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We did a practice jump yesterday up Spanish Fork canyon.  Beautiful day, beautiful jump…. it was a good reminder of why I do this job!

The load

The load

enjoying the view

enjoying the view

coming in on final approach

coming in on final approach

stacking them right in

stacking them right in

WOMBAT!

WOMBAT!

Dax

Dax

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Catching Up…

It’s been way too long since I’ve gotten on here and updated… sorry Andy and Emily- since I’m pretty sure you two are the only people who even look at my blog.  But on that note, if ANYONE happens to stop by, whether I know you or not, PLEASE PLEASE just drop a line- a word even!  Just let me know that there are people who read this occasionally.  It is a lot of motivation to keep updating this just knowing that there is even one more person who looks at it!!  Pretty Please…..

Ok, so.  I have been having anxiety thinking about all the stuff I need to catch up on and I know that by the time I get to the present events, they will be in the past and I’ll really have a hard time catching up.  I decided to just do a quick re-cap of stuff just to get up to speed.  Sorry for not elaborating on any one event but that’s just going to have to do.  So here it is ESPN highlight style:

ALASKA- LAST 3 WEEKS:

Fought a couple more fires, had some good times, got to see some AMAZING country!

en route to fire

en route to fire

Flying low to kick out some cargo out to the guys on the ground who just jumped

Flying low to kick out some cargo out to the guys on the ground who just jumped

Home away from home

Home away from home

Warm Day!

Warm Day!

Cold Day.... and REALLY windy

Cold Day.... and REALLY windy

Thatd be in the AM...

That'd be in the AM... about ready to tent up for the night.

Middle of the night, dirty, cold, tired, and absolutely loving it!

Middle of the night, dirty, cold, tired, and absolutely loving it!

The game its self is easy... put lots of money in the middle of a circle of people, flip a quarter.  If its tails youre out, if its heads your still in.  Last one in takes cash.  Thats about $6,400.00

The game its self is easy... put lots of money in the middle of a circle of people, flip a quarter. If it's tails you're out, if it's heads your still in. Last one in takes cash. That one ended up being about $6,400.00

The end of Mustache May (which, I must admit, bled over into June a bit..)  Right before shaving it :(

The end of Mustache May (which, I must admit, bled over into June a bit..) Right before shaving it 😦

WEEKEND OFF IN BOISE:

Sometime in late June I had a weekend off…  Saturday I rode my motorcycle to Wieser, ID. for the National Fiddle Championships and Music Fest!  I didn’t actually see any of the actual competition part of the festival but I did spend my day watching live music on the stage outside of the comp area.  Most of the fiddle competitors had their bands in tow and played for everyone’s enjoyment.  The weather was amazing- it was a great day.  Highlighting the day was a band called “Milk Drive”.  They were amazing… I recommend them to anyone who is into bluegrass.  The four of them are all in their twenties and exploding with talent.  Somewhat “Nickel Creek”ish with a little more edge.  Fantastic.

Sunday I was invited by my good buddy Chris to go rafting on the North Fork of the Payette.  Chris, being a bartender, fly fishing guide, and all around fun lover was guaranteeing an amazing time- I was in from the words “hey do you want to…”  Well, it proved to be a great time of course.  All around a great weekend- just the kind you want when you only get one once a month.

Milk Drive

Milk Drive

Gearing up for a day on the Payette

Gearing up for a day on the Payette

Part of the crew, about to shove off

Part of the crew, about to shove off

On the water, woohoo

On the water, woohoo

Chris, our skipper and party official

Chris, our skipper and party official

celebrating the triumph over another rapid

celebrating the triumph over another rapid

Just enjoying the summer the way it should be enjoyed!

Just enjoying the summer the way it should be enjoyed!

GRAND JUNCTION, COLORADO:

My first trip into the Great Basin was spent mostly in GJ, although I was in Utah and Nevada as well for short stints.  Overall great- great fires, great country, great times.  I was previously not much of a desert fan but I haven’t spent much time there either, or in the right areas.  Colorado and Utah especially have gorgeous areas- most of them are National Parks and I hope to tour some of them on my motorcycle late this fall if everything pans out.  Anyway, despite 100 degree plus temps, lack of trees, and the fact that every plant, animal, and insect is trying to poke, bite and sting you, the desert is quite nice.  Quite nice during sunrise and sunset anyway.

Flying over Salt Lake

Flying over Salt Lake

Our aerial battalion

Our aerial battalion

Bad ass air tanker- Book Cliffs in the background

Bad ass air tanker- Book Cliffs in the background

snakes on a plane

snakes on a plane

Red rock country

scenes from a loft

Red rock country

Red rock country

Ready, in the door, waiting for the slap on the shoulder

Ready, in the door, waiting for the slap on the shoulder

View from my first fire in Colorado

View from my first fire in Colorado

Whooped her again

Whooped her again

The desert at its best

The desert at it's best

Right before starting a 120 pound packout... that was the last time I smiled that day

Right before starting a 120 pound packout... that was the last time I smiled that day

BRAUN BROTHER RUNION:

For the second year in a row I took time off of work in the middle of what is typically the busiest time of the season.  The reason?  Only the best frickin’ three day concert in the frickin’ world, that’s why!  Challis Idaho:

Amazing scenery

Amazing scenery

So, as you can see, Challis is a great destination on its own- no imagine the chance to spend three days watching your all-time favorite bands along with only a few hundred other “friends”.  Well my friends, that is the Braun Brother Reunion show.

As luck would have it four of the bands- Ray Wylie Hubbard, Micky and the Motorcars, Randy Rogers, and Cross Canadian Ragweed were playing in Boise on Wednesday night, so I of course saw them all.  The next day we drove the 4 and a half hours to Challis and got there just in time to see Stoney LaRue do a jaw-dropping solo acoustic set of songs requested by the crowd of maybe oh, 80 people.  Unbelievable comes to mind.  In the middle of his set we were visited by yet another (same as last year) five minute hailstorm that pelted everyone with grape-sized hail.  It was amazing- like the heavens opened up with Stoney’s angelic tunes…. Ok, so maybe not, but it was effin’ rad anyway.

It was like having one of your very favorite musicians come over and play in your living room.

It was like having one of your very favorite musician's come over and play in your living room.

Next was Ray Wylie Hubbard.  This guy is a true Godfather of the Texas brand county rock that is, in my opinion, the best music on earth.  On stage with him was his 15 year old son playing lead guitar.  This kid was a prodigy.  Some of the best guitar I’ve heard came from a kid who was probably learning geometry in school… unbelievable.

Ray Wylie and his boy

Ray Wylie and his boy

Well, I could go on forever, in great detail about the amazing weekend and all that happened but I’m keeping it short remember… Let’s just say it was 72 hours of beer, thrift store shopping sprees, kick ass music, great friends, and more beer.  Use your imagination…

One of the coolest tats Ive ever seen!

One of the coolest tats I've ever seen!

The best find of the weekend!  Behind the whiskey is says FLY WILD and on the back is a flying V of ducks.

The best find of the weekend! Behind the whiskey is says "FLY WILD" and on the back is a flying "V" of ducks.

Breakfast cocktails and a rousing game of horshoes to start the day off...

Breakfast cocktails and a rousing game of horseshoes to start the day off...

getting wild in three, two,......

getting wild in three, two,......

Livin it up

Livin' it up

Smock gettin into it!

Smock gettin' into it!

Taking a little beer break in between sets

Taking a little beer break in between sets

Meet Cody, he and his girlfriend are the coolest.  We hung out all weekend and luckily he lives part time in the Boise area so we can party again.  GREAT PEOPLE!!!

Meet Cody, he and his girlfriend are the coolest. We hung out all weekend and luckily he lives part time in the Boise area so we can party again. GREAT PEOPLE!!!

Reckless Kelly going off!

Reckless Kelly going off!

Cody Canada from Cross Canadian Ragweed and Smock partying together... practically.

Cody Canada from Cross Canadian Ragweed and Smock partying together... practically.

Well, I’m sad it’s over but I WILL be back next year, you can bet you ass on that.

Well, that about wraps it all up… that’s been my life for the last 2 months.  Hopefully it wasn’t too abridged… who am kidding, any more detail and you would have X’d out of here long ago, haha.

First fire of ’09

Perfect timing!  Within an hour of being on the list and available to jump fires we were loading up for a “pre-position” in Palmer, a few hundred miles south of Fairbanks- near Anchorage.  Talk about a sweet flight… the Alaska Range is one rugged place.  Denali (the tallest mountain in North America) is amazing from the air!

Alaska Range

Alaska Range

Palmer was beautiful but we were only there long enough to eat lunch.  The trendy little coffee cafe sold the last turkey and swiss to the customer directly in front of me so I had to have tuna.  Bummer.  They did mess up an order somewhere in the lunch rush though, so I cashed in on some free soup which was delicious.  It’s not the first time that questioning in a judgmental tone “you’re just going to throw that away?!” has gotten me some good loot.

Alaskan scenery

Alaskan scenery

We got the fire call in the early afternoon.  There were several fires found during a detection flight that had just flown.  We were to fly four fires and determine which one we would take action on.  The first fire was only about 30 acres and was flanked on one side by a river so we flew on to find something that posed a little more of a challenge.  Well, as it turned out, the next several were what we call “gobblers”- as in they are gobbling up everything in their path at a rapid rate.  In most cases they are catchable with enough resources but we had to consider what we could effectively do with eight smokejumpers and a few loads of retardant.  Each of those fires were beyond unstoppable with the few guys that we had; we would have been just as effective flying over it and peeing out the door on them as we would have been jumping.

Two headed monster!

Two headed monster!

going big

gobble gobble

nasty

nasty

So, back to the first fire.  In the time that it took us to fly to the other fires, get fuel, and come back, our little fire had grown to about 150 acres.  Although it was much larger than we hoped, we were optimistic that we could do something to at least slow it down.  We had try anyway- there was a village a few miles down the river.  The jump itself was utterly amazing, maybe the best of my career.  I was the fourth person in my four person stick (meaning four people jump just a few seconds apart from each other).  As fourth man my job is to simply hang as high and as long as possible as the others try to reach the ground in an orderly fashion.  It was during that few minutes that I decided that the single best way to experience the breathtaking beauty of the Alaska backcountry is while the sun is low in the sky and the calm wind makes it completely silent under the canopy, sailing two thousand feet above the ground.  I found myself yelling at the top of my lungs “THIS IS AMAZING!  I LOVE MY JOB!!!”

Our fire

Our fire

the jump

the jump

cargo

cargo

view from camp

view from camp

the standby shack in McGrath- spent a week there

the standby shack in McGrath- spent a week there

they had parking for me!

they had parking for me!

We beat flames until 3 am before the two squads, taking opposite sides of the fire, tied into each other in triumph- we stopped it at 230 acres.  We decided that it would be ok to leave for the night and get some much needed rest.  The next three days were spent mopping up hotspots and making sure that the perimiter was secure.  We got a helicopter ride to Red Devil (seriously the name of the village) where a plane met up with us and flew us the rest of the way to McGrath.  We spent a week in the 200 person, two bar, one store village waiting for another fire to jump but the weather was cool and didn’t really produce any more starts.  We eventually flew back to Fairbanks where I’ve been for three days mending parachutes, rigging parachutes, and when I have time, weeding in the garden.

Flying home to Fairbanks

Flying home to Fairbanks

“HELMETS, GLOVES AND SEATBELTS YOU SON’S OF BITCHES!!!”  Marty the spotter boomed as we were taxiing down the runway, just about to take off for our last jump.  I was still thinking about what just happened before getting on the plane…

About 40 of the Alaska jumpers found out that we were about to have our last jump and so they gathered around to “cheer” us on during our suit-up competition which preceded the jump.  After the alarm went off (simulating a fire call), the idea was to be the first one to be suited up and on the way out to the plane- us jumpers pride ourselves on how quickly we can get ready.  Well, I had a zipper stick on me for a moment and was dead last, so the cheering mob was cheering extra loud for me and I went running- well as close to running you can do wearing 70 pounds of constrictive jump suit, parachutes and gear- to catch up with the other guys on the load.  Well about halfway through my run/limp/waddle to the plane the crowd really erupted into cheering and laughter and I heard someone yelling “hey stop!”  I turned around to notice that I was trailing about 10 feet of my let down rope out of my leg pocket… the ultimate shit show.

Anyway, the jump went pretty darn well after that.  I landed in the tight spot surrounded in trees, and without injury.  Holly cow, I actaully made it.  Celebration!  I hit the list the next day- available to jump fires on the ram-air chute.

coming in for landing

coming in for landing

My New Man Ram Air grad. class

My New Man Ram Air grad. class

So, we had a day off yesterday (Sunday) and went to Chena hot springs.  It took nearly an hour to get there but was well worth it.  Soaking in the hot water, relaxing and enjoying the scenery was a nice contrast to the rigorous long days of training filled with stress, anxiety and fear (fear of being “washed” from the training program mostly… the actual jumping is mostly just adrenalin filled fun with a touch of fear mixed in for good measure).  The spots have been getting tighter and we have begun jumping two people per “stick”, which means someone else leaves the plane with you at virtually the same time so you have to contend with them in the same airspace as you.  It makes things much more complicated once you not only have to worry about the ground coming at you and having to find a good landing place in the midst of all the trees but you also have to make sure that you don’t have a mid-air collision with your buddy.  The height in which a mid-air occurs usually determines whether it is career ending or life ending… usually one or the other.  Other than that the only thing excited going on around the jump base is that it is “Mustache May!”

Oh yeah, trucker stash baby!

Oh yeah, trucker stash baby!

First Ram-air Jumps

Ok, Ok, So I haven’t been keeping up on this quite like I said I would but hey, all of you that know me know that I’m a bit of a procrastinator.  Anyway, not too much happened the end of last week… We had our units test that consisted of let down procedures, MTV (Malfunction TV; it’s a simulation of all the different malfunctions that are possible and you have to react to each of them accordingly), and tower exits (simulated aircraft exits, but off a 4o foot tower instead of a plane).  I actually did pretty good, I was one of two guys that wasn’t asked to do anything over again.  They did remove one guy from the program that couldn’t get his exits down just right… even though he made little mistakes they weren’t going to have it.  Poor guy, that would be awful to go back to your home base to let everyone know that you failed.

Anyway, yesterday was our first jump.  I was pretty nervous but everything turned out pretty good.  It’s a strange feeling exiting the way they do.  I am used to the traditional “jump” out of the plane.  Here they sit in the door and do somewhat of a violent scooch out of the door.  It’s hard controlling your legs when they are out there dangling in 100 mph plus winds but other than that I think that it is an easier and cleaner exit.  Another main difference from the rounds that I’m used to is that instead of your chute opening (or beginning to open anyway) immediately upon exiting, here there is only a small chute about the size of a beach ball that deploys above your head.  This chute is only used to steady the jumper and keep his body in a good position for the deployment of the main (ie. not tumbling head over heels or anything).  It does slow you down to about only a 90 mph free fall though.  You ride this pilot chute for 5 long seconds (doesn’t seem that long until you have experienced 5 seconds of free fall, believe me, it seems like forever) then pull your drogue release which pulls out the main. The main deployment is somewhat violent but very reassuring.  From there we have about 3,500 ft to play around and get into a position to land.  It would be easy if winds were light and constant but that is rarely the case.  We jumped twice again today and have been jumping a large field but from here on out the spots will continue to get smaller and more challenging!  I’m missing the Jordan Valley Big Loop rodeo back home and that makes me pretty sad, just so you know…

Oh, also, sorry about no pictures, I was going to put in a bunch but I realized that I didn’t bring my camera-to-computer cable with me to Alaska so I cannot import any pics to the computer for now… oops.

Today we started out with a good stern talking to.  We were told just what was expected of us, and that if we do not constantly meet their high standards, they will have no problem washing us out of the program- which for me would mean termination of my employment with the BLM Smokejumpers.  They are serious too, last year they “washed” two guys (out of about 12 total) who had been jumping for nearly 15 years a piece.  Today I got the first sensations of nervousness, nothing like being threatened with your job to make you pay attention.

We then dove into learning all the detailed parts and components of the parachute harness.  Main container snaps, main release handle, reserve droop risers, cable housing, medium ring of 3-ring release, drogue release cable, Detiker clamp, ring terminal, upper and lower RSL snap shackles, main lift web, cobra click locks… etc…. These are a few of the many intricate parts which are found just the harness!  We have to have these and many, many more terms perfectly memorized in order to continue in the program.  Tests are administered often and the pressure is high.  Today was a definite wake-up… this isn’t going to be the laid back, Alaska vacation that I was expecting.

After that we learned just how archaic some aspects of the Forest Service jump system truly are in comparison to the BLM.  We jump with friggin’ computers!  These devices, when activated, measure barometric pressure the entire time that the jumper is falling and if he falls more than 1800 ft. and is still moving at 78 mph or greater, it will automatically deploy the reserve chute.  That’s pretty nice I guess.

Next we learned the procedure to do the detailed 26 point equipment check on our jump partner (person who you actually exit the airplane with).  It was stressed that if a single point was missed it would almost certainly lead to your buddy having to result to emergency procedures in order to save his life.  Did I mention that this was stressful?

Lastly we practiced our suit-ups.  Suit-ups are the act of dressing ourselves in all 70 lbs. of our jump gear.  This includes knee pads, jump jacket, jump pants, harness, two parachutes, helmet, gloves, and an attachable gear bag that hangs at our hips.  It is required that this all happens in two minutes or less in order to pass the program.  I got it done in about 4 minutes… good thing I have some time to practice before the test.  Well, I better start studying for tomorrow-  keep reading!