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Las Vegas Las Vegas

18th August 2010

Flying Free as a Bird and Ending up in Venice

    After a bright and early 6am start, Dan and I headed through the hotel casino on the way to the car park, and it already had a critical mass of hardened gamblers on the slot machines and even on some of the card tables.
    The drive down to Boulder City airport was quite quick at that time of morning, and we arrived in good time for our sky-dive. The first thing on the agenda was a weight check. I came in at 172 lb; I had lost about 1.5 stone during my trek so far, which wasn't a bad thing. After that, we were given a lengthy contract to read through, and initial after virtually every paragraph, and if that wasn't enough, for one paragraph, we had to copy the text so that we had no excuse that we hadn't read it. Effectively, we were signing away all our rights, which seemed fairly typical in the "sue at all costs" culture. We watched a video that spelled out the fact that we were signing away our rights, followed by a five minute training session spelling out the rules, dos and don'ts of the jump, and the position we should adopt as soon as we leave the aircraft.
    The training was really minimal. In contrast, about 28 years ago I did some parachute jumps back in the UK, and the training for that lasted a day and a half over a weekend. However, that was a case of going over the process time and time again, with lots of dummy jumps off a platform. Those parachute jumps were static line jumps; once I left the aircraft I was on my own until I hit the ground, so everything was drummed into me so that it would become automatic. The sky-dive we were about to do was in tandem; we had an instructor strapped to our backs.
    Once all the paperwork had been completed, our assigned instructors took us through to a room to get kitted out. My instructor was Kevin, a witty, loud chap who tried the wind up routine just to ease any tensions. It was easy to establish banter with him, and once he knew I had jumped before, it seemed to relax him too. I emptied my pockets into an individual storage locker, donned a jump suit, and had an harness attached to me by Kevin, who explained exactly what he was doing, and how and why he would further tighten and loosen the straps during the flight and jump. I wasn't nervous since I knew what to expect. Kevin had jumped out of helicopters and a hot air balloon before; he wasn't keen on the latter. Indeed, despite all the flights he had done in conjunction with jumps, he always felt slightly nervous about the mode of getting to altitude, but all that disappeared once he was free of the craft, and hurtling towards the ground. I suppose then you have total control and are not reliant on a craft or its pilot.
Making the Climb Up
Dan Relaxed
    As we all walked out to the plane, Dan looked a little worried, but I was sure he would be alright. We all climbed aboard the plane in reverse order of our jumping order, and sat on the wooden floor between our instructors' legs. Once we were in that position our instructors strapped our harnesses to their, adjusted the tightness, and offered comforting words or prayers. In Kevin's case it was more of a wind-up for the rookie jumpers.
    There was no hanging about on the airport apron, the plane was launched at the runway and in next to no time we were airborne. It took us a good 15 minutes to make the climb. That was fast due to the aircraft used, a New Zealand built plane, designed specifically to carry sky-divers to high altitude in hot conditions. It was the best of its breed.
Las Vegas Strip in the Distance
    During the climb we caught magnificent views of Boulder City, Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, the Colorado River and Las Vegas.
    Harness straps were constantly being adjusted and final instructions issued before the big moment. The green light came on indicating we were over the jump zone, and the sliding door at the side of the plane was opened. The noise from he rush of air was deafening.
    Immediately, a girl and her instructor slid to the open doorway, sat with their feet dangling over the side for a second, and were gone.
Bye-bye Plane

    As soon as they had departed, Kevin prodded me to slide to the open doorway. I slung my feet over the side, angled my head back, and put my arms on my chest, ready for the launch. Before I had time to think, we were weightless and falling through the air.
We Sure are Falling a Long Way Down
    For me, the first few fractions of a second during the jump out of an aircraft were the worst, not because of fear, but the weightlessness sensation plus total loss of orientation induced extreme nausea. Certain funfair rides can have a similar effect on me. Once I had the tug of a parachute harness, or in this case the force of the wind against my body, plus stability, the nausea was gone.
    It was only a second or two before I felt the tap on my shoulder to tell me to hold my arms out, and then we were falling through the air in the classic sky-dive position. It was a relief to be in this stable position, and an exhilarating first time experience. I could not resist the temptation to look straight down, even though we were instructed not to do so. The instructor's remedy for this was to pull my chin up.
As Free as a Bird

    The noisy rush of air flowing past me, the pressure of the wind on my face and body, the slight breathlessness, were all new experiences to me, but I enjoyed it all. For good measure, Kevin put us into a spin for a few revolutions.
    Then it all came to an end. I felt a jolt, not as extreme as I thought it would be, and our bodies swung into a vertical position as we continued our descent by parachute.
    The silence, after the noisy rush of air during freefall, was profound. Kevin passed control of the parachute over to me for a while, allowing me to steer and rotate the chute. It was a relaxing descent during which I could take in my surroundings; the airstrip below and the golf course alongside it.
Circling Above the Golf Course with the Parachute Open
    All too soon, Kevin was making the approach run to our landing site. I assumed the correct stance with my legs bent at the knees and outstretched in front of me, and then we were down. Dan landed beside me about five seconds later, and we gave each other a hug of congratulations. The sky-dive had been an incredibly amazing experience for both of us.
Kevin and I Safely Down
    Having been brought back to earth, we headed off to climb inside it, or more specifically to do a tour inside Hoover Dam. I had already undertaken a tour about a month earlier, but since Dan wanted to take a tour too, I was happy to make a repeat visit. Dan really enjoyed the excursion, plus he walked across the dam into Arizona, another first for him.
Hoover Dam and Lake Mead from the Air
Looking Up Hoover Dam from the Ventilation Grill Half way Up
Stairway to Heaven in the Dam Wall
    In the evening we took a long walk down the Strip, visiting some of the themed hotels. The most memorable for me was the Venetian Hotel. Similar to the Paris Hotel, the huge ground floor area had been constructed to resemble a Venetian setting, complete with canals and gondolas.
    The ambient lighting was early evening. I was still amazed at how well the illusion worked, and the concept of time had been flipped over. We sat by the canal enjoying a meal while gondolas glided past us, with the gondoliers serenading passengers with Italian operatic songs. Above us was a blue sky dotted with a few cotton wool clouds, and the air was refreshingly cool. Here it was eternally 7pm; in reality, outside it was 11pm, dark and still in the 90s.
Inside the Venetian Hotel
    The only indication it was late was when the gondolas were being tied up around midnight, and the gondoliers were chin-wagging near the canal steps. I noticed a guy climbing over the gondolas and untie the end one, and assumed he was one of the gondoliers who had changed out of uniform. The next moment, he and his gondola were shooting backwards down the canal, and he was calling back to the gondoliers, "You weren't expecting that, were you?". I did a double take, he was moving backwards at speed, without using the oar. I then twigged that the craft were motor driven, with discretely placed pedals on board. Meanwhile, two gondoliers had boarded their boats and went off in pursuit. They all disappeared around a bend in the canal, so I never learned of the outcome. I laughed at the audacity of the culprit, and the "Keystone Cops" pursuit taking place.
    Today had been a memorable day.
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Las Vegas Las Vegas

Uploaded from Francisco Bay Inn, 1501 Lombard Street, San Francisco CA on 29/08/10 at 01:30

Last updated 30.8.2010