After the stop at Salvation Mountain and a brief drive around Slab City, it was time to get back on the road for the final push to Phoenix.
I finished listening to "The Big Year," and started a new audiobook: “Bird Dream.” Despite my fears of both heights and grievous bodily injury – or maybe because of them – I’d recently become interested in BASE jumpers. Not BASE jumping, the activity, rather the character and nature of people who do this kind of jumping I will never ever ever in a million years ever do ever.
The book covers BASE jumpers, and – arguably even crazier – wingsuit pilots, people who put on flying squirrel suits and jump off mountains to take a controlled (one hopes), gliding flight-like fall before deploying a parachute to land.
To be honest, before I started listening to the audiobook, I think I only really knew about BASE jumpers, and – while I later realized I had come across wingsuit flying footage before (aside: in, of all things, a fanmade video for the Salem remix of Britney Spears Until the World Ends) – it wasn’t until I got a ways into the audiobook that it clicked that this was a different flavor of daredevil from a BASE jumper.
So I believe it was on a rest stop on that final push to Phoenix that I looked up a video of wingsuit flying to better understand it and came across this one. It has almost 30 million views right now, so you might have already seen it too.
Once I watched it, I could not stop watching it. I watched it almost daily for most of December, I made other people watch it, I watched the Google Earth reenactment of the flight line, I bought the song (one I think I’d previously had some kind of Gen Xer disdain for), I started following Jeb Corliss on Facebook, I watched all the other wingsuit videos of his I could find.
As a person who claims to be, at her core, a writer, I suppose I should be able to quickly and clearly articulate why this particular video and particular man so utterly took hold of my mind. But at the center of my own understanding is something akin to a blind spot. I can sort of understand it peripherally but not if I’m trying to look at it head on.
Maybe it’s something about this: Corliss speaks openly about his levels of black depression as a young person until he discovered skydiving, then BASE, then wingsuits. Now he’s a person who literally punctuates his sentences with smiley faces in his Facebook posts. As a kid, he dreamed of flying and he now he does. And taking on this risky activity seems to have been the key to making the world a joyful place for him.
Many people have come of out that kind of dark place, but there is something so…bracing and stark about seeing a person commit to a life of throwing himself off a mountain to find his own particular joy. At the end of the video, it is thrilling by proxy to hear his crazy laugh and see his look of pure happiness when he takes off the helmet.
He takes these risks because this works for him; it’s given his life direction and meaning. He’s seen friends die doing this. He’s almost died doing it. But he still does it. This loyalty to his own happiness…along with the heights and the danger, it makes me a little dizzy.