My 60th Birthday Adventure

July 20, 2015

Some men, when they reach a certain age, have what is commonly termed a "mid-life crisis." And they do things like buy expensive sports cars, have affairs with younger women, and other such foolishness.

I jumped out of an airplane.

With a parachute, course. I may be foolish, but I'm not suicidal.

Terry and I went and spent the weekend in Lake Elsinore, and had a lovely time. We went wine tasting, went gambling at an Indian casino, ate in several nice restaurants, including one with a live rock band, took long meandering drives, and generally enjoyed ourselves. Even the fact that it rained all day Saturday didn't spoil our fun.

On Monday, my birthday, we got up at 4:00 in the morning - which is way earlier than anyone should get out of bed on any day, much less their birthday - and drove down to A Grape Escape in Temecula for our first adventure of the day, a hot air balloon ride over the Temecula Wine Country.

There were about twenty passengers altogether, enough for two balloons. After we all got checked in, we loaded up into two vans, each towing a trailer with a (deflated) balloon and a basket:

...and we drove out to the launch site, a conveniently located vacant lot:

...where our pilots started setting up the balloons. They started by laying out tarps on the ground:

...and then laid the deflated baloons out on the tarps:

...then they removed the baskets from the trailers, laid them on their sides, and attached the balloons to the baskets:

...and began blowing them up with large fans, powered by small gasoline engines:

When the balloons were sufficiently inflated, they began firing the burners, to heat up the air inside the balloons:

...whereupon the balloons began to rise into the air, pulling the baskets upright:

Here's a picture of the inside of one of the baskets:

It's a bit blurry, but you can see the handholds on the inside, and the holes in the side, which we used as footholds when climbing in. So we all climbed aboard:

After Terry got in, we lifted Trooper up and over the side, and he lay on the floor for the whole trip:

He may not have even realized we ever left the ground. We were worried about whether we would have any problem bringing Trooper along, and were all prepared to argue our case, although we wondered if there would even be room for him in the basket. It turned out we had nothing to worry about - they told us that they had flown with guide dogs before.

I had told them that it was my birthday, so they took a special birthday picture:

...and then we took off. The other balloon went first:

...and then it was our turn:

In that last picture, you can clearly see the demarcation where the residential area of Temecula ends, and the wine country begins. We flew for about an hour, admiring the scenery, and remarking on various points of interest that we saw from the air. Sometimes we flew higher, and sometimes lower. At one point, we were low enough that I could see a man standing on the ground - I saluted him, and he saluted back. It was very quiet up there - except when the pilot would fire the burners, which were quite loud.

Here's a picture I took looking up into the balloon from below:

In order to land, the pilot simply let air out of the ballon, until were skimming along the ground, brushing the grass. He actually managed to set the balloon down so that the basket came to rest right on the trailer. After they tied it down, we all got out, and they detatched the balloon from the basket, and began to let the rest of the air out:

After it was fully deflated, they rolled it up into a long sausage:

...and then stuffed it into a large bag, similar to the kind of bags that down sleeping bags are stuffed into, but larger, of course. I and several passengers helped by holding the bag open while they stuffed in the balloon:

And then we all drove back to the winery, where we toasted our flight with champagne (sparkling cider for us non-drinking types). This, we were told, is traditional. The first hot air balloon flight took place in France, and they toasted their flight with champagne, and balloonists have done so ever since, apparently. We also were each given this certificate:

And since it was my birthday, they also gave me this cake:

...which Terry and I ate later that day, after we got home. It was also the birthday of another woman on our flight - she got a cake, too.

If you want to know more about hot air ballooning, Wikipedia has a good article.

After we left, we drove back to Lake Elsinore, for my second big adventure of the day - skydiving.

I have to admit, I had a high level of anxiety about this. In previous trip logs, I've mentioned my fear of heights. And I know that skydiving is relatively safe - lots of people do it all the time, and survive - but the fact remains that it is dangerous, and some people don't survive.

Still, as Bob Dylan pointed out, "He not busy being born is busy dying." I think that everyone should occasionally step outside of their comfort zone, and do something out of the ordinary, or even outrageous. Also, there was the fact that my wife had already gone skydiving - three times, the year before we were married. Of course, she was younger then.... but still, if she could do it, so could I. Right?

We arrived at the offices of Skydive Elsinore:

...where I signed several pages worth of liabilty waivers, basically saying that no matter what happened, they weren't liable. I particulary found interesting the clause that I had to sign saying that I had made adequate provisions for my next of kin in the event of my death.

Terry had told me that when she went skydiving, she had noticed the macabre sense of humor shared by skydivers. I saw some examples of this. For one thing, there was this warning sign:

I also noticed a T-shirt that said "You don't need a parachute to go skydiving. You need a parachute to go skydiving twice."

Hardly the type of thing to set a nervous first-timer's mind at rest.

So I got trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey in my harness:

First time flyers have a choice. You can take a six-hour training course, and jump solo, or you can watch a short training video and go on a tandem jump. That means you're hooked up to an experienced flyer, and you jump together, and he's responsible for deploying the chute and controlling the descent, and you just go along for the ride. That's the option I chose. So I met my flight partner, Paul:

...and we all got on the plane:

...and took off. There were nine of us on the plane. There were three jumpers, myself and two other first timers. It was also both of their birthdays - they had each turned eighteen a few days earlier. Then there were the three tandem jumpers, and also three photographers. For an extra fee, you can buy a video package, in which another experienced jumper jumps out of the plane at the same time you do, wearing helmet mounted cameras, and takes a video of your flight, as well as several still photos. Most of the pictures you're seeing in this section were taken by my photographer, Susie.

While on the plane, flying up to our jumpoff point, Paul got us hooked up together:

When it was our turn, we sat in the open doorway, with our legs hanging over the edge:

You can tell by the look on my face how excited I was. And then Paul leaned forward, and so of course so did I, having no choice.... and we fell.

I don't know how long we were in freefall. The funny thing is, after the initial drop - in which your stomach seems to drop a lot farther and faster than the rest of you - you don't actually feel like you're falling. You can feel the wind rushing by - in the pictures, you can see how wind pulls back the sides of my face - but you actually feel more like you're floating in water.

And then there was a sudden JERK, and I was pulled from my horizontal position into a vertical one, and I realized that the chute had opened, and I wasn't going to die, after all.

Before the flight, I was asked if I had any issues with motion sickness. I was afraid that if I said yes, they might not let me go, so I lied and said no. Mistake. After the chute opened, Paul proceeded to go SWOOPing back and forth, and my motion sickness kicked in. I closed my eyes and thought "I will NOT throw up!!!" I didn't.

So we landed:

When I got up, I was extremely shaky, and still dizzy and nauseous from all the swooping. All I could think was, "People actually do this more than once??"

My first reaction was: Okay, I've done it, I'm glad I did it, I'm proud of myself that I did it - and I'm never doing it again! Now that I've had time to think about it, though, I'm beginning to realize that I should have just told them that I am subject to motion sickness, and they should just let me come floating straight down, without the swooping. I probably would have enjoyed it more, and not felt so sick and dizzy afterwards.

So I don't know... I might do it again sometime. But not for a while. Maybe for my 70th birthday...

Here's a link to the video of my skydive adventure.