West Coast Story – Los Angeles and Skydiving in Vegas

Los Angeles

California is one place I’ve always wanted to visit, during the end of my stay in Houston, I made a last minute decision to take a weeks holiday before xmas and fly over to the west coast. I flew into Los Angeles LAX and travelled round for 5 days. Whilst the weather was not brilliant, 70 degrees in December still makes a welcome change.

Driving in LA is certainly an experience, it’s comparable to London, except everything is much bigger! Houston may be home of the truck, but LA is certainly home to the SUV! I seriously did not feel safe in my little Chevy hire car. With petrol so cheap in the states, I can see why they all drive round in gas guzzling tanks – there really is no incentive to go green. I can imagine the smog being an issue during the summer months.

It’s crazy to be on a 16 lane highway heading downtown and still be in a traffic jam, although to be fair, they have some neat traffic calming measures – some of which I’d like to see in the UK!

I stayed in Inglewood, which was conveniently close to LAX, but also gave me great access to the local beaches. Being so close to fantastic beaches and snowcapped mountains is a massive draw to Los Angeles. Sadly I didn’t make it to Malibu beach, but I did visit Redondo, Hermossa, Manhatten and Venice Beach. Despite still being warm, it appears the locals stay clear of the beaches during the winter months. I’d definitely visit during the summer months, but it was still great to have the beaches to myself – especially during sunset.

Venice beach - Los Angeles

Venice beach - Los Angeles

Hollywood Boulevard was as I expected, a bit naff, but still worthy of a visit to see the Hollywood hills and tourist attractions.

With half a day left, I opted for Universal Studios. A full day would have been better, but the visit comes highly recommended. Some of the attractions are looking a little dated, but the newer 3d ones are seriously cutting edge. The Terminator 2 show was a particular stand out, those 3d goggles might look naff, but the effects were anything but.

I barely scratched the surface of LA, never mind the rest of CA. I will definitely be back!

Las Vegas

Before heading back to blighty, I jumped on a plane and headed over to Nevada. Las Vegas was to be home for the next 2 days. Despite not being a gambler, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s no where near as tacky or seedy as I was expecting. As with most of America, everywhere is clean and well maintained. You cannot appreciate how big these casinos are until you get lost inside one! Comfortable footwear is paramount. It’s worth noting Vegas is a 24 hour town, Casinos are happy to bleed you dry night and day, not that you know when night and day is mind! I swear I saw the same old woman at the same fruit machine over an 18 hour period! My only gripe, was the lack of a no smoking policy.

las-vegas-strip

Las Vegas - the strip

The food in Vegas is fantastic, even the all you can eat buffets are top notch.

Sky Diving In Vegas

My last day in Vegas was a bit hectic. I’ve always wanted to do a skydive jump. Whilst in Houston a work colleague had suggested I check out “Vegas Extreme Skydiving” . I woke up on that last day and decided if the weather looked good I would go for it. Conditions were perfect! Making the initial phone call to put down the deposit was definitely the hardest part – talk about nerve racking! I knew there was no going back once I’d handed over my money. I got picked up from the hotel and met 3 other nutters! Alex was Brazilian and had just turned 18, so was now legally entitled to make his first jump. Joanne and Nicki were Canadian and were back for their second jump, having only made there first jump 3 weeks earlier!!! Death wish huh!

On arrival we were handed a waiver that was a single piece of paper but nevertheless had about 500,000 lines to initial, including our promise not to sue the Parachute Center’s owners, our tandem partner, the airplane pilot, Charles Lindberg, George Washington, the Red Baron, et al.

Then we were escorted into what felt like a broom cupboard and instructed to watch a safety video. The video must have been made about 25 years ago. I say this because

1) the speaker on it had a haircut and beard that seemed to be a cross between Bin Laden’s and one of the Fab 5’s, and

2) this speaker went on to proclaim how tandem jumping was still in an experimental phase which was the only way it could be legal under the FAA’s rules.

Then the speaker went on to emphatically point out that, yes, one COULD DIE during this. As if this point wasn’t clear enough, an ambulance was shown racing to an accident scene where, unfortunately, a parachuter did not quite make it. YIKES !

Following the video we were given our less than fashionable jump suits and shown the basic position to assume once out of the plane. That was it! We then had 10 minutes to contemplate our fate whilst the instructors geared up. You only have to look at the profile of these guys on the web site to realise how experienced they are. Despite their massive jump tally, they were still very modest, professional and yes they still looked apprehensive!

My instructor Kevin Purdy led me out to the plane whilst pointing the camera in my face and expecting me to say something poignant! The Cessna aircraft was small as you can see from the below picture.

Sky dive sat in plane

Sky dive sat in plane

Myself, Kevin, Jason the pilot, Alex and his instructor Troy were on our way to 17,000 feet which was our jump altitude. It was all kinda surreal at this point, your running on pure adrenaline and your brain is running a million miles an hour. There simply wasn’t time to be nervous.

Without warning the door flung open and a blast of cold air hit me. I instinctively grabbed hold of the door, which put a big grin on Kevs face! Bitch! It was at this point I realised we were going to be first out. Kev clipped his harness onto mine and we maneuvered into position, despite the view being fantastic, there really wasn’t time to sit and take it in. Kev pointed to the ledge on the undercarriage wheel and instructed me to place my right foot on it. This is pretty tricky, the wind is trying to blow you out of the plane and your leg isn’t exactly cooperating with your brain! Kev then asked me to lean forward, it seemed like I was half hanging from the plane for an age! Were we really 17,000 feet? It didn’t look that high! The desert floor looked pretty close to me 🙂

Then with a push from behind we were airborne! The initial fall is completely bizarre, it’s like your brain shuts down for a split second. Then when it reboots, it’s total adrenaline overload! Freefall is nothing like a rollercoaster, you feel like your floating on a bed of air, but with lots of wind blowing in your face. Kev tapped me on the shoulder which was the cue to stick my arms out infront of me.

skydive-freefall

Skydive - free falling and catching flies

After around 20 seconds of 120 mph freefall, there was a sudden jolt as the main parachute deployed. Descending under the canopy allows you to soak up the view and comprehend what just happened! Kev put us in a few tight spins and then handed the controls over to me. The canopy was surprisingly maneourverable.

Landing consisted of lifting your legs and sliding in on your butt. Kudos to Kev, we landed smack in the middle of the small square landing zone. It was at this point that I realised the landing site was just 30 meters from a busy freeway!

It wasn’t until we arrived back at the base and reviewed the DVD camera footage that we realised the plane exit hadn’t been that smooth. I’d caught my left leg which was still in the plane, on the door on exit. This had actually flipped us – which kev countered expertly. I’d been totally unaware due to the adrenaline that my leg was actually pretty badly bruised! Ah well, I’ll know for next time 🙂

Talking of next time – would I do it again? I’m tempted to say yes.

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