Take a Flying Leap

The huge hole is filled with dark-blue water that runs 50 feet deep, surrounded by cliffs of varying heights. (For more technically inclined thrill seekers, a zip line costs $35 for the first run from the top of the lodge, which provides general supplies and inner-tube rentals.) I spent a long time standing at the edge of a less-than-twenty-foot drop. Finally, with a countdown and coaching from friends in rafts below, I stepped off the ledge. Immediately, I pointed my toes and clapped my arms to my sides like a No. 2 pencil. Before I knew it, I had surfaced from the cold — spluttering with water up my nose, but just fine. I spent the day warming up with these smaller jumps, getting to know my first set of post-college friends.

At the end of the day, the time had come to face the Off-Sets' biggest challenge: the 50-foot monster death cliff on the far side of the quarry. I paddled over, climbed the crumbling hill in bare feet, clinging to a rope. "Don't think about it too long or you'll never do it," I heard people saying. I reached the top of the cliff, looked over the edge — and paused. Waited too long. Started to freak out. The CD in someone's battered boom box skipped from "Free Bird" to "Free Fallin'." The wind felt different up here; it would blow me sideways, break my arm. Then I remembered all that the guy had taught me about jumping: body position, breath, timing — that with the right balance, I could be fearless. So without thinking, I ran for the edge and leaped into oblivion.

In those airborne seconds, I only had time for one thought — not to hold my nose, not to take in the blur of landscape rushing overhead, just this: The next time I jumped, it would be with him. —Katie Moulton

Model: Megan DeGonia
Jennifer Silverberg
Model: Megan DeGonia

I'm standing in a field in Eureka with my cheek pressed against the butt of a shotgun, right eye closed, left eye focusing in the distance. A man stands behind me, waiting for me to call out the word that will signal him to send a fluorescent orange clay disc soaring. That's when the question arises:

What the hell am I doing here?

Growing up in the comfortable suburb of St. Charles, I was never exposed to guns, neither for hunting nor for protection. But what the heck — it's summer, and my inner hoosier is itching to be unleashed. What better way to embrace the redneck inside me than going out and, well, shooting stuff?

On my first outing, I take my lifelong friend (and fellow gun newbie) Crystal to an outdoor shooting range called the St. Louis Skeet & Trap Club (18854 Franklin Road, Pacific; 636-271-4210 or www.skeetrap.com), which is located about five minutes away from Six Flags. After we explain that we have no idea what we're doing, the staff at the club is more than happy to acquaint us with the guns.

The gun we get to use is a break-open shotgun. With this type, you have to flip a switch that makes the gun break at the beginning of the barrel, where you load the shell and snap the barrel straight again. It makes you look super tough. And shotgun shells, I learn, are actually cylindrical canisters filled with hundreds of tiny pellets. With the shells we're using, the pellets are supposed to spread to a 30-inch radius. So if our shots are anywhere even remotely close to the target, the target will break.

Trap and skeet are two different sports, although both involve aiming for those soaring clay targets, which resemble small orange Frisbees. In trap shooting, the target is shot away from you, whereas in skeet shooting, the target is shot from side to side. Both conceptually seem easy enough. It's just like Duck Hunt, right? As I will learn in the next few hours, however, things get a bit more difficult when you have the eyesight and aim of a 90-year-old man.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

First, our instructor, Pat, shows us how to figure out if we are right-eye or left-eye dominant. It's pretty easy: Hold your thumb out at arm's length, and focus on an object in the distance. Now close your left eye. If your thumb shifts when you close your left eye, you are left-eye dominant. But if your thumb doesn't move when you close your left eye, you are right-eye dominant. I am left-eye dominant, while Crystal is right-eye dominant. Knowing that helps with aiming.

Pat then teaches us how to hold the gun. The end of the stock is supposed to be nestled into the little nook just under my collarbone, right above my armpit. Not only is the gun heavy, but between kickbacks from shooting (which aren't as bad as I expected) and removing the gun to reload after each shell, I guess the gun must have, you know, slipped. Either way, I'm not holding the gun right — and I'm left with the bruises to prove it.

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