by Cynthia Lynn
“Whuffo you jump out of them airplanes?” a question that could be asked of Hank Caylor on his birthday at the age of 16 when he completed his first skydive. At that point Hank was already a 5.12 rock climber and held a degree of popularity at his high school for his entrepreneurial skills in pharmaceutical sales. When I questioned him in regards to his popularity he is quick to point out that he also “wore spandex tights to school that made me very popular in a freaky way.”
He describes the struggle of raising him from childhood as “hideous.” explaining that his father is “a Republican, CPA in Texas versus him being a Rock climbing, BASE jumping Colorado freak.” His father has all of his movies and magazines, but he still doesn’t “get it.” He credits his mother with being the cook of his favorite meal, “chicken fried steak” and points out that in his mom’s words she is more afraid of his BASE jumps than she is of his baby brother doing his 3rd tour in Iraq.
Hank is a born and bred Texan that will read anything by fellow Texan James Michener when it comes to books, is a professional Electrical Contractor, never attended college and is a devoted family man to his wife Jackie, BASE 1250 and their two dogs. A pug and mastiff that are “best friends and love the desert,” and that have been provided for in case of the Caylor’s demise. All of which gives way to the notion that “the family that jumps together, stays together.”
The first time I heard tale of Hank was on a BASE jumper’s forum, in which he was referred to as: “The Man, The Myth, and The Legend.” I asked him about such high praise and if he considered himself to be a sportsman, adventurer or daredevil. “If a cat has 9 lives, I am on my second cat life. I’ve already burned through the first one. Also, when I am not biting people at a party, I am usually dropping my pants. There were almost 30 BASE jumpers off a cool cliff in Moab, Utah for my 100th BASE jump. That was very special to me. Too much to list really, I think most people have a bet on when I crater.”
With all the rock climbing in his history, he deems himself “an adventurer.” I had to wonder if there was any sport that he wouldn’t try. “No way on Kayaking,” he explained, “The thought of smacking my face on boulders and drowning seems hideous.” When I questioned him further on his biggest fear I was surprised at his response of “I don’t like Monkeys.”
Not being able to let that one go so easily, I followed with “Does this fear stem from a particular incident?”
“Nope, it’s irrational, but that‘s my biggest fear. You asked and that’s it.”
As to the most bonehead thing he has ever done, “Jumping off the Embassy Suites Hotel. I opened backwards, crashed through the 21st floor windows suffering hundred’s of stitches and jail time, fines, lawyer’s fees, trial and eventually acquittal.” I was beginning to grasp the “legend” part of the statement.
Continuing on with the question of “What will your epitaph read?” warranted this reflection, “Of all the goofballs, he was their King.” I suggested that his epitaph displayed an ability to laugh at his self and how did he respond to criticism. “As to criticism, I chalk most up to jealousy or just ignore it. When you stick your neck out as an athlete/personality, some folks wanna try to take a chop at it. The number of times anyone has ever gotten into my face with a problem is zero. Best to just not care, the funny thing is, I don’t really do or say much to anybody. Expect for a few times a year, I’m under the radar doing my own thing. Believe me; if you spank a cliff and end up hanging there, you want me on that load. Most jumpers know this and I don’t get hassled, at least not to my face. That would require that person to have courage, which the haters never have.”
In discussing BASE jumping, Hank exhibits a clear stance on questions revolving around BASE. Do you consider BASE jumping a stunt or sport? If you consider it a sport, would you like to see it organized and governed by a board? “Sport, it cannot be governed ever in my opinion. Even when you sponsor a legal event and have a big ole’ safety meeting, BASE jumpers still find too may creative ways to injure or kill themselves. Who would want to govern that and what jumper would pay attention.” As to the question of today’s jumpers being better trained and having better equipment then old school jumpers with the age of technology. “They have better equipment but far less skydives than the old school jumpers. More deaths than there used to be, but that’s because there are lots more jumpers.” In response to his opinion on what the biggest mistake made by newbies, “People used to say 1,000 skydives before BASE, then it became 500…200. Now they rush to get 100 and start BASE jumping at 86 skydives. Then they never skydive again and start doing aerials off of everything.” As to whether Hank himself has ever mentored BASE and what would be his requirements for a student. “Just my wife and one other friend, it would take a whole page to describe my requirements.”
There is a debate among the “whuffos” in legislature and the BASE community as to the legality of BASE jumping. Legally there are no laws on the books that make it illegal, but rather a jumper can face charges of trespassing or endangerment. Personally, I think the politicians should be more concerned with the growing number of “jumpers without chutes” as opposed to those who have planned a safe landing. However, as is dictated in the “land of the free,” there is always going to be some politician that feels it’s the governments duty to protect the American people from themselves and looking for his 15 minutes in the spotlight.
I asked Hank how he justifies the illegality of BASE. “Act like you had no idea and try to get out of it with polite manners. There is no set response, it’s a case by case situation, I think.” I redirected him to the attitude that seems prevalent in BASE jumping of “sticking it to the man.” “Base jumpers are as diverse a group as any other extreme activity. Some people want to “stick it to the man” and some are just polite to the man when caught. I just happen to be the latter.”
Regarding the notion that BASE jumpers are often labeled as “crazy and stupid”, Hank summed up his thoughts as, “People that don’t jump have a variety of responses to the BASE thing. They either wanna do it, but never will. They either think it’s insane and actually think we deserve it if they hear about someone getting hurt or killed. Or they are jealous cuz’ they know they will never do it and resent us for stealing all their women with our coolness.”
Hank “the man” offered me insight into his personal life as he opened up about being an alcoholic, the jump that frightened him the most, the reason he would retire and what he would say to the President if given the opportunity. After he revealed that his biggest weakness in life was being an alcoholic I referenced the idea that “people drink to find happiness in a bottle and others drink to forget.”
In turn, he gave me this analogy, “They say there are 2 kinds of hobos, some are singing hobos and some are stabbing hobos. I can be both; it’s a roll of the dice. I mainly drink because I feel compelled too.” He credits marrying Jackie, his second wife and getting sober as two of his life’s greatest achievements. “I was drunk when I married Jackie, but sober for almost 2 years prior. But she and my friends have been my drive to get back on track.”
The jumper that Hank admires most is, “Jimmy Pouchert all the way!,” giving Jimmy praise for being his “spiritual adviser” and credits Marta Empinotti with providing his BASE jump philosophy: “Always take one step back.”
The most frightening jump for this legend is simply,” the first time I watched my new wife jump off the Tombstone scared the crap out of me.” Up until Jackie’s wall strike this past year Hank had been jumping every weekend for 6 months.
In talking about the strike and Jackie’s recovery he had this to share. “I was doing electrical work on wind farms down in Texas when I got the news, so by the time I got to Denver she was already stabilized and doped with a smile on her face. As to her recovery, “She jumped yesterday. So she’s fine. The rod in her femur makes her walk a little like Frankenstein’s monster in the morning, but the stiffness goes and she looks great. I think I’m the only one who realizes she was injured. She’s one tough cookie.” On retiring, “If I ever get really hurt again, I’m just done with hospitals.” Despite suffering a shattered ankle and hundreds of stitches, he states, “I’ve seen much worse.”
As for his 5 minutes with the President, “Can you please get my baby brother out of Iraq, along with everyone else and stop pouring ALL our money into that shithole.” I inquired if he believed America should return to the days of isolationism. “Look, the Middle East has been fighting religious wars for centuries; we are not going to change minds that are that ingrained, period. Germany and Japan were games compared to the sloooooow progress we’re going to make anywhere in the Middle East. That’s just my opinion though. And with that I asked if his baby brother shared his interests, “my baby Bro has no interest in jumping or climbing.”
I asked Hank to name 5 random facts, habits or weirdness about himself that he had never revealed prior to the public.
- Smarter than you think.
- Very sensitive.
- Sucker for babies.
- Hates flying in airplanes.
Although Jackie and he have no plans for kids, he does “love ‘em.” That sensitivity he spoke of was further elaborated on when I asked him to describe his final thoughts before jumping. “What to do in case of ANY problems and how I’m gonna land if it opens perfectly. The jump isn’t over till everyone’s safe on the ground. I also like to assess different skill levels and pay a little more attention to any newbies.” As for the realities of can you or how do you separate yourself from the death of fellow jumpers, he is upfront that he cannot. “Nope, they ALL give me nightmares and I never forget. I have a lot of friends that can disassociate from carnage, but I can’t. I am too sensitive.” His favorite object to jump: Echo Park, Moab, Utah.
What is Hank’s favorite part of BASE jumping? “Group hug.” Yep that is correct folks, “group hug.” The one and only Hank Caylor boldly proclaimed, “I love the group hug after a successful load.” When I asked, “Couldn’t you get a group hug without jumping off an object?” in typical Hank fashion he replied, “Yeah but then you’d be considered a fairy.”
He has a fitness regime of climbing and trail running and admits “Dr. Thrill” forced him into BASE stating, “It’s just something you don’t put down once you pick it up, unless you start having kids or you get hurt. Most folks that wanna jump, do it and then stick with it. It’s just so much effort to get into BASE, why quit? It’s not a tandem ride.” He tells me that his contribution to BASE is his Garlic Mashed Potatoes at the Turkey Boogie. When I chide him that “a legend” surely will leave a greater mark on the sport than Garlic Mashed Potatoes, unless of course ingesting his creation is the equivalent of an orgasm, he proudly declares, “Oh, there were Garlic Mashed Potato orgasms all right.” And so the myth continues to grow.
Finally we discussed whether he is a spiritual or religious man. Folks might consider that a hefty subject for a “rock climbing, BASE jumping Colorado freak” but as Hank pointed out, he is “smarter than you think.” In answer to the question he revealed that he is both spiritual and religious, “I kind of swirl it into something I believe in.” I relay a quote from a book I am currently developing, explaining that I am reminded of the quote each time I view a video of BASE jumping. I sense that it must take an incredible amount of Faith in oneself and the Universe, if you will, to make a leap into dead air. That one must reconcile themselves that they will either fly, i.e., float via canopy to safety or enter a world beyond this one and that’s okay, it’s accepted.
“When you come to the end of all the light you know, and it’s time to step into the darkness of the unknown, Faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen; either you will be given something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly-“
Hanks final words on the topic and what he would like to convey to the BASE community. “I think that when you are gonna jump, you are ‘in the darkness’ and then you jump ‘into the light.’ I think you are right on with the second part, but most BASE jumpers don’t put that type of poetic thought into it.”
“It’s a jungle out there, be careful and watch out for each other to some extent”
— Hank Caylor… so much more than a myth.
Quick questions with Hank:
Q: First song loaded on IPod?
A: Neil Diamond, “Delirious Love”
Q: Is there a sport outside your realm of participation that you enjoy viewing or playing?
A: Watching the Winter X Games and playing Disc Golf
Q: What makes you unique in jumping?
A: A 3 second delay is going deep for me!
Q: How do you mentally prepare for jump?
A: Just start saying 3, and then 2, 1 will follow. And off ya’go!
Q: What’s the most important advice for a newbie?
A: Take it slow and easy, find a SMART mentor.
Q: Best Pizza Topping?
Q: What flavor Jell-O would you be?
A: Coconut if they made it.
Q: Best moment of any given day of your life?
A: The day I first got laid. I was a late bloomer, so when I finally got my chance, she was gorgeous and I knew all the moves. We went to the Junior and Senior Prom together.
Marital Status: Married
Location: Eldorado Springs, CO
Number of Jumps: 400, mostly in Moab
Year of first Jump: 1997
Canopy: Dagger 244
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Source: Cynthia Lynn Chronicles author: Cynthia Lynn