Vampires Come From Slovenia
Jacob, Stefan, Dean and Steph…..ready to fly in Ogden, Utah
My new Vampire 2 wingsuit showed up in the mail, from Slovenia last week. So of course I’ve been hypoxic with excitement, and dying to go skydiving. This has gotten trickier since moving back to Moab, but fortunately the Ogden Drop Zone, near Salt Lake, is still open on the weekends, and it’s also right on the way to the Perrine Bridge in Idaho, where you can practice BASE jumping. Which as you may recall, I need to do, and I have shown extreme and uncharacteristic self-restraint here in Moab in the last two weeks by not jumping these cliffs…..
As often happens, everything started falling into place perfectly. Jacob decided to come out to Moab for all of Thanksgiving week, and he just got his new wingsuit too (thank you, Phoenix Fly!!!). And our Swiss friend Stefan Siegrist is out here climbing at Indian Creek. He lives right near Lauterbraunnen, which is a BASE jumping mecca, and he has been trying very hard to find someone to teach him to BASE jump. Apparently it’s a little trickier to find people to teach you in Switzerland, though he’s done his requisite skydiving training. So Dean decided we should take Stefan to the bridge, and we could stop in Ogden on the way to jump wingsuits (which would be a big relief to all, since that was pretty much my only topic of conversation until then.)
Just to make it more perfect, Jacob happened to have a friend’s extra wingsuit that Stefan could skydive (another thing he’s been dying to do, but hasn’t had the chance yet), and I heard from my Colorado friends that a group of them would be flying out from Boulder to Idaho in a Cessna to jump at the bridge too (skydivers tend to be and/or know lots of pilots). I hadn’t seen Travis, Aron, Sam and James since I left Boulder in September, so this was extra exciting! So we all piled in the car with Fletch and many types of parachutes, and headed north…..
There was a big crew of other wingsuit flyers in Ogden, and the drop zone owners were very excited and had to take photos of the whole flock. Stefan was extra excited, because it was his first time in a wingsuit. Jacob and I had talked him through all the things he needed to know in Moab, and Dean gave him some final instruction…..it’s a lot to learn. But we all had good jumps, and nothing bad happened (which I count as a rousing success with first wingsuit experiences!).
The Vampire 2 is the biggest wingsuit Phoenix Fly makes. The wing fabric is so long that they put a different pilot chute pocket on the wingsuit itself on the back of your thigh, because it can be difficult to reach all the way back to the skydiving container to grab it in the normal place, and the wing fabric can block your hand so you actually can’t grab it. Dean and I had rigged the new leg pocket pilot, so I was nervously training my hand to reach in the new spot as we waited for the plane. Jumping is funny, because all the things you have to do are pretty simple things, but somehow it’s easy to get flustered or screw up. Since things are happening so fast, you have to train yourself in advance to do fairly simple motions. Just by walking around the hanger, and putting my hand back to touch the pilot chute on the back of my thigh about fifty times, I felt more ready for the moment when I’d actually need to pull it in free fall.
Just as everyone had told me it would be, compared to my old Birdman Classic, the Vampire is completely exhausting to fly. I was worn out after four jumps with it! I think part of that came from nerves, trying to stay stable and not go out of control. As with climbing, I know that when learning something new, I’m doing things inefficiently, using too much strength, and being tense–all of which makes me super tired. When I learn better technique and start to relax, it takes so much less energy…..
We made it to Idaho that night, and Dean started taking Stefan through BASE packing and instruction first thing in the morning.
After our summer in Boulder of climbing on the Diamond and skydiving together all the time, this was the first time Jacob and I would BASE jump together. So we ran over to the bridge and made a jump together while Dean and Stefan were working on packing.
The guys had made it over safely in the Cessna, and it was great to be hanging out with my Colorado friends again, sitting in the grass packing our parachutes, waiting for everyone to get rigged up and ready so we could walk out to the center of the bridge together, and then watching each other climb over the railing and jump off. For me, being so group-oriented is really different then climbing, where I’m often alone or with just one person, and it’s part of what I like so much about skydiving and BASE jumping.
It’s also great to see how everyone has such a different style as their body hits the air. Aron, one of the pilots at Mile Hi, always has incredible style whether wingsuit flying, free flying, or base jumping. So being a pilot must make you a good jumper. Or else Aron is just cool
Stefan’s first PCA (pilot chute assist–Dean held the pilot chute while Stefan jumped, so he didn’t have to be responsible for deploying his own canopy on this first jump) was great–he jumped off the bridge with more enthusiasm than I’d seen so far, and we all laughed because he looked so completely exuberant leaping out into the air.
It takes a lot of guts to commit to the first jump off the edge so fully, and it was great to see how much Stefan loved getting into the air.
Jimmy and Marta encouraged me to use the bridge to practice drills, especially offheading openings, also known as 180s. Jimmy told me how to actually pack my BASE rig intentionally so that it would open with the canopy flying towards the bridge (which is the opposite of what you are usually packing your rig for). At the bridge, there’s nothing to hit, and by packing a 180 for myself, I could see how fast I turned the canopy around. Doing this drill as many times as possible is the best way to make sure you have a good chance if you find yourself with an offheading opening on a cliff. Even though I knew it was coming, and I knew I was practicing in a safe environment, I was pretty darn nervous jumping with a packed 180. I always walk around practicing the arm motions of grabbing the parachute risers as soon as the canopy comes out, and pulling them around to turn away from the cliff. So I did that about twenty times in front of the railing, and then jumped. I got it turned around right away, and landed next to the water, since I had lost too much altitude during the maneuver to land in the big meadow. I can see how valuable this drill is….and I think that’s all I’ll be doing in the future when I go to the bridge.
We all got one jump in on our second morning before the winds kicked up to about thirty miles an hour. Which meant it was time to head back to Moab. BASE jumpers are pouring in already, for the unofficial “Turkey Boogie” here in Moab–basically a good excuse for jumpers to come together and do what they love best. I’ve never seen another sport that has such a tight community.