July 22, 2023
The third part of a 6 part series,
2023 skydiving road trip.
Part 2 of this travelogue ended with Paula and I jumping from Mike Mullins Super King Air this Saturday morning. After jumping in Tennessee, our next state on the road trip is Alabama. Skydive Alabama is also a weekend only drop zone so we drive the 3 hours this Saturday afternoon so we can jump in Alabama tomorrow, Sunday.
When we arrive at the clubhouse the owner asks:
“Do you like tacos?”
“We are from Southern California. Of course we like tacos,” I say.
“Good. We are cooking them now.”
We fill out waivers while we wait for tacos and chat with the staff and jumpers on the picnic benches near the BBQ. Stories are told. New friends are made. The tacos are delicious.
Tonight we sleep in the parking lot. Breakfast is cheesy bagels that Paula makes in the RV. We manifest on the first load. The airplane is a Twin Otter.
We feel right at home. 13,500 feet later Paula and I do a two way skydive with our now traditional kiss pass. Decadently, we have our parachutes packed by one of our new friends.
The next state is South Carolina which will not be open until Thursday, so we have three days to kill. Monday and Tuesday we will spend in Birmingham, Alabama seeing the sights. Wednesday we will drive to South Carolina. I find the Birmingham South RV park in a wooded section of the Birmingham suburbs. There is a train nearby that makes the park feel familiar.
On Monday we visit an old plantation which has been turned into a city park.
Aldridge Garden is billed as a botanical garden, but originated as private acreage originally owned by the Coxe family. Eddie Aldridge was hired to plant trees on the estate. He loved the property so much that he vowed to buy it some day. His landscaping business was so successful that he eventually did buy the property. Aldridge enhanced the estate with many varieties of trees and flowers.
The city of Hoover, Alabama, purchased the property in 1997 and has preserved and maintained it as a free public garden. The walk around the pond and the viewing of an onsite art gallery is a wonderful way to spend the day.
On the way back to the RV park we experience some southern cooking at Puckett’s Restaurant. I have the pulled pork and Paula has the catfish. Ummmm Um.
The next day we visit the Birmingham Museum of Art. There is a sculpture there which is unlike anything I have ever seen. It is an abstract looking carving which stands out from the wall. A spot light shines on the back of the carving projecting a perfectly formed shadow of a woman sitting in a chair.
After the museum we have lunch at the Irondale Cafe.
This is the restaurant seen in the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes.” So, of course we order fried green tomatoes. In a southern cafe you can count on everything being battered and deep fried. What is not to like about that?
Outside the cafe is an old open wooden structured train depot. I take pictures of it and send them to my friend Vic, the artist.
A couple of days later he sends me his rendering of the Irondale train depot.
It is a 6 hour drive to Skydive Carolina in South Carolina, so we get an early start Wednesday morning. On the way we see a psychedelically painted van with a head shot of Jerry Garcia on the back. I think it is a little weird to see Jerry in the deep south. Out of political caution, I did not even bring a tie dyed shirt on this trip.
Our GPS tends to take us on country roads as opposed to highways and interstates. We are driving along a back road and turn hard onto a VERY narrow bridge.
Oncoming traffic driver’s side rear view mirrors are inches away from mine, so I hug my right side. Suddenly, there is a loud BANG! The glass in my passenger rear view mirror shatters. Paula jumps and exclaims! It happens 6” from her ear. We have hit the bridge. There is nothing I can do so I keep driving. A few miles down the road we pull into a grocery store parking lot for a long needed shop and there is an O’Reilly Auto Parts. They do not have the mirror replacement I need so I buy a slightly smaller mirror and a small convex adhesive mirror. I duct tape the mirror and stick on the convex. Duct tape fixes everything.
My right side vision restored, we hit the road again. It starts to rain. After a few minutes of running the windshield wipers I notice that both wiper blades are starting to work their way out of the arms. I get out in the rain and push them back into the arms as best I can. We continue down the road. A few miles later there is another O’Reilly’s. I pull in and ask them if they can replace the wipers.
“Yes we can. How much do you want to spend?”:
“What are my choices?” I ask.
“Anywhere from $25 to $110.”
Not thinking there was any real difference I say, “$25.”
Five minutes later we have new wipers installed and are on our way.
We arrive at Skydive Carolina in the late afternoon. The rain has stopped, but there are still clouds. A man is mowing the grass on a riding mower.
“Hi there.” I yell over the mower motor.
“Hi. What can I do for you?”
“Are you Danny?” I ask.
“Yep. Owner, pilot and gardener.”
Danny gives us a tour of the drop zone. The large hangar overlooks a mile square triangular field.
In the hangar is a Cessna 182 and a super turbine Cessna Caravan. Danny is very proud of the Caravan, “14,000 feet in 8 minutes.”
We are not allowed to overnight at the community airport so Danny suggests Chester State Park where we find a nice wooded campground on Chester Lake.
We take a long walk along the lake shore under pretty blue skies dotted with puffy cumulous clouds.
The next morning we arrive at Skydive Carolina under socked in cloud conditions. There are a dozen tandem students on the ground with little hope of making their skydive today.
Paula and I chat with the skydivers in the hangar. They are all excited about our 50 state quest but also are not optimistic about our jumping today. The Super Caravan is not going up. It needs 8,000 feet or more for the tandems. One of the jumpers is a new Cessna pilot. He has a good reputation on the drop zone as a safe and capable pilot, but has only ever flown one jumper load. He talks to Danny.
“We really want to see the Californians jump in South Carolina today. I can fly the 182 for a hop and pop. I won’t charge you, Danny.”
“What a great idea. I will pay for the gas,” Danny said.
Paula and I gear up and board the 182 with another local jumper. Our pilot is scraping the bottom of the clouds at 2000 feet. He looks back at the local jumper and asks, “Is this OK?” The local shakes his head NO. The pilot looks at me and I say, “Can you take it around and try to find a little more altitude? The pilot flies around and finds a high spot in the cloud base. I see 2500 feet on my altimeter. The United States Parachute Association’s Skydivers Information Manual Basic Safety Requirements state that the minimum deployment altitude for D license holders is 2,500 feet. I nod at the pilot. He opens the door. Paula and I each leave the airplane with a hand on our pilot chute. As soon as we are clear of the airplane we deploy.
In a video taken from the ground the local skydivers are heard commenting about our jump.
“That was right out the door!” regarding my exit and deployment.
“I think she threw out on the step!” regarding Paula’s.
We both take 3 second delays, but it does look close on the video.
Both parachutes open quickly and we fly down to the center of the field, landing softly.
Back in the hangar, everyone congratulates us.
Danny pulls us aside with a serious look saying, “Follow me.”
I worry that he thinks we exited too low.
He leads us into the gear store. He then asks us what our T-shirt sizes are and gives us T-shirts. Finally, he digs out two swag bags from behind the counter. “We want you to have these to remember us by,” he says. They are small duffels with pull up cords, rubber bands, ear plugs, beer sleeve, notebook and coffee mug.
I ask what we owe him for the jumps and he says, “That’s on me.”
The whole drop zone gathers under the Skydive Carolina sign and we have a group picture taken.
We have a long drive tomorrow, so we go back to the campground, take another lovely walk and get back to the RV just in time to be lulled asleep by the rain.
It is Friday morning. We break camp and get on the road. We drive from South Carolina, through Charlotte North Carolina, the pan handle of Virginia and into West Virginia to arrive at West Virginia Skydivers six hours later. The drop zone has a slot for us in the airport’s private RV park. We walk over to the drop zone clubhouse.
We don’t expect to jump this Friday afternoon because it is a weekend only drop zone. But there are skydivers preparing to do a demonstration jump into a nearby baseball field to celebrate the beginning of the season. The field is close enough that we see the jumpers leave the airplane and fly the American flag down to land next to the baseball diamond.
The DZ manager drives the golf cart over to pick up the demo jumpers. When they return, the manager asks us if we want to go up.
Robert Newman Field is about 1000 feet long by 200 feet wide. It is directly adjacent to the Ohio River separated by a line of 40 foot tall trees. As told in the story, “DELMARVA”, in my book, “Skydivers Know Why Birds Sing,” we have been to this drop zone before. On a road trip to jump in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia we drove to West Virginia Skydivers. On that trip the winds were blowing from the drop zone to the river. Paula and I decided that it was too risky for us to jump. This time the wind is blowing favorably over the river, toward the landing field. We decide to do a hop and pop for accuracy’s sake.
Another local jumper joins us. He will spot our exit. On our 5000 foot jump run I look down at the Ohio River. The spot is smack in the middle of the 1/2 mile wide waterway.
“Is this right?” I ask our spotter.
“This is the normal exit point for these wind conditions,” he says and throws open the door.
We all exit separately. Paula and I both take about a 15 second delay. As soon as she exits and sees the river below Paula tracks to the shore to open her parachute over land. I stay over the river. When my parachute opens I zig zag over the river and the landing field. The river and land are just terrain from my point of view, so I fly confidently. Clearing the stand of trees, I land easily in front of the hangar.
TO BE CONTINUED next week…
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