The Ups and Downs of BASE Reading

by Johnny Utah ®

Just like with most any sport, you do it long enough and you welcome a new challenge when it comes along. So it was with this idea that Jevto Dedijer, author of BASE 66, emailed me about last January. He asked me if I would jump with his new book, BASE 66, and get a picture of it. As timing would have it, I was to catch a flight that day heading to the 40-way BASE world record attempt. I had bought a copy of his book, so I took it with me. The 40-way was winded out and I didn't have a chance to get the picture for him.

BASE 66 is an incredible story that takes you in and lets you see life on the edge through the eyes and mind of a BASE jumping pioneer. I liked the book so much that I was determined to get Jevto some pictures when the opportunity arose. I had a trip planned to a 486 foot high legal bridge. Since we would be jumping during the day, this would be a good opportunity to do some jumps with his book. In preparation for it, he sent me 3 additional signed copies.

In one book he wrote, "Johnny, 'I am about to become the first book to BASE jump.' Thanks for taking it for a ride." So naturally, when it was time to make the first attempt, that's the book I took. I did a slow rotating gainer while opening the book and attempting to read it in freefall. As my fall rate picked up, the pages started flapping around violently because of the way I was holding it. So there I am in freefall faced with a decision. I could go ahead and throw my pilot chute and let it keep flapping and possibly rip the pages, or I could change the way I was holding it and then deploy. Seeing where the ground was and wanting to preserve the book, I opted to fix my grip on the book first. All went well for the rest of that jump. I was able to reach up and grab my toggles with the book still in my left hand.

We didn't get the shot I wanted, so then came the second book jump. As we were driving up to the top of the bridge to jump again, another jumper agreed to shoot air-to-air video. I thought it would be a bit easier to have the book already open to the page I wanted as I was exiting. We jumped facing each other and he was to deploy first. In that quiet sub-terminal moment I started looking at the pages in front of me. My eyes were focused on the page I was looking at, but I kept getting distracted by watching the other jumper in my blurred peripheral vision to see when he was deploying. It was my turn to pull and I thought it would be a piece of cake to grab the toggles with the book like last time. Oddly enough, it wasn't. I had taken a lengthy delay waiting for the other jumper to open and as I was quickly going for the toggles I fumbled the book. I spun my canopy around and saw the book below me fluttering down over the Snake River. My first instinct was to try and catch it in the air. So I started flying toward it aggressively when all of a sudden it dawned on me that there was no way I could catch it, it was the unsigned copy that I bought, and I was going to get wet for nothing. So I made a hard right ninety carve and flared to barely make the shoreline. The book drowned.

So the next day, I decided just to keep it simple and exit over dry land just in case I dropped the book again. I did a solo jump and started to read the book just before I stepped off. I wanted to see if I could put the BASE jump out of my mind for a couple seconds and just concentrate on reading. I was somewhat successful as there was a second or two where I was reading the book and lost visual reference of the jump and performed my freefall strictly by feel and my internal clock. It was an amazing feeling and it reminded me of the time I flew a small kite while base jumping. On the kite jump, I looked at the string extending from my hand to the kite, and just thought to myself, "You gotta be kidding, I'm flying a kite in freefall!" What was equally bizarre about that jump, was reeling the kite in after I landed while it was still flying.

This book jump was similar but a case of extreme tunnel vision. The freefall and deployment went great, but the jump was about to get more exciting. Once again I had taken a good healthy delay, and I needed to get on my toggles quickly to set up for a landing into the wind. Determined not to drop another book, I put the book in my mouth to free up my hands to grab the toggles. Everything was going great as I turned onto my downwind leg. Then wouldn't you know it, I had the book in my mouth by the spine and the pages started blowing up in my face and totally blocked my forward view. Looking off to the side, I could see I was getting pretty low, and I knew my window to turn into the wind was about to close. I was right over the shoreline and I just didn't want to lose another book to the river, so I decided to grabbed the book with my fingertips and take the down-winder like a man. It wasn't so bad as I did opt for the edge of the water, and the book was safe, only a little wet. Just enough water splashed on it to give it some character. After catching my breath, I looked to see what Jevto had written in this book. Once again, his words seemed fitting. It said, "Johnny, You never really live until you almost die."

Todd Savage was taking the pictures for me and he got a great exit and freefall shot. So I decided to call it a wrap on the book jumps. Well, a few jumps later, I thought I might like to try a gainer again, but get on my back a little faster and be reading the book as I exited. The exit went smooth but I found it difficult to block the jump out and focus on reading while doing a flip in freefall. I think it was a combination of the visuals of the bridge as I rotated back and feeling the need to monitor the status of my rotation to time the deployment. I guess the moral of the story is; it's much easier to read a book in freefall if you're not doing an aerial.

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