Good Cowboys Wear Black. newby Dave Moores
I donít like shopping centres. Nasty, soulless, crowded places full of things I neither want or need and so rarely visit, but Iím walking through one now. With a sack over my shoulder containing the evidence of my crime I try to look casual and fight the urge to dance a little jig as I make my getaway, the slowest escape in history as I amble to the doors and pass out into the open world, job done.
Rewind three months and we hear a conversation that leads me to my shopping trip. There is a 500í observation tower being built less than 50 miles from my home, and I never spotted it. Iíve got 30 jumps and a rig. Eyes wide open, revelation, letís go! In no time we are stood at the bottom of the tower, necks stretched to see the top way above, playing spot-the-exit. No problem at all as the exit is obvious and there is even an alternative as a back-up. We spend time scoping the various landing and egress options and decide to sacrifice some landing ease for a better escape route so I can get away without a security guard hanging onto each leg, and we have a plan.
Three weeks later Iím stood in a dark alleyway with a parachute on my back, trying to look inconspicuous. I spend an hour looking shifty and then realise the wind is getting up and the place is too busy anyhow so itís home to bed, to try again another day.
This was the first of four visits. Iíd get up at 4am, drive for an hour, stash the car and furtle about looking dodgy, slowly collecting information on security guards, lighting, cameras, deliveries and various routes in and out of the area. Iíd come up with a foolproof plan, go home and realise it wouldnít work and start again, or arrive with a working scheme for the wind or rain to spoil my game.
Last visit. No wind, just before dawn, enough activity to make me just another bod, not too busy. Iím with another more experienced jumper who wonít be climbing but can give advice and it all looks goodÖ Itís a go. I pull my kneepads on under my black trousers, tuck in my black top and pick up my black bag. I look like an off-duty ninja and if the police swing by now itís going to be hard to explainÖ
I pull my stash bag on my back and we casually walk through the deserted mall to the fence surrounding the target. My two ground crew turn and between us we scan the whole area whilst pretending to take in the view, check the security camera is pointing away and I climb the railing, swing round over the water and drop down inside the brightly-lit site. I cross the ground to the crane quickly, feeling exposed in the arc lights and pull myself up some scaffolding and step across onto the base of a 500ft high ladder, safely in the darkness beyond the loom of the illuminations. My ground crew have gone, strolling away to check the landings and I stand and try to still my pounding heart. I grin as I realise Iím going to do it at last, and even if Iím spotted now I can still climb high enough to jump before they can get to me, although the chances of avoiding arrest are then pretty thin. Who cares? Letís go!
I grab the rungs and start to climb. Iím soon wedged between the ladder and the safety cage surrounding it and have to struggle my pack round onto my chest and climb with it there. Awkward, but not too slow. By the time I reach the top Iím sweaty and knackered but the view is amazing. The whole city is spread out to my north, whilst to the south the English Channel opens up and gleams in the first morning light. The sound of a train reaches me, the slamming of doors and the nasal tone of a station announcement tells me I need to hurry if I want to get the train to Mumblefrumble. I can smell seawater and mud, chips and diesel fumes. Iím hyper-aware and buzzing, but Iíve underestimated the time needed to get this far and the sun is coming up. Itís a bit windy and Iím nervous, but apart from that everything is rosy and I phone my crew to beg advice. No wind on the ground apparently and Iím reminded that it is my decision; Iím on the spot and should make the call. The choice to abort, back off and stay alive is never the wrong one but my chances of climbing down unobserved in daylight are nil, and thereís nothing really wrong, just niggles and doubts. I look around once more; think about the effort itís taken to get to this point and think, ďI can do thisĒ. Once the choice is made itís easy and I pull the gear from my bag and kit up. Check the rig; leg straps, pins, bridle, pilot chute, chest strap. Helmet (black) on, glasses tied on, camera out, happy snaps done. Great - now Iím blind. I stumble around the platform until the effects of the flash wear off and I can see again, shove the odds and sods into my bum-bag (black) and phone the ground again. Thirty seconds. Phone away. Check pilot chute handle again. Climb over railing. Check pilot chute. Look down, check landing area, yep; itís tiny and surrounded by 50 ft buildings, oh goody. Ten seconds. Check pilot chute. Here we go, recite the base jumpers mantra, ďDonít fuck upĒ and push forward into space.
Iím in freefall at 500 feet over the city. Itís broad daylight and Iím thinking ďHey, I shouldíve worn whiteÖĒ
I amble through the entrance and meet Ground Crew #1, sent to help me escape fast with all my kit. Laughter and a stroll out to Ground Crew #2, revving the getaway car with the boot open. We stow the gear, park the car and walk back to a tea stall to buy hot drinks and bacon rolls. We sit and stare at the giant construction above us and marvel at how the general population never look up.
Itís 9am and weíre driving home, back amongst the normal people, going normal places to do normal things. Three months work for a few seconds pleasure, and Iíd happily do it all over again. The phone rings.
ďDude, I was just thinking, thereís this cliff on the Isle of WightÖĒ
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