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Mpls, MN, United States

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Falling

So, about that jumping out of a plane!

My DVD from Skydive Oregon arrived today,* and for any of you who may someday be forced to watch it, I'll just warn you that there's a preponderance of smiling, bobbing, and a bit of jumping up and down. I was really thrilled to skydive, albeit slightly dampened in my enthusiasm by approximately 15 pages of waivers wherein I signed away all my rights (including, for example, the rights of my next-of-kin to sue even if I were harmed or killed by deliberate negligence on the part of the company).

For a while it looked like we might not even be able to go; they will jump in partly cloudy conditions, but not through clouds or in rain. Both David and I and Paul and Ter were driving to Molalla from Portland, which was only about 45 minutes away, but a friend of Ter's who was to have gone with us decided, after calling S.O. early that morning and getting their advice, not to risk the ten-hour roundtrip from Walla Walla. It was raining when we pulled in, but by the time we'd finished our paperwork a large patch of blue sky had centered itself over the runway/landing area.

As we were in our mini-training class (proper fall position, emergency procedures, more waiver-signing, etc.) we heard a plane take off, and were out of class in time to watch the plane drop its tiny occupants and see them come floating to the ground. I got even more excited. The jumpers came out into the viewing area after they'd changed out of their jumpsuits inside, talking excitedly with the friends and family who had watched them jump. I was thrilled that we'd get to jump after all.

But, then, nothing happened. Although a large area of blue sky remained over the runway, dark clouds began to creep over the trees. It began to rain again. We discovered that despite appearances, there was another group of jumpers scheduled ahead of us. Deflated and starving, David and I decided to run to town for a bite to eat.

And then! As we were driving, S.O. called to tell us that they had just sent up a load of divers, and our group was up next! So, still unfed, but now oozing adrenaline, we turned around and drove back, arriving just in time to be called in to suit up. I was giddy.

They put us all in jumpsuits (mine was huge!), silly pointy caps with attached goggles, and gloves. As soon as the plane got back from dropping the previous group, it circled around and picked us up. Each of us sat in front of our own instructor, straddling two long, narrow benches running the length of the plane. They closed the door and we took off!

The ride up to 13,000 feet took about 15 minutes. Looking out the window, I could see a picturesque green and gold patchwork of fields and trees. At one point it occurred to me that I'd soon be dropped, plane-less, high above that vista, but the thought didn't worry me as much as I thought it might. What did finally drive that idea home was when the plane door opened and I saw Ter, strapped to her instructor, scoot to the end of the bench and then disappear over the edge, as if sucked out.

I hardly had time to ponder that, however, before it was my turn, and I was sitting in the open doorway, my legs curled under the edge of the plane and my head tilted back to look up at the sky. Apparently my instructor asked for the necessary verbal confirmation that I was ready, and apparently I gave it; I don't remember much other than the cold, rushing wind and the brilliant blue of the sky.

I've had more anxiety about far less dangerous activities, such as going off the highdive, being double-blobbed, or going down a speed slide. Each of those activities allowed plenty of time to work up nervousness, and required more of my own volition; I was responsible for launching my own trajectory.

In the plane, however, I hardly had time to think about it--and, thankfully, didn't have to take any action other than holding onto my harness and keeping my chin up. There was the cold, the wind, the brightness, and then we were tumbling over the edge, with the ground spinning below us and the air blasting our faces.

Initially, there was a huge rush, although it didn't feel, somehow, like falling: although it felt different from anything I'd ever experienced before, it seemed most similar to plunging through the water following a high dive--though louder, and, of course, drier. The pressure squeezed my head, it was difficult to breathe, and my ears began to hurt.

From 13,000 feet, freefall lasts 60 seconds, and it was a relief when my instructor opened our chute. Suddenly, everything was quieter, warmer, and--after, at his suggestion, I removed my goggles--far clearer. He spun us around to the right, my legs flying out as we whirled through the 360° view. We drifted gently down for several minutes, the green swath of the landing strip coming into view as my instructor had me practice my landing position (hands on my harness, knees bent and pulled up). The landing was gentle, although I did stagger for a few steps before regaining my balance (being unstrapped from my instructor helped!).

Hands-down, my favorite part was the post-freefall-drifting, although were I to do it again (and I'd like to!), I'd try to savor the initial plane-leaving rush. Floating was surprising in its seeming impossibility: the view was like that from an airplane, far above land, but without either its armored protection or its view obstructions. The quietness and warmth, after the buffeting of freefall, enhanced the sensation of peacefulness, and I felt completely safe and secure. Since then, I've had at least one dream about the feeling, and hope to have more.

The buzz lasted pretty much all day, though it was also mixed with a fair amount of physical exhaustion; apparently rocketing through the air at near-terminal velocity is hard work! It's a little bit expensive, but I would love to do it again, and would recommend the experience to anyone. I don't know about it bringing my life into sudden focus or causing me to rethink my priorities--but the views are incredible and the rush is unbeatable!

*Screenshots throughout taken from the DVD.

4 comments:

Nothing said...

Wow, you are brave. I don't know as though I'd have the guts to skydive, even with a professional strapped to my back. Way to go!

Curly Sue said...

Wow, that is awesome. Thanks so much for describing it. It sounds like the ultimate rush. I love the pictures!

David said...

That was so much fun. Great post.

Ern said...

I would love to do this someday.

The look on your face in ALL of these pictures is awesome. :) You clearly enjoyed the crap out of the experience!