Thursday, February 08, 2007

Rocket Man

In response to my previous post linking to the "Jet-Man" movie (and how cool was that?), Barry12 left a comment that asked, "But it's an interesting question... Would you ever learn to fly or skydive? I know you like outer space, but would you really go up? I'm honest, not me!"

I love pretty much everything about flying and do have some mild interest in learning to pilot an airplane, but I haven't been sufficiently motivated to do anything about it. I know it's a time-consuming and expensive hobby that I'm not likely to have either the time or expenses to pursue. I also know I'd never get my wife aboard any aircraft piloted by me, which would take a lot of the fun and potential usefulness out of it.

As for whether I'd ever skydive? I might give it a shot....

I jumped three or four times when I was in college. These days, I guess novice skydivers are taken up to 10,000 feet to do a tandem jump with an experienced skydiver strapped to their backs, but back in the good ol' days they started out with several solo static-line jumps at around 3,000 feet before graduating to higher altitudes and longer free-falls.

By the way, if your skydiving school isn't run out of a broken-down VW van, you're doing it wrong.

Skydiving was a pretty great experience but also an expensive thrill for a poor starving student, so I kind of drifted away. Any thoughts I had about taking it up again were quashed a year or two later when my jumpmaster--one of those cool-as-ice Chuck Yeager guys who'd been leaping out of planes since the Korean War--was killed doing it. That sobered me up.

Would I go into space? Not if it were just as a tourist looking for a thrill. I think that'd be too selfish a risk for an adult with a family depending on him. But if I had the necessary skills and training, and most importantly a legitimate reason related to science or exploration to be there, then yeah. I'd do it. Because then the risk would be for a purpose greater than satisfying my own jollies.

I don't have a lot of respect for daredevils who die jumping out of planes or climbing rocks only to leave grieving widows and orphans. When you're young and alone, go for it with my blessing. But deciding to have a family means committing to something more important than your individual desires. If you decide to face mortal danger, it ought to be for something worthwhile that your survivors could at least honor and respect. In my opinion, giving your life for an adrenaline rush is indefensible narcissism; giving your life because you're a cop, firefighter or soldier protecting others--or an astronaut helping humanity find a larger place in the universe--is a much better trade I think.

So based on my own standards: No, I would probably not really fly the jet wing thing in the movie. But I'd like to think there was a time I would have....


R said...

Haha, you look so serious in your little sky-diving suit! Or are you smirking, it's kinda hard to tell...I don't know about skydiving, but I definitely want to get a pilot's license! (and hey, if I got the chance to go into space, that wouldn't be too bad either!)

BrianFies said...

R., you are looking at the cold, hard gaze of a man who stared unblinking into the blood-red eye of gravity-fueled death and laughed.

Didn't know the old man had it in him, did you?

I never knew you wanted to be a pilot. Let's do it! (You're buying.)

Sherwood Harrington said...

Hey, I jumped three or four times when I was in college, too! Once when somebody dropped a book in front of me when I was walking across the main quad, a couple of other times when a fraternity brother set off a cherry bomb behind me, and there was probably one other time, too.

Seriously, I am afflicted with a monstrous fear of heights. I don't run because that would require both feet being off the ground at the same time repeatedly. I am in awe of folks like you who can think of skydiving as possible, let alone fun.

L said...

Hey, who doesn't want to get a pilot's license, then you would like, know how to fly an airplane and stuff! Think how cool that would be!

And I think you might look kinda scared in that picture....

Mike said...

My son became a volunteer firefighter at the height of the bungee-jumping fad, when there was a crane set up in town for anyone who wanted to pay their money and leap. A week or two after his first internal attack, we were driving by the place. He craned his neck up and then said, "You want adrenaline? Try walking into a burning building. It lasts a lot longer and you're doing something that matters for people." Well said.

Brian Fies said...

Sherwood, for some reason that makes no logical sense, I find the idea of an astronomer afraid of heights kind of funny. You can peer 10 billion light years into the abyss of space, but a little 3000-foot drop gives you the willies? Please.

Mike, I was thinking of your son's insight from our long-ago discussion or racs when I wrote this. Thanks for the story.

L., I think you and R. should both get your pilot's licenses and then fly me wherever I want to go. And you think I look scared?! I eat fear for breakfast--fear and a lightly salted poached egg on toast. Mmm.

Sherwood Harrington said...

Oh, I can look as far as the age of the universe and the speed of light will allow... as long as it's in a direction antiparallel to the local gravity vector. It's when I'm lookin' in the same direction as that damn' arrow that I get the heebie jeebies.

I used to have a picture over my desk (and I don't know what happened to it, else I'd post a link) that shows a bunch of my friends and me at a railing atop the south rim of the Grand Canyon. They are all excitedly leaning over the railing, looking down, smiling and laughing. I am leaning away from it, just barely touching it with an outstretched finger at the end of an outstretched arm, looking like I'd rather be anywhere else.

My wife's the same way, and we provided a Navajo family with great entertainment at Canyon de Chelly on one summer's visit as we literally *crept* toward that canyon's rim -- right next to where they had their blanket spread out for a picnic.

Here she is at a more recent precipice visit: at Dun Angus on Inishmore, in a classic Harrington near-the-drop pose:

The cliff in question is this one:
Near the center of the inner ring of the ancient structure you can see the little notch in the stones near the cliff where Diane is standing in the previous pic.

Mike said...

Amelia Earhart wrote that the fear of heights is normally not triggered in airplanes because there's nothing connecting you (visually) to the ground. Stars are even more abstract, though, yes, the irony is good. I'm normally okay with height but was suddenly hit with acrophobia in the middle of the bridge at the Royal Gorge one time and nearly had to crawl off. I've been back several times with no problem, but I'm a great deal more empathetic for that one-time experience.