Monday, May 02, 2005

Up, Up, Up and Away

I was pleading with the weather gods for the forecast to be correct yesterday so we could go flying. We haven't been up for a few weeks because we went to Washington, DC, two weekends ago, and last weekend the weather was abysmal. Saturday was looking dark and gloomy, but thankfully the clouds broke as predicted yesterday morning, and we headed directly for the airport.

David took the Tri-Pacer to 11,600 feet, a record altitude for me in the Tri-Pacer, and it matched his record for a solo climb in it. It doesn't sound very high, unless you consider the Tri-Pacer is a tiny, 51-year old plane. We've taken it up to 8,500 a few times this winter, but it's COLD at that altitude and winter air is thin already. Breathing gets deeper, and I yawn uncontrollably to get more oxygen to my brain. I'm always like this when we pass 8,000 feet -- my ears tear up when I yawn, and it looks like I'm crying my eyes out. But, it's all involuntary. I also start to get sleepy, partly from the thin air and because (any) engine noise makes me drowsy -- that's how I can sleep on virtually any form of transportation.

I sat in the back for the first time to get a different range of photos, and for a wider range of movement. The clouds were fluffy and the sky a brilliant blue, a bit of an unreal feeling, especially at that altitude when the sound of the engine numbs the ears and my fingers lose warmth. There was this wicked draft coming from the back of the plane, something to investigate later.

David asked if I wanted to go check out the skydivers at Hazleton, something we've been wanting to do for ages, but we've either been short on time or we just missed them. They skydive all year round, but with the short winter days we're usually nowhere near there by the time they knock off at dusk. We were lucky yesterday and arrived at the airport in Hazleton in time to catch two loads of skydivers land near the strip. It's my first time to shoot skydivers, and times like this I wish I had a prosumer camera with a big zoom and proper polarizer/UV filters. But, I still managed to capture some frames I'm happy with, and I shot four videos of landings. I've uploaded two of them here, short ones that can be downloaded easily. If I had more time, I'd edit them all, but I thought I'd show a smooth landing and a one that elicited a shriek heard through blustery winds...

Landing #1 (3.3MBs)
Landing #2 (3.2MBs)

David's and my skydiving shots combined here: Skydivers at Hazleton Airport.

David wants to go skydiving, but for now I'm more interested in the photography. That's where my head is these days -- capturing images and processing them. It's even superseded my desire to learn how to fly; when we're up in the plane I'm not looking at the controls, I'm looking for my next shot. I'm sure this will change, since I remember a time not so long ago when I would choose skydiving over photography. When I went bungyjumping in Australia, I wished I'd been holding a videocamera to record the whole thing. There's something rather therapeutic in the desire to document an experience in order to get through it, and I've seen this mentioned by other people -- it puts you outside of yourself, lets your brain concentrate on something other than what's happening. In some ways it might dilute the visceral aspect of the experience, but it also might spur the desire to try it again. I don't particularly wish to have another bungy jump, but I'm happy to let David go skydiving first and I'll document it before vice versa.

After the second round of landings, we were heading back to the Tri-Pacer when the guy in the photo asked us, "You wanna go up?" I don't remember if we said anything, but he smiled and waved and I took his picture, not knowing who he was.

Turns out this guy is Don Kellner, co-owner of Poconos Skydivers, and the Guinness Book of World Record holder for most sport skydives, now over 35,000! I had no idea until Krisanne pointed this out to me -- click on the photo for her comments. From reading about him on the internet, Kellner sounds like a real character -- you'd have to be, to jump out of a plane that many times. He got married in 1990 to a fellow instructor, and they took their vows during freefall, using hand signals. Kellner's been jumping since 1961, and if the news articles are correct, he's around 68 years old! So, there you go! Keep your heart strong, go skydiving!