Surrounded By Love, Remembering That I Am Not Alone

I found myself fully awake as slaDE made preparations to go to the dropzone to jump this weekend. I’m used to (sort of) my husband’s early morning departures during the week where he quietly readies himself for work at 5am. And if I’m ever-so-lucky, I can remember his sweet gentle kisses in the sleepy haze of my early morning slumber. But this morning at 7am, the striking cold brisk chill in the air woke me up alarmingly fast as I bolted to empty my bladder. Overnight, literally, the weather had changed from a lazy warm Indian Summer’s night to that belying the abrupt onset of a Winter’s morning. Once I hit the freezing grip of the toilet’s caress, I was wide awake. Sigh, so much for sleeping in :). I knew that with the weather forecast of below freezing temperatures and unruly high winds that I wouldn’t want to be skydiving this weekend (plus my back still is going through mini-spasms — not ideal for arching or abrupt off heading openings). I’m a skydiving snob per se, a fair-weather jumper. And yes, I am okay with that. I’ve spent too much time wrapped up like the Stay-Puff Marshmallow Guy / Michelin Man in the sky, and from these experiences, I know exactly where my comfort zone lies. Who wants to be questioning whether one can pull a sequence of handles at deployment time because the fingers have frozen, with all sensation pretty much gone, or at least numbed. NO Thank you!! Been there, done that.

With that being said, I chose to wrap myself up, nuzzling deeper in the blankets of our kingsized bed, loving my husband from afar (Skydive Toronto — 2 hrs away from our homebase in Oshawa) in yet another loner weekend in the Airstream. I sometimes wonder if I’m making the right choice. Of not spending that quality time with my husband on his weekends skydiving when I have other tasks to do or reasons to not be at the dropzone. I guess you could call it dz burnout. I’ve always been a bit of a loner. Yet as I sit here, I’m somewhat sad at my decision. Every singular moment that we have together is a pure luxury, regardless of what we’re doing. How could I say no? And in that moment of questioning and melancholy, I found myself wrapped in love. Literally, embraced by the warm wool blanket gifted to us by a girlfriend in Calgary. Three years after the fact, this worn and well-loved bed covering is one of the valuable items in our rV that continuously provides us with unfailingly comfort in the colder climes. And in this sweet moment of awareness, I think of her, and smile. The trend continues, and I think of, with deepening gratitude:

  • my Mother, whose warm fleece hat covers my head in the morning chill
  • my Idaho-based girlfriend whose lovingly crafted sunflower quilt provides us with warmth, sunshine and love in the darkest of nights
  • another skydiving girlfriend whose pyjamas I was wearing, acquired last winter in the midst of her move to an rV lifestyle
  • the complete stranger whom we purchased an Airstream from off of eBay (I think of this man often, silently thanking him for such an amazing home)
  • a dear lovely soul who is suffering from a terrifying illness and injuries that has this person fighting with every bit of their amazing strength and courageousness. It leaves me wondering: what can I offer or do to make life better for them?

And with these heartfelt revelations and remembrances, I realize that I am truly blessed to be surrounded by love, friendship, family and above all else, good health. Even in my solitude, I am never alone. There are always reminders of those who have left forever imprints on my heart. Of those who are experiencing tremendous trials and startling tribulations that leave me breathless.

With this surge in emotion, I am suddenly overwhelmingly quiet. A deep sense of love emanates from within, filling any space where a void may have existed briefly this morning. I am honoured and truly blessed for the friends and family in my life, for the life-partner that comes home to me, to us, unfailing in his love and dedication. With this appreciation, I’m realizing that, next time, I’ll be hard-pressed to not be by my husband’s side, even in the coldest of winters and difficult of days. I want to be his steadfast blanket, supporting and warming him when he needs me most.

Do you have a favourite momento or memory that carries you through the difficult challenging times, when feeling alone, sad and grey; a heart-worthy impression that provides a souvenir hug, enlightening and brightening your day?

Sitflying in Skydive Dallas

What a gorgeous calm sunny day at Skydive Dallas! Only a hint of wind flip-flopped the windsock on the massive green fields of emptiness. Before darting northbound to Illinois, slaDE and I managed to make 2 skydives before continuing onwards with our trek. Fabulous and frivolous sit jumps that had me giddy with excitement at my new skydiving pursuits. A whole lotta fun checking out some new skills. The learning curve shall be steep!

Kudos to Whitney for the beautiful photo she took of my hubby sitflying over Ambergris Caye, Belize. 🙂

Celebrating 1000

What a glorious day to celebrate a New Year …. jumping with slaDE on his 1000th skydive, along with 13 other friends. I was there with him from the beginning of his AFF progression, right through to today. How fantastic! Traditionally, when a skydiver has a big anniversary jump, they 1) buy beer and 2) get creamed with a pie. No pictures YET. But baby better be ready :).

The photo to the left was taken after my beautiful husband completed his first AFF jump. That was back in 2002. 8+ years later and 1000 more jumps under his belt, he is still as passionate about his skydiving career as his first day of freefalling from an airplane. FANTASTIC! We completed a 13 way RW skydive (to the right, copyright Pat Calandra) for slaDE~s 1000th jump (which also happened to be TK Haye’s 50th birthday). FUN!

A New Year = New Adventures

2011 = Part 2 of our 2nd full year of Airstreaming a.go-go, where every day is a new beginning in our silver tube. No matter where we are on this planet, I seem to be able to find a reason to smile and marvel at each new day that blesses us with its presence. We travel in a gleaming plane-like aluminum bullet that is a constant with our ever-changing scenery. And I’m constantly reminded of the magnitude of this truly wonderful life. I have to pinch myself every so often at the ‘good fortune’ bestowed upon us. I’m wondering though, is it truly luck, or did this adventurous lifestyle result from choices made once we made a firm decision to pursue our dream of travel on the road? I suppose a bit of both, mixed in with a whole lotta courage to leap off of the hamster wheel without a parachute. There were definitive decisions and determined actions which helped us to save money like monks, squirrelling away the fruit of our hard-earned savings (5 jobs between the two of us), building networks and skills along the way.

It seems that one can’t make a road trip without simultaneously making an inner journey. I’ll forever be grateful to my husband for inspiring and coaxing me to join him in pursuing our Yoga Instructor ratings, despite my fears of teaching mixed with angst feelings of personal failure and mediocrity. I believe that each and every day, yoga makes my life better, whether it be through a physical practice, or on a subtler scale, returning to my mental thought and breath. This inner journey is a celebration of all that I live for, with joy and spontaneity, celebrating freedom of flight and travel. Truly blessed!

And so with the crowning of a New Year, I want to springboard in to the unknown with a feeling of lightness and letting go. Turning the page so to speak, releasing any unhealthy fears, sadness, disappointments, resentments or whatever else I don’t want to carry forward. No resolutions specifically. I don’t have a game plan. I just want to live in the moment, enjoying the time I have on this planet with joyous abandon. January 1: just another day. But a whole new opportunity to be present with who I am, loving me without the need or desire for subliminal societal change that often comes with the new year resolution psychobabble.

On that note, here’s wishing you all a year of self-love that manifests itself into peace, both within and without.

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!

Zooming in on the Outer Banks

After having spent a cozy comfy WARM evening sleeping on the leather FBO couches of Franklin Airport, slaDE~ and I were anxious to make our way west towards the Outer Banks (commonly referred to as the OBX). Wanting to wish our amazing hosts a fond farewell, we made our way over to the drop zone (Triangle Skydiving Center) in the chilly morning wind — 35 degrees Fahrenheit (dang cold for North Carolina in December — mind you, that’s cold for anywhere!).

Always incredibly hospitable, the DZO Greg gifted us with a huge Venison roast (fresh caught, skinned, butchered and frozen by Greg himself) to send us off with huge smiles and promise to return. He even took a photo of me ‘displaying’ an 8 point rack of antlers. A unique experience indeed.

And off we went, enjoying the rolling hills outside of eastern North Carolina, shifting into the Wild Refuges and Swamp Preserves on the east coast plains. It was at this scenic point that I decided to pull out our new D3100 Nikon SLR camera to capture the gorgeous changing landscape. And what a learning curve we were (are still) in for. I’m so excited at this new technology and opportunity to pursue my passion of photography. With a decent zoom lens to complement our standard body lens, I’ve found myself tickled by my cre8tive edge and excitement. So you think that I took lots of photos before? I’ve only just begun! Better free up some space on my hard drive. At double the megapixels of our point-and-shoot, I’m using up space superFAST.

Will let you know my verdict on this camera. But thus far, I’m tickled pink by the photos. Now if only I can learn my cameras functions (especially with exposure and aperture), I’ll be stylin’!

BTW, can anybody out there recommend a good basic photography book that’s clear, concise and extremely valuable in learning the basics of SLR photography (especially with regards to exposure — which can make or break my photos it seems on the SLR thus far!)?

The Outer Banks has its own feel and culture it seems. It revolves almost completely around tourism, and it being December and just above freezing, you can imagine that this might be the ‘low season’. Not digging the cold so much, but love the availability and freedom of empty beaches, empty stores, no lines or wait for any service. During the summer, I hear it is complete chaos and pandemonium here. Not my ideal for spending a quiet and explorative RV vacation!

The restaurants have few patrons, and pretty much only the locals reside here now (the small, friendly Outer Banks community is home to only about 2,200 year-round residents but during the summer season, it soars much higher, when visitors and vacationers flock to the area — I heard guestimates of 10,000?!).

Many facilities are closed for the winter (restaurants stores, lighthouses, museums, etc), so we have to pick our spots wisely. I’m pretty excited about exploring the region, especially the Wright Museum and the Wild Horses of Corolla!

Flying Video

skydivingToday, on the 5 year anniversary of a major shoulder dislocation (in which I made my last skydiving camera jump), I took the leap of faith and video-ed 2 tandems, in prep for my family making their tandem skydives tomorrow. This was such a huge deal! The very first tandem, I had butterflies the size of a watermelon in my belly! But they took flight, joyously free and with a huge sigh of relief. It was especially amazing when flying beside my slaDE~ as tandem master. What a beautiful gift … I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to take on this role again, witnessing and documenting people’s very first leap of faith. Amazing!

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!

Birthdays, Anniversaries and such

Shayne SladeuSA big day for me, for my husband, for uS. My birthday and our wedding anniversary. 2 years ago my lovely husband jumped in to our wedding. And today, to mark the memory of that day, we were hoping to share our passion for skydiving with slaDE~s family, slaDE offering his family members a tandem and with me shooting video.

However, the weather socked us in with heavy rain and a low cloud ceiling. The deluge started last night and was supposed to clear mid-morning, but the weather man was wrong in his prediction, and the drizzle of humid moisture bathed the drop zone for the days duration.

Jumping wasn’t in the cards on this our special day. But it certainly didn’t ruin the fun my honey and I had. We’re each others best friend and family, and that’s good enough for uS :).