Tuesday, June 26, 2012

My Skydiving Days (Part 4)....

These aren't really chronological, but more thematic in nature. But if you'd like to catch up, you can read the previous parts here:

My Skydiving Days (Part 1)
My Skydiving Days (Part 2)
My Skydiving Days (Part 3)

Tonight's theme is the unpleasant one of injuries.

I was lucky in my (brief in numbers but protracted in years) skydiving career. As I mentioned at the end of Part 3, I once heard a jumpmaster say that particular drop zone had never experienced a serious injury. He then went on to say the only serious injury was death.

I probably had a LOT more opportunities for injury than the typical skydiver, because I had no idea most of the time what I was doing. When I was jumping round canopies, one time I had a near in-tree landing. I landed in the yard of a woman's house, and I was RIGHT OFF THE END OF THE RUNWAY. I mean, I could SEE the airport, but I couldn't get there. I could just imagine myself dangling in the tree, but I was lucky enough to make it all the way to the ground. The canopy, however, was stuck in the tree. And there were strict rules that forbade me from unhooking my harness, which I would have loved to do so I could slink off into the woods. Instead I had to stand there, tethered to a pine tree while the woman who owned the house leaned out her window, saying, "Ya landed in a tree, didn't cha?" while I waited for personnel from the drop zone to arrive and free me. As if that weren't embarrassing enough, when I got back to the shed I had to take the rig down to the head honcho, who was teaching PLFs to a new crop of students, and explain that I'd had a close encounter of the pine tree kind.

Another time I could have been injured (or worse) was the time I couldn't find east (more on that story in another episode). The last communication I had with the instructor on the ground told me to "find a spot to land." When I looked down, all I could see were power lines and pine trees. Good grief. I was still jumping a round canopy, so steering away from the hazards was not an option. I had to float with the wind and hope I got over both obstacles. The odds of doing so were not good. I know for a fact I wasn't breathing. I was getting ready to "get skinny" if I had to go between the power lines (it's only dangerous if you touch two of them, but I didn't want to put THAT to the test), and at that point the trees were the lesser of the two evils. The gods were smiling on me that day, though, because I drifted well over the power lines, not even draping my canopy over them, and I found a teeny tiny little patch of a clearing among all the pine trees. I was across the road from the shed. Seriously, I could have thrown a rock and hit it. Sigh.

After I started jumping square canopies, I developed a TERRIBLE habit of lifting my feet up when I pulled down on the brake lines. (Without getting too technical, because I'd be terrible at being technical, the best way to land a square canopy is to basically stall the canopy right as you touch the ground. That's what the brake lines do, pretty much collapse the canopy.) I think I was pulling my feet up in an attempt to get more leverage into my pull, because it seemed my arms weren't long enough. Once at a tiny drop zone where the owners later caused me significant embarrassment by using my camera to take pictures of their own penises, the landing area was hard-packed Georgia red clay. I came in for my typical not-following-the-rules landing, lifting my feet and legs up, and I landed on my knee first. There was a small rut gouged out of the hard-packed clay where my knee struck it. I didn't break anything (gods were smiling on me again), but my knee was a technicolor mess for several days. And I still didn't know how to correct my landing.

And I continued to have enough trial-and-error experiences that I should have learned a lot. You know you've had a bad parachute landing when you head back to the packing shed and EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON. you pass along the way asks, "Are you okay?" As approaches go, it was a good one. I was on target to land on the drop zone (instead of a different zip code), possibly in the "peas" (pea gravel in a some-foot diameter circle that was the targeted landing spot for the really good skydivers). Heck, I was just proud not to have a 15-minute hike in front of me. I saw the ground approaching, flared my canopy (too high - again), raised up my feet and legs (again), and bounced on my tailbone. What happens when you stall a canopy too high is that you're not close enough to the ground to land. At least not properly. And you're TOO close to the ground to allow the canopy to re-inflate. Thus the bounce. It hurt pretty badly then. But that ain't NOTHING compared to how it felt in the next two weeks. Oh, and I was doing my student teaching at that time. With a toddler to take care of. I mentioned to someone that I thought about going to the doctor to have it checked, at least to have them x-ray my tailbone. Then someone said to me, "Bragger, they don't x-ray for that kind of injury. They check it.... using other means." Since I was pretty sure they couldn't do anything about it anyway, I just toughed it out. And it WAS tough, but I had no one to blame but my own stupidity.

Someone finally fixed that problem for me. Some random experienced skydiver suggested that when I unstowed the brake lines under canopy, I should take an extra wrap of the cords around my hand. That meant I didn't have as far to pull them to get a full stall, I didn't have to lift my feet and legs up in an effort to get the extra pull I needed, and I didn't have to spend a couple of weeks walking like I'd just given birth to a drill sergeant. It worked like a charm. (Further evidence that a lot of our "training" was random and arbitrary."

One final "injury" of sorts before I bore you to death. Ultimately I got to the point where I was allowed (nay, encouraged) to pack my own chute, especially necessary if I wanted to jump again the same day. It's not actually as complicated as you might think, the whole rig being held together by rubber bands and velcro. I'm not even kidding. There were a lot of steps to the process, though, and the only way I can learn is by DOING something. I can watch it a jillion times, but until I do something hands-on like that, the process remains a mystery. And I have to do it a number of times before it becomes intuitive. I performed a jump right after packing my own rig one day, and most of the jump went off flawlessly. Good freefall, good opening. WHAM!!! It felt like I had run full tilt into a tractor trailer. The canopy was good, I landed uneventfully, and the purple bruises where the four straps had been around my thighs and upper arms wouldn't show up until the next day. When my jumpmaster landed, he asked how my jump went, and I mentioned the hard opening.

"It happens sometimes," he said. "Next time try rolling the nose just a tad more."

Roll the nose. That means rolling the front edge of the canopy under just a little bit before packing it into the bag. The purpose is to slow the opening down ONLY FRACTIONALLY, YOU UNDERSTAND, preventing sudden, hard, bruise-inducing canopy openings.

Roll the nose. So THAT was the step I left out.

1 comment:

DJan said...

Of course I read this avidly, and enjoyed your descriptions of what any beginning skydiver goes through. I also learned that trick of taking a wrap on the brake lines. Of course, when you flare too high, it is only making it worse. Rolling the nose was something I learned through trial and error, too. And I also broke my tailbone early in my career and couldn't sit down for weeks. So nothing you wrote in here is unusual, except you didn't have very good instruction, not at all. You told the story really well, though.