily. Granted, you're trusting your life to the stuff, but that's still a lot of cash.

And, while it's fun, it just doesn't excite me like it did last year. There are other things I'd rather do than climb into a rickety Cessna and sweat for 30-40 minutes before skydiving for 5-8 minutes.

Truth be told, I'll probably do the MidTown jumps if they continue to be an annual event, but aside from that, I don't foresee making any future trips to the drop zone. :-(

Oh well. At least I did it.

Enough ranting... how about an update?

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As much as I enjoy a good rant, it's probably best to give the weekly update - especially since I missed last week's update. :-)

Dan, Tara, and I went out for fish on Friday night of last week - we hit Dexter's Pub, where we had some stellar fish. Dan and Tara did the fried cod, which featured a thick, flavorful, perfect batter; I went with a grilled chicken salad, as I was trying to remain good. I did sneak a taste of the fish, and it was exactly as it was on the last visit - superb.

While eating dinner, Dan mentioned that another friend of ours, Dan (ironically), was in town for the weekend (he lives in Iowa). They had plans to go trap shooting and wondered if I'd like to join. I've never been trap shooting before, so I figured it would be worth checking out.

We met on Sunday morning at a local hunt club, donned some ear protection, loaded-up, and hit the course. The club had 12 stations and each station had two target systems. The targets launch via radio control - when you're ready to shoot, you say, "Pull" and one of the people in your group hits the "launch" buttons. You do this twice per station, so you effectively get to shoot at 48 clay targets.

Here's Dan at one of the first stations:

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Dan hunts a lot, so he had an extra shotgun (12-gauge, I believe) that he let me use. I had never fired a shotgun before, so I didn't know what to expect. It wasn't that "shocking" - I figured it would really pack a wallop, and it probably would with a non-target load. Here I am in one of the stations that simulates a boat on the water - the boat moved as you shot, because it was suspended by chains.

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It was quite sunny and rather warm, but we all had a good time. Dan scored the most hits, with 30; I had 19 for comparison... :-)

Here's our group, at one of the last stations - Dan from Iowa is taking aim while his friend Brad watches, along with Dan. In the foreground you can see the clay launching mechanism.

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I have to say, it was pretty fun. Every station was different and challenging - some targets crossed in front of you, some came from behind/overhead, some came at you, and others bounced across the ground. The place was pretty busy as evidenced by the shells as seen at one of the stations:

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This past weekend, I spent most of my time "moving" - it started on Saturday with a rain-delayed 5K race... I had signed-up to run the Madison Mini Marathon, but thanks to my poor prep work and recent overeating, I wasn't in any condition to run 13.1 miles... So, I did the 5K instead, and in hindsight, I should've stayed home.

The race was delayed due to rain... so about 5,000 runners sat for almost two-hours in the Memorial Union before being sent out to run in a torrential downpour. I managed to lose my iPod Shuffle during the run, and I wrecked one of my car keys as it got soaked. UGH. And it was a stupid 5K... not even worth doing; a 5K is 3.2 miles, and my daily average is 5.0 miles... Sigh. Here's the obligatory race bib shot, along with medal and my visor (sans iPod):

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Immediately following the race, I went home and wrapped-up the morning with a few hours on the trainer (biking), followed by some plyometrics.

By 1pm, the weather was clear, so I went skydiving - still working on getting cleared for pilot chute pulls. My jump master on one of the jumps took pictures so that we could watch our arch and practice pilot chute pulls. These turned out much better than my first set, so I'll share them here. Here I am, hanging from the wing... believe it or not, I'm getting used to it, even if I am 4,000 feet above the ground, going 100+ mph.

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And here's my release with initial arch (the wind does funny things to the 'ole mug):

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And in my arch, yelling "ARCH THOUSAND":

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And then things got interesting; on opening shock, my chute twisted me around - I got jerked pretty good - you can see my legs flailing. I recovered nicely, though:

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I say "recovered" because I managed to deploy my practice pilot chute (a yellow streamer). If you look closely, you can see the yellow blob floating away from me:

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And here I am, fully deployed and beginning my canopy ride back down to the ground:

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And last but not least, here's my jump master celebrating the successful jump. I've also highlighted the landing area (drop zone) and me. :-)

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I woke-up early this morning and went for a 2 hour bike ride with one of my coworkers, and now I'm off for an early evening run... gotta' get back into race form and hopefully have pants that fit me better again. ;-)

Centurion bike race + skydiving updates

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Had a pretty decent weekend - I managed a decent run on Saturday morning; nearly 8-miles without any fatigue. It probably helped that I was on the road by 6:00am - before the heat and humidity had a chance to really dig-in and make things miserable. My run was finished by 7:00am, at which point I hopped in the shower, had some breakfast, packed my skydiving bag, and headed to the dropzone.

I arrived to the dropzone by 9:00am and was shocked to find the place completely full - there were cars everywhere, and the hangar was jam-packed with people. Looked like I was in for a long day of waiting for an opportunity to jump. I put my name on the board, and spent the next 3-4 hours watching and learning how to pack parachutes. By the time my name was up for a jump, I felt like I could recite the packing process in my sleep. :-)

Here I am, packing a pilot chute - nothing too exciting, but it was the first step in working toward being able to pack a parachute on my own (or with the oversight of a jump master).

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With the pilot chute properly rolled, it was time to stuff it into the BOC (Bottom Of Container). Here it is, in place and all set to fly.

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I finally had a chance to jump at around 1:30pm or so. It was hot and humid, with zero wind. Not ideal weather for skydiving. We hopped into the small Cessna, made our way to 4,000 feet, and just as I was climbing out, we hit a nice pocket of thermals... so, the plane became "bouncy." Not what you want when you're hanging from a wing.

I released from the wing, didn't arch real well, and went through with my PPCP (Practice Pilot Chute Pull) procedures. I successfully "deployed" my practice pilot chute, but I ultimately failed my first PPCP due to my weak arch. Drat!

The rest of the flight was uneventful; the heat made for a very slow descent... I was under canopy for probably 10 minutes or so, which meant I had plenty of time to play around in the air. My landing was also uneventful - landed in the pea gravel, exactly where I was supposed to.

I finished out the afternoon with a bike ride - a short 15-16 mile ride with my boss, and then called it an evening.

Sunday morning came far too quickly - I had registered to ride in the Centurion bike race, so I had to be at the Middleton airport and ready to ride by 6:45am. At about 6:30am, just as I was unloading my bike from the car, the thunderstorms rolled-in to town. And with that, they delayed the start of the race from 7:00am until 9:00am.

With an extra two hours available, I headed to a local cafe for a light breakfast. I had two egg whites and some toast:

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I caught up with some other riders and we sat around talking about bikes, triathlons, and other fun stuff. By 8:30am or so, it looked as though the skies were clearing, so we made our way back out to the airport. We definitely had some rain... here I am making my way to the starting line:

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We wound around to the starting corral, where we waited for another 15-20 minutes; the race organizers were concerned about a potential storm cell, but it never surfaced, so we were cleared to go. Here's the last photo I snapped while on the course - we departed about a minute after this picture was taken:

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I started off slow; I wasn't sure where to slot in - there were some sprinters who took off immediately, some slow pokes who clogged-up the works, and some average folks who tried like me to navigate through the traffic.

After about 10 miles or so, the packs had sorted themselves, and I found myself riding in a nice group, rolling along at an average of 21-22mph. We hit some climbs and I found myself leading my pack. Everyone was drafting off of me - no one was offering to take the lead, so I kept motoring along.

We maintained this effort for another 15 miles or so, at which point we hit the first "feed station" (water, gatorade, bananas, and restrooms). Most of the pack that was latched to my back wheel stopped at the feed station, but I kept going. Little did I realize that another 5-6 miles ahead awaited the first of three seriously monstrous hills.

I hit the first hill, which was a 15% grade and I wanted to cry. Talk about a steep climb... it took me almost 5-minutes to reach the top of that hill, cranking and pedaling as hard as I could the entire time, at an average speed of less than 5mph. Ugh!

The descent from that climb was unreal - my speedometer hit 44mph on the way down. And then, after a short right turn, it was back up the hill again. Nice. I continued this "up-down-up-down" route until about the 45-mile mark, at which point I knew the end was near.

Just as I was approaching the final hill, some guy directly in front of me screamed loudly and promptly tipped over in the middle of the road. I looked behind me - there was no one around. Since we were on a busy highway, I figured I should stop to help the guy. I had no idea what was wrong - all he said was "I can't move." (he said this over and over)

I picked-up his bike, put it in the weeds, and then dragged him over to the side of the road. He couldn't move either of his legs - he was cramping something fierce. I went back to my bike, got some GU (an energy gel with electrolytes), and gave it to him. I told him I was going to take off, and he was screaming about his legs being locked. I'm no masseuse, and I'm certainly no doctor, so I wasn't sure what else to do. I think he wanted me to sit with him, but I had already lost several minutes and several riders flew by us...

I got onto my bike and raced up the last hill, down the road, and 4 miles later, was at the finish line. My time for the 50-mile race was 2 hours, 35 minutes. I lost at least 9 minutes helping that guy... argh.

I was pretty surprised by the time - I averaged 19.0mph for the entire ride, which was really good. The race organizer had a food tent, which I stopped to check-out, but ultimately didn't eat anything from. Here I am, at the finish line, just outside of the food tent:

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Here's my bike, back at the car - even though it looks clean, it was filthy from the damp roads:

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I packed away my bike, and then went back to the finish line/expo area to wait for some folks that I knew from the Capital Brewery cycling club to finish. I browsed around the expo, had some water, and then almost had a heart attack when I heard my name being called to the podium - our Capital Brewery team had finished 3rd overall. I scored a hat and some mugs as part of the prize package:

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According to the preliminary results, I (personally) had finished 87th overall (out of 797 riders). Thanks to that cramping dude, I lost 9 spots to people in my age group, so I placed 14th out of 25 people in my age group... if I hadn't stopped, I would've been 5th. Oh well.

My friends finished the race and we all headed over to Capital Brewery for a celebration - we had some pizza and a few beverages, which were incredibly tasty, especially with the mercury pointing well into the 90s. While at the brewery, I spied this awesome bumper sticker:

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And that's how my weekend ended. I wasn't able to jump any more on Sunday - it was 4:00pm by the time I left the brewery, and I had a lawn that needed to be mowed, cats that needed to be fed, and food that needed to be grilled.

I did manage to jump again today - thanks to some better weather and a smoother exit from the airplane, I successfully completed my first PPCP. I also packed a parachute from start-to-finish, which was nerve-wracking, but fun and informative. I have to complete two more PPCP jumps and then I'll be cleared to pull my own pilot chute for subsequent jumps. I'll also move to higher altitudes, which allows for a longer freefall. I can't wait!

My apologies to Tom Petty...

I think I'm hooked on this skydiving stuff - I did two more jumps today and loved every minute of it. After my second jump, the jump master told me my form was "model perfect" and that I was ready to progress to the next level of training - practicing pulling my own pilot chute.

It was an absolutely beautiful day for diving today, if not a tad warm. I wish my altimeter was reading the humidity and temperature rather than my relative altitude...

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Although I suppose those zero-degree cold winter days will be here soon enough, so I shouldn't really wish too strongly for 'ole man winter to return.

With my gear all set and double-checked, we were ready for take-off:

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(I asked one of the instructors to take my picture before, during, and after my jump; you can't easily take a camera with you into the air... many thanks to Linda for snapping some pictures for me!)

On my first jump, I jumped from 4,000 feet; our plane's airspeed indicator died along the way up, so we didn't have any idea how fast we were going when we jumped. Normally, they want you to be going between 80-100 knots; the stall speed of the airplane is 75-ish knots, so our pilot dropped the speed until we stalled, then gave 'er just a little more gas. Getting out on that jump was super easy - the reduced wind speed made it less windy while climbing out onto the wing.

I jumped at 4,000 feet, my chute deployed by 3,000 feet (I had a long free fall for some reason), and then I played around in the air for about 5-6 minutes. Did lots of 360s, figure-8s, S-turns, and flares. Here I am coming in for my landing:

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I was at about 250-feet when that picture was taken; coming in on my final approach. I nailed the landing - hit the target on the dot. I did a light roll by accident - didn't land running... I gathered-up my chute and got one last photo:

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From there, it was into the "packing room" where I unloaded my gear and the instructors/jump masters work to repack the canopies (parachutes). Here are some folks working relentlessly and tirelessly to repack the rigs:

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I was really fortunate to have score a fast "turn-around" ride for my second jump; normally, there's a long waiting line for a spot on the plane, especially for students like me, but for some reason, I was able to hop on the next plane out... so, it was literally a "take off your gear, debrief, inquire about another flight, and 'hurry up - plane's ready!'"

Two jumps in less than 3 hours is a great pace. I'm not sure I'll enjoy luck like that again, so I won't be holding my breath for another rapid turnaround for a while. My second jump of the day went even better than the first - better form, more fun in the air, and a better landing. Winning!

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