Tuesday, May 26, 2009

the top of the world

Sometimes I have a hard time convincing people I'm afraid of heights. This is especially true considering the events that transpired over the past few days.

After a mere three hours of sleep, I managed to wake up before my alarm on Saturday, something that doesn't happen um...ever. And the fact that it was set for 6:30? Virtually miraculous. Anyways, so there I am, wide awake and ready for the two and a half hour drive up to the Lodi dropzone. I sipped coffee with cream and listened to the Dirtbag Diaries all the way up the state, periodically getting goosebumps when a particular story or sentiment resonated unexpectedly. Why did I not listen to the Dirtbag Diaries before recently?

I stopped at Grandma's to make a lunch, a visit that stretched from a quick hello into a two-hour heart-to-heart. Worth every second.

After I left there, I continued up the state and arrived in Lodi about noon. Now, I had decided, despite offers from friends who would accompany me, that this would be a solo adventure. I've come to prefer solo adventures. If I know myself at all, I know that I've spent a good part of my life being too sensitive to what other people think...of me, of what I say, of what we experience together...and that this was something I wanted to do by myself. That said, I will confess I was ever so slightly bewildered upon my arrival at the dz. It was busy and buzzing with activity and I didn't know a soul. Quickly I filled out my release and paid. Utilizing my hypersocial tendencies, I asked a friendly-looking woman where to find Brook & company, and she directed me towards them. Within ten minutes, I had six new friends, including Ryder, only the sweetest dog in the world.

I didn't have to wait too long. Once I had met everyone and gotten settled, it was pretty much time to meet my tandem master and suit up for my jump. Shortly thereafter, we took to the sky for an agonizingly long ascent. En route to our altitude, I met the jumpers behind me and to my left, one of whom commented on my lack of shaky hands. I am rather proficient at psyching myself "in" when I can anticipate a situation and choose how I want to respond to it. This was no different.

At altitude, the other tandem pair jumped, followed closely by CS and me. Even though it all happened very fast at this point, I have no trouble recalling any instant of it. It's completely intact, from the exit to the landing. Many times during the freefall, I had to remind myself to "look at the camera" (I got pictures since the few friends I told about the jump asked to see them, plus it'd be nice to have some record) instead of just soaking in the bliss of it all. That feeling is the best thing I can possibly imagine. That falling is so strangely peaceful. It has a direction and a purpose and it feels solitary. You are nowhere else in that moment. Enough with the philosophical mumbojumbo. :) When the canopy opened, CS and I chatted and joked and generally enjoyed ourselves, and the landing was easy.

After landing, I reassumed my position as Aunt Katie to Ryder the Fearless Dropzone Puppy. His mom and dad jumped all day, intermittently checking in for a hello or a snack. We spent the rest of the day chatting with countless other jumpers, going on walks, eating lunch...I met so many fun people and fell in love with the dynamics of the dropzone. The throngs of people as the planes were loading...then twenty minutes later they all drop out of the sky in a rush of color. Had I not come by myself, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to simply receive and process the interactions and activity the way I did.

After dinner with Liv, Matt, Brook, & Jimmy, I headed to my parents' to say hello and spend the night on my way home.

The next morning I woke up early and headed home, reeling from the effects of withdrawal from a day of activity. I've found this happens to me a lot whenever I really enjoy myself. I go from intensely content, positive feelings towards restless, unsettled moodiness. This was me all afternoon. I got to bed vaguely early Sunday night in preparation for Monday, tired but hopeful and excited.

Monday morning I woke up at the prescribed 3 a.m. for a 3:30 meetup at the local REI with all my climbing buddies for our Half Dome adventure. We hit the road for the two hour drive, me with coffee in hand. The sun started to twilight as we hit the park entrance. With all the blithe ignorance of not-yet-inducted and as-yet-forgotten-just-how-damn-hard-it-is half dome hikers, we took a few photos and set off happily. The JMT was our trail of choice, favored for its lack of heinous stone steps and considerably less cold and wet conditions, considering the hour.

For the next several hours, we hauled our progressively dirtier and sweatier and tireder selves up the trail, stopping for water and pictures and snacks when necessary and generally having as good a time as is possible when 11 friends are simultaneously pushing their physical limits. After what seemed like a lifetime, we crested the quarter dome and waited for all in our party to catch up. A few group photos later we joined the surprisingly small crowd at the cables for the last (and scariest!) push. (I still get the heebiejeebies when I picture the cables, and I've done them twice!)

Finally at the top, I cavorted about, posing for a photo here and there but mostly keeping my promise to myself: this time I was gonna do it better. I wasn't going to be sketched out the way I was the first time, and I was going to explore and enjoy myself instead of shying away from anything that resembled the edge.

An hour later we realized we were chasing daylight and needed to start for the trailhead immediately or risk an epic of sorts. With 11 hikers, this is anything but easy.

Exhausted and anxious, we headed down the trail in pockets, stopping only when necessary but otherwise plugging along steadily, trying not to think about our aching knees and feet. Once back at the cars, we assessed ourselves, assembled each carload, and set off for home. I had to pull over and switch drivers an hour later, something I hate doing but realize sometimes is necessary.

Finally, after a short shower, I crawled into bed. This morning when my alarm went off it was all I could do to even get out of bed. My body demanded that I sleep longer, and was a little sore to boot, but work won. On the way to work, I was still on an upswing, but by midday I was reeling with restlessness. I think I've equalized a little, but there's definitely more processing to do that has to wait until I can get to the gym for a little climbing therapy (an idea my body currently is protesting).

Until then, blue skies and happy trails!

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