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Traveling Boy: Jim Friend:

Dying in Virginian Skies
by Jim Friend

skydivers over Virginia
Let's Rock
Credit: Dan Wayland
hen you live on the West Coast, flying all the way out to Virginia to skydive may seem like a ridiculous idea. Why not though? If you're going to die, it may as well be while you're on vacation, while you're feeling happy and content. Why die on your way to work at 6:15 in the morning of a heart attack birthed from the stress of having to clock in on time, your rain soaked body quivering amongst the hubris littering the shoulder of the carpool lane of the freeway? And speaking of dying while you're on vacation, how about expiring in the lovely Commonwealth of Virginia while you're at it, a state that was an original charter member of this great nation of brave risk takers? Virginia, by the way, is the only state in the nation that has, as an original provision of its constitutional acceptance of membership in the United States of America, a provision within that agreement to opt out at any time. That's right: "This place sucks, we have had enough of it, we're now the Nation of Virginia, suckaz...go get your tobacco from Brazil or China ." How cool is that? Why didn't Texas think of that? (Now don't laugh too hard, if Texas did that, I would move there, and then we would proceed directly with the invasion the rest of the nation. Once we took over your state, me and Ted Nugent would come knocking on your door to give you a free gun, and a free fifty gallon barrel of premium gasoline from our 51st state, the State of the Liquified Remains of the Entire Former Middle East.)

a skydiver's view of the ground
Embrace the insanity
Credit: Dan Wayland

Anyway, most days, during the hours I'm not at work, I'm not excited about the idea of dying at all, but on a warm fall day, in the Virginia countryside, I got in line with a number of other odd cats to put my life on the line for what would hopefully be one of the most exciting days of my life.

Ok, let me back up for a second. I didn't really go out there thinking I'd die. Not very much of me anyway. At the time, a good friend of mine, Josh, was living on the East Coast and we had already decided to do something totally crazy every time we got together, and skydiving was the particular adventure we chose for this trip. Josh and I have always been about crazy things like that, and skydiving was a big one for the both of us. And for the record, I should add that I don't really care where I die, just as long as there is a lot of violent noise and the sound of screeching tires, or explosions and fireballs directly preceding my demise. That's cool. What I'm not so interested in is dying in a sour smelling room, on a hospital bed that's right next to someone else who will soon die, in a bed on which everyone else who had laid in it before me had died. Translation: Nursing home. That's not cool. It's not ok. Worse than that, how about being constantly saturated in that horrible nursing home smell, the same smell that certainly fills your nostrils every single day at work after you choose the profession of mortician? That's not ok. At all. It's like that bourbon-sipping, constantly-smoking comedian on the Blue Collar Comedy tour once said: "My doctor bugs me about drinking and smoking too much… he says it'll take ten years off my life. I tell him, 'Yeah. Well, it won't take those years off the front end, it'll take 'em off the back end…the nursing home years.'" Ron White is my kind of guy. He's been thinking clearly for years now. Comes correct.

Now, come to think of it, I'm fairly sure this talented comedian will depart this sphere earlier than most because of his habits, however, there will no decade-long pit stop in the Kingdom of the Chronic Bed Sore. He will hear no loud plaintiff moans, smell not of the full bedpan that hath explodeth over, and wilt not suffer through nightly nightmares about his last sight on this earth being a nervous looking, furtively glancing, and wide-eyed elder care nurse staring down at him with a loaded syringe dripping with digoxen, tranquilizers, and muscles relaxants, bent on adding a new name as just one more meager single page journal entry to their storied career as the newest Johnny-come-lately to the world of nursing home serial killers. No, I'll bet you Ron White will enter his stille-nacht with alcohol and nicotine in his system, minus illicitly injected toxins or even the obligatorily prescribed pharmaceutical cocktail cooked up by the nursing home itself, meant to prolong life long enough to exact just one more payment from the insurance company and Social Security agency. With any sort of blessing, I will end my days under circumstances similar to Ron's, with or without the alcohol and nicotine. So when thinking about skydiving, in consideration of the potential of a lingering and sour demise at the dreaded and now seemingly franchised Birkenau elder care facilities, dying in a skydiving accident, even if unlikely, really didn't seem so bad to me at all.

Ok, so, I'm sorry, I got a little bit distracted there for a minute. Let's move on from the realm of the nursing home and head toward that other sort of dying. Quick. Violent. Virtually painless… Skydiving.

skydivers jumping from plane Mass exit from larger plane.
Credit: Dan Wayland

I should start off by saying, for those of you thinking about going, that it's not hard to get to skydive. There are very few requirements. All you really have to do is call and tell them you're coming, and they will arrange a plummet time for you. Pretty much the only question they'll ask you is how much you weigh, their main concern being that you are not 220 pounds or over. When you jump for the first time, the standard arrangement is that you're usually jumping tandem, meaning you are tied to an instructor who makes sure you don't freak out on the way down, soaks up any body fluids you expel on your way down per FAA and EPA regulations, and makes sure the ripcord gets pulled at some point after you pass out from the shock and awe of it all. For some reason, skydiving instructors don't like the idea of being irretrievably lashed with nylon tethers to anyone who weighs more than two and a half bags of concrete while they're plummeting to earth. This seems reasonable to me somehow. If you are over 220 pounds, depending on where you skydive, you might be able to talk them into it, but they will charge you extra. That last sentence is not a joke. If you're a bit over the line, you can make arrangements. A standard arrangement is an extra charge of around $30 per every extra ten pounds of you, added incrementally as the poundage doth increaseth. Then they also haul out the Biggest Parachute you have Ever Seen in Your Life. (Just kidding… don't sit on me!) (Really though, that parachute is huge. Lol.)

With a "Git 'er done" attitude, we booked us a weekday slot fer some ska-dahvin' akshun out there in r'ral Virginee, at a place called Skydive Orange, in Orange, Virginia. As we were driving out to the facility, there was much talk about anxiety levels. Josh and I were constantly keeping track of where we were at on the emotional discomfort scale. For some reason, I wasn't bothered much by the idea of skydiving at all. Reasonable man that I am, I figured that statistics were on my side; in fact, I reasoned that we were almost certainly way safer in the air skydiving than on the ground, driving to the facility. (Especially with Josh at the wheel.) While we were driving, my stress level never went over a 2, on a scale of one to ten; while Josh said he was hanging out at around a 5. Anyway, I wasn't worried. The worst that could happen was that I wouldn't ever have to go back to work again.

We arrived at Orange Skydive fairly before our jump time and started to go through the process of checking in. One of the first things they have you do is fill out reams of paperwork, most of it having to do with legal matters regarding your potential demise, or any injuries incurred on the premises which might or might not precede that demise. And man, I'm talking reams of paperwork. All the pages you sign started out something like this: "Skydiving is an inherently dangerous activity that could result in great injury to you or even death...blah blah blah." At the time, I was taking pre-law classes, so I decided to actually read what I was signing, just because I was already tuned in to that sort of torture, apparently. And on and on it went… "Significant injury… Death…. waiving of all right to sue and forfeiture of liability… Death… malfunction of parachute or equipment… Death… increased risk of life or limb, not liable for injury or…. Death… involuntary evacuation of bowels… Death." For some reason, as I read on, my anxiety level spiked up to a 5, which resulted in many quick signatures and an equally speedy surrendering of the paperwork back to the desk person.

After so vividly awakening my imagination, they had us watch a video or two, the contents of which I can't remember, because my fingers were still throbbing from all the name-signing. Then it was on to the complex training for the jump, which lasted about two exalted minutes. The instructor told us the basics of what we were going to do and pretty much walked away, and with that, we were deemed fully prepared to jump out of an airplane with him strapped to our backs. Ok, that's fine. Curiously, the airplane that would be used in the day's jumps turned out to be a Cessna. For those of you who don't know, a Cessna is tiny. They had bigger aircraft there, but there were too few jumpers on that particular day to support that sort of efficient venture. So then, the plan for us was to go up one by one in that little Cessna, with only the pilot, the instructor, and the jumper aboard. The best part of this equation, at least to me anyway, was that we would have to step out on the specially modified wing of this Cessna while in flight, perch on a little step for a minute at 10,000 feet, get situated, and then jump only after the instructor situated the set-up for the jump properly. How cool is that?

skydiver about to jump
Another great day to be alive.
Credit: Dan Wayland

For some reason, of the group that was there, Josh and I were scheduled jump to last, which meant we had a plenty of time to sit and think and worry. Come to think of it, we actually didn't do much of any of those previous things, especially the thinking part… as usual. As we were waiting, I practiced the jump procedure that had been described to us by the instructor, over and over again, on a Cessna in the hangar that had been specially modified (cut to shreds by a metal saw) to demonstrate proper exit procedures. I was going to be sure to practice the procedure enough to the point where it was automatic, so that when I got to 10,000 feet, it would all be routine to me. Essentially the drill was this: From the aircraft, you were to step out onto the small ledge on the right wing, face the tail of the plane, and perch on it for a minute on your ankles until the instructor could get behind you and tighten up the straps connecting the both of you. You would then cross your arms like a mummy over your chest, and wait for the instructor to say, "Rock!" At that point, you knew there were going rock back and forth (front to back) twice and then on the third rock forward you would push off into the unknown. Once in the air, it was apparently very important to keep your head back and arch your spine (backward) until the descent was stabilized. The instructor would then yell, "Hands!" at which point you would relax your back a bit and throw your hands out into a classic skydiving pose. This may not sound like too much information to cope with, but somehow I found it vitally important to practice it. Way back there in some deep, dark crevasse of my mind, apparently work wasn't so bad after all. Actually, it was probably better said that I didn't want to, by default, contribute to my skydiving instructor's premature end, as I was rather convinced he loved going to work everyday, and I didn't want to ruin that for him. So there.

At some point during that waiting time, wandering about aimlessly, mumbling, and exploring and such, Josh and I somehow made our way around to the back of the jump hangar and peeked over the fence. Many small travel trailers filled the interior of the wooden fence, and it became clear that the skydiving instructors, insane as they clearly demonstrated themselves to be already by their choice of profession, actually lived there in the back lot in some sort of endorphin saturated slum land, like a bunch of dope addicts who threw down the junk all day, made a great deal of money for doing so, and stumbled out the back door of their offices only to land in their warm and waiting beds. Yes… so submerged in the world of freefall were these wild-eyed madmen that they actually lived behind the back of the hangar in about a half a dozen tiny tow-alongs, finding the spartan accommodations a worthy tradeoff for getting to live their lives in the realm of Adventureland everyday. These guys are my frikkin' heroes.

Seeing the last of the jumpers that were ahead of us file gladly to their cars in their intoxicated and excited dazes, we realized that it was finally our time to jump. Mi amigo went first and piled into the airplane with the instructor, and off they went into the heavens. For the last time. Or maybe not, we would see. The droning engine of the plane faded as the spacecraft climbed higher and higher, until it was virtually out of sight. As was customary for this part of the experience among those on the ground, there was much covering of the eyes and pointing up into the sky, as many fruitless suggestions were offered up as to where the plane might actually be. That's how high up 10,000 feet is, you can barely see a small plane up there. Anyway, I was thankfully able to make sight of the Cessna just before the actual jump. At some certain, crystalline pure moment in my memory, I can remember a black object falling from the airplane. This dark glob was of course the conglomerate mass of my pal and the skydiving instructor, and it looked exactly like a bomb. It fell and it fell and it fell, very slowly getting bigger and bigger, defining shapes coming and going, faster and faster, twisting and turning, until the chute exploded out of its dwelling place and announced very clearly its very relative position in the 3D of airspace. Watching them freefall like that, screaming toward earth, was one of my favorite moments of the whole experience. A high-end and kinetic all-the-way blasted-off, fully committed, no turning back death-shot to the waiting terra firma below. You understand very clearly at that point that if anything goes wrong, it will all end with a bang, not a whimper. Bad to the bone. They floated down to earth, gliding right over us before the landing, with the sound of the canopy ripping through the air as they alighted onto the demarcated landing zone next to us.

the author inside plane hangar
The author throws gang signs at all
appropriate times.

Credit: Dan Wayland

Then it was my turn. I still wasn't afraid, my stress level still hovering around a 1 or 2. On the walk out to the Cessna, I engaged the instructor, Mike French, in a conversation about what he did for a living before he got into skydiving. He told me he had been into construction, but then things had gotten slow and he changed gears and got into the skydiving thing. I told him I had also been in construction for awhile, and our banal conversation topic continued until about 7,000 feet, when I got interested in looking out the window. First though, I should mention that the pilot was wearing a t-shirt, shorts, tube socks, and tennis shoes, and was also wearing a pair of those iconic-dork style Top Gun aviator glasses, and was also joking a lot with Mike when he could find the time. I somehow didn't mind having a comedian flying the plane, as it somehow made me feel relaxed. It was all absurd anyway. Having a grown man strapped tightly to my back (not my thing), jumping out of a plane, sitting on the metal floor in the back of a tiny plane like two Wyoming rednecks riding in the back of a dirty pickup truck in giddy anticipation of a frosty creations celebration at the Laramie Dairy Queen… you understand. Why not have Dave Chappelle flying the plane too? Looking out the window finally, I could see we were way up in the air. A quiltwork of farmland and forests, freeways and tobacco fields, and invisible Civil War battlegrounds as far as the eye could see. I briefly reflected on my life: It had all come down to this. Looking straight down, I could see the airport below.

Finally settling into the sobriety of the task at hand at our final elevation of 10,500 feet, the mood inside the Cessna shifted into some accelerated form of seriousness, and with a few tersely worded exchanges, the pilot and Mike decided it was time for us to bail out. Mike quickly reached for the door and slid it open with a bang. As the 55 degree air loudly rushed in, all of my practice knowledge gained from the Slasher Cessna kicked in, and I comfortably moved to the door to get out on the ledge, with Mike, already loosely latched onto me, soon to follow. I distinctly remember seeing my foot slide toward the open air, and when it finally broke the plane of the open door, the 70 mph of wind hitting the skin of my ankle brought home for the first time what I was about to do. Of all of the things about skydiving I remember most, it was this: Seeing myself stick my foot out that airplane door, feeling that cool rush of air, knowing I was going outside for sure now, a scene my imagination had tried to construct so many times before.

Here we go.

The pad you put your feet on when you crawl out of a Cessna to skydive is about nine inches by three inches, and it is welded onto the frame of the wing. Sure enough, just like I had practiced and with relative ease, I crawled out onto it and perched there, with the instructor joining me, making his final preparations.

Very loud.

Plane engine.

Rushing wind.

As it turned out, the position I ended up at on the wing placed me at a rather declined angle, to the point where I didn't even see the plane anymore, I was just staring into the mosaic of hinterlands below. Straps tightened. Crossed arms. Head back.

"Rock!"

"One. Two!"

And we were off.

To my surprise, I distinctly remember it got quieter. Another snapshot. When you jump from an airplane, there is a moment in time where you are almost suspended in some sort of Einstein-archetype relativist nether-region, as stationary air decelerates your forward motion after detaching from the airplane. It doesn't take long for this to happen, but in the meantime, your rate of downward acceleration from earth's gravity hasn't accelerated you enough yet for you to experience much in the way of resistance from, again, the stationary air. In essence, things get quiet for a second because you are in a decelerating/accelerating no-man's land. Weird. Also, to more quickly stabilize, Mike made sure to use the most of the body's profile to decelerate from our forward momentum, gained from the forward thrust of the Cessna, so our bodies were momentarily vertical, heads pointing straight down. For a brief moment I could see the plane again, it was up there by my feet. Killer.

Anyway, gravity, typically ever doing what it's supposed to, took over at that point, and we were off, plunging down unto what would surely be an exciting and certain death. Unless the parachute worked. One thing is for sure, when you jump out of a plane at 10,500 feet, you are going to die. This death will result from impact with the Earth. Again… unless the parachute works. That is your last hope. Your very last hope. In the meantime, you are accelerating to the grand speed of 130 mph, which is faster than most of us have driven in a car. It wouldn't be too far out of the question to imagine that in a car wreck at 130 mph, you are probably going to die. Government statistics tell us that there occurs one death per every 40 mph accident, on average. That means, by the way, that you can be driving at 20 mph and hit someone else head-on that is going 20 mph, and it's likely that one or both of you is going to die. Think about that the next time you're skimming along toward 7-11 in your Honda Civic, drooling lustily like Billy Carter for that next six-pack of Hamm's, fumbling hastily among the remnants of your cigarette ash burned floor mats for that last Merit Ultra Light that sprung from your fingertips just as you struck the last match in your matchbook. Adding to the strangeness, when you're skydiving, 130 mph is referred to as your "terminal velocity." Terminal, meaning either: The maximum speed you can accelerate to? Or, terminal as in, the massive heart attack that you inherited from the shock of jumping out of an airplane, resulting in your blue-lipped demise? I'm still not sure.

As soon as we reached this state of terminal velocity, there was a lot of screaming involved… I was yelling like crazy. Like this: "Wooooo! Wooooooooooo!" I was completely stoked. After having dreamed about this moment for so long, I was finally actually doing it, falling through the air with only a parachute to save my skinny butt from shooting straight into the earth's core like a piece of straw in a tornado whipped through a telephone pole. Right there in my fingertips was another great adventure I could check off my life's "to do" list. Verbal communication is very easily accomplished during a freefall, even with the loud sounds of the air rushing by and crazy people screaming, so for fun, Mike told me to try steering us by turning the palms of my hands to the left and right. Sure enough, it was scarily effective, our bodies corkscrewed through the air, and I was left in a sort of mystified state by it as if I were a child learning to walk: A completely uncharted environment, learning absolutely brand new skills. Awesomeness.

With a brief warning and at a foreordained altitude, Jumpmaster Mike pulled the chute cord and sure enough, for better or worse, the parachute worked, and we decelerated with much violence. Apparently because of all my "Woooing," Mike thought I was some sort of hardcore fellow, so he immediately pulled hard on one side of the control strings for the parachute, which put us in a hard and fast face downward spin toward the ground. He told me later that we were swinging around at the end of that tail at 50 miles an hour. Imagine holding onto the end of a rope that's been tied to a merry-go-round that's booking along at highway speed. I thought it was cool for a second too, and then I could sense my hamstrings were getting angry because they were having to make room for most of my digestive system, which by now was being repeatedly stomped on by the entirety of my respiratory tract. The vast vacuum of space created by this reordering of my internal organs was completely filled up immediately with an Overwhelming Desire to Vomit.

With all that spinning we got to the ground in a hurry, and as we came in for a landing, I was really hoping I could look smooth and land on my feet, rather than take the butt slide, as so many first timers understandably do. Sure enough, Mike was so hardcore and skilled, I was able to simply come to my feet and take a couple of steps to gain a full upright and standing posture. Once back on the ground, I was so excited by the whole experience, I temporarily forgot I would actually have to go back to work eventually. Hey man, it worked for a minute, so it was worth it.

Amazingly, Mike carried with him a wristwatch of sorts, which spewed technical information about the jump: Maximum mph per skydive, the exact distance from jump point to the ground, etc. This masterpiece of technology was no doubt mandated by the county coroner, who demands technical data for that certain section of his autopsy reports. Notwithstanding this sure fact, I was fascinated by the results. Our average speed on the descent was 118 mph. Our maximum speed was 131 mph. We fell unhindered for 45 seconds. We plummeted 7,000 feet before chute deployment.

Anyway, after this sort of technical information was exported and other pleasantries were exchanged, I separated from Mike and the rest of the group (some additional people had showed up in the meantime) and went and laid on a picnic table, trying not to puke, while my spleen, liver, gall bladder, and kidneys tried to sort out their boundary issues like the elderly passengers of a tour bus gathering themselves after experiencing a roll-over accident on a trip through Death Valley.

Josh eventually materialized and we jumped back in the car and rolled out. We were so stoked leaving there…I can't even tell you how stoked we were. It so very much lived up to any of our expectations of that day. Josh said his anxiety level peaked at about a 7 somewhere during the experience, but said he had been rather calm throughout the actual skydive itself. The worst of it for me was a 5, experienced while filling out the tomes of paperwork with all their vivid legal discussions. We feverishly talked about our individual experiences almost all of the way back to Washington DC . It was truly awesome.

Josh had some bourbon later that night, and I may have even had some myself. Chances are there was some nicotine floating around in our systems by the end of the evening as well. We did not die that day, in fact, it was one of the most exciting days of my life, just like I'd hoped. And when I got back to work, it wasn't as bad as I had remembered it. (That's a lie.) I'm still trying to avoid the nursing home, though, so if you have any ideas, uh… drop me a line.

"Namibia" Article

Jim,

I spent several school holidays in Windhoek with family friends. Much later I took each of my kids (U.S. born & raised) on separate trips to my native, Cape Town and "Overlanded" through Namibia into the Kaokoveld. I enjoyed your travelogue immensely. Please advise me if you ever publish a collection of your travel experiences. The apple strudel at Helmeringhausen somewhere after Ai Ais was the best ever. Graciously,

Merv Hayman, Sarasota, FL

Hi Merv, thanks for the correspondence, glad you enjoyed the article. It sounds like that country got into your blood, as it has in mine. I'm looking forward to getting back there someday and seeing much more of the place, Namibia has a peculiar allure. Thanks for the complements and I will certainly put you on the list for a travel stories compendium.

Cheers and happy travels!
Jim

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"Bullriding in Texas" Article

Hey Jim,

I love your website. It has shown me that all this time my boyfriend was lying to me about who he was. On his Facebook page he was using the picture of "Thomas Bosma"... Btw great story and pictures.

MaKayla, Rapid City

Hi MaKayla, glad we could be of assistance in busting your prevaricating suitor! Thanks for the complements as well.

All the best, Jim

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"Canadian Arctic " Article

Hey Jim,

Just wanted to say 'Hello'…love your intro/bio Mr. Boitano, fits the call of excitement/steelo of Mr. Friend. Hope to keep correspondence, and hope all your travels keep you busy but safe, Check my Friend...

Mico Gonz, Seattle, WA

Miiii-coooooooooooooooo!!!

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"Jalalabad, Afghanistan" Article

Hello Jim,

Very interesting, I find it very important for me because my BF is there. Hope he is fine...His name is Sgt.Jason Adams...Thank you and God bless...

Leonila, Guiguinto, Bulacan, Philippines

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Cpt. Disi was at Kutschbach with the guys of 2nd platoon. I was in 4th, we were right up the road at FOB Morales Frazier. I don't think I read anywhere about you being at KB but if you were up there in Kapisa province with us you would have loved it. It was 10x better than Jbad. The air there was so full of smog, and you couldn't really see that far out early in the morning when the sun was rising. But its nice to see someone like you who was out on patrols and documenting all the things we did. Great stories. Keep up the good work...

Kevin Myrick, Calhoun, GA

* * *

Love your writing. Have you read Spike Walker's books by now?

Kerry, Wenatchee, WA

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Nice.

Christian Louboutin, New York City

* * *

I do not believe I've seen this described in such an informative way before. You actually have clarified this for me. Thank you!

Janice Randall, Post Falls, ID

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I like the style you took with this topic. It isn't every day that you just discover a subject so to the point and enlightening.

Charles David, St. Anne, Manitoba

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Hey Jim! LT Singh just checking your site.. looks great… very slow internet here.. will be home in 2 weeks.

Alvin Singh , New York

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Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones. You have a lot more creativity and originality now. Keep it up! And according to this article, I totally agree with your opinion, but only this time! :) .

Arthur Cox, Next to Paris

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Jim. Take it all in, smother your senses with the culture and people. Watch your top notch and have a once in a lifetime experience. Miss you.

Jeff and Andrea, Los Angeles, CA

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Fascinating photos Jim! Singly they are all fodder for short stories; together they really capture an out-of-body trip! Enjoyed mine, thank you! I'm curious what those compounds contain...mostly businesses? residences? Love that the T-Boy card is making it's way around the globe!

Wendy, Los Angeles, CA

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These are outstanding photos. You capture scenes that I've never seen in the "mainstream media." Haunting images that make me think that there is danger around every corner.

Al Burt, Friday Harbor, WA

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Enjoyed your article immensely! Your title is fun and so is learning about bin Laden skipping out without paying the rent - what a loser! It's great you could meet with Mr. Jouvenal, hear the stories and see the guns. Give our highest regards to T.G. Taylor and the other military personnel serving in Afghanistan. Courage to you all!

Steve, Renton, WA

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Jim, I enjoyed this fascinating article. It reminded me of how sublimely surreal life is. Also, I would like to thank you for your courage, and to express gratitude towards your bringing this piece of the world, with its foreign realities, to my doorstep. I look forward to reading more from you.

Sandra, Seattle, WA

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This is outstanding reporting, Jimmy F! Fascinating stuff. You've taken on a dangerous, important assignment in Afghanistan, and we readers appreciate your work with the military and your unique observations. I look forward to your next post. In fact, I'm going to go through the archives to see your entire body of work on TravelingBoy.

Terry, Los Angeles, CA

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I really enjoyed my entry into Kabul with you and the visit with Peter Jouvenal... look forward to more of that adventure.

Brenda, Richland, WA

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Great story, Jim, a story really "as current as yesterday's news." Now there's a real TravelingBoy!

Eric, San Diego, CA

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Jim you have probably revealed more about Bin Laden than anyone...his rage on the world has to be linked to his limp handshake. Be careful over there!

Janet, Caldwell, ID

Thanks Janet! I get the distinct impression that his handshake isn't the end story to all that's limp with bin Laden's physiology!

Jim

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What a fantastic piece. You're a modern-day Hemingway. Your writing is compelling and fascinating. I look forward to much more of this great adventure.

Roger, Puyallup, WA

Wow, Roger, what an awesome set of complements. Thanks a lot. My first journal entry of 2010 was: "The stories will tell themselves. I just need to show up." So far, so good! Thanks again!

Jim

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Jim, first time reading your stuff. Very cool. I hope to read about our units and life in eastern Afghanistan very soon since you will be coming to our area as an embed. BTW, I'm the PAO here in Jalalabad and will be coordinating your visit with CPT Disi.

T.G. Taylor, US Army, Jalalabad, Afghanistan

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Hello T.G.!

I saw your email address included on a couple of correspondences, and I cannot wait to spend some time with you, and even yet more of our honorable fighting forces over there in that bleak neck of the woods in Afghanistan in January, including CPT Disi. This is truly a trip of a lifetime for me, and I'm completely looking forward to absorbing the experiences there and recording the sufferings and sacrifices of so many of those of you who continue to strain and press to make Our Country Great, those of you who daily labor to assist those in other countries whose lives had once withered under the burden of tyrants, and whose hopes can now flicker again with the help of those like yourself. Thanks so much for putting it all out there for us every day. My fervent hope is to honorably document the expenditures of each of your individual lives in the midst of this conflict, those of you who "anonymously" struggle daily to make what We Hold As Good prevail in what, at times, is a dark and wicked world.

Thanks so much, man. Great to hear from you... See you soon!

Jim

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Sad to say, this is the first time I've read one of your articles Jim. What have I been missing!? Thanks for the funny, informative, and just plain awesome read! Take care and have a great Turkey day!

Jeff, Pasco, WA

* * *

Jim, I just loving reading your blogs. As I've dreamt about going to Costa Rica for at least 20 years, this was a very insightful and fun read for me. You always make me laugh.

Deborah - Burbank, CA

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Wow, what a HILARIOUS guy!!!!! I really really enjoyed the article. The Village Artist is my 'uncle Boyd" as I call him. He is closing his shop next year. That made my day and thank you for letting me know of this on the world's BEST travel information source.

Sandy - Sitka, Alaska

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Hi Sandy!

Comments like those that you wrote make all the hassles and travails of writing resoundingly worthwhile, thank you! I am so sorry to hear that Boyd is closing his shop! The Alaskan State legislature should immediately intervene to make his shop an Alaskan cultural heritage site of some variety (not kidding). Meanwhile, from the sound of the conversation Boyd and I had, it's the federal government that's confused and harassed the poor guy with inconsistent and random applications of federal law to the point where it's probably not worth it anymore. I hope that's not the case, but I wouldn't be surprised. Whatever the reason, I am really sorry to hear that he's closing shop. I'm privileged to have seen it... once in a lifetime. Thanks again for reading and thanks a lot for your comments!

Jim

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Hi Jim,

Now I know what you were doing on the Alaska cruise when I wasn't around. Besides playing cribbage. I'm glad that you, a younger, more slender and fit person, also saw the value in cruising. I didn't come back with a tan, but I did lose 3 pounds while sleeping every night and eating every meal but one. Jade and I are looking forward to three weeks exploring Mediterranean ports in May. We put down our deposit for it on our last night on board and have starting our training. Sleeping in the same wonderful bed every night makes such a break-neck pace completely possible for a grandma like me. I'm looking forward to reading your Afghanistan piece WHEN you have returned.

Janice - Seattle

* * *

Hi Janice!

Yes that was a blast! I would do all of that again any day of the week. Have fun on your Mediterranean cruise, that sounds like great fun!

Jim

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Love your expeditions. Keep writing.

Karen Cummings - Yakima, WA

* * *

Jim can't tell you how much I am enjoying your writing. One other commenter mentioned you are living the life we all dream of, ain't that the truth. As far as looking for a place to live that will challenge you to be able to make a real living and supplying a steady flow of women looking for the bbd (bigger better deal) then you should try the Yakima Valley here in Washington State (inside joke). Look forward to reading more from you.

Huston Turcott (hooter) - Yakima, WA

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Awesome!!! I love Japan!

Maja - Chur, Switzerland

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Jimmy my love,

I totally thought you were kidding when you told me you went bullriding. OH MY GOSH you actually did it. (SIGH) Am I going to have to smack you around a bit?? heheheheee Seriously, come see us!

Leah, Richland, WA

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Jim,

Rock on Friend! Living it up... inspiring us all to do the same!

Celeste, Seattle


Jim,

Are you for real? You're living the life many people only dream about. You're obviously not yet married. What wife would allow her husband to do all the crazy things you do? This Virginia skydiving adventure is probably the scariest yet. Your writing style helps bring the exhilaration out. Great photos too. Loved the caption about you striking that "gangsta rap" pose. Come to think of it, why do we do that in front of the camera?

Thanks also for the tips. $250 for a few minutes with nothing between you and mother earth is a bit costly but I guess if you have a death wish, this is definitely the way to go.

You mentioned that 25 people a year lose their lives doing this. With my luck I will be among that number if and when I decide to do this.

Enjoyed it very much. Can't wait for your next adventure.

Peter Paul of South Pasadena, CA

Jeem!

Found ur Glacier trek (I will Destroy You Glacier Peak) to be serious kick ass. To be honest, I’m such a lightweight, I’ve never been more than a day tripper. When u really get out there on one of those long solo treks, and the water runs short … can u drink from local streams? I’ve heard that pollution is so bad that even places untouched by man are now off-limits.

VitoZee

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Howdy VitoZee,

Great to hear from you and thanks for the complement and question. That is a seriously cool name, by the way: VitoZee. Just from the phonetics of it, I get the impression that you might be a very friendly and mild-mannered hitman working out of North Jersey. Really cool.

As for your drinking water from streams question, there are a lot of answers for it. The simple answer is that, no, you can almost never implicitly trust stream water sources, unless they are flowing straight out of the ground (via an aquafer or spring) bubbling up right there in front of you. That's your best bet, but you rarely see that in the wild unless you're looking for it, and even so, I have actually gotten sick from drinking spring water straight from the source at Panther Springs on Mount Shasta. You never know what you're going to get drinking untreated water from the wilds.

Most of the time the pollution you'll be dealing with out in the wilderness is not man-made, it usually comes from bacteria and parasites that inhabit the bodies of wilderness animals. For example, on this Glacier Peak trip, I drank from a stream I was confident was trustworthy. In the immediate vicinity were living quite a few marmots. A number of days after I got home I fell ill, and had to wonder if I hadn't picked up something from the water I drank, as there was not much of any other explanation for my symptoms. I knew a trip to the doctor would probably result in them sending me back home with a plastic cup that was required to be filled with my own poo, which would need to be delivered back to the lab steaming hot so they could figure out exactly what kind of bacteria or parasite they were dealing with. (Not a joke, remember Panther Springs?) After this diagnosis, I would then have to go back to the doctor and get a prescription, but by then, my body would have probably fought off the tiny invaders completely on its own. Not worth the trouble, and all of this would certainly = Jim minus $280. So I suffered it out, and whatever happened to be bothering me left my system in about 7 days or so. Yuck. No fun.

Anyway, I don't recommend drinking straight from the streams of the wild, but in a pinch, I do it everytime, unless I see a bear or a moose straight upstream from me pooping in the river, which has only happened about ten times. (Or zero times.) Anyway, sometimes I get sick, sometimes I don't. If I'm exhausted and thirsty, to heck with it, I'm drinking it.

All this notwithstanding, or withstanding, or notwithoutstanding, whatever, they just recently invented the coolest thing in the world though, so you might want to check it out. Previously, for treating your water in the wild, you'd always have to put a pellet of iodine or a congregate of other evil ingredients into your jug of stream water and let it sit there for an hour before you drink it while the chemical cocktail thoroughly treats your water. That is ridonkulous because when you're hiking and thirsty, you aren't going to wait a full hour for that pill to dissolve and work properly, you are going to guzzle. Anyway, they just invented this magic wand of sorts that you can find at any decent backpacking or outdoors store. You turn it on and dip it in your stream filled water jug, and the ultraviolet light it produces irradiates everything to death on the spot, after about 30 seconds or so. Kind of like my pinky finger, which I keep forgetting to treat my stream water with, because I'm always so dang thirsty.

Jim

Keep it comin' Jim. Sounds awesome.

Matt Langley, Duvall, WA

Hey Jim,

Enjoyed your Victoria article. It was an intersting slant on a city that is generally just promoted as a destination for tea rooms, gardens and double-decker buses. Now let's get serious ... are the Canadian women there really that attractive, good-natured and open-minded? Maybe I won't get married either and just move up there. It sure sounds refreshing after having to deal with the smugness of all those LA starlets, trying to make it in Hollywood.

Gary, Santa Monica

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Gary,

Thanks so much for the communique. I can honestly tell you that there was little exagerration involved in my description of the girls there in Victoria. God, in his infinite wisdom, has thankfully granted American mankind a few other places than the great old U.S. of A. to relieve our hearts of the burden of the eternally-self-absorbed, career-tracked, Bill-Gates-as-a-husband seeking beastly variety of female. I know, after living here in the States forever (especially in Seattle), how it is. I was recently researching a trip to Columbia, and heard the same news implicitly spoken about the women there, they are apparently of the same caliber of those that live in British Columbia. I invite you, before relocating, to take a trip up to Victoria, to see for yourself. I'll never forget it.

And my brotha', if you think you have it bad in the Los Angeles area (I lived there for six years), try Seattle (where I have lived for the last laborious three). Seattle seems to be crammed with nothing other than Ice Princesses, who live their lives completely within the confines of darkened cerebral domains, mental attentions locked firmly onto the goal of marrying the next Bill Gates, hoping to live in one of those big houses smooshed up against Lake Washington, hearts available only to the ultimate goal, the dream of all dreams ... being on Oprah someday...absorbing the jealous attentions of the millions of suburbanite women watching, all hoping to sit right there across from Ms. Winfrey someday, too, while regaling her with the tales of the good life, closets full of the savvy and smarmy garb purloined at Nordstrom's, their husband a virtual "Prince Charming," their family-owned barnacle encrusted yacht anchored firmly in some northern fjord. Oprah smiles back approvingly amidst a cacophony of applause, screen fades to commercials, all conduits nourishing The Beast.

You're my kind of guy, Gary. Hang in there, amigo. I look forward to meeting your smokin' hot wife someday.

Jim


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Jim Skydiving


Call ahead… or don't.
It's a good idea to make an appointment for skydiving if you have a future date in mind… but you don't have to. At many skydiving facilities, you can just walk through the door and sign up for a jump for that day. Think about that the next time you're feeling squirrelly and happen to drive by a place that offers skydiving.

Special clothing not required.
You might think you'll need a fur-lined parka or some other expensive specialty gear for the jump. Not so. The most they'll probably ask is that you wear tennis shoes, and they'll probably have jumpsuits to offer you on chilly days. On a nice enough day, they'll probably even let you skydive in shorts.

How much will it cost?
What kind of crazy question is that? Who cares? You will never forget it! What was the last thing you bought for $250.00 that you will never forget? Oops…yeah, uh….it costs around 250 bucks. The value, though, is priceless.

But it's dangerous,
isn't it?

In 2004, 25 people in the US lost their lives in skydiving accidents. In the same year, 42,636 people died in car wrecks. Moral of the story: You are way safer skydiving than actually driving to and from the airfield. If I haven't made you feel completely relieved already, check out this cool website: www.skydivingfatalities.info

Speaking of relieved: What if I wet my pants?
Skydiving instructors are professionals, love challenges, and train hard for many of these sorts of unforeseen eventualities. For more information, see the skydiveorange.com webpage entitled, "What if I wet my pants?"

Also:
If you live in Virginia or are traveling there, I'd highly recommend Skydive Orange. They are awesome. They have a professional and interesting staff that you'll trust for your skydiving experience in the air and feel right at home with on the ground, as well. Skydiveorange.com

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