In The Zone

Page 7 of 7

Nadina, a normally perky Canadian blonde, took a glance up at the sky and held up crossed fingers.

She and a group of Canadians, recreational skydivers and a few members of a national search-and-rescue team, pilgrimage to Eloy annually. Unfortunately, this year they had spent more time on the ground than in the air. In Alberta, she says, a little bad weather would not deter pilots or the jumpers. The normally good weather has spoiled Eloy, she complains.

Back home, Nadina says, she and her friends often jump in temperatures of 15 below zero. During their short summers, she says, they aren't spoiled in Alberta by soft grassy landing areas like Eloy's. They drop out of the sky into canola fields.

"Canola grows in stalks that can reach six feet high before harvest," she says, and landing among the plants can feel like tumbling into a rain forest. It's hard to judge how tall the plants are and where the ground is, and once you hit, you can't even see where you are, she explains, or make it out on your own.

"We have to use radios to get out, plus there's an acid in the canola pods that burns through your parachute," she says, so immediately upon landing, you have to gather your chute and trudge with it held high over your head to wherever the voice on the other end of the radio dictates.

And for the privilege of making one jump into such hostile territory, Nadina says, she has had to wait in line for up to six hours because of the crowds and few aircraft.

No wonder she's maxed out her Visa card to come to Eloy. She can usually fit in about 100 jumps during each two-week trip. And despite the weather this time, she says (holding up crossed fingers again) she still may get in 70.

The skydivers on the porch with her climb up on chairs and the fence rail to get a better look at the horizon. Small talk isn't cutting it anymore. Drop zone conversations are always about skydiving, and there's no distracting divers from fantasizing about what they could be doing if the sun were out.

Someone suggests that maybe they should just get in a car and try to find something, anything, big enough to jump off.

Fuck planes and pilots and all this waiting around! Any tall object will do. Even a big radio- or TV-station antenna, provided they could get inside fences and up and down before the cops busted them.

"You watch out for microwave antennas, though," someone cautions. "You have to jump quick or you'll get fried up there. Anything more than a minute and all the fillings in your mouth start to heat up."

They ponder heading up to Phoenix and jumping off a 200-foot cliff at Camelback Mountain, but they decide the 15-second ride down wouldn't be worth leaving the drop zone. The weather could improve any minute . . .

Soon, they're getting desperate enough to resort to superstition. "What we need is a sacrificial lamb," one of them says.

Drop zone rules say skydivers can't drink and jump. Drop zone voodoo holds that if a skydiver yearning to jump can be persuaded to go into the bar and take a drink, the sun will come out immediately. They've seen it work before. The trick is finding a true skydiver willing to take the alcohol plunge for his mates.

There are no takers.

E-mail [email protected], or call 602-229-8440.

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Susy Buchanan