So what did you do this weekend? Mow the lawn? Maybe take a trip to the pub? Why not try something out of the ordinary? Two ideas for Something Very Different are Indoor Skydiving and Segway Off-Road Rallying.
For the Indoor Skydive, I travelled to Airkix in Milton Keynes, in the same location as the indoor ski centre. After suiting up in protective clothing and goggles, we attend a briefing that covers safety issues, what to expect and gives some pointers on what to do and how to adopt the correct 'flying' position.
With this out of the way, we move to the facility. Sitting in a line around the edge of the 'funnel' (for lack of a better word), we take turns at entering. So very quickly, your time comes and you step into the wind. With a little assist from the instructor (who is in there with you the whole time), you launch into the air, desperately trying to remember all you were told about correct body position and how to maintain balance, change direction and so on.
What actually happens is you wobble about a bit, mixing good moves with clumsy plummets toward the ground. As soon as it started, your time is up and you're back outside as the next person takes their turn. You try to watch, but you're aware that your next (and last) turn is coming round quickly.
Then you're back in there. And this time it is much better. After the first few seconds getting back into the swing of it, I get more elevation, I manage some basic direction changes and also control changing height. But then, that is it. Two minutes in total air time. Each person is given a personal assessment and certificate, and it is time to go home, still hyped up from the experience.
For a video of my Indoor Skydiving experience (1st minute 'in the air'): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pn_TM5k07xc
The Segway Rally was at RAF Hendon (the home of the RAF Museum, which is free entry so you can attend after the Segway experience), run by Segkind. The Segways we were to ride are off-road models. We were to ride on a dirt-track with a long straight, a mix of turns and a genuine crest to ride over!
We get kitted out in the protective armour and helmet, then attend a safety briefing with instructions on how the Segway works (Lean forward, you go forward. Lean back to slow down/brake, keep leaning back and you can reverse. Steering right and left is by budging the bars to the side you want to travel).
The first time I step on the Segway, I wobble all over the place. But then I relax and it balances perfectly. So next we get some practice, slowly going through a slalom on the tarmac. I go from slow, cautious turns to speeding up quite quickly and rapidly develop the confidence to try out some harder braking and even thowing in a little reversing.
Practice over, we head out to the circuit. And the first thing we attempt is riding over the crest. Lean forwards, give it some accelleration and lean back at the top to bleed speed. I achive this perfectly, giving me the confidence to push on. And as I begin lapping, I find I'm outrunning my fellow attendees, who move over to allow me to crack on at the overtaking points. But the problem with the basics being picked up so quickly is that overconfidence can follow. On one lap I take it too fast for my still limited experience of Segway riding and I overcook a corner. Thankfully I keep my cool, brake and lean into the bend and make it round the corner without incident. But after this I'm aware of my lack of experience and back it off a little, working on smoothing out the laps for the remaininder of the ride.
The 10 or so laps we were told we should expect to get seemed too few, but at the end of it I'm about ready to finish. Riding off-road means your legs are doing a lot of work soaking up the bumps, and by the end of the session they're starting to feel it.
No assessments or certificates this time, but I come away from the Segway quietly buzzing, having really enjoyed my time.
To see a video of my Segway experience (fastest lap when I almost overcook the last corner): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qg6vWpDQjt0&feature=share
So which one was best?
The experience of Indoor Skydiving is exhilarating; geniunely flying (well suspended in mid-air by a set of powerful blowers beneath your feet) is something you just can't prepare for. This is the closest you will get to taking to the air without assistance. But the time you get for your money (two sessions of about a minute each time) is minimal. The first session is eaten up just getting an idea what you are doing. The second is when you begin to gain control. But just as you're feeling ready to try something more interesting and complicated it is time to go home.
Not such an initial rush, but a pleasure that grew as the time and experience increased was the Segway Off-Road Rally. Going from first initial nervous wobbles to covering ground at a fair pace was achieved in a very short period of time. But the corner I overcooked showed there is much more to the Segway experience than I managed to squeeze in during my laps of the track.
The best value has to be the Segway Rally. For your money (less than the Indoor Skydive) you get perhaps 20 minutes of track time plus practice time, as opposed to perhaps 2 minutes of 'air-time' in total. But the buzz you get from taking to the air is incredible.
I would recommend trying both, but the one I'd go back to again is the Segway Rally. You can pick up the basics quickly, but there is still a lot to learn about really controlling the machine and getting the most out of it.
For more information and to book places on either experience:
Indoor Skydiving: Airkix: http://www.airkix.com/
Segway Rally: Segkind: http://www.segkind.com/
Follow Bob Pickett on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MotobkeBob