Tuesday, July 8, 2008

When it’s ok to chant "JUMP... JUMP... JUMP..."

For those of you who know me well, you know my first amusement park ride was The Slingshot (This ride for an example) at Riverside Amusement Park (now Six Flags New England) when I was about thirteen. My grandmother, to this day, still laughs about that experience. From the outside, it looks tame and harmless... But from the inside, it was extremely terrifying for me.

Then there's the group of people who witnessed my first roller coaster ride -- Riverside's Black Widow Loop coaster (Wow, a pic!) my sophomore year of college. The anticipation of getting on the ride, I thought, was bad enough. I was wrong. Going forward through the loop wasn't all that bad. I had my eyes closed the entire time. Then we got shot backwards through it all (yes, I knew it was going to happen), and one moment I saw the girl's head in front of me, the next I saw sky, and I freaked OUT! I was demanding to be let out of the car, I ran down the exit ramp, and almost kissed the ground. Yes, I am a wuss!

I worked my way onto coasters... I prefer the coasters where you're hanging as opposed to sitting in a car. It's more of the way I'm built... I'm a bit long-legged to be confined into those tiny cars designed for midgets and other short people. Plus, these modern steel coasters have a much smoother ride, so I don't need a series of chiropractic adjustments afterwards. It's the thrill of being strapped to something and going from 0 to 80 in 3.2 seconds!

Now, before you think I'm off my rocker, I still haven't been on many roller coasters. I could probably count the total coaster rides I've had on my two hands (and maybe have fingers to spare). I'm not generally considered a "thrill seeker."

About four years ago, my boss went skydiving and he was talking about it as if it was the greatest thing in the world and everyone should have on their Bucket List. I never had it on my "Man, I gotta do this" list, but at the same time I never had it on my "No way in hell am I going to do this" list. So, I was begging him for the information and everything, but he never got it for me until basically my last day with them.

On 7/1 I got a text message from my chiropractor saying she needs a headcount for skydiving 7/6. Since I had a mild desire for it, I was all about "SIGN ME UP!"

I got up at 7:16 the morning of the dive. Get myself ready, and wait to be picked up. There was a bit of a problem with my ride not having her cell phone with her due to a bachelorette party she was at the night before. After we all got together, we headed down to the skydiving place. We're driving down I-75 and wondering where the flip we are (other than "somewhere between Atlanta and Macon"). We exit off at exit 201 (BFE), and head west for another like twenty-five miles (seemed like even further). After we passed through a town called "The Rock", we finally get to this REALLY TINY airport like place.

We get into SKYDIVE ATLANTA's hanger and LITERALLY sign our lives away on three separate release forms. This was when I found out I couldn't get a video because there was only one camera person for the jumps. Live and learn. Of course, I start reading through these release forms to realize what I'm signing away (not that my estate would have realized I did this, but I digress). I first found it offensive to Atheists and Buddhists (and other religions that don't believe in the one God) because they didn't cover "Acts of God". I didn't really say anything about that wording because we ARE in the Bible Belt. But, when I was signing the waiver that said my estate wouldn't sue the State of Florida, I piped up.

"Excuse me, why am I signing a waiver to not sue Florida? Last I checked we were still in Georgia." Everyone turns and looks at me with this "HUH?" look. I return with "What, am I the only one reading what I'm signing away?" The resounding return assured me I was the only one who read it. Finally the instructor explained it was the equipment release and the manufacturer is in Florida, and Florida has some of those weird laws.

I finish signing my life away and training begins. Joey was our trainer. He first asks if everyone can get on their knees. Thankfully I wasn't the one who came out with the jokes that came out of that one. He explained when we're on the plane, before we jump we'll be in that position with our tandem guy attached to our back. Then he asked if everyone could get in a squat position. We managed. we were then explained that was the position we needed to be in when we jumped. Then the important instructions came. With our toes out of the door, we would rock forward on one, rock backwards on two, then roll forward on three, and then get into the "Arch position". We then practiced the "Arch position". The easiest way to describe this was you're standing, doing a HUGE yawn stretch, but instead of your hands being extended up, they're in a "praise Jesus" position. We practiced.

Then we were told the ONLY signals we would be getting during our freefall. If our left leg was tapped, it meant get in the Arch position. If our right leg was tapped, it meant get in the Arch position. You can't hear anything during freefall.

Any questions? There weren't any (I didn't even have any stupid questions to ask, oddly enough). We were released to do whatever we wanted in the area, we just had to be immediately around when it was our turn to get suited up and jump. The group was divvied up into four groups of three jumpers each. I find out I'm in the fourth group jumping with someone named "Granim." Lovely. First I have to wait who knows how long to get into this plane and THEN I have someone who sounds like a child's nickname for their grandmother.

The first group of people get suited up and board the plane. We watch in anticipation as we watch the plane take off and disappear into a cloud in the distance. Then we wonder where we're jumping from and one of the diehards says, "The plane will circle around, and they'll jump from overhead."

"COOL!", was everyone's reaction. "We'll get to see them jump!"

We hear the plane approaching and we watch as this TEENY-TINY looking plane travels overhead. Then we see the TINIEST black speck be left behind from the plane. The first reaction I had was "That almost looks like when my molly had babies... except smaller!" We watched as these TINY specks got a little less tiny... then a little less tiny... then a little less tiny... and about a minute later, we saw little tiny parachutes that slowly got bigger and bigger. The diehard dude said that it looked like someone had to be convinced to jump because the plane had to do a second circle. Lo and behold, another tiny dot appeared.

This was where we learned that some diehard jumpers were on the plane with our Tandem peeps. The first person to land came in QUITE fast and hard. Frightened a few people (and we later learned, that was the dude that was tandeming strapped to my back... YAY). We saw the other people landing and it looked kinda fun!

There was about a twenty minute delay after the plane got back before the next group went up. Watched the plane vanish... and appear above, watched dots grow and finally deploy chutes and land.

After everyone came down, we headed back into the hangar to do absolutely nothing and Serene asks, "Are you getting nervous?"

Now, before you continue, think back and imagine what my reaction would be. Yep, that's probably what everyone else would have envisioned.

My response was "Oddly enough, no... and I have no idea why."

I really couldn't figure out why I wasn't nervous. I guess it's because skydiving is better than Six Sigma Quality. Maybe it's because I didn't have any food or anything in my system so I stopped caring. Who knows, but I appeared fine.

When the third plane is up in the air, I start talking around planning my next dive. Apparently I was already addicted before I even jumped the first time. I was accused of being addicted already. I informed them that I come from a family of addicts... and there could be worse things to be addicted to.

Everyone returns from the third trip. Still... no nervousness.

The instructors decide it's time for them to eat lunch. Not sure how I felt about that one... eating then jumping.. but I realized that if they barf, it's going to pretty much go up at terminal velocity (that idea of "If you're driving at the speed of light and turn on your headlights, what would happen?") Then I realized "All these other groups had about fifteen minutes of last minute training and instruction... WHAT AM I GOING TO GET?"

Five minutes before the plane takes off and FINALLY we're given instruction to suit up. FIVE MINUTES FOR CRIPES SAKE! So, I put on a jump suit... which is uncomfortable. Then they put me in a harness... which is uncomfortable. Then he tightens my harness... which is uncomfortable. Then I start sweating in places I shouldn't... WHICH IS UNCOMFORTABLE!

Now, let me digress for a moment. I am all for making sure I'm strapped in well. I'm the first to try to tighten my restraints when I'm on a coaster. But this was ridiculous! My extremities felt like they wanted to go numb... I felt like the harness was trying to turn me into the Hunchback of Notre Dame as tight as things got. I suppose the only comfort I got was knowing I wasn't going to move unless I was meant to move.

So, we go over the training again. Do a little practice of kneeling, squatting, and the "forward-backwards-roll" technique and finally Arch Position. He reminds me the tapping means Arch. It's time to board, so we head out.

Now's where the fun begins (yes, I know this is the part you've been waiting for).

We get in line to board this plane. It's a dual-propeller. And TINY. We were told we'd be seatbelted in. I get in the plane... and there's no seats. Of course, I have to make a comment that you can't be seatbelted without a seat. I'm told to take a seat on the floor in front of my instructor, and I do. A few others board and we close the door. The pilot taxis to the runway, with none of the usual commercial pauses, and we take off flying!

About 1500 feet in the air, they open the door. Of course, I start freaking out. I don't like flying, and I'm sure that flying with a door open is one of those "In case of emergency" situations. Then I realize what's going on.. it was friggin' hot in the plane and they opened the door to cool it off. At about 3500 feet, they close it and we prepare to get in position.

I'm released from the "floorbelt" and get into kneeling position. I then realize the walls are purple velor. How fur-bus like. My instructor attaches himself to me, and things start to set in. We go over the exit plan one final time and I breathe. The door opens again. I don't freak as much this time. We make it to our cruising altitude of 14000 feet and the plane levels off, producing what felt like 4 seconds (even though it was probably 2) of weightlessness. I FREAKED! I reached out and grabbed both walls of the plane (yes, it was THAT SMALL that I could grab both walls at one time). My instructor said "Don't worry, I won't tell anyone about this." I replied smugly, "No need. I have no problem telling everyone I'm a wuss."

The diehards on the plane jump first. I don't really remember much of seeing them exit. But I'm the first of the tandems to leave. Joy, I have NO idea what to expect.

I waddle over to the door with instructor dude attached to me. My toes are hanging over the edge. I remember "1" and I rocked forward. I remember "2" and I rocked backwards. I don't remember "3", but the next thing I DO remember is seeing the plane as I'm in one of my somersaults out of the plane. "ARCH POSITION! ARCH POSITION!" is the only thing going through my head, so I do my best to get into it and we level out, and I see something that looks like this: WAY up high

Now, nobody can really hear anything with all this wind in your face. If I had the ability to yell or scream, it would do no good. But, you physically cannot scream while falling like that. And my instructor decides he wants to do some tricks. I want to yell, "Excuse me, but I can do without these tricks and stunts" but I know it'd do no good with all the wind noise. So I decide it's in my best interest to attempt to enjoy all this chaos. My mouth is opening wide from the wind. Totally dried out. But I'm having a blast!

About 45-60 seconds of freefall, instructor dude opens the parachute. It wasn't a full jerk-motion like I expected with an inverse-wedgie. Instead, it felt more like putting on the brakes while exiting the interstate. I look at my altimeter and realize we dropped 9000 feet in that less than a minute. I'm not going to sit and do the math to determine my Terminal Velocity, but that's DAMN FAST! But, it's now totally quiet and peaceful. Very amazing. We practiced flaring a few times, which is the equivalent of "parachute brakes."

Finally, I'm allowed to steer some. Didn't really know what I was doing. Pretty much following directions. I couldn't tell how high I was. But I was taking in the view. At about 2500 feet or so, the strangest thing occurred. The temperature felt like it went from about 60 to 80 in about ten seconds. I'm enjoying everything I can, though!

Instructor dude tells me, "Now, don't anticipate the flare for the landing. You'll do it too soon and screw it up." He's the professional, so I'm listening to him. With nothing to put things in perspective, I couldn't tell how high I was. So I basically was listening for the cue to flare. Finally, he yelled to flare and I pulled as best as I could and we had a nice soft slide-landing. The first words out of my mouth were "I just jumped out of an airplane." in amazement.

Things didn't really set in at first. I suppose that happens when you're exhausted from the events. When I got home Sunday, I relived the story several times. When I went to bed, every time I relaxed to the point of falling asleep, I was reliving the moment of exiting the plane. It was friggin awesome!

If I had to pick ONE word to decide my experience, I would say "EXHILARATING!" The sensations are truly indescribable, but are very amazing. I may be sore in places I didn't realize you could be sore in, but I REALLY want to go dive again!

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