Column: It’s all downhill from hereLast week I mentioned that I was recently in California for a bike ride. It was a nice ride. There were some very big hills to ride up -- mountains, some might call them -- and some equally long hills to ride down.
By: Nathan Hansen, The Farmington Independent
Last week I mentioned that I was recently in California for a bike ride. It was a nice ride. There were some very big hills to ride up -- mountains, some might call them -- and some equally long hills to ride down.
My top speed, according to my bike computer, was 43.7 miles per hour. I can’t tell you exactly where on the course I hit that mark, but if I had to guess I’d say it was on one of the downhills.
I don’t mention this to brag -- although, if you want to take a minute to be impressed, that’s OK -- but so I can point out that going more than 40 miles per hour on a bicycle with the ground just feet away, while exhilarating, can also be a little scary. All it would take is a blown tire or a brake problem or, I don’t know, an ambush by a pack of angry gophers, to send me skidding down the road in a mass of scrapes, bruises and shredded spandex. And nobody wants to see a biker with shredded spandex.
That fear is why I have trouble understanding someone like Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner, who on Tuesday was set to jump out of a balloon 23 miles above the earth and plummet at speeds that would eventually top 690 miles per hour. That is, faster than the speed of sound.
According to a story on the USA Today website, Baumgartner would have to ride two hours in a pressurized capsule just for the privilege of leaping out and falling for more than 10 minutes. And while the attempt was eventually canceled due to high winds, there are some important things to think about here: Namely, why in the world would anyone want to do such a thing?
I used to like jumping off of the swings when I was a kid, but that’s about the highest I’d go. And 23 miles is a lot higher than any swing.
The USA Today story mentions a number of possible risks associated with Baumgartner’s jump. Among them: any contact with his pressurized container could tear his special pressurized suit. A rip could mean a loss of oxygen and exposure to temperatures as cold as 70 below zero, or roughly a mild January day in Minnesota. It could also cause bubbles to form in his bodily fluids, which is apparently referred to in medical terms as “boiling blood” but which I prefer to call “totally gross.”
The article does not mention some of the other possible risks, such as turning into a human lawn dart. Or being attacked by a flock of angry seagulls. I assume they have accounted for those eventualities, presumably with some kind of tennis racket-based defense system.
Obviously there are people in the world who are more willing than I am to take risks with their personal well being. Going fast on a bike is about the limit of my daredevil comfort zone, although I did drink some milk the other day that was past its expiration date.
Even so, becoming a human sonic boom seems like a particularly bad idea. It is telling, I think, that if Baumgartner completes his jump he will break a skydiving record that has stood since 1960.
That earlier attempt might be the really crazy one. It started 19.5 miles up and the jumper didn’t have the benefits of modern technology. For one thing, tennis rackets were much heavier.
I don’t know what Baumgartner’s plans are now. I wish him the best if he goes ahead with his jump. And I suppose he has at least one advantage over my downhill adventure: There’s almost no chance of gopher attacks.