I went skydiving on Sunday. Me, who is afraid of heights. The long and winding path that lead to this
insanity adventure, started about six months ago. Photographs and video courtesy of Sabo at Freefall Adventures.
Est. 12 November 2013: I wrack my brain for a good birthday gift for Yohannes. He always gets me cool stuff. I always get him things like gloves. I want to improve my marital karma a little, and eventually I come upon the idea to get him an “experience” gift. I find a place that offers gift certificates which can be redeemed for anything from whitewater rafting to a pilot lesson. Bingo! My adventurous husband will love it! I can see it now: my marital karma rising like a phoenix form the ashes.
Est. 26 November 2013: I give Yohannes his incredible gift (certificate) and wait for his reaction. He opens it. “Oh! This looks cool! Thanks!” Then he’s back to eating his cheesecake. But…but…my KARMA!
Est. December 2013: I remind Yohannes about the gift certificate. He assures me he will figure out what he wants to use it for.
Est. January 2014: I remind Yohannes about the gift certificate. He assures me he will figure out what he wants to use it for.
Est. February 2014: I remind Yohannes about the gift certificate. He assures me he will figure out what he wants to use it for.
Est. March 2014: I remind Yohannes about the gift certificate. He assures me he will figure out what he wants to use it for.
Est. 1 April 2014: Yohannes says, “Hey, Esther! I finally looked at that gift certificate you got me. I had no idea there were so many good choices! Let’s go skydiving together!” Skydiving?! I say, “Yohannes, I love you. Of course I will go skydiving with you, but now is not a great time. Why don’t you check back with me when hell freezes over?” (In my defense, I thought he would be using that gift certificate solo, or I never would have bought it.)
Est. 2-5 April 2014: Yohannes tries to change my mind about skydiving. When I don’t, he suggests a hot air balloon ride or whitewater rafting as an alternative. I remind him about my crippling fear of heights and rushing rivers. (I guess I should be thankful they didn’t have an option that included being buried alive in a coffin filled with spiders.) I eventually begin to feel guilty that I’m shooting down everything he suggests for his birthday gift. (And on a slightly less altruistic level, it occurs to me that this would make a cool blog post!) I agree to go skydiving with Yohannes.
Est. 12 April 2014: We leave the kids with my parents. My mom makes sure we kiss them goodbye, “just in case.” My future brother-in-law says he hopes my chute opens. We drive to New Jersey, which has the closest/cheapest location for using our gift certificate, and stay in a hotel for the night. I am a little nervous, but I cope by refusing to think about skydiving. In order to help myself not think about skydiving, I google it and watch some YouTube videos about skydiving…like the one where the man’s parachute doesn’t open and he slams to the ground right in front of the camera. And the one when the man’s parachute catches on fire…so he deploys his second chute…and then runs into some power lines. They both miraculously survive, so this exercise does (miraculously) make me feel a little better. We go to sleep.
Est. 13 April 2014, 8:45 a.m.: We wake up. We need to be at the airport at 10 a.m., so we start getting ready. I realize I left my sneakers at my parents’ house, and only have a pair of slip-on shoes. We leave the hotel. I am nervous, but okay.
Est. 9:30 a.m.: Yohannes calls the skydiving center to let them know we’ll be late. They say it’s no problem. They’re pretty flexible, since they’re set up to accommodate walk-ins. We stop at Walmart. They have exactly one pair of sneakers in my size, which makes my choice pretty easy. I am nervous, but okay.
Est. 10:15 a.m.: We arrive at Freefall Adventures/Cross Keys Airport. Before registering, we are asked to watch a short video made up of commercial-like clips of a young woman preparing for her first tandem skydiving jump, cut together with a serious, heavily bearded man explaining the very real and many ways in which skydiving could lead to our deaths. The movie ends with the woman in the airplane deciding not to jump. (Very motivating.) We laugh. I am nervous, but okay.
Est. 10:30 a.m.: We register by completing a liability waiver which requires more signatures than a life insurance application (or so Yohannes tells me). He takes the opportunity to look up the skydiving fatality statistics, which makes him feel much better. He tells me that the maternal fatality rate is much higher than the skydiving fatality rate. I’ve beaten those odds, so hopefully I can beat these. As we are completing our registration, a parachuter from the most recent jump comes whizzing toward the hangar. He’s too low, going way to fast, and I can see that he’s about to smash straight into the wall. I brace myself for the impact, but it never comes. He was higher than I thought, and clears the hangar with no problem, but my adrenaline has kicked in and I’m pretty sure I can see my heart beating against my chest. I am NOT okay!
Est. 11:00 a.m.: We get harnessed up and are given instructions about tandem “jumping”. We will not actually be jumping, just tipping ourselves out of the plane until we fall. We get to “practice freefalling” by laying on a short table and crossing our arms over our chest. We get to “practice landing” by jumping off of a two-foot platform. Then the instructor explains that at a certain altitude, we need to reach back and pull the parachute cord on our instructor’s hip. What?! I did not know that I would be responsible for pulling the cord. I am going to die!
Est. 11:15 a.m.: We head over to the loading area to await our instructors, cameramen, and plane. Besides me and Yohannes, there is one other person tandem jumping with us. And since each of us “students” has an instructor and a cameraman, there are nine of us all together, plus a handful of experienced jumpers who will be doing solo jumps. This is the awkward moment when my cameraman (Sabo) tells me I might want to close a few more buttons on my shirt so that it doesn’t become indecent during freefall. My shirt doesn’t have any more buttons! I frantically start tugging and tucking it, trying to transform the modest v-neck into a turtleneck. I am going to die, and I’m going to be INDECENT when I die!
Est. 11:15 a.m.: It’s time to board the plane. There are two long benches in the back of the plane. We sit straddling the benches, my instructor (Rob) behind me, Yohannes’s cameraman in front of me. My instructor asks me to stick out two fingers. He loops an altimeter around them, and wraps the straps around my wrist. He hands me a pair of goggles to hang around my neck until we’re ready to go. Yohannes and I are on different benches, and they ask which of us would like to go first. We do rock-paper-scissors, and I win. The cameramen are joking around and taking videos. I am trying REALLY hard to hide my panic face from the camera.
Est. 11:20 a.m.: We take off. We are facing the back of a fairly small plane, so I have to lean way back and dig my feet into the floor to keep from falling toward the person in front of me. Luckily, we are packed in so tight that there really isn’t anywhere for me to go. My instructor keeps leaning forward to tell me stuff, but I can hardly hear him because the plane is so loud and I am so nervous. And then he says, “Do you want to pull the cord, or do you want me to pull it?” I hear this loud and clear, and try not to sound too relieved when I say emphatically, “You pull it!” That is a huge weight off my mind. At some point, he hooks his harness to mine, which makes me feel much safer, because from this point on, I’m attached to a man who’s attached to a parachute. The ground is getting farther and farther away, and before we know it, the solo jumpers who were sitting on the floor in front of us have exited the plane. It’s my turn. I’m trying so hard not to look terrified that I actually forget how terrified I am…sort of.
Est: 11:25 a.m.: Altitude: 14,000 ft. It’s time to jump. My cameraman heads toward the door and hangs out of it so he can get some footage of our exit. I put my goggles on, cross my arms over my chest and my instructor and I crouch/waddle toward the open door. Since the roof is too low to stand and we are attached at the shoulders and hips, this isn’t a terribly graceful process, but we only have a few feet to go. As we get close to the door, I feel myself leaning back and digging my feet into the floor again, but somehow we make it to the edge. I try to smile for the camera. My instructor leans forward, then back, then way forward.
Est: 11:26 a.m.: We are in freefall. We flip around once or twice before leveling out. The force of the wind blasting at my face is much stronger than I expected, and it makes breathing feel difficult. (The pictures and video show that the effects are similar to getting a face-lift in which the plastic surgeon decided to leave all the excess skin to flap around the sides of the face.) I think back to all my physics lectures on gravity and acceleration, and begin to feel it was a much greater simplification than I had realized to always “assume no air resistance.” My instructor taps my shoulder to let me know I can uncross my arms and spread them out. I try to smile at the cameraman who’s right in front of us, but with the wind ripping at my lips, I’m afraid it comes off as more of a snarl. The cameraman takes my hand and spins us around in the air.
Est. 11:27 a.m.: Altitude: 5,000 ft. My instructor pulls the parachute cord. We jerk suddenly and feel like we’re flying upwards as the cameraman continues to fall away from us. He pulls his chute later, so he can beat us to the ground and record our landing. The harness feels very tight, but I don’t really mind because at least I don’t feel like i’m falling out. I can’t believe the freefall is already over, but I’m relieved to be dropping at a slower rate. The instructor loosens the harness a little to prepare for landing, and then we enjoy the ride for a few minutes. He points out the hops farm near the airport that’s owned by a man with a heavy Scottish accent. He points out a golf course that people have landed in, and tells me about a woman who was furious because a skydiver ruined her golfing average.
Est. 11:30 a.m.: We circle the landing area and come in for our landing. I feel like we’re going too fast, but we really slow down in the few second before reaching the ground. My instructor tells me to put my legs forward and we slide along the grass for a few yards before coming to a stop. Altitude: 0 ft. I am on the ground, and I am okay.
When we got back to my parent’s house, the adrenaline had finally worn off and we both crashed and took naps. My muscles also started to feel sore, which surprised me, because I wouldn’t have thought you would use any muscles for just “falling”. Maybe they got pulled when the parachute opened. Naps and sore muscles aside, it was a great experience. The staff was very friendly and professional, and I felt as safe as anyone can feel when jumping out of an airplane at 14,000 feet.
Skydiving is something I have wanted to try since I was a kid and my cousin Chris convinced me that it would be amazing. But as I got older, and more afraid of heights, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do it. I’ve heard people say that a fear of heights doesn’t really come into play during skydiving, because you’re so high up that you don’t have a point of reference to let you know how high you are. This wasn’t entirely true for me. I didn’t get vertigo, like I sometimes do at great heights, but I definitely had a healthy respect for gravity throughout the whole experience. It was totally worth it, though, because my marital karma is through the roof. Your move, Yohannes.