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But the day's not over yet.

While getting my log book signed, I mutter something... about that first freefall jump, being more anxious than I'd expected -

"Fear is your friend," Rick says without looking up.


"Fear is your friend. Panic will kill ya." He pauses in his scribbling to get more specific...

Driving home in a nicer, more serene world. A call to Mom, to confirm a bounce-free day.

About two hours later, in a weary heap on the couch, the I-did-it amusement gives way to the inevitable: What the hell have I done?

Not even a static line that last time, frecryinoutloud. I let go of the plane over and over. It got easier with repetition.

In a way, I started to like it.

When the shock of that realization wore off, I still had the mystery of fear to unravel. Having always thought of fear as an enemy - and now the the instructor says the opposite...

Here's what I came up with. There is a kind of fear that motivates, and another that paralyzes. (Or maybe it's a matter of degree.) One of them got me to creep back out on that friggin' strut again when I didn't want to. The other would like to see me freeze up at a crucial time.

Vigilance or terror...

28 March.

I'd been warned to expect more bookwork, more drills... and fewer jumps.

The drive to the DZ wouldn't have been complete without a run-through of last night's thoughts. But the apprehension decreases, mile by mile. Wheeeeee.

This time, all the way up to 4,000 feet. Let go, count to five, arch, reach, pull.

Everything goes well...

In the air, anyway. Maybe 100 feet above ground level, I'm notice I'm getting quite close to the, uh, runway. By gum, I could land rig- hey, waitaminutehere -

By flaring a little early, I bump down on grass and stomp the worn soles of my trusty sneakers. They skid unto tarmac, but my butt doesn't make it off the San Joaquin dirt. Aw well, maybe they didn't notice.

Note to self: nothing goes unnoticed.

Also, I did my altitude-burning turns too far to the south. That gets me a warning.

So... these new skills are reusable. This is a big relief - what works on Saturday will still work on Sunday. Maybe I can do this.

"Where's the ripcord?"

Triumphantly digging the handle out of my jumpsuit, to a mock-regret head shake. Durn it.

Dropping this in the air would've set me back ten bucks and another case of beer. At Sebastian, it was $15 and however much beer it would take to fill the refrigerator. I'm not sure what to make of this difference in "rates".

Next, 5,000 feet.

Count to 10, checking the altimeter on 3, 6 and 9. Move your head only, so you don't lose the arch. This time I get a helmet with an audible alarm on it. At 4,000 feet or thereabouts, the little speaker next to my left ear will yell at me.

The jump went okay. As the opening shock, I notice the helmet bleeping away. Maybe it's been going off for five seconds, but I think about it and conclude I probably would've noticed...

I land about where I intend to. But the first thing I'm told is if I go downwind of the reference points again, he's gonna ground me. It feels much like he kicked me in the stomach.

Grounded. What an ugly word. The thought of it causes much staring at the aerial photos of the airport. North of this point, here. No matter what, stay upwind...

The dreaded gurneyRick lays on the gurney as I drill for the 15-second freefall. Standard-issue pad on wheels, well-used. I rode it earlier, arching uncomfortably and leaning in the opposite direction of the "turns" he supplied. There are things the body has to learn, responses that must occur without the delay of thinking about them. He says he's napped on the gurney more than a few times.

The stories it could tell... "Interesting smell it's got, there," I offer.

"Many, many students..."

"Ah. The smell of fear."

"That's it." All those sweating rookies.

15 seconds, 7,000 feet.

Relaxing from the hard arch after a few seconds, I bring my feet too far back. I see Rick streak by -

And I start spinning. Fast. It's pretty wild. I arch harder, but I don't seem to be slowing down. The altimeter is under 4,000 - seems like it was around 6 an instant ago, but more like ten seconds went by! Still rotating like a mad dog, I figure I'd better not take the time to wave off, and pull at 3,300. Humbly drifting toward the 1,000-foot marker... way to the north of anywhere.

Unexpectedly, I land on my feet. Another "time-before-the-second". It's a longer walk back to the hangar - taking no chances with that grounding stuff. Boy, that spin came out of nowhere. Suddenly I was a pinwheel... at the same moment I first noticed my instructor in freefall with me. Not the first time he'd been nearby, I'd just been oblivious. Other things to concentrate on.

Starting wicked 360's is something I can manage on my own. Surely I didn't have any help.

I get back to the student room, and the occupied gurney. Should I reveal my addled delusion, or clam up? Discretion wins. Or meekness. One of my knees was much lower than the other, I'm told. Demonstrations follow - this is what you did, this is where your legs should've been.

As for the stand-up landing, the first reply from both Rick and Lodi Mike is, "The wind was good." In other words, Don't take too much credit there, bub. And rightly so.

The next handful of reading material describes more thrilling chute malfunctions.

Five more seconds to... spin around? Or would I keep my knees up this time?

Trudging back out to get another chute. Number four today. Like yesterday, the time never arrived when I was peered at and then told, "Enough for today. You're worn out." So, tired as I thought I was - especially that third jump each day, wondering if I can hold on to that damn strut one more time, until given the all-important OK - I'm underestimating either my stamina or their ability to size me up. But they're not. That's... chilling.

My usual mode is arts, but this looks suspiciously like a science. Learning what to do, no matter what happens. What I must do, to survive the unexpected.

Very light wind from the west. Sunset jump. One last time, 'til next weekend, I think. Probably. Sorta falls into that growing category of information I'll get when I'm ready for it, and rarely before.

Up to 7,000 feet. Rick kneels in the doorway of the Cessna, goggles on. I hang there, looking over... head back, feet out. Get the efficient nod - "OK," he shouts -

Arch one thousand two one thousand three, relaxed position. Altimeter, ground, horizon. Repeat. Wobbly, but so far so g-

Whoa. I'm easing into a spin. Yep. Arch, arch. Rats. Aw well, maybe next time. At 4,000, I wave and pull.

Landing on my feet again. Safely away from the markers. Good dog.

I take it I'll get my ears boxed for circling too far east, where the freeway is. But no. Instead, I learn that I started to 360 but stopped it - "I did?" - but my eyes were glued to the altimeter for several seconds before I waved off. They were?

But hey. I actually corrected a spin...?

My first logbook is filled up before all of today's jumps are recorded in it. It's a good feeling.

Like a good newbie suckup, I've been openly eavesdropping all day.

Leaning in the doorway of the hangar, gear-bag in hand, while Rick packs - actually, letting the door-frame keep me upright while I review how to get in my car and start it - when something I overheard earlier floats back into mind. I take a chance, and ask a non-jumping question. What does an instructor-poobah do for a living - uh, make that what does he do when he's not here...? The DZO shows up right about then, no doubt to shoo me out of the hangar -

Rick gets about four words out. No way! I interrupt with the name of a specific organization. Yup. And a street address -

Affirmative. I tell him where I work. Different firm - same building. One floor below him.

"Small world," the DZO says, as I slink out.

Getting smaller all the time. The coincidences are piling up. I like that too.

Plus, there's someone who works out of the same building I do that doesn't think I'm insane for wanting to jump out of a plane.

I need gas. And liquid. Craving salt, too...

While I'm washing the windows, I spy the USPA sticker sitting on the car seat. Didn't feel entitled to wear it, still a wannabee.

Until now. There's the grad jump yet to come. The big one. But after nine jumps in thirty-two hours, I want that parachute logo out there - where no bumper sticker has gone before. So I clean off the dirt and peel that baby, and plant it. Driver's side.

Yessir. and Cinema Insomnia - entropic satireJump number one (tandem at Sebastian) -
Jump number two (tandem at Lodi) -
3 - 7 (starting static line) -
8 - 11 (finishing static line) -
12 - 14 - 15 - 17 - 18 - 22 - 23 - 29 - 30 - 34 - 35 - 40 - 41 - 48 - 49 - 58
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