Outside of work, I’ve been checking a few things off of my life list. Yesterday, I threw myself out of a plane.
When creating my life list, skydiving was the first thing I committed to paper but one of the most difficult to imagine doing. It wasn’t necessarily the fear factor, but instead how intentional an action it was to sign up to go. I like to view my life list as a reminder to push myself in my everyday life to do and experience more. This can be seen in how many of my bucket list items are completed when I travel or in conjunction with something else. The opportunities complement and mesh with each other. Skydiving is nothing like that; no one just finds themselves strapping a parachute on and planning to fall from a plane.
Signing up was therefore a surreal experience, and to be honest I don’t think I realized the gravity of what I was doing until I was putting on a harness at the skydiving facility. My instructor, who I would be attached to during the tandem dive, was a pro named Don who alternated between skydiving in MD and FL depending on the season. He gave 30 seconds of instruction on the right pose, snapped a few pictures, then led the way to the plane.
The plane fit eight people (four groups of two strapped together) and two in the cockpit. The main body of the plane had two low benches and a large hole in one side where a door should have gone. I also noticed, once we had taxied to the end of the runway, that the ceiling seemed to be kept together with duct tape. I suppose that if there was ever a time to get into a small plane with questionable structural integrity, while wearing a parachute was the time to do so.
It took only seven minutes to reach jump altitude, and it was during this time that I really contemplated the jump. Despite the nerves, I rationed that there really only was one way down so there wasn’t much use worrying about it. It helped. Once we reached the right altitude we had to circle for several minutes to find a break in the cloud cover. Regulations determine that you can’t dive through clouds, and being above the clouds made it a very real problem.
Soon enough we found the spot and the three tandem jumpers ahead of me slid down their benches and one, two, and three were out of the plane. The last went while repeating “oh my god” over and over while her instructor laughed. With just the two of us left, Don and I slid down to the end of the bench and hung our legs out of the plane. From that vantage point with the wind rushing by, two miles up seemed like an awful lot more. Everything below was a patchwork of green between white clouds. Then, with only the slightest nudge forward, we fell.
We spun over for a moment and I caught of a glimpse of the plane we had just exited speeding away. It got farther away and smaller as we flipped to face the ground. As we rushed towards the earth at 120mph free-fall, my brain kept coming back to the fact that I was thousands of feet in the air, just falling. There was nothing slowing me down at that moment, and nothing near me in the sky. The wind was so strong past my ears that I couldn’t hear myself shout and my face was pressed back by the wind. My heart racing, Don tapped my shoulder and I threw my hands out. I don’t know how long it lasted, but an eternity later Don pulled a cord and with a jerk our descent became a glide instead of a plummet.
With the parachute opened, we gracefully circled towards the ground under Don’s control. I had the chance to take in the Maryland countryside and watch as little dots formed themselves into buildings and cars. We were moving at a slow enough speed that Don could point out a few things on the ground and wheel us around in circles. Several minutes later, Don expertly piloted us to a soft landing on our feet in a grass field next to the airstrip, and just like that, I was earthbound again.
The whole experience was amazing, and I can understand the thrill that leads people to skydive regularly. Don also mentioned that to jump solo instead of tandem only required a 6-8 hour course. Maybe something to look into for another day! This time was enough to cross it off the life list.