Skydiving Melbourne St Kilda with a red balloon.

grey Skydiving Melbourne St Kilda with a red balloon.

Skydiving Melbourne St Kilda

So I am back in Melbourne a little earlier than planned. I have returned to scout for rental properties near St Kilda, and maybe squeeze in some paragliding, naturally. While trawling realestate.com the other day I remembered that I had an unused skydiving ticket  compliments of my mate Lauren who works for online experience retailers  red balloon. I thought what better way to kickstart my day than by plummeting from 14 000 feet over Melbourne?

Suddenly a Go-Pro is being waved at me by Kez while we walk towards a little white plane (a proper little plane, like Stuart Little’s yellow and red number). Kez is the man who will be strapped to my back as we plummet earthward at around 200km/hr. In just a few minutes this super-friendly Kiwi will literally have my life in his hands.

Before I climb in Kez shouts over the engines at me, “So how are you feeling Ben?”

I look at the plane, then him and reply with a grin, “A little nervous mate, I will tell you in a few minutes if this Lauren character is my friend or not!”

Note in the video below how I am striding as though I’m in a music video:

 

 

If you read my previous post on claustrophobia you will know that I am totally honest about my fears. Right now I don’t feel at all nervous. Buzzed with adrenaline, yes, excited about the jump, sure…but I am not fearing for my life in any biblical sense.

We clamber into the snug plane and I have to all but sit in Kez’s lap. Take off in this small buzzing plane is a convincing argument that man is just not meant to fly.

 

 

As we circle up I enjoy the view, make silly videos with Kez and look at the other victims. Donna sits beside me, a very cheery and fun-loving character she seems not at all nervous. Donna is loving the whole situation, laughing and joking with a wide grin she is here to support her good friend Vanessa. Vanessa sits in front of Donna wearing a much more serious expression. Vanessa’s husband bought this jump for her XXth birthday (I promised not to tell). He knew that she hates flying when he bought the voucher.

“He should have bought me that F#@king ring” she repeats nervously while looking around the tiny cabin with a haunted look. I am super impressed with how Vanessa’s guy talks to her the whole way through. He makes a big effort to explain everything that is going on and to reassure her that she will survive this ordeal.

 

 

The green “Over drop zone” light comes on and the door is slid open. Vanessa goes first. Vanessa and her instructor shuffle into position awkwardly in the tiny space. Her exit of the plane reminds me of the Bucket-list scene when Cole convinces Carter to skydive. With her legs hanging out of the door the instuctor yells, “Right to go?”

“Oh God” Is her fading reply as they snap out of sight.

Next Donna and her instructor shuffle into position and Donna exits with a hearty, “Here we go…Yeeee-harrr.”

 

 

My turn.

Kez and I shuffle into position. With my legs hanging over the void I am buzzing with adrenaline as the wind whips my hair. My legs are hanging over a 14 000 foot drop. I think to myself, “Shit just got real.”

Blowing my nerves out through pursed lips I imagine butterflies flying out of my mouth (don’t laugh it works for me). Before I finish Kez yells, “ONE, TWO, GO” and we push off.

My exhale turns into a wide grin as a mind numbing acceleration whisks the plane away. The first few moments is the best bit by far. I focus my eyes on camera lens as we steady out but then the view catches my attention. Sprawled out below we can see Melbourne in its entirety. There is not a falling sensation so much as a feeling that the earth is rushing up to meet us. My perception of sound changes. In the plane my senses had time to consider every input they were receiving but in the mad, beautiful, thrilling bubble of free fall the raucous of the plane is replaced with a steady whoosh that fades to silence in my adrenalised state. I grin so profusely that my mouth completely dries out and I can taste the beautiful metallic taste of adrenaline overload.

Note how I turn into Jack Nicholson throughout our fall.

 

 

The chute must have been packed to open slowly as there was no big ‘thwump’, just a startling deceleration. This is the bit where I get properly scared. I am used to being under a paraglider’s wing. The design of my preferred craft gives much more ‘across’ for every unit of ‘down’ you travel. It is really unnerving for me to be under a canopy that is going practically straight down. Parachutal stalls register as a ‘code-brown’ for paraglider pilots, as in brown underpants… A code brown is just below a ‘code-black’ which involves dragons, Greek Gods and stray scud missiles. I get used to the sinking feeling and fight my inner control freak we as line up to land.

 

 

Kez has another scare in store for me. For a parachute to flare properly, that is produce lift to soften the landing, you need to spiral dive and gain speed just before touchdown. Another code-brown in paragliding. I grit my teeth as we swoop in and flare to a soft touchdown.

 

 

Later Donna, Vanessa and I sit in a nearby cafe waiting for our videos to be edited. We are laughing, back slapping and enjoying a well deserved champagne. Well they have champagne, I have coffee as there are houses waiting for inspection. I imagine that my level of adrenaline combined with a champagne would result in my signing any lease contract…“The house is not that bad babe. Convenient if we ever need to exchange needles or dump an old car body…”

Grinning to both Vanessa and Donna I say, “I reckon you guys should try a paragliding tandem next.”

Vanessa laughs and says, “Well, it is my husband’s birthday soon and he is not too fond of heights…payback is a bitch.”

 

 

Disclaimer:

The fact that this was a freebie has in no way affected what I have written. If the experience was shit I would tell you so…but it simply wasn’t. I found the team of skydiving instructors to be very professional, caring and most importantly a hell of a lot of fun. Jumping out of a perfectly good airplane is not as scary as it sounds.

I would also like to thank Redballoon for sponsoring this adventure. If you are sick of buying trinkets for gifts they sell all sorts of cool experience vouchers like hot air ballooning, race car driving and even cooking classes or massage.

Check them out here.

 

Adventure Dad

When you hear the word ‘dad’ you tend to think of the guy who spent your youth nagging you not to jump off this and to get your fingers out of that. As you get older your relationship with your dad evolves. You may even realise that you have an awesome -but sadly often overlooked – mate just waiting for you to ask him along on adventures…Enter adventure DAD.

Below is a quick video of my dad’s first paragliding flight at Stanwell Park with my good mate Mark Mitsos from Sydney Paragliding. Between dad and me, I don’t know who was more nervous as they took off. Mitsi even let dad have a steer, love ya dad and happy Father’s Day:

 

Claustrophobic me.

I spend a lot of time facing my own fears on this blog. I am often guilty of banging on about scrabbling up mountains with only a few crampon points touching terra firma or launching off tricky new paragliding sites.

Facing your fears, being brave, “boo rah-just do it” and all that shit right? Well, one fear I didn’t expect to be facing and one that I didn’t even realize I had is a fear of confined spaces. Yup, confined spaces…Claustrophobic me! I would like to think that I am relatively brave, that I can be reasonably cool under a bit of pressure but put me in a tiny room with no escape…

Jette is out shopping with our good friend Irina and I am at Irina’s place quietly working on a few writing jobs with looming deadlines. Between coffees I go to the loo. When I pull the door shut the handle comes off in my hands. Ablutions finished, I try to get out by simply pushing the wayward handle back on. The handle on the outside just pushes out. I stop shoving before the turn-y bit falls through completely. Chuckling to myself I try a few more times then decide to just wait. Thinking, ‘The girls should be home soon to rescue me…’ I make myself comfortable and settle in. Normally this would be a comical situation. Grown man gets in a silly situation when left alone for an afternoon, the girls will return soon to find me sitting on the toilet with big puppy dog eyes. At least I have water, if you have to get stuck this is a good place really.

The tiny room is deathly silent, occasionally I faintly hear people come up the stairs but they just pass, oblivious to my plight.

I wait. And wait… Some time later – maybe half an hour, maybe more – the walls start closing in.

Looking around the tiny room I begin to feel increasingly panicky. A desperate need to get out of this silent tomb overcomes me. With heart pounding I start gasping for air, sweating and feeling, really really uncomfortable. I push on the walls and door desperately like Han Solo inside the Death Star’s garbage compactor but to no avail.

Strangely I happily navigated my first 35 years thinking that I was completely phobia free, but here I am carrying on like a B-grade horror film actor with tears in my eyes. I am proper panicking. This will simply not do.

I yell out for help but my pathetic sound toughens me up somewhat so I decide to get ‘McGyvor’ on this door’s ass. Who cares if I break something? I can fix it later. Looking around I find a pair of tweezers and manage to carefully retrieve the middle bit, the rod that the handles attach to. Gripping it with the tweezers in both hands I turn. The tweezers just bend then slip. “Fuck” I mutter with golfer-just-missed-the-putt intensity.

I then stick the tweezers through the expansion split in the rod and turn. Again the tweezers just bend. I am proper stuck.

Sweating like a drug mule I try time and again to turn the rod but each time I straighten the tweezers they bend a little bit easier.

I brace myself against the wall and push on the door but this is an old apartment, it probably was built before Australia was settled and was made to last.

I give my tweezers one final effort. Jerking hard and not caring if they break I give my best shot. With an unceremonious “pop” the lock unlatches and I bundle out. About an hour and a half after going in I am finally free and surprised with how upset I’m feeling. I breathe the cool air imagining just how good it would feel to be outside after an extended time in isolation. I grab my boots and jacket ready for a calming walk.

As I leave the apartment Jette and Irina come home, laughing and happy with their shopping mission, they’re oblivious to my recent drama. When she sees me Jette immediately becomes serious and asks, “What’s wrong babe?” in a concerned voice. She later told me that when I was explaining my need to be outside I looked like I had seen a ghost. Now…well, I am mainly embarrassed that such a silly little thing would rattle me so badly (hence my need to share it with the world!) Why should a quiet enclosed space make me so upset?

Anyway I have grown from the experience and added four new items to my Bucketlist:

  1.  Never tease anyone about fears which may seem silly (Jette & spiders).
  2. Always carry my multi tool with me.
  3. Spend more time outside.
  4. Never get thrown in gaol.

A Danish Christmas carol

grey A Danish Christmas carol

The last two weeks has vanished in a blur of hearty Danish christmas winter food, cosy reunions and gleeful re-visitings of favourite Danish restaurants. I arrived at the Copenhagen Airport still wearing my Aussie shorts and sandals ‘ensemble’. With barely time to pass immigration and grab my bags I dashed through a blizzard to just catch my train. On the train I received many a sideways look, similar to those reserved for crazy men who stagger around bus stations mumbling to themselves.

grey A Danish Christmas carolYou may wonder why I commuted to Denmark alone. To get the cheapest flights available Jette and I came here separately from Melbourne. Still wearing my shorts I went to leave the train at Vejle (as agreed) but was met by a shivering Jette who pushed me back onboard with a haunted look.

On our extra little ride Jette explained the situation to me, “I got stuck in Bangkok for eight hours, a crying baby kept me awake on the last flight and now dad can’t pick us up due to the blizzard…he hopes to meet us at the next station…why are you still wearing shorts you freak?”

I managed a weird half laugh with tired, bloodshot eyes and told her about my commute and subsequent dash for the train.

“So this is a proper blizzard then?” I asked peering out the window.

“Yup, I just hope dad can meet us at the next stop…” Jette said with an exhausted sigh.
grey A Danish Christmas carol
grey A Danish Christmas carol

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day is Christmas Eve. I am almost over my Jetlag and have enjoyed many longs walks in the snow with my camera. Having only ever seen snow on mountains it is a huge novelty to see streets, houses and cars, but especially twinkling Christmas trees, covered in the stuff. It lends a magical Hans Christian Andersen mood to everything.

Unlike Australians, Danes celebrate Christmas the night of the 24th. I have been practicing a few Danish Christmas carols for one very important tradition. Denmark has been inhabited since 12,500 BC. This is plenty long enough to develop many awkward traditions and I am about to embark on the most awkward. One tradition that Jette warned me about two years ago when we had Christmas in Bolivia

Surrounded by my Danish family (and with Jette explaining the menu) I enjoy a hearty Christmas dinner of duck, pork, potatoes (three mouthwatering types) and pickled vegetables. Before the presents can be dispensed someone gets the Christmas tree and carol sheets ready.
It is time.

Mum, dad, sisters, teenage brothers and nephews and I all form a circle around the tree and soon the carols begin. Everyone dances around the tree whilst holding hands and singing merrily. Everyone, that is, except for a chuckling Jette who stands outside the circle photographing the spectacle for posterity. Jette is proud of my efforts. I am sure to sing the versus I know loudly while giving my best shot at the ones that I don’t. Jette is stoked, we have just ticked item number #9 off her bucket-list.

grey A Danish Christmas carolI am not sure what I was expecting of my first Danish Christmas. Surely being so far away from my native Australia, things should have been majorly different, alien somehow. I am relived to report that Christmas in Denmark is very similar to Christmas in Australia…family, friends, too much food and just enjoying special people’s company. The way it should be. However, next year I will nail Rudolph in Dansk…

Mosquito bites

grey Mosquito bitesAlmost everyone in the world can recognise that high pitched phantom in the night. At best, a mosquito bite will cause local irritation, maybe some swelling over a few days. At worst, a bite can transmit serious illness and land you in hospital fighting for your life. Illnesses such as Yellow Fever, Malaria, Dengue Fever and Ross River Virus are all spread by this humble insect. Thankfully studies have shown that the transmission of HIV via mosquito bites is extremely unlikely.

With the exception of Antarctica, mosquitos live in every part of the world. They even survive in the Arctic where they are active for a few weeks a year when water melts to form pools on the permafrost.

Even the most determined nature lover will curse these annoying demons whose only reason for living is to feed fish whilst in their laval stages. So how do you avoid getting bitten?

“Know thine enemy”

Move

  • Mosquitos can only fly at around 2kms an hour so a gentle breeze (or a quick run around) will waft them away.
  • If walking with friends, go first. The cumulative attraction of a group is noticed more at the back.
  • Go gently. Mosquitos are strongly attracted by carbon dioxide on your breath and lactic acid on your skin. The less you exert yourself the less attractive you’ll be (The same rule applies in gyms!)
  • Try to go in sunny areas and avoid damp, shady spots as Mosquitos dehydrate easily.
  • Mosquitos take a few seconds to bite after landing. Developing a twitch when sitting still will keep them from biting.

Cover yourself

  • Originally developed as a pesticide in 1946, DEET oil is the active ingredient in many insect repellents. Mosquitos find the smell of DEET repulsive even if we are sweating copiously and smelling like a banquet. *Warning* DEET can be irritant in high concentrations and it melts certain plastics. DEET also stings like hell on cuts. It is safest to only spray onto clothes and vulnerable areas such as areas with high blood flow and less fat like the neck, wrists and ankles.
  • Loose fitting, long sleeved shirts and trousers may mask your tasty odour and confound mosquitos’ feeding efforts as you move.
  • Earthy colours attract less attention than bright reds and blues which look like the flowering plants that mosquitos also feed on.
  • Some companies make Permethrin impregnating kits to turn your mosquito nets and clothing into serious bug killing gear. You can check them out here.
  • If you can handle the smell, dry your clothes over a fire as mosquitos hate smoke.
  • Mosquitos are paranoid about getting their wings oily so lube up your skin with natural oils such as crushed orange peel, onion or garlic.
  • Avoid smelling like a flower. Scented laundry powder and personal hygiene products will attract mosquitos.
  • If all else fails you can do a Bear Grylls and roll in mud, this will mask your attractive odour.

Camping

  • As mentioned previously mosquitos hate smoke so build a fire with green wood and ferns then bathe in the smoke (if fires are allowed where you are camping).
  • If there are only a few mosquitos around hide in your tent for half an hour and leave your friends outside. The mosquito population will soon be full. *Warning, best not to tell your mates why you are hiding in your tent*
  • Mosquitos are most active at dawn and dusk so chill out in your tent until it is totally dark before coming out to roast your marshmallows.

Diet

  • Dehydration may magnify our reaction to bites so drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
  • Eat raw garlic, the essence laces your breath and will repel the mosquitos…it also repels the opposite sex so weigh up the risk versus benefit of this option.
  • While there is no solid scientific evidence to prove efficacy, many people believe that large doses of Vitamin B1 works to repel mosquitos.
  • Stimulants and sugar rev up the metabolism which sends out a loud invitation to mosquitos, best avoided.

If bitten

The anticoagulant in mosquito saliva sets off an allergic reaction that causes swelling and itching. Once bitten, the sooner you gulp down an antihistamine tablet the better they can work to block this allergy.

  • Older fashioned sedating antihistamines (such as Polaramine and Phenergan) are best for mosquito bites as they have a separate anti-itch property on top of their allergy blocking abilities.
  • I find that pushing my fingernail firmly into a bite stops itching longer than just scratching does, this also stops the risk of opening up a bite to infection.
  • Scratch around the bite but not directly on it.
  • Cold compresses reduce the swelling and relieve itching.
  • Antihistamine creams work really well to give relief from bites. Promethazine cream works wonders but has been taken off the Australian market…if anyone wants to smuggle me some in that would be awesome!
  • If desperate, applying cortisone cream will reduce the swelling of all but the worst bites.
There you are my best hints on avoiding these nasty little buggers. Next time you see me sitting in the sun next to a smoky fire twitching and eating raw garlic you know that I have not gone completely loco…

*Random Fact* Despite mosquitos being much lighter than water droplets they can fly in the rain. Mosquitos are too small to break the surface tension of water so if they get hit in flight they are just slightly diverted before continuing, awesome video here

 

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