Wednesday, May 01, 2013
I should have known that, after the initial struggle with the biological imperative to stop at the edge, BASE jumping would be relatively easy.
After all, "risking it all for nothing" is all I've ever done.
Doing one's first solo BASE jump is the conclusion of a long internal conversation. Mine started months ago, as I saw myself constantly wiggling out from big-group commitments in an orgiastic summer Valley. I knew this isn't why I'm here -- to joke and flirt and gossip and goad and sticker myself forcibly to the collective memory of the sport. I'm not here to geek the camera.
I've always chafed at the group dynamics of a busy exit; always disliked the banter of a group hiking out. I stopper up my ears with headphones. I hike far ahead or far behind, never in the cluttered middle. I hide.
I thought I'd need babysitting much longer than I did. As it turns out, I found my solitude quickly and easily.
I ran the boys out late that afternoon, flashing just enough tooth to move them along without being concerned by my sharpness. I waited long after they left, dawdling, until the sun started visibly fading in the sky. I wanted to be sure I'd follow through; wanted to be sure the press of darkness would send me over even if I stood there whinging.
I started my hike in a spirit of collected certainty. The calm surprised me.
When I rounded the first forested corner, a little orange fox stopped in the path in front of me, white tailtip painting wide strokes across the green as he wagged it. He dashed away almost as soon as I registered his presence. It felt like there was luck in that, as in the bighorn bullgoat I caught grazing in a little meadow a few moments later, and in the family of deer I spooked from the trail farther along. I felt the Valley encouraging me, somehow; urging me along as night began to close in.
I stepped up my pace. I started singing to myself.
I thought it would be harder at the exit. The terror I had planned for doesn't live there anymore.
As I methodically applied my gear, I thought about how little I actually wanted to stop. I thought about how delicious this was: the simplicity of this solitude, the feeling of fabric and metal in my hands, the snap of the pilot chute in the undisturbed hush of forest twilight, the warmed-butter quality of the last sunlight, dropping through the fringe of trees. I let myself down the rope to the gravel at the exit and heard, for the first time, the sound of the nearby waterfall suspended in the air.
I heard the smile in my own voice as I counted down, then my outbreath replaced by building air as the evening Valley enfolded itself, it seemed, within the wrap of my solitary, hurtling embrace.