Alright. So here’s what went down. Pun intended.
We (Leslie, Jerry, Amanda W, Amy F and I) get to West Tennessee skydiving at about 1:40 sunday afternoon. Ten minutes late, thanks to my inability to notice when your higway veers around small towns like Bolivar and men named Leon’s inability to figure out what girls named Leslie are talking about…
The facility is down a winding 1.5 lane country road in farm country, flat as can be. The fields are tilled and brown with the rest just covered in grass and whatever else grows by itself. We present and watch a 20 minute video explaining to us what fun we’re about to have, as well as informing us that we can’t sue the airplane manufacturer, pilot, gas manufacturer, parachute manufacturer, harness manufacturer, goggle manufacturer, guy who inflated tires in the plane, fellow who washed the airplane window, guy who poured sugar in the gas tank, the company doing the jumps or the man who throws you out the door. I don’t remember everything it said, as the video was narrated by ZZ Top meets amish man meets David Koresh.
So the crazy owner (Mike, I think) walks in with waivers. We literally have to intial close to twenty times and sign away all rights to anything and everything. They also explained to us that if we wanted a lawyer to interpret the agreement, to make sure he was from Tennessee, so we don’t get messed up. So we signed and sealed the seven seals.
We hoped to all jump together, as the plane seats 14 jumpers. Unfortuately, they didn’t have that much room or that many cameramen. So, we planned for Jerry and Amy to go first. Leslie, then me, then Amanda would go on the second plane. A few minutes after we made that plan, Mr. Owner-Man calls me up to the desk and informs me that because of weight and cameramen, I need to take the first flight with Jerry.
Now, the irony. Leslie and Amanda were the people most excited and least scared. Jerry and I were terrified. And we had to go first.
We got suited up in “form fitting” jumpsuits. My instructor’s name was Bill. He was funny and knew that it didn’t really matter what I did. So he just told me how to get to the door and how to steer the parachute, basically. Jerry’s guy made him practice jumping out of the mock-up airplane in the center. We got harnessed up, put up with the weird video guy, took some pictures…and nearly 45 minutes later, boarded the plane.
The plane was “interesting.” You sit in the floor, facing the back, in two rows. You have to spread your legs and go as far back into the lap of the person behind you as possible. The jumpmaster attaches himself to you at around 10,000 feet. As this was a pretty small plane that had been souped up pretty well, the takeoff was very quick. We got to altitude (14,500 feet) in pretty close to 7 minutes from wheels-up. The jumpmasters had a great time at our expense in the plane. At about 3,000 feet, Bill pulled a knife out of his suit and told me that if something went wrong, he was cutting me loose. In his words, “No sense in getting both of us killed!” He said later, “If this parachute messes up again, I’m just gonna quit using it!” I’m still not sure whether he was lying that time or not…but he later told me that the last time he used it, it didn’t open correctly at first and he had to adjust it, but for me, he had packed it a different way so it shouldn’t have a problem.
The plane takes off pretty quickly, and the whole time, all the jumpers are eyeing altimiters. It was pretty neat to go through the clouds and realize just how high you were. Once you get to altitude, the plane slows to around 100 miles per hour and pulls a nice little parabola, just like NASA’s famed “Vomit Comit.” It gives you a second of near-weightlessness so that you and the jumpmaster can sort of stand up.
Once the plane levels off and everyone is standing in a crouched position, they roll open the lexan door and people start waddling towards it. The plane is completely full, so someone is in it immediatley when the door is open. People walk towards it and then just dissapear. Now that’s weird!
I waddled towards the door, very much not wanting to jump out of it. I know I could have turned back, but I was not about to come back to the earth on the plane. I’d never hear the end of that.
So, it was my turn. Before I got to the door, my cameraman climbed out the door and moved to his left, clinging to the outside of the plane, so he could capture my exit. I moved to the doorway, with my feet on the very edge, my toes hanging over 14,500 feet of nothing. My arms were folded so I wouldn’t be
tempted able to try to hold on to the door or grab for anything (like the wing) on the way out. We rocked in and out of the plane to a count of “Ready” – “set” – “jump!”
Jumping out of the plane was perhaps the most counter-intuitive thing I’ve ever done. Given the choice between solid plane ground and nothingness, I’ll take the solid ground any time.
I rememer jumping and falling and thinking about what in the world I had gotten myself into. It took me a few seconds of falling to remember the position I was supposed to be in. It didn’t feel like falling at all. It was like floating, not touching anything, with a really really really strong wind. A few seconds later, it occured to me that I was enjoying this. At first, it was difficult to breathe, kind of like if you stick your head out the car window on the interstate. (We tested that theory on the way to skydiving…) After a few seconds, it just occured to me that it wasn’t the wind keeping me from breathing, it was me. A few deep breaths solved the problem. My instructor started waving his arm in front of my face, and I looked away from the ground for a second and was surprised to see the camera man right in front of my face. I smiled and waved a few times and was loving it.
It seemed like just a couple of seconds later that Bill stuck his arm in my face again and pointed to the altimiter to show me that we are just at 5,000 feet. I had already fallen close to two miles, and it felt like it just took an instant. I was disappointed that the fall was going to end, as hard as that is for you to believe!
He pulled the ripcord. The parachute opening was definitely a noticable occurrence. It didn’t hurt, it wasn’t sudden or shocking. It was like being stretched and being pulled from facing the earth into a standing position. It only took a couple of seconds, and it was almost completely silent. The earth still seemed incredibly far away.
My ears cleared pretty quickly, and the descent was gorgeous. Bill let me steer and we did some spirals going down and practiced landings. The canopy ride lasted around five mintues. It doesn’t occur to you just how high up you are until the last few seconds, when the ground actually starts to get close and you can see the tops of trees. We landed squarely in the middle of a pea gravel target, softly and gently. We landed standing up with just a step or two, and it was very easy.
So that’s what skydiving was like. It was incredible. And you, dear reader, need to do it as well. And I get a discount if I ever go again if I refer you….so remember who told you! :-) What a rush!