Saturday, March 22, 2008

Drugs and Skydiving

I know there’s something that just doesn’t seem right about the title of this piece but I do have a few words on the subject.

To begin with when I started jumping I was pretty much done with drugs. Iggy Pop’s take on the matter pretty much summed it up for me. When you’re young, your body is like a party everyone wants to come to. Everyone’s having a great time. At some point you want everyone to go home.

Skydiving is an activity for extreme personalities and it stands to reason drugs will find their way in there somewhere.

When I first started jumping I would sometimes look around for a friend I’d been jumping with and people would tell me, “Oh, he’s at a safety meeting.” I soon found out that was a euphemism for smoking dope.

For a lot of people jumping is an alternative to drugs. The experienced jumpers would say speed is your friend. Eventually I found my comfort zone in a small, very fast canopy. When you’re able to accept high velocities, you find every subtle movement affects canopy control. If you’ve ever been in the euphoria of good drugs you know the sense of control I’m talking about. Unfortunately, with drugs, every high is followed by its relative low. The crash can be terrible.

The high of velocity is more than just energy and dopamine. It’s a sense of control, a kind of dance with nature (sorry but I can’t think of a better analogy). There’s no crash, unless of course you misjudge your landing or have a malfunction with your canopy.

Once we were jumping at a friends operation in Tennessee. 12 of us were dirt diving. This is when you go through the formations on the ground that you plan to do in free fall. There was a young kid who just couldn’t seem to remember his moves. We had to go over the dive with him several times. Somehow the jump went off without a hitch and we turned several points. This means we made it through several formations. I found out the kid with the memory problem was tripping. I know for me the sheer over stimulation would have thrown me into a seizure.

For the most part drugs came in at the end of the day, after jumping. Just for the record drugs are not condoned in the sport. There are as many different personality types in sky diving as anywhere else.

Here are a few of my personal experiences.

I’ve already mentioned the time I got high and heckled a cop in a police station on Beale Street in Memphis.

There were sometimes more than 4000 jumpers living in a tent city for 10 days a year every summer at our World Free Fall Convention in Quincy, Illinois. One year we were sitting around a camp fire when Batman jumped out and started dancing in and around the fire. Just as suddenly he disappeared into the night. Later as I walked along a make-shift road I could see the cape and cowled figure leaning against a wall between RVs smoking a joint. Batman smoking a joint? I won’t mention any names but of course it turned out to be a good friend of mine.

The year the drop zone opened at Eloy, Arizona I went down there with a friend of mine. I think it was 1991 or 1992. Eloy is about half way between Phoenix and Tucson. We were returning from an evening of bar hopping in Phoenix when we were stopped in our rental car in the middle of the desert. My friend had been rolling a joint in his lap. He handed me the baggie and said, “Stuff this down your pants.” I didn’t smoke and said, “No way.” I shoved it under my seat.

We were obviously drunk. The cops wanted to put him through a field sobriety test because he was the driver. The cops couldn’t believe we had come to the middle of the desert from St. Louis to skydive.

My friend told the cops he had relatives that were lawyers and had been told that he didn’t have to take the test. I thought either we were going to jail right then or they’d just kill us right there in the middle of nowhere. To my surprise the cops agreed and let us go. I still can’t get over it!

Eloy has since become the home of the world champion free fall team - Arizona Airspeed.

One year a good friend of mine and I went down to Tennessee for a skydiving Halloween party. We were in full costume doing mushrooms in my tent. She and I never even made it into the party that was being held in a large hanger. From the tent stretching out into the vast darkness we could see small glowing objects. It was like stars filling a country sky. We wandered out into the darkness to explore. I reached down and scooped up a little soil that contained one of the glowing objects. To our horror it was some kind of small writhing larva. We screamed and ran back to the tent. This was my first experience with glow worms.

Pics of me in Cessna 182, with my buddy Pat Harrington at Mike Mullins' DZ in Tennessee in the early 90s, and a 5 way for my 200th jump in 1991 (I'm upper right in sandals)


Anonymous said...

Well I fell off the wagon,just had some George Dickel. Go little glow worm go.

Doggie said...

I remember the 3 different philosophies that were always represented at Rib Tip's poker parties - Jack, George, and Jim

Doggie said...

Jack Daniels, George Dickel and Jim Beam