Part 1: Learning to Fly Solo
My first day of jump school (which refers to the many hours you have to spend with an instructor learning the basics of skydiving) was many hours long. I woke up bright and early to make my 8 a.m. appointment at the dropzone—which is 40+ minutes away—and was still a little late. No harm done, as my instructor pulled up ten minutes after I did.
We got going right away, and Greg (the instructor) wasted no time.
“Why do you want to skydive?” he asked me straightaway. My answer essentially came down to the fact that up there in the sky, I can only be there and nowhere else, and that is a realization I LOVE. I live a noisy, busy life, and so the places where I can pare that down to only the moment (climbing, jumping) are precious to me.
We then watched a short video, talked some more, and then stepped outside to start learning exit procedures (i.e. “what you do when it’s time to get out of the darn plane”). Over and over we practiced, adding more and more steps until it was all I could do to remember my own name. I walked around all day throwing my arms up and around like a crazy person, mouthing my sequence to make it second nature. I must have looked a sight.
All day was one-on-one, so I had plenty of opportunity to work through my fears and doubts and mistakes before hitting the skies. The hardest part for me was learning to keep going when I messed up. My perfectionist tendencies, which I’d like to think are pretty mild, came out in full force as I’d stop and hesitate upon realizing a mistake. This was something I had to get over—and fast. There is no room for hesitating up there, just identifying mistakes and fixing them. What a great lesson for me…
I was given about twenty minutes to myself pre-jump to practice/eat/settle my nerves. I did a couple sun salutations and a few more mock exits, and then it was time. Come jump time, we suited up (my jumpsuit was a lovely pink…that tidbit was for you, @unredacted & @cupcakemafia) and climbed in the little bitty plane.
I was NERVOUS. This was it. I kept meeting Greg’s eyes looking for something that would help settle me down, and he offered quite a bit of confidence in me, which helped. My other jumpmaster, Aldo, who I’d exchanged quips with throughout the day expressed confidence as well. We practiced some hand signals, took some deep breaths, and soon enough we were at altitude.
The door opened and we climbed out.
Check in. Check out. Prop. Up, down (let go)…arch thousand, two thousand, three thousand…and we’re flying. Flanked on either side, I easily found a good body position and started practice touches (reaching behind me to touch my parachute’s pull cord), checking altitudes until 5500. The wave off (a process by which I announce my intentions to pull my cord and open my canopy) and…it all slows down. Suddenly I’m by myself, surrounded by silent air five thousand feet up with just radio contact to keep me company.
I followed the directions given me from the ground, turning and stopping when asked, and pretty easily located my “play area” and landing zone. I played (“hey Katie, pull right—HARD…okay okay, stop the spin…”—which later I would find out solidified my already developing reputation for being a “try anything”-type, given that I felt comfortable with it) and the landing went allllllmost perfectly. I turned at all the prescribed altitudes, then flared at exactly the right height…touched down…surfed the field for a second…and ate it. Darn if I couldn’t walk it out and stand up that blasted landing.
I could tell it went well as soon as Greg came out to help me gather my canopy. He met me with a hug and congratulations and perhaps the greatest compliment of the day (from a self-described “hard-ass”): that was the best first jump I’ve seen in at least two years. I was shaking with all the excitement and smiling from one ear on up to the other. We walked on in to the hangar and debriefed. We talked about what went well and what went okay and decided my strength was in freefall, where I’d experienced hardly a wobble, and that my canopy work wasn’t too bad either. There were definitely a few improvements to be made, though. (Next jump!)
I was instructed first to leave my jumpsuit on the couch, but then Greg changed his mind, saying “nevermind that! you’re one of us…go hang it up!”. I was flattered, and probably retorted back with some snarky comment as I walked over to the closet. I sat down with Aldo and had a good long talk about why he jumps and why I want to. What a wonderful teddy-bear/kind-uncle of a person. Just good good good feelings from/about him.
I spent a little more time socializing, then headed home to watch the kids for the rest of the evening—and let me tell you, I was so tired come then I could barely stand up. I can’t wait to go back for level two…maybe this weekend or next?
Part 2: Climbing in Yosemite (or On Becoming a Trad Girl)
Without missing a beat (I did, however, miss more sleep than I should have) I got up well before the sun on Sunday for the drive up to Yosemite to meet @RikRay for my first day of trad climbing (wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traditional_climbing). I had been up far too late the night before making a list of what to pack for the two-day climbing trip, laying it all out on a towel in the hallway, and finishing laundry. Thusly, I started the day tired. However, as any climbing day (or rather, ANY day, for that matter) requires coffee or its derivatives to begin properly, I felt much better after caffeinating and fueling. I filled my tank, bought some groceries, and set off for the Valley.
The drive up was pleasant, and I made sure to call my parents just to let them know I was going to be gallivanting around a few hundred feet up off the beaten path and that I’d check in in a couple of days.
Upon arriving in the Valley, I promptly got lost (which only happened because I felt comfortable enough with the place to not look up directions for our meetup point) and was 40 minutes late meeting @RikRay. Thankfully, he turned out to be exceptionally forgiving and unconcerned. Pretty much immediately we set off for the base of Manure Pile Buttress to head up After Six, a six-pitch trad climb and my first time climbing either multiple pitches OR trad. I asked the usual multitude of questions and we roped up. I followed, cleaning (or “pulling out”) gear (or “those funny-looking things climbers stick in the cracks in the rock”), managing to drop one and only one piece, and on the first pitch.
The whole climb took only a couple hours, even as slow as we were moving, stopping to talk about all aspects of the climb. I had a lot of time to myself while climbing (and well-within my ability as far as difficulty) to think about my fear of exposure and heights and deal with that. I think that primarily gym climbers have to deal moreso with the transition to trusting gear and rope—something you learn through experience if you start and spend a lot of time outside. Indoors, I climb a pretty consistent 5.10, but outdoors I got all kinds of sketched out on even 5.7 and I didn’t even lead! (Didn’t let on too much, did I @RikRay?)
We scrambled the descent talking about our fellow twitter friends and their blogs, and decided upon reaching the base that we’d take a break as it would soon be the hottest part of the day. We made our way over to the El Cap meadow and bridge, where we met Holly. Holly had taken a nasty beating on the second pitch of her latest El Cap experience and two-and-a-half weeks later still looked like hell. But smiling and willing to talk about El Cap with any and every person who stopped to look through the telescopes at the climbers on the wall.
@RikRay and I then headed for Jamcrack, where he led one last pitch and I followed. Had we had more daylight, I would have likely tried to lead it, but as it was we were able to set up a toprope on Bummer and Bum Fingers, both 5.10s! I fell a couple times but fought my way up the cuticle chewing finger crack, feeling pretty good about the day.
After that, we drove back over to my car out at the bridge, bid our farewells and I headed off for Tuolumne to meet up with @rockgrrl and her posse of climber friends. The drive (I had never been to Tuolumne!) was pleasantly gorgeous and I managed not to get lost this time, arriving just after sunset to welcoming hugs and a warm fire, plus some dinner on top of that! I got situated and soon another friend pulled up. The four of us (me, @rockgrrl, Jamie, & Peter) set up a night slackline which none of us did well on and stayed up late talking about our climbing histories and the next day’s plans.
I slept moderately well, getting particularly cold just before sunrise. I managed to doze until just after 7, when @rockgrrl woke up and we talked before extracting ourselves from the little two-person tent she graciously shared with me. Oatmeal ensued, complete with bananas and, in my case, coffee. Then it was time to assemble ourselves to head to Medlicott Dome.
We found our way to the dome, after a 45-minute detour at the wrong trailhead before we realized the approach was FAR easier than the guidebook had noted. True to the book, the actual approach was terrible and tested my capacity both to withstand incessant mosquitos and to fend off an asthma attack. I stopped often, making sure I could get a full breath before continuing. The last thing I needed, as the new climber on this trip, was to have an issue with breathing and worry everyone and cause a hullaballo.
FINALLY we arrived at the base of D’oh, where we assembled the necessary gear. The boys took more, since they were headed up three pitches and us girls would only do one and then toprope some nearby climbs. The boys set off and @rockgrrl and I waited, talking more about twitter and climbing and really anything that struck our fancies. (Not that we’re fancy, at least I know I’M not fancy…) I followed her up the pitch, managing to leave a little skin behind in the sharp crystal-y crack. We set up our toprope and by that time the boys were on their rappel. I was absolutely wiped from the weekend’s festivities, but Jamie and @rockgrrl managed to convince me to try the 10a toprope, which proved to be easier than I thought it would. I cut my teeth, so to speak, on glassy, sweaty slabs near my town and so the features there seemed juggy by comparison.
Jamie did the topropes, and then we broke down the setup and headed home, happily tired and stinky and hungry. I ate a quick dinner, packed up, and reluctantly said my goodbyes. By the time I got on the road, it was just after 7. The drive home was decidedly boring and took entirely longer than I expected on account of the fact that they decided to do late-night road construction on my route home. I arrived home dirty, scraped up, slightly sunburned, mosquito-bitten, and ready for bed. I took a mildly painful shower and crawled happily into my queen size pillowtop.
I slept well Monday night, and had to wake up way too early for my taste, but as usual, with a little bit of coffee I was able to make do. And here I am, still a little beat up but restlessly anticipating my next adventure…
Thanks to all parties involved for the great weekend and for being such wonderful people...I can't wait to meet more climber tweeps and convert some of you to jumping. :)