So there I was, falling from 10,000 feet....
This makes for either 1) The worst writing prompt ever ; 2) An actual emergency; or 3) A skydiving event this weekend.
Thankfully, it was the third.
The genesis of this lies in my current employer's spot rewards program. They have contracted with a company to give employees "experiences", from something as simple as a beer tasting or art lesson to something as complex as a helicopter ride. One receives them at certain work anniversaries - I received one last year as part of my X work anniversary, which after careful deliberation was the two hour massage - and for certain noteworthy recognitions. In my case, I got another one. I had thought about skydiving the first time, but a massage to kick off the Christmas vacation sounded too good to be true. When the second reward arrived, it was as if the universe was saying "Go do it".
Okay Universe, you win.
This was the second attempt that I had made - our first attempt two weeks ago was canceled by inclement weather after we reached about 7,000 feet. To that extent I was already prepared as I had been through the pre-flight training and even going up before.
The jump team consisted of three: myself, M - my tandem jumper (he described himself as an ex-army paratrooper with a degree in Computer Engineering that realized he would rather make a living jumping -, and C, who was acting as our camera person (yes, I paid for the pictures and the video. Who knows if I am going to do this again). We pack into a small Cesna after the pre-flight video and up we go. C is next to pilot facing backwards, M sits across from her with his back the tail, and I my back is planted against the pilot's seat.
Prior to two weeks ago, it had been years since I had been up in a small plane. One forgets the noise and the fact that a small plane moves around a lot more than a jetliner. We climb up over the checkboard pattern of fields and small homes. Once or twice the video goes on and I wave and give thumbs up, otherwise I am watching us go up and up and up over about 15 minutes. We start to not only go through the clouds, but top over them.
Probably two minutes prior to the jump I kneel before M and he attaches the harness - four connections points I remember, any one of which can hold 5,000 lbs. I lean back against him. He gets closer and, yelling, reminds me that we are completely attached and he is completely in control and has me and just to enjoy the ride. I have a minute or so to digest this, then C moves to the door under the wing, pops it up and open, and then crawls out on the step above the wheel, grabbing the strut.
We move to the door, with me firmly planting my feet on the step above the wheel to prevent my feet from blowing away. I feel M get in position behind me. Am I ready, comes the call.
This was the only moment I projected I would have fear: sitting on the edge of the plane, 10,000 feet up with nothing below me. I give the thumbs up. I feel M rocking behind me. One, two...
And we are out.
We are suddenly hurtling through the air as we the plane simply slips by us - or more correctly, we slip by it. We do a complete flip over and suddenly I am upside down, looking up at the plane's fuselage as it passes over, then flipped back over facing the ground. I can hear M shouting through his helmet, bellowing celebratory hoots. I go to shout as well; not only is the sound ripped away before it can come out but my mouth becomes instantly drier than if I was sleeping with two plugged nostrils all night. I am in the initial jump position: Head back, legs curled under like a banana, both hands gripping my harness pretty tightly
The drogue chute - that little parachute you often see - deploys; we are now falling at the relatively "steady" speed of 120 mph/193 kmh. C is now besides us and extends her arms; belatedly I realize she setting up for a fist bump. I return it with the awkwardness of any 50+ year old, trying to be cool and failing miserably. She falls away as we continue to drop down, ploughing through clouds like a knife. M prompts me to release my harness and get my arms out; another round of pictures with me giving thumbs up and "Shout At The Devil" hands.
We are only about 45 seconds into the jump.
There is a moment where suddenly I feel myself falling with M. The main chute has deployed; with a start I am pulled back in.
The rush of noise has suddenly disappeared; we are floating above the mosaic we saw going up. To the North and East I can see small squalls of in the distance. The silence is complete, except for the vague blowing of air and the whistling of the folds of the parachute. The weather, hot and humid below, is pleasantly cool.
M controls our descent with two handles, one on the left and one on the right. Do I like roller coasters, he asks. When I respond in the affirmative, he pulls down hard on the right handle - suddenly we are corkscrewing wildly down to put the speed of a roller coaster to shame. I scream my lungs out, laughing all the way.
He passes the handles to me. Now I am in control of the descent. I am much less of a hurry; I slightly turn to one side and then to the other for the view. The silence continues to amaze me. I comment to M that I understand how this could be addictive. He just laughs.
At some point he asks to take back control to land us. I give the handles back; as he continues to guide us down, I just stick my arms out wide and float above the landscape.
Our landing is almost un-noteworthy: I pull my legs up and out straight in from of me as M flares the parachute; we sit down on our butts and slide about two feet. We are less than 10 feet from where we boarded.
Like that, it is over.
There is another round of pictures and quick video and then, apologizing, C and M run off as they have a line of customers eager to have their own experiences. I stroll back a little more slowly and disengage from my harness. Almost like that, the experience over - beyond the wait, the experience was perhaps 20 minutes in total, and 15 of that was climbing into the sky.
I am asked, on the video and afterwards, would I do it again. I answer yes - I am sure most people do - but I think I mean it this time. It is not because of the adrenaline rush - which is palpable, and which I feel again even as I write this. It is not for bragging rights - but those are real as well.
It is for the simple reason that, knowing that I would have that moment of fear, I went ahead and jumped anyway.
There is a philosophy of thought that states that one reason we grow old and fearful is not just because our bodies find they can no longer do certain things. It is that we reach the point that we no longer put ourselves in the position to challenge ourselves, to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations and make ourselves adapt to the circumstances. It does not have to be dangerous of course - and while skydiving is likely not for everyone, at no time did I feel that I was ever in any danger - but it does have to make us stretch. To the extent that skydiving, or any other activity makes me confront a fear or discomfort, I will do it.
Growing old, as they say, is given. Growing up to fit into that skin of growing old is completely optional. Sometimes it is just as simple as putting your feet onto the step and rolling out.