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.
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.
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.