Thursday, May 31, 2007

Free Fallin'

There are times in my life when I feel like the man who has fallen from his raft and is swept along by the raging current, with little control over where he is going or what his destiny will be. The analogy is certainly appropriate to several aspects of my experience at the Twin Rocks trading post, and my residence in southern San Juan County.

In this geographic area we have both the mighty Colorado and the meandering San Juan, so many of our friends are avid river runners. As a result, Barry and I have often been instructed what to do when one finds himself in deep, swift water. The reality, however, is that no matter what you do under those circumstances, the river is in control, and you are at its mercy. Whether you live or die is generally in the hands of the water gods, and they can, at turns, be merciful or malignant.

Initially, I found these situations extremely uncomfortable, and difficult to rationalize. I have, however, learned from my river friends that in dangerous situations I must try to relax and:

1. always wear a life preserver;
2. keep my extremities close to my body; and
3. use whatever resources I have available to help me bounce from obstacle to obstacle until the odyssey is concluded.

This fairly simple advice applies to many conditions, both on and off the river, and has saved me from numerous potentially disastrous situations. It does not, however, address all issues, and there are occasions when the current is so swift you have to put your faith in a higher power and just let go.

So it was two weeks ago when I received an e-mail from my friend Sam. She owed me a favor and felt it was time to even up. “Don’t worry,” I replied, “everything is okay.” She persisted, “We need to square up and I am determined to do so, now.” Little did I know what that would entail. Being the adventurous type, Sam suggested rafting, motocross, mountain biking and any number of other experiences. “Not now,” I said, “no time; too busy.” “What about skydiving,” she continued.

“Skydiving,” I said, “now that’s something I’ve considered.” So that was it, she signed me up. “No,” I protested, “motion sickness!” “Too late,” she said, “you’re already registered, and besides, the free fall doesn’t cause motion sickness, just tell your tandem jumper you don’t want to spin and you will be fine. See you Saturday, 10:00 a.m. at the Moab airport.” I had lost control of my life, and all because I had tried to do someone a good turn. I made a mental note to never make that mistake again. If I lived through this ordeal, there would be no more favors, ever.

Skydive Moab

Taking a little comfort from a story Duke had once told me, I held in my stomach, puffed out my chest and soldiered forward. During his youth, Duke had gotten caught in a whirlpool while swimming in the San Juan River, just west of Bluff. He said that although he was extremely frightened, he was able to remain calm as he spun deeper and deeper toward the bottom of the river. Because he had not fought the power of the current, once the whirlpool was done with him, it cast him out in a perfectly safe manner. I realized I was now in a similar vortex and must ride it out.

The first problem was letting Jana and the kids know I intended to jump from an airplane at 14,000 feet. Jana and I have arrived at a station in our lives where we realize that each of us going to do what we feel we have to do, so there is no need for argument. Consequently, she said, “Oh, okay. Call us when you hit the ground; if you can.”

As I pointed my car north on that fateful Saturday morning, Tom Petty’s song Free Fallin’ kept going through my mind. I was more than a little worried I would not actually have the courage to jump when the time came, and that if I did, I might be free fallin’ all the way to the surface.

When I arrived at the airport, I was subjected to a barrage of videos illustrating the dangers associated with skydiving and requested to sign a sheaf of documents acknowledging that I was mentally stable and had been fully informed that my safety could not be guaranteed. I wondered whether signing the forms meant I was inherently crazy, but quickly scrawled my signature on them anyway. Thinking I could always ride the plane back to the ground if I was unable to screw up my courage, I pulled on a jumpsuit and harness and quickly climbed into the plane.

When the small Cessna 182, packed with a pilot and two tandem jumpers, reached the desired altitude, my companion diver asked if I was ready to go. I remember thinking I had my own personal god strapped to my back, and that if he let me down we would both be goners. I felt a tap on my shoulder. Nodding, and thinking how useless the advice from my river friends was under these circumstances, I stepped out onto the wheel platform.

SkyDive Moab

The wind blasted the back of my head, and before I knew it we were rolling backwards out of the cockpit and racing face down toward the desert floor. Instead of seeing my life flash before me, I imagined a life full of new adventure and possibility. An altogether new feeling of freedom washed over me. I have never felt more exhilarated or more certain that I wanted to prolong an emotion. Then I realized that extending the feeling would result in a severely circumscribed existence. I did not have long to ponder the issue, because about that time my personal savior released the parachute and we were jerked upright.

Sailing above the earth after the chute deployed, I felt completely at ease as the earth swirled below like red rock taffy and knew how proud God must be with his creation. Nothing I had previously been taught or told seemed to apply to this situation. Realizing this was living, and that you have to live before you die, I tried to take in as much as possible. Until that moment, I had not understood that letting go can be so liberating. All too soon we were on the ground, and I was left to ponder the deeper issues of life, like, “What’s next?”

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright Twin Rocks Trading Post 2007

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