No excuses

In the 19+ years that I have been sport parachuting, I hear people come up with reasons of why NOT to skydive. “Never, in a million years”; “Over my dead body’; “It’s too dangerous”; “I’m afraid of heights”; “It’s not the right time to jump”; “I’m too afraid to die”; “What if the parachute doesn’t open?”; “What if I can’t breathe?”; “I’m too old”. These are just a few totally justifiable excuses. We all make excuses (especially when it comes to making choices that go beyond our own control or comfort level); we learn to make them as a defense mechanism in this short and precious life. I understand completely, truly and totally. The thought of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane seems insane to most, and is considered a death-wish by many non-skydivers. I GET it. It’s scary as hell, and mortality is staring one in the face at a speed of 120mph. Catapulting one’s body towards the earth goes against every survival instinct known to man. Believe it or not, I’m afraid of heights, when that sense of imminent death appears to be a real threat to my survival (i.e. standing at a cliff’s edge, or positioned on the glass floor of the CN Tower, and at one time, jumping out of a plane above 2000 feet).

Yet long before the innovations and accomplishments of non-powered flight (the Montgolfier brother’s balloon in 1783 and Leonardo Da Vinci sketches centuries earlier), human flight has captured the dreams and fancy of many a visionary. Myself included, from my wee early years, before I even knew what the term parachute and skydive meant (and well before my fear of high places had been formed): I dreamed of flight, and the freedom it evoked. Kind of like the movie ‘Avatar’ and its effect on me, stoking my desire and daydreams of morphing into a Na’vi, living in the jungles of Pandora with my own personal airborne Toruk :).

Today, with 1350+ skydives under my belt, jumping out of an airplane is the ultimate thrill and pursuit in living vibrantly, fully and with a life wish. Living life to the fullest, no excuses.

Our friend Minna Mettinen-Kekalainen is one such person who lives on the edge of existence and reality, no excuses necessary for life’s subtle and obvious obstacles. Imagine jumping out of a plane, hampered by the inability to fully control ones body. Trust me when I say that this ‘disability’ [def: a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities] elevates sky-jumping to a whole other level. One that inspires me beyond words and pride. If you’ve jumped out of a plane, you’ll understand what I mean. Minna has courage beyond the imaginable (being a base jumper on top of her brave skydiving accomplishments). Having ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s disease) has only inspired her to live without reservation, appreciating each and every day that her body is able to physically jump.

With each passing day here in Zephyrhills, I resolve to embody the spirit of Minna. Such a brave and courageous woman. No excuses. Zip. Zero. None. Can you say the same?? Can you resolve to become braver in your everyday existence, whether it be jumping out of airplanes or conquering a niggling fear??

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”
    ~ Oscar Wilde

4-Wheeling on the Outer Banks

What a way to start a week of adventure on the Outer Banks! slaDE and I were in pursuit of finding the Wild Horses of Currituck County. We were super excited to explore Corolla and the surrounding area, 4 wheeling on the beach in search of hidden treasures. Today, unlike Sunday afternoon, we were prepared for the thrills and hazards of driving through the dunes and on the sand. You see, slaDE made a spontaneous attempt at cruising down the beach at Nags Head yesterday.

The tides were mid-way between high and low (aka half-tide) and the sands at the entrance of the beach ramp were loose, piled high and quite steep. Well, you can only imagine what happened … and CAA was not an option for helping us out of our ‘bind’. So after getting stuck quite deeply in the sand and finding an alternate exit point, slaDE and I hastened to learn the techniques and finesse of 4×4 Beach Driving before launching our escapade today. We found this resource to be a terrific gem: twiddy.com. Lessons learned? We discovered the importance of walking the beach access route(s) before entering and exiting with our truck … vitally important in recognizing whether the beach is suitable or not for 4WDing. Also, prior research to the techniques of beach driving is always a good thing :).

Corolla is considered the northernmost town on the Outer Banks (pronounced ‘cor-Aah-lah’ and NOT the Toyota Corolla way :)). This tiny fishing and tourist village is a refuge to both Sea Turtles and wild ponies, the latter which act as mascots around the entire Outer Banks. The horses are descendants of the Spanish Mustangs brought to the North Carolina coastline in the early1600s. Currituck County also houses giant upscale homes (mostly along the outermost stretches of beach) accompanied by a mammoth increase of tourist population during the summer months. This unfortunately is proving to be a threat to the diligently protected horses. Reckless driving and acts of violence in recent years have led to strict and severe penalties upon those who violate these beautiful untamed and rugged animals. Yet the population is shrinking, part of which lies in the inbreeding of these lineally pure Mustangs.

So in pursuit of witnessing these ethereal creatures, we drove the full length of the Carova Beach (about 8 miles), marvelling at the deep but smooth rutted ‘highway’ this beach has become. We both took turns driving, enjoying the ability to navigate with ease, after having let out our tire pressure to 20 psi. The gas mileage went down quite quickly (from 25 mpg to 20.1 mpg) during our experiment with beach driving. The traffic was blissfully light (compared to the horror stories experienced by locals during the summer season) and made for an incredible experience. Even driving up over the heavily sanded dune in to the home access road was disarmingly easy. I was awestruck by the number and size of monolithic mansions that created a suburbia along the water’s edge. We were told that 90% of the properties are unoccupied outside of the tourist season and major holidays. I can’t imagine the cost of heating one of those places during the winter. So I’m thinking that most are rental properties (with 10 bedrooms, one can only imagine the rent!). Once we reached the end of the occupied beach, bordered by a boundary marker to the Virginia State Park, we decided to walk along the beaches edge looking for the Wild Horses. We saw big stinking evidence of their recent residency :), but there were no sighting on any ponies carousing through the Atlantic. Still with hope in our heart, we skirted beyond the perimeter road about a ½ mile back from the waters edge. Coming around one of the dunes, we slowed and witnessed a herd of 6 horses quietly mowing the fields of their neighbour. They didn’t even stir as we approached in our truck, as close as 50 feet away. It was stunning to see them feed. One of the mares appeared to be heavily pregnant, due any day. The light was gorgeous and made for an astounding photo shoot, both of us excited at having stumbled across the only horses we were to witness today (apart from the winged statue we saw earlier) :). Although my Father boards quite a few horses, the sight of these wild untamed beauties had me holding my breath at the wonder of nature, and the history behind their lineage. After an hour of sitting silently whilst they fed,  and photographing up a storm, we made our way back to the village of Corolla, as it was vital that we refill the air in our tires. A flat tire would have marred the calm of our day, and we weren’t ready for that.

Before heading south to our overtly expensive RV park, we wanted to take advantage of the setting sun and thus quickly headed towards the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, for a few final photos of our incredible Corolla adventure. The Currituck Beach Lighthouse stands 165 feet tall and was built in 1875. It is the northernmost of the North Carolina Lighthouses.

Hope you enjoy all the pictures! We certainly enjoyed taking them. A photographer’s delight, to be certain, with such a beautiful canvas such as this . . . .

The Gift of Flight

For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.
Quotation of Leonardo Da Vinci

Flight is a huge part of my life and has been for over 19 years (for those who know me, you’d never guess!). Being both a licensed Private Pilot (1999) and a D-Licensed Skydiver (D18185, October 6, 1991), it’s always been a fascination and dream of mine to visit the site of where man made free, controlled, and sustained flight in the world’s first power-driven heavier-than-air machine. That date in history: December 17, 1903 near the Kill Devil Hills, about four miles south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina —  the historic launching grounds of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s The Wright Flyer. Although I thought I had known a fair bit of the historical events behind their first flight, I actually discovered today that I knew very little. The history is rich and steeped with amazing FAQs. So much so that the curator of the visitor center spent an hour telling the story of the history of flight, followed by a 40 minute film on the Wright and Tate families. Fascinating info that had us scrambling to try and fit in everything in in just one day. For me, it was compelling and relevant to also walk the grounds, from where each flight was launched onwards to the landing marker of each successful flight — 4 in total on that glorious day. This day was similar in weather to December 17, 1903. The winds howled, the temperatures were extraordinarily low and the visibility was clear with scattered clouds fringing the deep blue skies. Orville’s account of that fourth flight is as follows:

Wilbur started the fourth and last flight at just about 12 o’clock. The first few hundred feet were up and down, as before, but by the time three hundred ft had been covered, the machine was under much better control. The course for the next four or five hundred feet had but little undulation. However, when out about eight hundred feet the machine began pitching again, and, in one of its darts downward, struck the ground. The distance over the ground was measured to be 852 feet; the time of the flight was 59 seconds. The frame supporting the front rudder was badly broken, but the main part of the machine was not injured at all. We estimated that the machine could be put in condition for flight again in about a day or two.

Truly amazing to walk those steps … 852 feet may not seem like a lot, but in those days when no man or woman had ever lifted off of the earth via a manned powered vehicle, 59 seconds was truly a spectacular feat, I believe.

Following the path of the Wright Flyer’s trajectory, we strolled up the Kill Devil Hill to the centenary monument of where a behemoth rudder made of granite, sand, gravel and cement stands tall and proud, witness to the historical importance of Kitty Hawk and aviation. A stunning view of the area and an impressive memorial to the Wright Brothers. So breathtaking and a memory that both slaDE~ and myself will treasure forever!

Weekend fuN!

Lake ErieJump 100 pieIt was a gorgeous weekend, with unending blue skies and fabulous skydives! I managed to fly in the right seat of the Twin Otter twice at Skydive Burnaby, and both times were reminiscent of the days when I would fly as co-pilot with my dear friend Randy Goken. lucky girl was I! The views of Lake Erie are spectacular. And on the ground and in the air, much fun was had by all, including the rights of initiations to two fellow skydivers — at 100 jumps, all lucky skydivers are baptized with a creme pie :). I had one both at my 100 and 1000 jump landmark. Double blessed!

Tears of Sadness

At 2:20pm today, my dear friends at Frontier Skydivers were in a horrific plane crash carrying a total of 6 people. On takeoff, at 300 feet (end of the runway, surrounded by tall trees), the door on the Cessna 185 popped open and a skydiver onboard lunged to close it. Unfortunately, the plane was uncontrollable with the sudden change in the plane’s CG (centre of gravity), and an inevitable stall occurred, sending it crashing into the trees. Not much can be done at 300 feet, although the pilot in command performed a miracle in bleeding off as much excess speed as possible, bringing the plane in as best as he could.

I can’t imagine what a horrific feeling that would be, knowing that they were about to crash land from that altitude into obstacles as looming as the forest below them. 5 skydivers were released that very night from the hospital. Toma sadly is still in a coma. Prayers for them all. Kudos to both: Mike Maly, the medic hero who maintained control of the accident scene (he was also in the plane crash, suffering from a dramatic facial laceration), and to the pilot Paul, who performed a miracle on this day.

The above video can be found at: http://www.wivb.com/dpp/news/niagara/Skydiver-tells-harrowing-survival-tale

Lifted by the Wings of Grace

Feeling frustrated today. Willing and wanting my blog to be up-to-date. Lapsing further and deeper behind. So much to say, lots of lovely photographs to portray the events and good times. Not feeling the motivation to ink my thoughts so vividly, longing for my fingers to meander across the keyboard. Slowly, slowly. With patience and gratitude, a new day is before me and I WILL accomplish a few steps forward with my goals, my plans. Learning to forgive both myself and others is the first step, sometimes the hardest. It’s been a tough day of lacking in faith and letting go.

Chin up. Knowing I can be better. Will myself to be better, especially when I’m not soulfully feeling the much-needed inspiration. Deep breath and relinquish the control beyond my means, my abilities. There is no such thing as control. Something to remember. Always.

Return to the breath. The heart and soul of my being. This is the only truth I know, and perhaps the closest thing to goD that will ever be known. Until my last breath, forgiveness with each inhale and exhale. Knowing that greatness belongs and exists within each and every one of uS. Believe, act and I will fly and succeed, lifted by the wings of grace.

I love this poem, written by Alicia, as discovered on Facebook.

RV There Yet?You were born with potential,
You were born with goodness and trust,
You were born with ideals and dreams,
You were born with greatness,
You were born with wings,
You are not meant for crawling, SO DON’T
You have wings
Learn to use them and fly!!!!!

RV There Yet??

Wind lessons: skydiving over Burnaby

Gorgeous sunset, wanting to celebrate life with just my hubby, remembering my brother on the 22nd anniversary of his death. A simple feel good skydive, just the two of us: that’s what I wanted. I was kinda thrown by the spot … we were in freefall over Lake Erie, and for me, quite the eery feeling to be skirting the shores edge, the drop zone at least 3 miles away. The winds had been super strong all day and I had chosen to stand down because of it, grateful to have survived an injury in too windy conditions 4 years ago — lessons learned. However, thinking that at the end of the day, the uppers would have died down was a silly assumption to make for our skydive. Under canopy at 5000 feet, savouring the gorgeous sunset, I wasn’t too concerned about my positioning, other than facing in to the wind with lots of clear space and open fields behind me to make it back. At 3000 feet I realized how far east I had been blown, off the wind line, and in an attempt to make it back too soon, was blown over the dense trees below, going ‘Oh shit, better start looking for an alternate landing area amidst those trees’. Each field and backyard kept disappearing below me as I continued to be pushed backwards.

Skydive Burnaby

At a 1.2 wing loading (exit weight vs load-bearing ratio to my canopy), I wasn’t having much luck in gaining any forward drive. Dang, trees, trees everywhere. Not good. Winds + trees = turbulence at best. But luckily, closer to the ground, the wind slowed and I was able to ‘hook’ a 180 degree turn at tree top level in to a small postage stamp area (can you say 200 by 200 feet with 70 foot trees all around?). Within the confines of the trees, there was no wind  which made for much forward movement. Having at least been on top of my game for this, I landed mid-field. I could have been the lone hero, ready to run it out, if necessary, but instead decided to slide it in gently, not wanting to injure myself for the long anticipated walk back. One never knows what holes etc lie there amidst the grassy knolls. Landing out in the middle of a forest isn’t the smartest thing in the world. One, had I been seriously injured, the chances of someone finding me before dark would have been next to nil. Two, if a helicopter had to fly in to airlift me out, that would have been tricky trying in such a small area plus to find me with no clear markers anywhere, stupid. Three, I got caught behind the power curve and didn’t anticipate the forces of Mother Nature. Silly, silly, lucky girl.

After 10 minutes of meandering through fields which I hoped to take me to a road somewhere, I ended up crawling over a barbed wire fence, leading me to a cemetery and thus a road. Go figure! Was this a sign or what? My dear brother had certainly been looking out for me, alongside me the whole jump, from exit to landing and beyond. Walking between the graves with my canopy slung over my shoulder had me seriously thinking about spirit and life and the choices we make. Whether they be stupid not well-thought out decisions or meticulously planned intentions, life doesn’t always go as one expects or hopes much of the time. Having a backup Plan B, C and D is always a good idea, and going with the flow when none of the above options are available is what life is all about. Hopefully in instances like this, I can walk away without injury and head held high, knowing that I have to live with the consequences, even in the face of death and reality. Makes for an exciting day and valuable lessons learned. Next time, I hope to make better choices. Thankfully, there will be a next time!

DC3 Photoshoot

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIHk2io8dYk[/youtube]

Hippy TwistDC3 Dreamin'Blessed, blessed, blessed we are to have such great skilled friends, bountiful opportunities and beauty all around uS! Our friend Spot, a professional musician, videographer, photographer, wingsuit expert and skydiving Instructor, offered to take photographs of slaDE~ and I enjoying yogaFLIGHT and partner yoga poses on the wing of the drop zone’s next door DC3 airplane (DOUGLAS DC-3 “DST” = Douglas Sleeper Transport). The gigantic radial engines and aluminum bare skinned wings provided a gorgeous backdrop to the sunny vibrant weather of the day.  For several hours, both mid-morning and near dusk, we lavishly explored the depths of flight and yoga atop & beside the wings of this iconic beauty of an airplane. So fortunate and privileged to grace the wings of flight with the yoga we hold so close to our hearts and being.Sky gazing

Change … in all its glory

Butterfly transformations

Butterfly transformations

It’s interesting to be a witness to change in ones own life, if able to step back and view everything as if an outsider looking in, with no attachment or labeling of self. I don’t know if this is entirely possible, but I’ve been experimenting in my writing, as if I were documenting a stranger’s life. The results have been quite interesting and have given me an unexpected perspective that has helped me to accept and embrace the growing pangs of change.

Change is inevitable, whether we try to ‘steer’ the direction of our ship or are sideswiped by the unexpected winds of transformation. Fascinated by the concept of flight, I’ve often wondered about the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly. Is the evolutionary process one of pain and difficulty? The end result of this rebirth cycle is one of pure beauty and freedom, the shackles of earth left behind, new horizons open to exploration and possibility. And so is the case of change within my life at the moment.

To be honest, at times I have moments of sheer panic and terror set in. Anything truly is possible when putting everything we live and love for out there, on the line, overtly susceptible to any tipping point and wind. When slaDE~ and I envisioned our dream and released it to a higher power, with a wish and a prayer, little did we know that the flood gates of change and opportunity would become open for the taking. And risk we did, jumping in with both feet. Now, here we are, being encompassed by and feeling the growing pangs. Conscious of each moment of birthing, emerging with new wings, slowly and with moments of pain and wisdom. Can we exit the embodied cocoon with grace and conscious development, fully aware, breathing and enjoying the outcomes {regardless of whether it fits the design and pattern of choice and vision}? By stepping back and realigning with my intention, I hope that I can step through these momentous times of upheaval with a joyful smile, and stronger because of the change which aims to teach and inspire.