In a world of dwindling firsts, it’s always worth pausing when you capture one of them; however in this case, my first simply allowed me to reflect on what it meant to be alive.
In May, while vacationing in Moab, Utah I became one of a select few in the world, and the first person in Northern Ontario to do a tandem B.A.S.E. jump off of a cliff. It’s considered an extreme form of skydiving.
Why? Why not?
I met my instructors out front of the hotel at 5am so that we could get all set up before the winds of the day got too strong. Mario Richard would jump with me, and Mario’s wife, Steph Davis, would “clean up” and jump after us.
The car snaked up the mountain with their dog Cajun firmly planted in my lap. Cajun was as flatulent as a competitive franks and beans eater. The stench and ensuing laughter broke the tension of the moment. We stopped to take a few photos as the sunrise lit up the Merrimack and Monitor rock formations.
The sky was a pale bluish-lavender as we set off on a 20 minute hike to the canyon’s edge.
Each step of hike was a bit surreal, I had a heightened sense of everything. I can only guess that this is how people who know how much time they have left to live must feel. I drank in the colourful desert flowers. I noticed the minutia of lizard tracks in the reddish sand. I heard, saw, and felt seemingly everything.
When we arrived at the top of Mineral Canyon I was instructed on the jump sequence. It was quite simple; Mario and I would count down from three slowly and methodically. On one we would bend our knees and spring off the cliff. We practiced on a six-inch high ledge.
Then I was tethered in and asked to go to the edge of the 1200 foot cliff and “get comfortable with it.” I queried if that was necessary, as being afraid of heights, I’d prefer to simply approach the edge and jump. It was non-negotiable, so I sat down by the edge of the cliff and tried not to wet my pants.
It was more peaceful than I had expected. I looked out across the gaping canyon and then gathered the intestinal fortitude to look down. I calmly inspected the jagged rocks below me. They truly didn’t seem that far away from me. I was very clear that they could be my demise.
Mario, who was steadier than a rock, then asked if I was ready, and he strapped us together. Steph had us shuffle forwards closer to the edge. My feet now hung less than four inches from the lip of the drop.
We were precariously balanced when the wind picked up. I was forced to stare adrenaline, dread, and anticipation in the face, while we waited for the wind to calm down.
Fear crept up inside me, but I sucked it back down and reminded myself that I was in good hands. Once I told my fear that this was happening it seemed to agree that there was no point worrying about it anymore. For seven minutes we stood on the edge of nothingness, swaying slightly, like in a trance.
A bird started to playfully dive around us on the air currents. I decided that this was a god omen.
Mario gave me the signal. I replied with a thumbs up. The countdown began. The calm cadence of Mario’s words kept me in my Zen-like state.
I felt my legs bend, toes curl, and then spring off the rock.
We were falling — fast — towards the jagged rocks below. I had never experienced such an equally terrifying and exhilarating moment in my life.
Once I heard the crack of the parachute opening, the fear gave way to thrill. Then everything slowed to a sleepy crawl. We floated like a dandelion seed on the wind, but with more directionality, right to the canyon floor.
The celebration was brief, but very real and well-deserved. As we drove up the harrowing switchbacks to the top of the cliff I was so thankful to Mario and Steph at Moab B.A.S.E. Adventures for this first, and for a moment of pause; like a pulse check on my very existence.
I’d looked my fear of heights in the face, and didn’t flinch.
I had never felt so alive.