Regardless of how much I look forward to the cold weather and winter activities here in the Pacific Northwest, I still enjoy taking a break and migrating to warmer climates. With several friends living in Los Angeles and a multitude of fun adventures to participate in, Southern California tends to be my “go to” spot for these winter retreats. The L.A./San Diego area is a lot like the Puget Sound area. Within an hour or two in any direction, you can be in a different landscape in a different climate, and doing a multitude of various and awesome activities. There’s also a lot of traffic…
I dropped a line to my best mate Chris to start coordinating a few days where I could fly down and hang out. We played around with a few different timeframes and finally solidified four days that we both had open. I booked my flight and started putting together a packing list. Wingsuit, BASE rig, speedwing, skydive rig, and GoPros were a no brainer. Chris has several Stand-Up Paddleboards (SUP), so I wouldn’t have to travel with mine. Plenty of shorts, flip-flops and maybe a hoody and windbreaker would get jammed in there as well. Everything fit into a single piece of luggage plus a carry-on. I like to travel as light as possible.
I was pleased to see that Chris didn’t pull up on his motorcycle when he came to pick me up at the airport. That’s a while ‘nother story that unfortunately includes pictures. I jammed my gear into the trunk and hopped in the car. First thing was first, we headed to In n Out. Another no brainer. We talked about the balloon that he reserved for the following morning, who all was coming and what time we would need to get up and head out. As fun as balloon jumps are, they are always painful to wake up for. 4 a.m., here we come….
The alarm clock went off and I stumbled around the house grabbing something to eat, brushing teeth, and heading on our way. I realize it is December, but why do L.A. mornings have to be this cold. BRRRR… We arrive at the balloon and meet up with the rest of our jump party. I hadn’t seen my good buddy Jacob in over a year. It’s such an awesome feeling to be reunited with such awesome people. We gave each other bug hugs, smiles and high fives. As we did gear checks and made jokes, I stopped to admire the morning sky. Darkness was giving way to light and the Southern California valley couldn’t have been more beautiful. With the burners for the balloon firing every few seconds and the balloon envelope inflated and went vertical, we began to load the basket.
You may find this a bit strange, but I don’t really enjoy balloon rides. They scare me. I’ll try to explain. I’m in a wicker basket, with a huge nylon balloon above me, I’m wearing a suit of nylon and a magic backpack made and filled with nylon. Not so bad right? Oh wait, did I mention I’m standing next to a couple large tanks of highly flammable gas connected to two burners that blast huge fire balls every so often… Are you understanding me now?! With all this being said, the heat from the burners firing feels pretty good considering it’s still pretty chilly. We continue to ascend above the valley floor at a pretty good rate. The balloon succumbs to the winds and we drift across the valley while we enjoy the sun slowly making its way above the horizon.
We make our way to above 5,000 feet and Jake climbs out of the basket and onto the platform. We give a quick handshake and tell Jake to “have a good jump.” Jakes feet leave the platform and he falls away in silence. Watching someone exit just never gets old. It’s pretty cool to see how fast someone accelerates and how small they get in just a couple seconds. We watch him pitch his pilot chute and his opening sequence of his main canopy. Chris and I look at each other and begin to climb over. Unfortunately, the wind picked up and began to make the balloon drift faster and faster. By the time Chris and I climbed over and did our final checks, our plan to do a fly-by on Jake while he was under canopy had passed. We decide to just do a quick one after another exit and fly towards the landing area (which was quickly getting further and further away). Chris does his exit count and pushes off the platform. I give him about a second and follow suit.
Balloon jumps, much like BASE jumps, are a special feeling. There initially is no relative wind (the velocity or direction of airflow with respect to the body it surrounds) when you exit. So for the first second, (which feels much longer than a second) there’s this silence. Your body seems like it is suspended in this purgatory of fear and awesomeness. This purgatory is quickly escaped by the effects of acceleration due to gravity. You begin to feel the effects of the air and things start to get louder and louder as the wind rushes by your ears. Within a couple seconds, I’m flying. I look over and see Chris who appears to be suspended in the air as he and I are falling and flying at the same speed. I look back down and enjoy the ride. The Southern California valley is spread out in front and it’s awesome. I’m not wearing an altimeter so I basically use depth perception to judge when I need to pitch my pilot chute. The nice thing about jumping BASE rigs is that you can sink your flight down a lot lower since the deployment sequence takes so much less time than a traditional skydive canopy. I decide to pitch and less than three seconds later everything is quiet again and I’m slowly flying my canopy towards the landing area that we had designated which was really just a dirt road adjacent to a large farming field. Chris lands shortly after me and right next to me. Smiles, high fives, hugs and selfies…
We got picked up a short time later by the balloon crew that runs down the jumpers. They bring us back to the launch area where our cars are. We pile our BASE gear into our cars, grab our skydive gear and head to Perris Valley Skydiving center to make a few skydives. The rest of the day is spent
making jumps, packing parachutes, telling stories, jumping, packing parachutes, laughing, jumping, etc. We cap off the afternoon with a couple burritos and beers from the Bomb Shelter at the jump center. Met some new friends and caught up with some old friends. All of this under clear blue skies and a nice breeze to fend off the sweat (the 72 degree weather feels like 90 coming from the cold Washington winter). We decide to call it a day and head back to the house to get ready for our next adventure later that night.
Even though I had just had a filling lunch, I asked Chris to pull off the interstate and grad a Double-Double “Animal Style.” Although feeling pretty gluttonous, I try not to pass up an opportunity to fill up on In n Out while I’m in California. We fill up on In n Out goodness then hop back on the completely packed interstate. Luckily the HOV lane is moving along. Chris makes a phone call to acquire an additional SUP for our nighttime paddle in the canals of Naples in Long Beach.
Being Christmas time, the neighborhood of Naples lights up with festive lights and activities. They even transform their marker buoys into giant floating Christmas trees. Residents and outsiders alike take to the streets and canals via small “booze cruise” boats to enjoy the lights and the night air just off the ocean. We pump up our SUPs and make our way through the canals dressed in ugly Christmas sweaters and glow sticks. We got quite a lot of funny looks and even get asked by various intoxicated individuals. Chris decides to humor one or two while I choose to remain solo. I didn’t exactly want to end up swimming in the canal on such a chilly night. We finish our paddle, pack up the boards and make our way back to the house. Another day of adventures awaits us in a few hours.
The next day starts off with a drive out to a spot called Speedfly Saboba. It’s a one of a kind place that has everything set up to shuttle you up the side of a 1700’ hillside, so that you can set up, fly your way down, land, and do it all again. We check in with Danny, who will be providing us with quad rides up the hill. Super cool and personable guy who lives on site. We sign in, pay Danny for access and head on up. We get to the launch site and the winds are light, I’m enjoying the sunshine and the warm weather. I’m also glad that it’s not later in the year. I’m sure it gets hot as Hades here in the Spring and Summer. Chris and I talk about our flight plan and off we go. First Chris, then me a few seconds later. We play follow the leader down the hillside checkout out different lines for our subsequent flights and set up for landing. Big smiles, high fives and hugs. Stoke was in the air! And about 20 minutes later, so were we! Our flights got better and more fun as the day progressed, but like all good things, they came to an end. We said our goodbyes to Danny, packed up the wings and headed to a spot called Rubidoux to try our luck with the winds for an afternoon BASE jump.
Thirty minutes later we arrive to the 180’ cliff tucked away behind a neighborhood off the interstate. The wind is blowing life a Dyson vacuum on reverse. Chris and I decide to wait around a bit in hopes that it calms enough to jump, but no luck. Bummed, but no worries, we’ve got an italian supermodel cooking us lasagna at the house. We arrive at the house to the smells of ricotta, basil, oregano and parmesan. Chris is just happy Roberta didn’t burn the house down (A story for another time). Dinner is on and it’s amazing to say the least. The wine and the conversation flowed for hours. Good food, good friends, good times. It will be hard to say goodbye to L.A. Maybe it’s just a “see ya later.” Until next time. See you outside, Living the High Life.