Thursday, May 28, 2009

BASE Jumping

photo by Heather F.

Some friends and I headed up to Twin Falls, ID this last weekend to attend what is often called a "boogie", where dozens of jumpers get together and try to out-macho themselves by making bad decisions, performing advanced aerials, swooping and stalling canopies, and narrowly adverting horrendous accidents. Having a propensity for misadventure, I naturally had to go.

The tradition of carnage and close-calls was upheld as many people pulled too low, fell through other canopies in freefall, and so on. This was certainly an eye opening trip for me, and helped to solidify my ideas of BASE jumping as a fruitful endeavor.

photo by Heather F.

BASE has always intrigued me, but I've never been certain why. I did my first jumps off the bridge last November, and had a great time, but stood paralyzed by inexorable fear before every jump. This trip, the fear had almost entirely subsided, likely replaced by complacency. This disregard for the intensity of the situation scared me even more, and forced me to reevaluate my own reasons for BASE jumping. Surely something so dangerous and irrational couldn't be associated with such nonchalance.

I decided to take a short break from jumping on Sunday and took some photos of my friends instead. After seeing a few very close calls, I became worried that I would make some of the same mistakes. After all, the majority of BASE fatalities have been due to human error. So what are my reasons for jumping? And how do I justify the enormous risks involved?

I think a liberated state of mind is what compels me to jump the most. The clear consciousness of near death experiences, although dangerous in its habituation, is a beautiful thing. Focusing on nothingness, even for a few fleeting moments, is invaluable to me. For the same reason that I pursue highlining (which scared the piss out of me the first few times as well), I also find solace in the mindfulness provided by BASE jumping. The quiet flapping of nylon above my head, soft grass crunching beneath my feet on landing, the meditative action of packing a parachute, getting the folds just right, closing the container in a certain way, all of these things are the simple pleasures that appeal to me.

photo by Heather F.

But there is more than just the state of mind associated with BASE jumping. Finding a spiritual connection to your actions is worth so much more than the actions themselves. Succumbing myself to the act of falling, the wind whipping through my hair, the firm shout of canopy inflation, leaving the earth and returning to it once again, it really connects one to the world. I know everyone's reasons are different, some jump for fame, some jump so that they can do something that very few in the world will ever do. These are fun reasons, but I don't think they outweigh the risks involved. Putting oneself in harm's way simply for the accolades of others is reckless and irresponsible. I think all jumpers can say that there is further meaning behind their desire to jump. I'm not quite sure what that meaning is, but I know it is there. Like an astronomer piecing together glimpses of a black hole, the reason I jump is difficult to put a finger on. Some evidence is there, but it doesn't fit together; some desire is there, but it isn't completely understood. However uncertain I may be, I realize that as long as I search for the extra pieces of the puzzle, as long as I evolve, as long as I can safely stand at an exit point and question my existence, the jump is worth it. It brings me closer to a goal that is not objective or definite, but one that is being shaped by my very existence. There certainly isn't one singular path which is the most ethical or responsible. To live my life to its fullest potential, I have to constantly grow in my understanding of myself, and my understanding of the world. BASE jumping allows me to do this, and so is an industrious pastime.

I still get pangs of fear and glimpses of disaster every time I climb over the railing, but these are inundated by the understanding that I will be a different person when I land on the ground, and hopefully, a better person.

photo by Heather F.

Slackline Party

Another fun day of slacklining! Here are some photos:

Friday, May 22, 2009

Imagine, Part 3

Imagine, there are big holes in the earth. Craters without a bottom, shafts without an end, tunnels with no destination. You cannot see these holes, but you know that they are there. These holes have a singular destination: zen, dharma, oneness, mindfulness, actionless action, prayer, whatever you like to call it. As you walk through the earth, and experience its greatness, you can sometimes fall into the holes, into a different world. A world where everything is the same living, breathing, creature. A world where you understand that being alive is a gift and you are thankful for that gift. A world where you see the billions of stars as a singular, incandescent ball of firey life that warms the heart. Some places do not have these holes, while others have a very thin crust waiting to be collapsed. Living your life in a mindful way means walking through the earth and finding all the places where the crust is thin, where there are holes that you can fall into consciousness. Imagine living a life in this way, and you can live every day as a challenge, and as a gift.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Blind Ambition

I did some climbing this last weekend, and with the absence of sunglasses, my eyes became really sunburnt, to the point of mild snow blindness. The whole beginning of the week I could barely function due to the pain in my eyes. It was as if someone poured a bucket of sand all over them. Despite the painful aftereffects, the actual climbing itself was amazing. Here are a few pictures, and a link to my friend Scot's trip report.

Scot's Trip Report

Friday, May 15, 2009

Scary Saturday

Have you ever had one of those days where something happens that makes you feel lucky to be alive, twice? Last Saturday I had to take two of my friends to the emergency room for various accidents. They weren't really life threatening, but they could have been devastatingly worse. It takes a lot of courage to step back and ask the question: why are we doing these things? What responsibility do we have to others to be safe in our pursuit of passion, and what responsibility do we have to ourselves? This question is very open ended, but the answer usually points to the fact that climbing, skydiving, highlining, BASE jumping, are all very selfish activities.

Though I am still a humble novice in all of these sports, they provide me with the zest for life that is rarely encountered in day to day life. I have been around climbing for several years, and it has become an integral part of my existence. The fluid motion of constant movement over rock is very peaceful and relaxing. Lately I have been climbing easier and longer routes without a rope; only myself and the rock. Confidence on familiar terrain allows me to ascend without difficulty, and the freedom allows me to enjoy it. Most would be scared being unroped, a thousand feet above the greening grass of Chautauqua park; for me, I can only smile. I am able to do what I love most.

Skydiving and BASE jumping are perhaps my newest and most selfish pastimes. Paying hundreds of dollars a month to be ferried up to 17,000 feet above sea level in a twin engine otter seems outrageous to my hopelessly poor college peers. However, I somehow find a way to pay for all my necessities, and more, by working steadily and saving money for things that I love. I once compared with a friend and found that by not drinking more than a few beers throughout college, I have spent about the same on jumping as most CU students spend on alcohol. Which seems more selfish? Even so, it is hard to justify paying money for something that lasts, at best, a minute or less. Is it financially responsible for me to spend thousands of dollars a year on this alleged freefall "addiction"? No. But is it really wrong for me to do these things? This is debatable.

My entrance into the world of zen was earned through my pursuit of highlining. Perhaps the scariest of all the extreme sports (even my friends at the GoFast games thought I was a little crazy), albeit one of the safest, highlining forces one to abandon all fear, hope, desire, eagerness, etc. and adhere to the process of simply doing. Through higher and longer lines I learned to control my fear, ignore it, and turn it into the simple action of taking a step. I have been able to accomplish mild and mediocre achievements that I would never have thought possible when I was a big-eyed high school student scrapping up enough cash to buy my first set of quickdraws and cams. The highest lines in the world have been turned into banal strands of nylon under my chaffed and eager feet. My nonchalance of the danger comes not from any mental fortitude that I may have, or any physical skill, but simply from my desire to do what makes me happy. My delusional confidence arises from a faint desire to exist in my most natural state. This allows for any feat to be accomplished.

It is with this attitude that I approach the activities which I hold so close to my heart. I simply strive to be myself, and being myself entails doing these activities in my most natural state. I get frustrated when old friends and mentors look at me and think that I am crazy. They ask each other, at what point in the last four years did I go wrong? Where did I become such an adrenaline junkie? This couldn't be further from the truth. Adrenaline is an unfortunate by-product of these sports. It clouds judgment and takes me further from the peace of mind that I so readily embrace. They should be asking me, at what point in the last four years did I go right? Even this is an inaccurate question to ask, but it is a better one. In my opinion there are a few defining events in my life throughout the last four years, but none of them have single-handedly taken responsibility for where I am now. Where am I now? I'm only just a few mental steps away from my maturity level in high school. I still haven't accomplished anything worth noting, and I still haven't become the best at anything that I do. But I don't really want these things. What I have done is defined what makes me happy, and acted on these definitions to the best of my ability. In essence, I do what I do for myself, and not for the entertainment of others. Unfortunately, this is the definition of selfishness.

I hate being called crazy, because I am not crazy. I get a sinking feeling when I visit the people I looked up to only four years ago, the people who first began to spark my interest in the outdoors, the people who taught me how to live my life for myself. They all look at me now like I am a nutter, I'm out for cheap thrills and good bar tales. This saddens me because the very people who shaped my life no longer understand it. This even includes my family and my closest friends. I am constantly trying to explain myself, but am often without the words to do so. I can't tell anyone why I would climb without a rope, or walk a line a half mile above solid ground, or jump out of an airplane. While I'm still not very good at any of these things, I do them, and I don't have a reason why. I do them because they fill a gap in my life that nothing else can fill. They provide different facets of pleasure in a gem of existence. Do they help me to become a better person? Yes. Do they help me to become better than anyone else? Of course not. This isn't a battle to one-up the next guy, or do the most dangerous and extreme stunt imaginable. It is a battle to bury my own primordial doubt and replace it with happiness. It is a battle to define who I am and become the most passionate man I can be. I'm not crazy, I'm calculated and scientific, and free.

So despite the inherent and often publicized danger in all of these passions of mine, I cannot help acting upon these very human desires for adventure that I have. Instances such as the injuries I saw on Saturday, although detrimental to the adventurous spirits of my injured friends, only add fuel to the fire, for all of us. I'm sure once Jeff recovers from his surgery he will be more active than ever, and Joe has already scabbed up and been down several treacherous ski descents this week. I cannot put words to the song of passion, I can only dream, and experience the truth of my existence. I feel obligated to look out for the best interests of my family and loved ones, but I cannot stop doing what I love to do. Ceasing to do that which I enjoy would be a worse fate than dying in the midst of it. I cannot help but jump off things, walk in the sky, and ascend into the clouds. It is my nature. It is what makes me human. To call me crazy, to say I should not pursue these passions, to think that I am selfish and irresponsible, this attitude is a blind perspective to the truth of my bliss. I hope that now, by reading this, people understand why I do what I do, and can hopefully empathize with it. Thanks for taking the time to read what I have to say.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Going the Distance

I have been really excited about marathon slacklining lately. This is the act of getting on a long slackline (longer than 200 feet) and walking the line back and forth multiple times until one can no longer walk. It is difficult at first, but the oneness and meditative peace that accompanies this activity is unmatched. Walking a long, difficult slackline for up to an hour, or more, takes great mental and physical stamina, but also helps to tear away protective layers of you soul to expose your true being to the world, and to yourself. Here are a few photos from a longline session Josh and I had in Cheesman Park (Denver) last week.