“I need airplane retrievers in the airplane retrieving department.” It’s 8:30 am, and a voice can be heard loud and clear over the PA all across the facilities of the The Parachute Center. That voice belongs to none other than Bill Dause, a skydiving legend. Welcome to Lodi.
Minutes later, anywhere from 8-20 people are walking towards the airplane hanger, ready to guide the Twin Otter out of its resting place and onto the tarmac. It’s time to jump.
We wake up with a proverbial morning espresso, drank at 3000 feet above ground level (agl) on our way out of the airplane door, deploying our chutes seconds after. What better way to start the day than a hop and pop on load one?
The main hanger is filled no later than 9:30, and everyone is already buzzing with excitement at another day of jumping. A quick look around reveals new students being shown how to correctly exit the aircraft; their instructor shouting at them, “Ready! Set! Go!”
Fun jumpers litter the floor, scrambling to pack their chutes so they don’t miss the next load. Elsewhere, they crowd the couches, surrounding a single laptop reviewing footage from their previous jump, uproarious, belting shouts of laughter and pure excitement at the moment they just caught on video.
Jump, Pack, Repeat. Hell, you may even have some time to eat a few peanuts in between.
In the background, Bill can be heard over the PA making ridiculous calls, outside of your standard 15 minute load warnings. “Check your shoe laces, we’re going to two planes. Don’t forget the ice cream.” The second Otter comes out, and the loads keep turning. With a capacity of about 25 people per load, it’s not uncommon for 35 loads to go up in one day.
The civilians come and go, lining up to sign their life away for 5 minutes of pure, unadulterated adrenaline. They meet their tandem instructors and then their cameramen. They ask them how many jumps they have, then tell them how crazy they are when they learn the number, often times 1000 or more. We sit back and watch them come and go, and remember what it was like to not know how to fly. Like a bird in a cage, on antibiotics.
“Breezy, will you let Xbox know that Shiny is needed in the Shiny area?”
The Northern California sun is no joke; it’s practically a requirement to take the plane ride to 13,000′ agl and jump out if not just to avoid the 95 degree weather on the ground.
“We need clippy clippers in the penpboard picker upper area.”
When jumping activities finally commence, we retire to our lavish oasis in the shade:
Or head to the river for some serious rope swing action:
Groups gather around the various slacklines to enjoy the post jump beers, usually supplied by the jumpers who made beer offenses that day (and yeah, that’ll cost ya a case.)
Everywhere you look around Lodi there are pockets of people, happier than a midget at a mini-skirt convention.
We prep our food on dirty old tables and have bbqs for 20 people at a time.
We party like rockstars, knowing the true value of living life like it could be your final day.
We jump out of airplanes with our best friends, whom we’ve only met 3 weeks ago.
We swarm the sunset couches and watch the sun go west every night, living and breathing for nothing but fleeting moments.
We live in tents, where having an air mattress means you’re pretty well off. RV? You’re living large.
We live like kings. We conquer our desires. We seize opportunities. We take the god damned bull by the horns and we don’t let that son of a bitch go until he’s on the ground panting and squealing. We understand the meaning of life; and it’s simply to live – to be alive.
We’re not afraid to die, we’re afraid we haven’t lived enough. (Although, being fired by Bill is a truly real fear.)
I came to Lodi on a wing and a prayer. I didn’t know if I’d have enough money to last until the winter, let alone luck. But what I found was something more than skydiving, I found happiness. I found great friends that I hope to know for a lifetime. I found a way of life. And that’s something you can’t put a price on.