28,500 ft – HALO Skydive Adventure…
Last weekend, I embarked on one of my craziest adventures yet. A HALO skydive (High-Altitude Low-Opening). It’s on my BIG Life List and that’s another big checkmark. Plus, we were able to (with your help) raise over $32,000.00 for the Branson School of Entrepreneurship in South Africa. (Side note: I believe you can still donate if you have not yet.)
I’m still waiting on the video but as soon as that’s ready – I’ll post it up here. I figured, I’d give you the recap and a few pics in the meantime.
My buddy and co-author for “Moonlighting on the Internet”, Rob Olic, and Maverick Business Adventures™ founding member, Mike Filsaime, were the only guys brave enough (or stupid enough) to come with me down to Mississippi. I’m now the 40th civilian to have done a tandem HALO skydive (Filsaime is #41 and Rob is #42).
Just a quick background on HALO skydives – they were designed during the 60’s as a military maneuver to insert troops behind enemy lines undetected. That’s because the paratroopers jump from 30,000 feet (the cruising altitude of a commercial jet) so on radar everything looks normal. What’s more, the temperature up at 30,000 feet is about 25 degrees below zero (so damn frickin cold!) and you have to wear a full oxygen mask for two reasons.
1) Because at that altitude you’ll remain conscious about 30 seconds without oxygen
2) You need to pre-breathe pure oxygen for about 40 minutes to purge all the nitrogen out of your system to avoid getting the ‘bends’.
Good stuff, right?
Needless to say the week leading up to my jump, Missy, was freaking out a bit. Rationally, skydiving isn’t really riskier than the other stuff I’ve done – but emotionally it gets a lot of people worked up. After checking on our life insurance and talking to the jumpmaster I got a green light.
So the 3 of us arrived on Friday night in New Orleans to hang out with a few friends, eat some good food and take in some local music. Our local guides, Chris Daigle and Chad Mac, did not disappoint. Dinner was awesome and I had frog legs and pork belly. And for dessert a little green tomato pie. I know it sounds a bit freaky – but it was awesome. Afterwards we headed to the House of Blues to check out the Radiators. That just wasn’t our scene. The band didn’t seem to have much energy that night. So we went to plan B and checked out a local group called “Soul Rebel”.
This was like a 180-shift – the place was rockin’. What a live performance! You can check out some of their music here – I believe the genre is something called “Brass Funk” – but it’s really eclectic. They’ve got a bunch of brass instruments and then combined with jazz, reggae, hip-hop, etc.
We didn’t have a late night (unfortunately) because we were all trying not to have more than a few drinks for our big jump on Sunday. So we crashed out early (for New Orleans standards anyway) at 2 AM. The next morning we packed up and headed East for Lumberton, MS. (I believe the population is like 400 people – so insert your own joke here.)
That’s where we met up with the team responsible for keeping us alive. Most of them were ex-military and the whole deal certainly had an air of a military operation to me. As we were hanging out on the ‘compound’, I hear a man walk up and start asking, “Mike Filsaime?….Yanik Silver? I thought that was you guys!”
Pretty funny. Michael Worthington lives there and his daughter runs the snack bar at the skydive center. He’s a customer of both of us – makes you realize how wide the Internet Marketing really is now. Michael and his wife, Pauline, were great and took good care of us.
A little side note along the same lines – last May in Vegas for the Zero-G Maverick adventure, we got picked up by our limo driver and his jaw just about dropped when Brad Fallon, Mike Filsaime and I walked out of the hotel. He told us he had a StomperNet CD in his limo right now and was a huge fan and customer of each of us. In fact, he said he had driven people Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, etc and was most excited to have us in his car.
We spent the rest of day getting fitted for our equipment consisting of a flight suit, oxygen mask, helmet, goggles, gloves, oxygen bail out canister and communication system. Pretty hard core stuff. Then we got trained on what to expect while up there, hand signals, how to switch from the onboard O2 regulator to our portable bail out canisters, how to jump out of the plane, etc. Phew!
We finished up around 5pm and decided to check out the latest Batman flick “Dark Knight”. Wow! I think it’ll land in my top-10 for movies for sure. I really loved it and without being too morbid, Heath Ledger’s performance, as the Joker, just stole the show. I heard a lot of reviews of the movie and this lived up to the hype and then some. We all hit the sack early because we had to be up by 5:45 AM to head to the airport.
I had no trouble sleeping and I guess Mike didn’t either because we had to bang on Filsaime’s door to wake him up! After a quick muffin – we drove out to the airfield with just a tiny bit of trepidation building in all of us. For me, the day before when I was being fitted for my Oxygen mask – I felt just a slight hint of claustrophobia. About 15 years ago when I went scuba diving for the first time, I felt that same way and slightly panicked. I was concerned I couldn’t just bounce up to the top of the surface without doing some damage to myself – but I put that fear aside and started getting geared up.
At 7:30 AM, the local NBC reporter came to do an interview with Mike and I about the jump and the ‘fall-a-thon’ to support the Branson School of Entrepreneurship.
We were sitting pretty tight, shoulder-to-shoulder. I couldn’t see Rob but I could see Filsaime who was a bit across from me (he’s the first guy on the left in the pic below) . The only person you can talk to is your tandem instructor because you are hooked into your comm unit with them.
With everyone else, you can only make hand signals and gestures. Mine were off the one-fingered variety at Mike and they taught us in training you are supposed to respond in kind to make sure you brain is working and you aren’t suffering from hypoxia.
I could watch my tandem partner, Ben’s altimeter rising and at about 7,000 feet I started to feel like I couldn’t take another 30 minutes to get to altitude. But I relaxed and just focused on my breathing – which isn’t that reassuring because you sound like Darth Vader – and that’s the only thing you hear in your head.
I kept watching the altimeter….
10,500….14,750….21,800….28,500…then the action started!
We had to switch off from the bigger Oxygen compressor inside the plane and move onto our portable bail out canisters. And then 30 second later – Ben and I started moving towards the door. Mind you, I had a view of the door – the entire way up so I could see just how far up 28,500 feet is (Unfortunately the FAA is not letting them jump above 29,000 ft anymore).
I faced the door and waited for Ben to hook me into the tandem harness – while praying that these 4 little clips would hold us together. But I didn’t have too much time to consider that because the door opened and we rocked back and forth twice and hurled ourselves out!
Mike later told me that’s when he started freaking out a little because it was like a James Bond movie. One second I was in the plane with him and the next second I was a half mile away very much out of the plane!
That first feeling is unreal because your body and mind are trying to come to grips with what just happened. But then I settled into a calm freefall. (I guess calm is relative since I believe we were traveling at 200mph – but it felt calm anyway.) Here I am in freefall:
On the way down you are supposed to equalize the pressure in your ears – but I couldn’t find the right spot on my nose piece to hold my nose shut so my ears killed. They got better as we kept falling. It was really interesting to start off in a freezing cold section of the atmosphere above the clouds and then we literally fell through a line that took us from cold to very warm. Here’s a view of us from above where you can see the ground:
Overall, we had 2 minutes and 15 seconds of freefall (more than double the normal skydive) but it felt like 30 seconds to me. I couldn’t believe it when I felt the upward jolt from the parachute opening up. We fell from 28,500 ft and opened up at 5,000 ft. I could relax and take in the scenery as we came down for a landing at the dropzone.
After the 3 of us landed we had a quick exit interview with NBC. (You can see my hair looks all screwy.) Of course, after high-fiving Mike and Rob – I quickly gave Missy a phone call to tell her I was alive and well!
After hanging out for a bit – we headed back to New Orleans for a little Cajun celebration and the beer definitely tasted a little better than ever going down!