I grew up in Prescott Arizona, if you don't know much about Arizona, you might think that the entire state is one big desert. The image you might get in your mind could look like all of those Wiley E Coyote cartoons (there are places like that) but not where I'm from. The northern part of the state is mostly made up of pine forests, grass plains and mountains. Prescott itself is located at a mile elevation and is surrounded by granite mountains, those pine forests and grassy plains. Lots of interesting stuff for a youngster such as myself to get into trouble with.
The summer between my junior and senior year, my group of friends Larry, Jason, Justin and myself, made it a point to know just about every inch of this set of rocks just outside of town called Granite Dells. A rock climbers Disneyland, huge granite boulders scattered over 30 or so square miles of area. Almost every morning, Larry and I would go rock climbing, sometimes Justin and Jason would join us but they weren't the heavy rock climbers that we were. It was always fun showing Justin new places and Jason would always find himself in the middle of some archeological find and wouldn't move from that spot till we drug him away.
After a morning of climbing at near 100 degree temperatures our bodies were in need of some serious cooling off and what better then the cool waters of Oak Creek Canyon by Sedona. A 55 mile jaunt to our favorite cliff jumping spot called Dutchman's Leap. (no I'm not going to give you directions how to get there, some things are private, but I might show you in person if we're ever in Arizona at the same time).
The cliff was a 30 or so foot direct fall off of a beautiful cliff into a bottomless pool (well we never got to the bottom anyway) When we first started jumping, we had to dare each other to jump, standing there, looking down at the water below. I would get so scared that my hands and feet went numb, the fear was so great that it felt like pain. I could taste it in my mouth.
I would take this fear and pile more on it, other fears, fears of dying, rock climbing fears, rocks falling out of the sky, you name it. Till the fear would blot out the world around me and I would get tunnel vision from me to the bottom of the cliff. I would start feeling vertigo, being almost afraid that I almost couldn't stand it for another second. Then another part of my brain, the emotionless analytical part, would take control of my body and calmly take a few steps forward and jump while my conscious mind was wailing like a banshee. When I hit the water, it was like being reborn, the fear was gone and the feeling of relief was almost over whelming and I would run back up the cliff and do it again without the fear and hesitation.
Who needs drugs when you can scramble your own brain without outside help? After the first jump, it was impossible to build up the fear again, I guess all of the endorphins were gone till the next trip. Each trip out there the fear got less and less till one day it wasn't there any more. Leaping became just an act and full of fun.
This was one of the most important lessons I learned growing up. The feeding the fear and the act of pushing past it, each time you do it the fear becomes less and less and it's easier to let the analytical part of your brain take control when the world is going to hell in a hand basket around you. I carry this little trick inside of my head that has helped me through some hard periods in my life.
Back in my early days of flying CASEVAC, the fear never arose because the analytical part of my brain was in control. Doesn't mean that I was emotionless, the fear just never touched me. It didn't matter, flying around in with someone else at the controls, bullets and RPG's flying through the air, I wasn't at the stick and if it ended up being my time, there was nothing I could do to change the outcome on sitting on my butt in the back. Might as well be easy with life and take it as it comes.