The (Unintentional) Race to the Finish

“Like all sweet dreams, it will be brief, but brevity makes sweetness, doesn't it?” 

― Stephen King

I'll be honest:

This was not, strictly speaking, how it was supposed to go.

In the last week, we have knocked off six--count 'em, six--states. My ardent wish was to stay awhile at each dropzone; to get to know the people there, more than just an itty-bitty little bit. To tell stories; to stand together, staring at campfires; to jump; to play; to eventually snuggle good-byes like dear friends. In my head, we’d only ever be pulling up anchor after a few luxurious days at port.

The reality? The reality is that this trip looks like a quarterback running down the field, slapping a couple dozen lined-up high-fives. There are a number of reasons that reality is the reality, most of which are not choices we’ve made.

  • Joel's visa is imminently ending.

  • The injury didn't help things.

  • The weather has been fighting us tooth-and-nail, giving us a couple of good days, then shutting down hard, then giving us a couple more. We've already dodged one hurricane; this week, we've forged on through rain so unbelievably leaden that it sheets unstoppably down the windshield, unhampered in any way by the windshield wipers.

Aside from all that, our skydiving budget took a fatal blow all the way back in May, when the RV transmission went out. That seven thousand dollar right hook left us with two choices:

  1. Quit.

  2. Do a single jump in each state, no matter how ardently we wanted to leap back on the plane. (And oh, how we want to leap back on the plane.)

But wait--there's more. It's certainly not all tiny little violins shrieking vaudeville laments. Far from it.

Since we're coming up on the closing sprint of this project, we've been doing a lot of talking in the last few days about what we've gained from this effort. In the grand tradition of great adventures, it is not at all what we expected, but it is extraordinarily valuable. We haven't just been brutalized by happenstance; we've been handed generous gifts by it.

  • We built friendships with a few absolute legends.

  • We had some absolutely landmark experiences. I dazzle to even think about 'em.

  • We have learned a great deal about our personal priorities; about the tools of diet, activity and mental habit that keep us in trim; about the actual amount that we can accomplish in a day.

  • We have newfound empathy for the lived experience of a typical American on a median income in a mid-size community--specifically, the apparent total lack of infrastructure that's in place to support a life that minimizes personal car use, egregious material waste and big-box retailer patronage. (As it turns out, I was a judgmental beast who has lived in big, liberal cities too long, and I take it allllll back. Mea culpa. Also: Please help these people; they have no workable choices right now.)

We also got a comprehensive feel for what American skydiving looks like right now--and it's a lot different than I thought it was.

  • The live-on-the-dropzone-in-your-RV era appears to be pretty much over, pretty much everywhere. (There are exceptions, of course, but far fewer than I'd thought.)

  • The skyfamily feels like its balkanized segments are uniting under one banner. Sky, BASE, PG, tunnel...many, many people are proudly multidisciplinary.

  • Students at the dropzones we went to were receiving a detailed and empathic education. I was constantly impressed by the quality of instruction I saw in process.

  • The turbine 206 conversion is going to be the next big thing. For serious. This thing fits the typical healthy dropzone size and volume like a goddamned charm. (182, you won’t be terribly missed.)

  • Skydivers are a clever, sexy, charming bunch of rogues, and I, personally, am thrilled to live among such delightful creatures.

As the last five dropzones snap into focus, I keep pressing these lessons into the rapidly curing cement of the new pathways this mad project has lain in my head and my heart.

What a long, strange trip it's been.

Snapped on the day we barreled through Vermont like wild horses running from a fire. (Photo by Joel Strickland.)

Snapped on the day we barreled through Vermont like wild horses running from a fire. (Photo by Joel Strickland.)