RADnomness – My first BASE jump 1997

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This was my First BASE jump in New Orleans over the Mississippi River.

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Here’s an excerpt from The Ride of My Life

I finally got a window of opportunity to B.A.S.E. jump in January of 1997. Actually, it was more like a peephole of opportunity. I was doing a vert demo at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana—the same Cajun metropolis where John Vincent happens to reside. Immediately after the bike demo I was scheduled to make a trip to Colorado to see a shoulder specialist at the Stedman-Hawkins clinic. I needed to get my arm working again and knew I would be out of commission for a while after the surgeries. I was aching to do one, last, gnarly thing to hold me over during recovery time. The day after the demo we awoke with the chickens, five-thirty in the morning, and hot-wired an elevator. Our goal was to get to the top of a fifteen-hundred-foot tall steel antenna on the edge of town. This structure transmitted Soft Rock Hits of the Seventies and other radio signals to the good folk of Louisiana. I was going to jump off it.

John generously loaned me his favorite chute. I was so driven to get this jump in that I actually talked my friend Bryan—who was completely terrified of heights—into helping pull off the caper. His role was to accompany me up the tower, not look down, and capture the moment on tape. The crucial 3-chip digital video documentation was not so much for my glory reel—it was so I could study my technique and learn everything I could from my actions.

It was super cold, and we all had bed head and bad breath. The service elevator carried us up about a hundred feet and it froze. Try as we might, the thing wouldn’t climb another foot. In retrospect this was probably a good omen. I was getting frustrated, excited, and desperate to get a jump in before I went under the knife again. My mind was so focused on jumping that there was no way I was backing down. I hadn’t taken into consideration that John’s rig was set up for B.O.B. (Bottom of Bag) deployment chute. My rotator cuff was so jacked up, and my shoulder was barely functional, so the reach and jerk technique needed for this type of deployment would have been extra hairy. My arm could have slipped out of its socket and I wouldn’t have been able to get the chute open. I was being stupid, and even the best jumpers are smart and humble enough to back down on occasion. Thinking back on that moment, I feel fortunate the elevator denied us the opportunity to reach the exit point.

But John knew of a bridge. It was two hundred and seventy feet tall and spanned the Mississippi River, just across town. “Hell yeah,” I said. It was decided that for this short height I’d need to do a Hop-N-Pop, a technique in which you throw your pilot chute the second after your feet leave the ledge. I climbed up the concrete beast like an eager little tick, ready to suck on some life. The wind was gusting, and to add to the list of weather hazards, it started sleeting. I figured out the wind was going perpendicular to the river, which meant I didn’t have to worry so much about being flung back into a bridge pillar or support buttress by a rogue blast of air. If anything, it was gonna blow me away from shore. I looked out over the surging brown waters of the Mississippi, with cold air filling my lungs. I had about eighty skydives in my logbook. I’d been practicing, I had my track down, had my on-heading openings down, landings down, everything. I knew if I waited for my upcoming surgeries to heal it would be four months. As I was up on the apex, psyching myself up and preparing to drop, a squad car was scoping out Bryan on the ground. Bridge, river, guy with video camera, and at seven thirty in the morning. What’s wrong with this picture?

When you jump, it’s like committing suicide but not dying. Even though you trust in your rig and your capabilities, it takes a moment of pure conscious decision to get yourself over the edge. You have to fly the Fuck It Flag and just…go. I leaped, got a brief taste of intense ground rush, and popped open. The wind made short work of me, and pulled me out over the water. I splashed down in the dirty, swiftly moving currents and went under. My winter clothes and a helmet were heavy, but the parachute was the real problem. A parachute works by creating lots of drag, even underwater. It was going to drown me if I didn’t get it off, pronto. I felt guilty because it was John’s, and not only expensive but more importantly, it had a personal value that was irreplaceable. He’d done about five hundred hectic jumps with it and it had never let him down. I swam for shore and crawled out soaked to the core and shivering. I ran, trying to beat the currents carrying the parachute down river. There was a dock nearby where tugboats operated, accessible via a nearby building. The door was locked but shaky, so I gave it a few swift kicks. I whipped out two wet twenty dollar bills and passed them off to Steve, who was on our ground crew. Through chattering teeth, I asked him to hire a tug boat captain for a rescue mission to retrieve John’s chute. I turned around to make my way back to John and Bryan, when I heard someone approaching from behind me.

“Son, what’re you doin’? Are you stupid?” the voice of authority said to me as I sat in the back of the patrol car, cuffed. I was dripping bilge water everywhere, mildly hypothermic, had just replaced my surgery recovery time with a jail sentence, and I was worried about John’s gear. “Yeah, I’m not arguing with you officer. I feel pretty damn stupid right now.” The cop began running my name for a warrant check and noticed my Oklahoma drivers license. “Boy, what the hell are you doing down here in Louisiana?” Dejectedly and absentmindedly, I muttered that I was in town doing a bike show. The cop stopped, and brightened up. A smile cracked under his moustache.  “At the Superdome? Were you the one doing the flip?” The demo I’d done was indeed at a monster truck show in the Superdome. “Yeah! That was me alright!” I said, trying to sound chummy. The cop said his kids loved my show. In two minutes the entire situation was reversed—I was un-arrested, and the city supervisors en route to press charges had been radioed and talked out of it. The cop gave me his card and told me to send a photo of the day’s jump, and advised me not to try it so damn early next time. Roger that, officer.