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Sunday, May 9, 2010

101: Skydiving (aka - Whose Idea Was This?)

Another day, another 101 List item achieved!

Last weekend, we headed to East Texas to tackle one of my particularly nervy list items: skydiving. Jumping from a plane was something I put on my list because I have a particular fear of falling. What better way to deal with a fear than to face it, head-on?

Our Good Friend John had been given a skydive as a Christmas present (does he have a great wife, or what?). We scrounged enough cash to surprise him by jumping as well.

When The Boy and I pulled up next to the hanger, we spied a very windblown guy. Hey - he looks like Kris Kristofferson, I said. I hope I get to jump with him! Turns out "Kris" was Lee, our tandem master/instructor. And he was definitely the guy we were going to jump with.

Lee sat us down and gave a quick run-through of what to expect. We wouldn't feel like we were falling. We wouldn't be able to perceive how high we were - so no fear of heights. We wouldn't be able to mess up and ruin the jump. We were going to have fun.

Even though messing up wasn't a concern, there were a couple of things we needed to learn. First, we had to learn how to put our bodies into an arch and position our arms for the free fall. Lee demonstrated, then had us show our form. Easy.

Second, we had to learn how to exit the plane. Clip together, scooch forward on your knees (without using your hands - the wind would catch them), left hand on the doorway, right foot out onto the body, arms crossed in front of the chest, 1-2-3...go!

When jumping tandem, the tandem master wears the chute, the newbie wears a harness. A very close-fitting room for modesty when the team is suiting you up.

Christmas present boy went first. He's an adrenaline junkie and landed, pumped up and exhilarated. I'll bet he would have hopped on the plane and jumped immediately again - solo - if he could have.

The Boy went second. After the 1-2-3...go, the newbie's job is to arch and position the hands, just like we practiced. The Boy was picture-perfect.

I love this photo! Lee told us that everyone smiles the entire time they're jumping. In retrospect, I wonder if this is the body's instinctive reaction to the feeling of free-falling. Or maybe it's just knowing there's a guy free-falling near you with a camera.

We jumped from 10,000 ft. And Lee was right - you have no concept of how high you are, so you don't really feel as though you're falling (even though he told us we were falling at 120 mph!). The only hint that you're pretty high is that you can see the curvature of the Earth.

At 5,000 ft., Lee pulls the chute cord and the canopy ride begins.

Lee adjusts the harness straps (giving you plenty of warning so you don't think he's cutting you loose!), so you move from an arch position into a seated position for more comfort.

Two-three minutes later, you're on the ground. The Boy obviously had a great time - he's ready to train solo with our Good Friend John.

Then, it was my turn. By the way, I hadn't mentioned how small the plane was...a one-seater.

I'd not really felt nervous during the several hour wait. But when we reached 6,000 ft. on our climb, I looked at Lee and shouted, I'm feeling nervous now. I know there's nothing to be done about that now, but I just wanted you to know.

Lee was really super. He told me that I'd do great - it would be an easy jump and I'd love every minute of it. Somehow, that did make me feel better. Though from this photo, at 9,900 ft., I can see see the uncertainty on my face. I'm pretty sure I was thinking that adding skydiving to my 101 List was pretty stupid.

Then, Lee said it was time to prepare. I turned around and we clipped together. We started scooching forward. Suddenly, the engine cut off. It was time to go.
The door opened and the photographer was out - clinging to the wing. The sound of the wind was intense. Loud, powerful. I suddenly wasn't afraid of falling, or of the jump. I was afraid of being sucked out of the plane. Seeing Lee's hand securely on my shoulder reminds me of how great he was at keeping me calm.

1-2-3 and we went! It didn't feel like jumping. It didn't feel like falling. It didn't feel like being on a roller coaster. No stomach drop, no wave of terror. It felt like...floating. The kind of feeling you get when floating in the ocean, bumping and buffeting about in the waves. Only the current was the wind.

It was seriously windy - I thought the wind was going to beat me to death. So that's kind of where the ocean analogy ends. The Boy mentioned that floating in the ocean is pleasant and the water is kind. Free falling is work and the wind is most definitely not kind.

But yes, I did smile the whole time.

The canopy ride was lovely. I've always loved to stare out the plane's window at the ground below. The world becomes like a pretty scale model and it's easy to forget the pollution, traffic, stress and noise of the ground. Under the parachute, you understand why eagles like to soar.

Then all-t00-soon it's ground rapidly approaching, legs out and a quick slow-down. It's back to reality.

While we were waiting on the ground crew to unhitch us, Lee asked me what I thought of the experience. I told him I had a great time - in fact, I said, I thought I was going to scream when we jumped but I'm really pleased that I was able to hold it in.

Actually, Lee said, you didn't. I was chagrined, but he assured me, Don't worry. Most people scream. I think it's the body's response to the feeling of total exhilaration. I think he's right. At least, that's the story I'm sticking with!

So, yes, skydiving was fun. But, as I told the ground crew and our group, I was very happy to have skydived and feel no need to do it again. I'll blame it on corkscrew #3 on the way down and the overabundance of adrenaline that made me feel a little nauseous.

Another 101 down, another wouldn't-have-missed-it-for-anything experience and another reminder that fear is best faced head-on. 1-2-3...GO!


  1. Great pix! Glad #1 is accomplished and now history.

  2. Those are crazy-amazing pictures!

  3. Awesome pics. Good for you.