It all begins with the building. Is it tall enough? Can I gain access to the roof? Where can I land? What are the traffic patterns late at night? What are the odds of getting caught? All of these questions need to be researched and answered before even considering a jump.
Cleveland State University’s Rhodes Tower was tall, accessible and remote enough. Getting caught? Well, the odds went up when I discovered a police station two blocks north of the 373-foot-tall building. But that just made it more interesting.
The day of the jump I check the wind through the FAA wind and weather report. The wind controls everything —when you jump, where you land, whether you’ll drift into potentially bothersome objects — it even controls your fear.
Today there is no wind, but there is still fear. Fear of getting caught. Fear of fines and jail time. Fear of having your $5,000 gear confiscated. But the fear pushes you. There is nothing more exhilarating than overcoming it.
I spend over an hour that day packing my rig. In BASE jumping, you have one chute, which means you have one chance to get it right. There is no backup chute à la skydiving. It is literally do or die.
The evening is spent drinking multiple Red Bulls, checking walkie-talkies and watching the weather. Mother Nature calls the shots — too much wind can fold your chute and slam you into a building.
As the night grows longer, the anticipation builds.Two blocks from a police station? Am I crazy?The ground crew — two guys driving my SUV — case the pickup point and getaway route for possible obstacles as my fellow jumper and I check our gear in the backseat. After a few more Red Bulls and another radio check, the ground crew leaves us at the base of the tower.
The roof is accessed by elevator and a small ladder. Once there, we sit to calm our nerves and focus our attention on the jump. My fellow jumper inspects the night-vision camera strapped to my head and radios down to the ground troops for an all clear. We check each other’s gear a final time.
My heart pounds through my chest. My palms build with sweat. I mentally review my meticulous packing of the chute. Downtown looks empty, and I can see no activity at the police station. I look again at our landing zone for possible problems. The wind has picked up a bit, but not enough to warrant concern.
I’m ready to go.
My fellow jumper comes out to the edge as well. I pull the walkie-talkie out of my black cargo pants and check with the ground crew. “Wait. There’s a car coming,” they say.
A bead of sweat rolls down my forehead. C’mon! We’re ready! “OK. All clear.”
I look at the jumper beside me. My body swells with stress. We count, “3 ... 2 ... 1,” and then I’m off the edge.
Waves of panic, fear and euphoria race through my body as I free-fall toward the asphalt and throw out my chute. These seconds seem like an eternity. Finally, I hear the familiar pop of the chute. My body jerks as it opens. Looking up at the canopy, I grab my risers to begin steering for a safe landing. As the ground rushes up at me, I flare the chute out with the risers to ease the impact and come to a running landing. I look back to see the other jumper landing safely.
“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!” beckons the ground crew over the radio as I quickly gather my chute and run toward the Jeep (past a few slackjawed pedestrians). Hearts pounding, we climb into the SUV and make our getaway.
As we drive away with mission accomplished, we crack some beers, check out the video we’ve just shot and enjoy the pure adrenaline high that only jumping off a building can provide. “Hey,” I ask, “what are we doing tomorrow night?” —as told to Jay Casey