What Travel Writers Say


The Heavenly Road Less Travelled

© By Mike Keenan
  At Lake Wales in south-central Florida, in a hot, arid hangar, I'm paired with David "Buzz" Bazzoni. We will jump in tandem, connected with straps and buckles he claims will resist a force of 10,000 pounds. One look at Buzz, and I feel confident. A gritty ex-paratrooper, he resembles an NFL linebacker, brush-cut, solid and all business.
     We don blue flight suits to keep our bodies streamlined. I wear what looks like a WWI leather helmet and goggles. In the hangar, we practise the routine: edge out to the door, arms crossed at the chest, crouch; on the count of three: lunge forward, chin up and only then, extend both arms in the flying position. "Do you want to pull the cord," he asks. No thanks! We are transported briefly on the back of a truck to the plane, revved up and waiting on the black tarmac.
     Getting in is not easy for me, saddled with a locomotor disability. I gingerly mount a ladder, step inside, and someone passes me my cane, not much help in the air, I think. Inside, two young videographers, Liz Boothuy and Ryan Clough sprawl on the floor beside me, sitting on a bench, closest to the door. I opt for the $98 videographer package, instant proof when naïve grandchildren dare to question the veracity of my exploit. "You didn't really skydive, did you gramps?" Behind me sits Debi, fortyish and attempting her first skydive on impulse, without her husband knowing. She looks nervous. I'm not afraid of heights; my disability has gotten me used to falling.
     Pilot, John Sugar, eases the King Air turbo plane into position for take-off. We slowly ascend and gather altitude. The door is left open, providing a panoramic view of the lakes, myriad terrain and cows which all grow microscopically tiny as we approach 13,500 feet, slowing to 90 knots for the jump. Peering through the doorway, I experience sober second thoughts.
     Too late. A green light sparkles, signifying it's time. The well-trained Florida Skydiving Center staff keep us busy with details. Their videographers film and candidly ask how we feel. Comic-panic mode moves in: "I thought we were supposed to be lawn-bowling," I exclaim with an exaggerated shrug. "Anything for a laugh," our children will ultimately say.

         

     I remember poet William Blake's "To see a World in a Grain of Sand/And a Heaven in a Wild Flower/Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand/And Eternity in an hour." Will this translate into a peak experience of eternity in a few minutes or will I be simply glad when it's over? I gravitate towards plan B.
     "Time to go," shouts Buzz; we inch forward. My videographer, Ryan Clough, already perched outside, holds tight, waiting to record my dramatic exit. "Thought he was Icarus," my wife laments to those few gathered in the funeral parlour. "The wax melted. He got too close to the sun."
     It's show time; I recall the drill: one...two...three...go! The shock of wind startles me. My cheeks wobble. Air presses so hard against my goggles that they pinch. Nevertheless, arms extended, I fly and marvel at the scene below. Seconds tick by; I am so enthralled that Buzz lifts my head so Ryan can take decent pictures. Affixed to his helmet are both a video camera and another for still shots which he adroitly employs by pressing a connecting cord with his tongue as he falls beside me.
     We race towards earth at 138 mph, Buzz outfitted with an altimeter on his wrist and a device that measures speed. I wish I had a mechanism that measures adrenalin. It would be off the chart! I manage a smile into the powerful, incessant wind. Remarkably, I feel no sense of speed; it's like we float until Buzz eventually pulls the cord and suddenly, we stop while I notice Ryan streak by like a comet. Only then do I appreciate our blazing speed.
     Next, we float blissfully for six whole minutes. Careful not to eat or drink before the jump, only now, as Buzz playfully manouevers the two parachute cords, turning us slowly from side to side, do I get queasy. As we approach terra firma, I lift both feet up as practised. We execute a perfect landing in sitting position. I remain fixed in awe as Buzz gathers up the parachute trappings and Ryan films. Somebody hands me my cane.

         

     When Debbi lands a few minutes later, we hug, pat our respective backs and hi-five, manifestations of joy and triumph over fear. Of course, we immediately rush to the souvenir shop to purchase t-shirts, appropriately sky-blue, the print boldly exhibiting an inspirational quote from Leonardo da Vinci: "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." She tells me it's the best experience that she has ever had, second only to childbirth. She calls her husband on a cell phone. He will not believe her! I smile. We have our DVD's.
     Everyone asks, "Would you do it again?" My response never varies, "Yes, but I don't need to." President, George H. W. Bush, celebrated his 80th birthday by skydiving; actor, Tom Cruise, is yet another recent Florida convert. At Lake Wales, Florida, leaping from a plane at age 64, I too have skydived, and Robert Frost was correct; the heavenly road less travelled has made all the difference!

Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.

Photo Credits
Ryan Clough
Mike Keenan

If you go
Florida Skydiving Center
as seen on
YouTube
Florida Skydiving Centre: www.FloridaSkydiving.com
440 S. Airport Rd., Lake Wales, FL 33859, T: 863-678-1003
Polk County (Central Florida) Tourism: http://www.visitcentralflorida.org/
Cost for tandem jump: $185; Weight limit: 230 lbs.
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Wales,_Florida
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Lake_Wales

What's happening, money, distance, time?
Media Guide: http://www.abyznewslinks.com/
Currency conversion: http://www.xe.com/ucc/
Distance calculator: http://www.indo.com/distance/
Time zone converter: http://www.timezoneconverter.com/

 
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/


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