Category Archives: Joy

Rock county: fearflying aka skydiving

My friend Eric jokingly sent me an email the other day asking if I was going through an early mid-life crisis. In the last two months, I’ve chopped almost 10 inches off my hair (I can’t even put it in a ponytail anymore!) and then I signed my life away to jump out of a plane, or what I lovingly refer to as “fearflying” (aka skydiving). Perhaps he’s on to something here but we all know I’m an adventurer at heart and a sucker for last-minute deals too. Along with my friends Aaron, Selina, and Kelsey, I got to mark another item off my bucket list this past Saturday at Great Lakes Skydiving in Beloit. It was an experience of a life time and since I’ve had a lot of people reach out asking what it’s all about I thought I’d recount the jump here:

Kelsey was the first of the group to go. I saw her squat and crouch to the edge of the door and just like that she was sucked out, disappearing below. It is unnerving to see someone you know and care about sucked out of a door into oblivion. You hear their first scream of “Oh my god” and even before the last syllable is spoken, the wind slices right through it and you don’t hear them anymore. They vanish. And then you become conscious that you’re no longer sitting in the back of the plane and in fact have been scooted so far forward that you’re next up on the chopping block.

At that point, I felt overwhelmingly anxious, fully awake, and absolutely terrified. Before making my jump, I looked up to the sky and closed my eyes. Looking back at the video, it looks as if I’m praying to the heavens above but it was more the instinctive realization that this was a terrible idea and there was nothing I could do about it now. My instructor’s final words before throwing me out the door were, “If you forget to breathe just scream.” I screamed alright. In fact, every second of my free fall I screamed bloody murder. It was the best therapy I could have asked for.

This photo sums up my entire skydiving experience.

This photo sums up my entire skydiving experience.

The free fall lasted about 60 seconds, which feels like a lifetime to spend diving head first into the ground at 140mph, but at the same time it goes quick too. When people ask me to describe this part of the dive, I can only muster up two words: terrifying and loud. Free falling from 14,000 feet in the air is not natural and every instinct in your body tells you to curl up in the fetal position (which you can’t do by the way). Then there’s the noise. I cannot possibly convey how loud it is from the moment you open the door to when the parachute finally opens. Think of a train coming through town or a fire alarm going off in your building. Magnify it by a 100 and maybe you’ll be close. It’s loud and deafening and exhilarating all at once.

So insane!

So insane!

But then something really wonderful happens. Your parachute releases and time almost freezes. The force and loudness of the wind vanishes completely and you are left with complete silence. You glide through the air and make your way through clouds to clear skies for jaw-dropping views. I saw the Chicago skyline and the smoke stacks in Rockford, IL all the way from Wisconsin. It was peaceful and serene and (somewhat surprisingly) I didn’t vomit from the free fall.

About five minutes after the parachute opened, we landed in a green pasture right by the airport. I love the photos from our landing because I just look so happy. I’m still debating whether my look of glee is from how much fun I had or if I was just incredibly thankful to have my legs firmly on the ground again. Regardless, it was a blast and I would recommend it to anyone looking to feel alive. The best part of skydiving is that 100 percent of you lives entirely in the moment.

I'm sooo happy! haha

I’m sooo happy! haha

Me and my instructor post-landing. He was great!

Me and my instructor post-landing. He was great!

From left to right: Kelsey, Aaron, me, and Selina. We all LOVED it.

From left to right: Kelsey, Aaron, me, and Selina. We all LOVED it.

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Filed under adventure, fun, happiness, Joy, skydiving

Grant county: camping on the confluence

Along the southwestern border of Wisconsin is Wyalusing State Park, which is where the lower Wisconsin River meets the Mississippi. About 500 feet above where the rivers meet is an abundance of outdoor space and natural beauty just begging to be explored. I first discovered Wyalusing on a travel Wisconsin website and it’s been on my list of parks to explore ever since so when my friend Kelsey invited me to join her and a group of about 15 others to set up camp here for the weekend, I jumped at the opportunity.

Although most people I’ve talked to about Wyalusing have never been there or even heard of it, it definitely didn’t disappoint. I now consider it one of Wisconsin’s hidden gems, offering plenty of scenic views, hiking trails, and canoeing and kayaking opportunities. You can even go birding here if that’s your thing. Although I’m not so much into that, the number of bald eagles I spotted from different vantage points was amazing. Their sheer enormity left me awe-struck and watching them soar among the tree tops in mass made me feel a sort of spiritual connection to the earth.

The fact there were few people in the park definitely added to the overall experience. Typically, group camp sites leave a lot to be desired (overcrowded, no privacy, flat grassy land) but I was impressed with the sites here. Our little camping village was nestled at the end of a long drive and in the shape of a horseshoe, meaning we were secluded from other campers and surrounded by trees. It made the experience more intimate and friendly – a home away from home – and offered more opportunity to get to know some of the other people there. I came away from the trip feeling fortunate to have met Kelsey and her group of friends. They’ve all been so warm and welcoming but Kelsey especially has invited me into her life with open arms. I think what helps is that of everyone, only one is a native Wisconsinite. Everyone else moved here from out-of-state so there’s a sort of kinship and bond in understanding what it’s like to move to a city where you know no one.

Speaking of bonding, by far my favorite part of the weekend (which ironically had nothing to do with being outdoors) was the result of an impulse buy. On the way out of town, Kelsey and I stopped at Woodman’s to pick up a few items and inevitably got sidetracked by the giant pit of piñatas. Even though we were a group of adults, there was no reason not to blindfold people and watch them whack at something with a bat. It was the best $10 I’ve spent in a while. If I had thought about it more, I would have filled it with something other than candy, like baby bottles of booze. Who wouldn’t want that raining from the sky?! We certainly got some strange looks from other campers and I imagine we all looked like total red necks but it was fun. Plus, I love telling the story of Kelsey and me walking out of Woodman’s with a giant piñata, a bag of candy, a case of beer, 5 packets of taco seasoning, and ice.

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Scenic view on a hike through the bluffs.

Scenic view on a hike through the bluffs.

Kelsey and Selina posing with the bird pre destruction.

Kelsey and Selina posing with the bird pre destruction.

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Filed under camping, County project, Joy, parks

Home is [fill in the blank]

Over Labor Day weekend, I flew back to Missouri to celebrate the engagement of one of my dearest friends, Monica.

In many ways I was nervous to go back to the place that held such sadness and sorrow in the weeks (even months) leading up to my departure. I equate those memories to a broken record. I think about it daily. The wounds are still fresh, the cuts still deep. I really didn’t want to do anything to exacerbate that but I generously reminded myself that home also held a lot of good memories. I didn’t want to let the bad outweigh the good or let my fear prevent me from lavishing one of my favorite people with all the happiness and joy I felt for her. So I went. I stayed up late and I ate at all my favorite places and saw all the people I loved but didn’t get to say goodbye to and I laughed so hard my cheeks hurt. Then I laughed some more. It was a trip so good for my soul but also one that solidified the fact that Missouri no longer felt like “home” to me. Familiar and lovely, yes, but not home.

I was thinking about the concept of home on my flight back to Wisconsin and pulled out my writing practice notebook to start listing everything that came to mind. As part of counseling I’ve been doing 10 minute timed writings on a daily basis and as often as I need to. The premise is that you write only what comes to mind. You aren’t worried about sentence structure or being creative or even making sense. The intent is to let the words flow from brain through arm to paper. It’s a means of getting outside a structured mind. Go wherever you feel like going. Don’t think, just write. I often choose quick topics like “I feel” or “I don’t feel” or “I remember” or “I don’t remember”. This time I chose “Home is”. It isn’t particularly good or well thought out or even long. It’s just what I wrote in the moment, unedited. I wanted to share it because of what it made me realize: home is wherever we make it.

Home is the sea and the stars. It’s kissing a 100 year old tree and running on dirt covered paths through the woods. It’s a small quiet room and a girl moving her pen as the words she writes take on a life of their own. Home is curling up against Miley, my head moving in sync with her deep, shallow breaths. It’s smiling when she starts to snore. Home is the coolness of a hardwood floor in the summer. The sound of a fan as it spins round and round. Home is make my cheeks hurt laughter with Monica. It’s in the unconditional happiness I feel for her happiness and in the way our bodies move like cyclones on the dance floor. Home is sitting around the dinner table with my parents and in the smell of the chewing tobacco grandpa always coveted. Sometimes I even find home in the memories I wish to strike from my very existence. It’s in a soft kiss on the lips or a gentle squeeze of my hand. Then I see it. Home is not home anymore. It is transient and impermanent and will go wherever I yearn to go. Home lives inside of me now. It is my shadow. It is whatever I want it to be.

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Pinterest has the best ideas for engagement gifts. Fun to make but even better to enjoy it with my bestie.

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Of all the pictures Monica and I took this is the only serious one. Dancing the night away at Nash Vegas.

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Filed under Home, Joy, Writing