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Randy stands poised on a beam almost 2,000 feet above the ground. He is barely visible to his support crew. Smitty delivers a fitting quote: "God," he says, "what will we ever do if this gets dull?" Randy gets a 10-second countdown from Mayfield and jumps on "Go!"
The official party line of BASE jumping contains a good bit of philosophy—about freedom, one's inherent right to jump from fixed objects and the adventure of discovery and exploration—but, when you cut through it all, BASE jumping is about the exhilarating feeling of jumping without the noise and wind currents caused by an airplane. The rush. The adrenaline charge. "It's so quiet for the first few seconds," says Mayfield. "Then it's shhhhhhhh!" Rick says, "If that rush you get in the first few seconds wasn't there, it wouldn't be worth it."
Randy goes into a forward 1½ somersault. Eight or nine seconds after the exit, he throws his pilot chute and the canopy opens. He floats to earth, soundless but for his own enthusiastic greeting to the ground crew. He lands perfectly on his running shoes; improvements in chute technology have made obsolete the heavy paratrooper-style boots of old. "I was just thinking on the way down that, after this, bowling seems a little boring," he says, smiling.
Randy looks skyward as Mayfield jumps, his nylon suit cracking like a bullwhip, audible even at 1,000 feet. "Hum it, May, hum it!" Randy shouts at him. Translation: Keep free-falling. Mayfield hums it for a full 10 seconds before throwing the pilot that kicks in the main chute. Another perfect 10.
Over the radio, Mayfield gives the countdown to Rick and Smitty, who are going to make a dual exit. Rick leaps first, his helmet-mounted, rear-facing, motor-driven camera clicking off frames of Smitty above him. Rick intended to throw at seven, "but it felt so good I kept it going to eight," he says later. Above him, Smitty, wearing a front-facing camera, has thrown at four. It is axiomatic on dual BASE exits that the jumper leaving last pulls first, so that he will slow down and stay away from the first jumper's chute. Rick plops to earth in a perfect stand-up landing but favoring his right leg, which was badly injured—a shattered tibia—in a BASE jump in 1983. Some eight seconds later, Smitty lands.
Their faces are flushed, their conversation animated with parachuting gobbledygook. They sip beer and stare at the tower as if it were a dear departed friend. There is no question that the four to 10 seconds of free-falling into the heavy Oklahoma morning air has made the weekend.
A plan at once noble and absurd begins to emerge from the snippets of conversation. They talk excitedly about making "the ultimate patriotic jump"—from the Statue of Liberty torch during the centennial ceremonies in 1986.
"Just give us an American flag, put us in red-white-and-blue jumpsuits," says Rick, "and let us go."