"I did my first base jump from New River Gorge Bridge, in West Virginia, at 45, and I fell in love with the high it gave me," says the substance-abuse therapist. "It’s about nine seconds to impact." Mikels has since done New River again and made two jumps from Idaho’s Perrine Bridge, the second one with a broken leg. "I landed badly on my first jump, but I didn’t know it was broken," she says. "So I jumped again."
On the fear-factor scale, base ranks pretty high: In 25 years, more than 80 jumpers have died. Despite Mikels’ travails — she rebroke her leg skydiving six months later — she’s hooked. Though there is a limit even to what this daredevil will do: "Forget bungee jumping — trusting a rubber band scares me."
Cindy Butler, 49
"When I’m not at work, I’m caving," says Butler, a registered nurse who switched jobs and cities eight years ago just so she could spend more time excavating the pitch-black caverns surrounding Florida’s Swanee River.
Butler first got the urge to dive the year her stepsister died. Life was too short not to pursue her dreams, she decided — the only question was whether to take up flying or diving. She started with open-water diving, but when a friend introduced her to caving, she knew she’d found her calling. "I have been into rocks and fossils since I was a kid, so I formed a team with two friends and got permits to dive Swanee River Park," she says. "So far, we have discovered two cave systems."
Butler is at Swanee River three days a week, surveying, mapping, and photographing at depths that can plunge to 224 feet. Add to that the challenge of mastering a sport with gear that weighs almost as much as she does, and Butler’s achievement is all the more impressive. Next up: one of the largest networks of underwater caves in the world, near Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. "It’s the only primary exploration left on the planet," she says, "the last freedom for adventurers."
Originally published in MORE magazine, July/August 2005.