|High Voltage Skydiving|
by Kevin O'Connell
It was Wednesday night which, of course, meant it was time to skydive. With daylight savings time there was just enough time to leave work and get to the DZ before nightfall for a couple of quick, loose, low complexity skydives. Air baths, okay, maybe more like a quick fix. Just a way over the "hump" and headed down hill towards the weekend. As was usual in Florida during the summer there were thunderstorms threatening, but we had a good group that summer. We'd all drive through the worst storms to the DZ. No one wimped out even though more than once we'd all show up and the runway would be under two inches of water. "Dinner load is just that much earlier" was the attitude. Tonight, would be much like that.
I got there and was one of the first four. I would get up early while the storms were still forming. By the time we got to altitude they were all around us. Clear straight down to the airport, but five miles in any direction would have had you in, around, or over many thunder heads. Lightning was more prevalent than rain at that time. Mostly going between clouds, but a fair amount going to the surface. The light that time of night was a special shade of gray, steel grey. Since it is low on the horizon, it also has a strange shade of orange. The lightning would give it momentary strong blues. The rain in the distance would paint sections of the sky dust gray interrupting the gray/green landscape. The lakes would look black with reflections of the sky and sunlight in them.
Our 4-way off the step of the Cessna had me in the "V" and facing back towards some of the worst of the lightning. Brilliant flashes would streak across the sky and the sound so delayed, as to appear to come from the wrong bolts. There was a dampness to the air that suggested rain was not long for our area of this high voltage playground.
Loose loads involve a lot of waiting for someone who may be climbing the experience ladder. The payoff for the rest of us is someone to show up on Wednesday and the chance to actually look at the sky during a jump. We had our required flailer doing their job to perfection on the load. Coming in from a well practiced back slide distance left me in a bi-pole looking over my shoulder, across the formation waiting for their arrival. So I got to watch the bolts streak across the sky and reflect off the polished helmet of Greg on my leg. Though I could believe it of him, these were not signs of brain activity, but the light of our distant playmates.
Break off came at the appropriate time for such a load, and had me tracking per usual with a lot of looking between my legs. I assume the bolts of lightning extending past my feet were in fact distance streaks between clouds, and not from my electrifyingly fast track. Upon dumping, I was righted by the canopy to an electric display which filled the sky before me. Up and down, left and right, splitting to go in many directions, repeated blasts of white blue light filled the sky in a frantic pace as if there would be no more chances to send electrons ever again. High and low, extending to the ground and towards the setting sun, the bolts ran around the sky an cut it to shreds.
I reached for my toggles to turn for another view, to chase a bolt off to my left, only to notice that the canopy had yet to open. Sniveling long, it had decided that now, when I was paying the least attention to it, was the time to demand the most. Jealous of the sky, it demanded once again all of my attention.
Now very low, and headed back towards the airport, the lightning show continued, but now much higher above me and slowly disappearing behind a rising horizon. I was less in it now, more under it. Less a part of the show, and more a spectator. I would no longer see it over my shoulder, but above my head. I packed quickly, but I knew my playmates were soon to hold me on the ground. The next load barely made jumpable altitude and any repeat load by me would quickly be washed away by the very rain clouds that had given me the high voltage playmates in the first place.
Dinner load came early that night. Beer, as so often happens, appeared from nowhere and flowed for too long. Lightning would continue its show well past dark. And as I drove home in the darkness of my car on a deserted road with little light, they would occasionally light the way through a turn in a manner that no head lights or street lamp could hope to create. And once or twice, usually while I was looking the other way, I swear it was in the seat next to me, showing me who ruled the sky, and who could reach the ground too.
I don't get to play with them often, not many opportunities to go jump with the lightning. But they make great skydivers, if just a tad bit on the showy side. They can track damn fast, that's for sure!
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