Last summer, I jumped out of a plane.
It was fun, and scary, and it’s definitely the craziest thing I’ve ever done in my life, up to this point. I did it partly because I wanted the experience, and partly for solidarity with GhostBand. SingerDanielle made a vow as part of our KickStarter campaign that if we reached our goal, she would conquer one of her phobias and go skydiving. We did reach our goal, and when the time came, there was a group of us who thought it would be much more fun to do together. So we did. In addition to the aspect of moral support, it gave us a discount on the price. One has to be frugal, times being the way they are.
The business of skydiving is a strange one. The first time you go, you have to take a short class, and you have to sign a huge waiver that says (in no uncertain terms) that if you are injured or killed, you or your family will not hold the company liable and sue them. The waiver is insanely detailed. There’s a little box after the end of each sentence that you have to check, in order to show that you’ve read and understood every last bit of the document, and that you have no recourse. It can take half an hour to fill out the thing; it’s crazy.
Once we finished the paperwork, we stood around and waited for our class. We filed into the little room, and they told us what position to be in for our jump—lie on our stomachs with our arms and feet raised behind us—and we each had to demonstrate the position so they knew we understood. They also stressed the importance of doing exactly what the instructors, to whom we would be bound by an elaborate harness, tell us to do. If we struggle, or go against what they say, we could have problems, and that could make the instructor’s job of controlling the landing much more difficult.
When the class was over, we stood around outside and watched a number of other skydivers land, gently and effortlessly, and our nervousness abated. I actually wasn’t nervous about the skydive, surprisingly. I just thought it sounded amazing, and was looking forward to it. Certainly, once I’d seen a bunch of other neophytes land without incident, I knew we were in good hands. Finally, our turn came, and we each joined our respective instructors. We put on jumpsuits and were assigned helmets and goggles. We followed the guys to the airplane, climbed aboard, and got into position. There were six of us in the group, each with his or her own instructor, and one experienced skydiver who was jumping solo.
As the plane ascended to the requisite thirteen thousand feet, our instructors set to work harnessing us to them, so that we were essentially attached, and we could move as a single aerodynamic body. They even gave us last-minute chances to chicken out. They tapped us on the shoulder and yelled (since the plane is extremely loud), “Are you ready to jump?” to which the acceptable answers are either, “Yes,” or “No.” They have to be absolutely clear that we’re giving them permission to take us on the jump.
Suddenly, the plane came to altitude, the door slid open, and there was the sky. Right there. The experienced solo guy jumped first, followed by SingerDanielle, followed by the rest of us. Since I had been the first to board the plane, that meant I was the last to jump. My instructor tapped me on the shoulder, as all the others had to their assignees, and asked if I was ready to jump. I said yes, and we scooted awkwardly down the length of the otherwise empty bench seat until I was sitting on the edge of the open doorway. Before I could even formulate a thought, my instructor said, “GO,” and he launched us out of the plane and into free fall.
When you first jump out, you flip onto your back (like scuba divers do) and look up toward the plane, which disappears from view surprisingly quickly. You stay on your back for a short time, and then flip over and assume the arms-and-feet-raised position you’ve been taught in the class. Meanwhile, the wind is pummeling you, and the ground is rushing up at great speed. If the instructor’s parachute doesn’t open, he or she will go ahead and deploy the one on your back, which is the backup, and they won’t tell you they’re doing that, since you would almost certainly freak out up there and make the situation much worse. You know how you are.
Falling through the sky at a hundred and twenty miles an hour is not something the human body was ever designed to do, and the feeling is like no other. Every muscle in your body tenses, and you can feel a bit nauseous, but you also feel more alive than you ever have before. It takes about one minute to plummet from thirteen thousand feet down to two thousand, when the rip cord is pulled and the parachute
presumably opens. One minute is a really long time to fall, and your body doesn’t really get used to it, at least if it’s your first jump. I imagine it gets easier once you’ve done it two or three times, but the first time is. . .well, it seems so ridiculously cliché to say a ‘rush’, but that’s really what it is. You’re completely outside of human experience, and you’d better believe that your body knows it.
Near the end of my free fall, I had a bit of difficulty with my goggles, since I wore them over my glasses, and nobody told me I shouldn’t do that. [NOTE: If you wear glasses, take them off and just wear the goggles by themselves. Trust me.] My instructor could see that I was having difficulty, so he pulled the ripcord on his parachute and reined us in, while I could see the rest of the group far below me as their parachutes deployed a few seconds later. I felt a huge but not entirely uncomfortable jolt as we quickly slowed to the normal drop speed, and our bodies swayed forwards and back, a bit sickeningly (if I’m honest), as we moved into an upright sitting position, and after we settled down I was able to adjust my goggles. Since there had been a small air gap along the bottom edge, my right eye got scratched pretty badly, and I had to struggle to keep it open. I didn’t want to miss any of the experience. My instructor showed me how to turn, by having me reach up and grab the ropes on either side of us. I pulled one, and we lunged to one side. I pulled the other, and we lunged to the other side. Then it was all gentle curves and beautiful views, as we flew over the lovely Oregon countryside and headed back to the tiny airport. The instructor and I had done a quick practice landing in the air, and I had watched enough other people land that it totally made sense. I kept my legs stretched straight out in front of us, and the instructor landed us on his legs and ran us out. Easy breezy. It all went off without incident, and we were safely back on terra firma.
Our group, uh, regrouped and compared our experiences. We were all exhilerated. SingerDanielle was pretty nauseous. I was the worst for wear with the scratched eye, and I felt a bit nauseous an hour or so later, back at home. Skydiving is pretty hard on your body, but it’s an incredible experience, and I might actually do it again, especially now that I know what to expect.
FrenchSinger has also been skydiving once, and we were discussing it and wondering how often people get sick in the air. It seems like the kind of thing that would happen pretty often. We cracked up as we imagined some unsuspecting guy working in his garden or whatever, when suddenly, out of the clear blue sky—BOOSH. . .he’s drenched from above by projectile vomit.
I would recommend that you try skydiving, at least once in your life. It’s not for the faint of heart, as I like to say (usually when describing movies), but it’s an absolutely unforgettable experience. The free fall is scary, but when you’re floating gently in the air after that, it’s just sublime. The instructors are totally professional, too, and despite what the litigious waivers may say, it seems safe enough. I never felt unsafe, let’s put it that way. I felt like I was in good hands, and that we were totally in control.
Since then, I’ve heard a couple of crazy stories of mishaps, but those are definitely the exception rather than the rule. One person told us about a long-time instructor who decided to randomly go on a solo jump. He was completely in the moment, and feeling great. The only problem was that in his excitement, he’d forgotten to strap on his parachute, and no one noticed until he’d jumped out. He’d jumped so many times before that it never occurred to anyone that he wouldn’t be prepared. Whoops.
My friend’s dad jumped once, back in the days before instructors were required to go down with you on your first time. He hit his head on the foot bar on the side of the plane and knocked himself out. He came to, luckily, during free fall, and once he realized where he was and what was happening, he was able to pull the ripcord and parachute normally. But holy crap; what a story.
These days, there are lots of checks and double-checks that instructors do, and they don’t leave anything to chance. Well, except for pure excitement, I suppose, like the guy who forgot his own chute. But, I mean, come on. If I can do it, you can certainly do it. It’s awesome, and crazy, and unlike any other experience. I don’t think I’ll ever bungee-jump off a bridge, though. That’s where I draw the line.
If you’ve jumped too, what was your experience like?