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By Rick Lax | June 1, 2012 | Lifestyle
Leaping from an airplane and hurtling toward Earth at over 100 miles per hour is one man’s terror and another man’s challenge.
Skydiving is the ultimate fear-inducing challenge.
Just thinking about it makes the heart race
and the mouth go drier than Vegas in summer.
Boulder City has been home to Skydive Las Vegas since 1993 and offers thrill-seekers the experience of facing a primal fear just half an hour from the Strip. Leonard Sacco is one of 10 instructors entrusted with the task of pacifying jitters with 15 minutes of pre-flight safety training and the sort of bonding that only a leap from an airplane can bring. His tips? “If you feel like you can’t breathe, just scream” and “Keep your body in banana position.” Before boarding the PAC 750XL airplane, Sacco teaches this position, with legs and head curled upward, so when the moment comes, jumpers don’t panic and try to contort into, say, a pineapple.
On the day I went, there were 12 people on the jump, including three Vegas locals. The United States Parachute Association-licensed instructors help fasten the jumpsuits onto their charges before everybody boards the puddle-jumper. They jump in tandem on the backs of their novice daredevils to increase both safety and the pleasure of the dive by navigating the parachute. When the moment of truth arrives, you don’t even have to find the nerve to leap from the open cockpit door. The instructors take the lead and push off.
The first few seconds are discombobulating as the free fall begins, and then a sense of elation takes over as you get your bearings and feel like you’re floating, despite the fact that you’re plummeting at more than 120 miles per hour with the wind roaring in your ears. At 15,000 feet, it’s an eagle-eye view of Lake Mead, Red Rock Canyon, and the Strip. A giddy sense of weightlessness settles in for the next minute, before the instructor pulls the ripcord and the chute opens. Finally, gentle silence and a sense of calm take over for the relaxing five-minute glide to terra firma.
The whole experience lasts about three hours and leaves you light-headed but elated and proud. On the ride home, my girlfriend, Hannah, says, “The scariest part was the ride up.” Skydive Las Vegas, 702-759-3483
Dirt biking grows up when you add all the right toys and an accomplished local celebrity as the instructor.
BMX champion Ricardo Laguna moved to Las
Vegas from Mexico when he was 13. Back then,
Vegas had only one skate park, which contained a
single ledge and a single handrail. Today, Laguna
is 30, and Clark County has more than 30 public
skate parks. And they’re mostly bike-friendly,
making Vegas something of a BMX hub.
Though not many pro BMXers live in Las Vegas, they all visit here from places such as France, South America, Australia, and Canada. When asked, Laguna explains what it is about BMXing that draws so many people in. “For me, it’s the freedom,” he says. “When I take off, I’m weightless. And sometimes, during a jump, my mind goes in slow motion and I lose track of myself. Want to see for yourself?”
With that, we head to Laguna’s garage. It’s filled with bikes, bike parts, tire pumps—and of course, protection. Shin pads, kneepads, gloves, and helmets are all necessary preambles to the main event. Laguna introduces “Buzz,” my bike for the day, and offers some basic instruction on proper rider positioning: Toes should hang out over the pedals so that your feet don’t slip off, and you want the seat between your knees, so you can pinch it with your legs while performing bar spins. (This is not the result of too many martinis, but a maneuver where the BMXer leans back while the bike is in the air and takes one hand off the handlebar while spinning the bar around with the other.)
Laguna has a nine-foot quarter pipe at one end of his property and a spine (two ramps with a narrow ledge between) and box (ramp with a landing platform on top) at the other, with a resi (ramp with a padded platform) in the middle. After a few successful bar spins, I decide to try the resi. At nine feet, it’s a daunting prospect for a nervous novice and will take you back to your seventh birthday and your first two-wheeler. Getting halfway up the ramp is no problem, but once there, fear sets in, the body revolts, followed by a quick dismount. Laguna advises to keep going. “Just turn through the ramp, and gravity will take you down,” he says. “You can do this.”
As it turns out, he is right: Buzz and I push through the turn in one piece and descend the ramp, feeling more pro and less seven years old. For a listing of skate parks, visit vegasamjam.com; to keep up with Laguna, visit ricardo-laguna.com
Zooming above the valley floor of nearby Bootleg Canyon at 70 miles an hour is the nature-loving thrill-seeker’s answer to riding a roller coaster.
Another day, another adventure in Boulder
City, this time the zip lines of Bootleg Canyon.
Opened in 2008, Flightlinez is part of Bootleg Canyon Park, and its revenue helps preserve the miles of trails and the estimated 40,000 bighorn sheep that call the park home. At base camp, we’re paired with six other zippers (groups are no larger than 12). We have to sign a waiver and weigh in as, though there is no age restriction, zippers must weigh between 75 and 250 pounds. Despite most of the group having done this before in countries like Mexico and Costa Rica, everyone pays attention to the 15-minute safety demo.
On the bus ride up Bootleg Canyon, we take in the beauty and lore of the canyon as our guide, Cody, calls out points of interest, including the fact that the white patch we’re passing is actually a blown-up moonshine still. Ah, Nevada.
Upon arriving near the top, we carry our zip trolleys up the last couple of hundred feet until we reach 3,800 feet above sea level and the first line, which is 1,852 feet long, with a 16-percentgrade descent. Mounted into our seats, Hannah and I are quickly released after a safety check.
The first few seconds are terrifying as you rapidly plunge 400 feet, but before long, you realize that you’re not going to fall, and then the zip is oddly calming. Being in pairs or groups of four lends a sense of shared experience; everyone is grinning with a combination of fear and satisfaction as the mountains, dotted with mountain bikers and hikers on the trails, stretch out ahead. Perhaps because the desert floor offers little contrast, it doesn’t feel like you are going 70 miles per hour.
As we approach the end of the line, the instructor holds up orange flags, which means brake. He waves the flags. That means brake harder. Then he puts the flags down, as we kick our legs up for landing position. Exhilarated, everyone is ready for more. Luckily, the adventure includes four runs on four separate lines, each offering a unique view. On the return van ride, Cody asks, “Anyone for a nighttime zip?” Flightlinez Bootleg Canyon, 702-293-6885
On the Throttle
The fast and furious thrill of driving at breakneck speed is another of Vegas’s favorite gambles.
For those of us who keep our hands at 10 and 2 and
stick to the speed limit, driving is a pretty mundane
cycle of traffic jams and drive-time radio.
For those of us seeking the thrill of speed at the
wheel of a fantasy car, there is Dream Racing.
The brainchild of former race car drivers Enrico Bertaggia and Adriano De Micheli, Dream Racing allows natural slowpokes to drive street-illegal cars like the Ferrari F430 GT around a winding track at breakneck speed. Bertaggia and De Micheli offer seven basic packages that range from $179 to $1,999, with optional custom add-ons.
The Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s infield is just 20 minutes from the Strip. After arriving, those with a need for speed must watch a 17-minute video that teaches intriguing facts such as that the F430s are lighter than they look (which makes them more responsive) and that they come equipped with “sticky” tires that grip the tarmac during turns (so they won’t flip over).
The next step is an hour of the iRacing.com simulator of the 1.1-mile track with its nine corners. Then it is time to slip on the jumpsuit and, of course, helmet. An instructor, a young pro, helps pack us novice racers into the car and then takes the passenger seat. There isn’t much room, and the helmet presses against the ceiling, but that’s a good thing because the locked-in feeling adds a level of security and control. The next step: pulling out onto the track.
Most of us are used to driving on autopilot, but here you’re navigating sharp turns at 70 miles per hour, completely focused. With each lap, the instructor encourages you to go faster, and then on the fourth, when we hit the straightaway, the instructor says, “Pedal to the metal—this is it.” With the pedal pressed hard to the floor, he shouts, “Fourth gear!” “Now fifth gear!” We’re going over 100 miles per hour, and the buzzing is deafening. The wall is coming closer and closer.
“Brake! Brake hard!” he shouts, and I brake and turn at the last second. In my own car, I would have rolled over. But the F430 GT is built for maneuvers like this.
To see what these cars can really do, the instructor takes the wheel, and we blast off. On the straightaway, we climb near 130 mph—faster than the skydiving free fall. Not that it’s a competition. Though if it were, the Ferrari would have won. Dream Racing, 702-599-5199
photography by kelly corcoran (free fall); steven lawton (shredding it); ryan greene (aerial runway); courtesy of dream racing (on the throttle)