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In the early '90s, a couple of Kansas City parachute enthusiasts began BASE jumping by taking long road trips. They drove through the cornfields of Iowa to jump from a radio antenna. And they made a trip to West Virginia to take part in an annual event called Bridge Day, during which hundreds of people parachuted legally from an 876-foot-high bridge. A West Virginia trip in 2000 was Tyler's introduction to the sport. He says he returned a changed man. And his enthusiasm charged up the group. Infrequent and faraway jumps would no longer slake their thirst.
They wanted to jump every weekend. They wanted to jump Kansas City.
For the next year, they hit the local scene hard, scouting and jumping new radio towers closer to home and continually looking for targets in Kansas City itself. They set up a Web page to document their exploits.
The cabal didn't remain intact. One jumper moved to Wisconsin, and another went to California. But others were initiated and took their places. As a group, the Kansas City BASE crew traveled to Bridge Day and the Turkey Day Boogie at Moab, Utah -- another well-known and legal annual jumping event -- and began to make a name for themselves on the international jumping scene.
But balancing career, family and BASE jumping was difficult for some in the group. As the lone single guy, Tyler had become something of a scapegoat to the wives of the other jumpers. Tyler's own girlfriend of ten years has shown amazing patience, maybe in part because she is afraid to ask whether he loves her or the sport more. "I think he'd pick me, but I would never tell him to make that decision," she says.
The tension caused Tyler to swear off his posse more than once. But they always reconciled. There were more things to jump. Over the summer, Tyler and another local jumper pioneered a new kind of BASE jump by leaping off a roller coaster. They videotaped the act.
It's a quick clip. No sooner does Tyler holler, "Three, two, one, see ya!" than his parachute booms open and he hits the ground with a crunching sound.
"Your canopy doesn't really fly," he says. "It pressurizes, and five seconds later you land." But a jump that takes five seconds with a parachute would end in less than a second without one. In other words, it is very important that the chute deploy quickly. Tyler says he used to consider 500 feet a minimum height for giving his chute enough time to deploy. But with the roller-coaster leap, he'd lowered that to 170 feet -- which gave him just barely enough time to slow down for a safe landing.
Hanging on Tyler's dining room wall is a framed poster, signed with a dedication to Tyler, that shows the skyline of Los Angeles marked with handwritten notes indicating which structures the poster's sender has jumped.
Tyler wants a poster of his own, featuring the skyline of downtown Kansas City and the buildings local jumpers have conquered. If he made one today, however, it would have only one notation.
More than two years ago, Tyler and three others leaped from the top of the Kansas City Power & Light Building.
According to an account of the jump posted on a local BASE-jumping Web site, the jump was five weeks in the making. Power & Light isn't the tallest building in Kansas City, but the jumpers found that security wasn't as tight as that at some of the city's newer buildings. And its west side had a sheer 370-foot drop to a parking lot.