I like flying, and I’m probably in an airplane a dozen or so times a year.
However, flying in a plane, and then jumping out of it, is not something I’d ever thought I’d actually do. And though I’d like to believe I’m adventurous, it took my much-more-gung-ho father to push me out the door…so to speak.
When my dad said he’d take me skydiving on my next trip home to Michigan, I sorta laughed it off. Not because I didn’t believe him, but more because if I thought about it too much, I’d start to sweat like when you’ve had too much coffee.
My dad set up the whole thing; I just had to show up. We drove about 45 minutes from home to Skydive Tecumseh in Tecumseh, MI. Our appointment was for two in the afternoon but we waited and waited around long after that, seeing tiny prop plane after tiny prop plane go up, each with a dozen or so jumpers.
Oh, and we had to sign a waiver acknowledging that we understood that skydiving could result in “serious injury or death.” Eep.
Soon, it was 4:00PM and we still hadn’t been called. Keep in mind, too, that there was no training or class involved here. My dad and I were doing separate tandem jumps, so apparently we just had to get wrapped in harnesses and the lead jumper did the rest. This lack of education unnerved me a bit, and I began thinking about life insurance and the fact that my last communication to Lance was a text message. Whoops.
Finally, just after four, my lead jumper called my name. He suited me up and asked if I was nervous.
“I’m trying not to be,” I admitted.
“I am,” he said. [WHAT?] “It’s good to be nervous.”
Okay, I thought to myself. I guess that’s true. I mean, you don’t want to get too relaxed jumping out of a plane 14,000 feet in the air. Still, even introducing the possibility of something to be nervous about was…disconcerting.
Skydive Tecumseh had two planes in constant rotation, taking up 8-10 jumpers every 20 minutes or so. These planes, while apparently brand new and customized for skydiving, were tiny as heck, and jumpers were packed in like sardines. At one point, I was actually, no-joke sitting on my lead’s lap as he hooked our harnesses together with carabiners you get as free giveaways at your local credit union.
The pilot took us about a mile out from the landing zone, and we were over two miles up. The view was great on this cloud-free day; you could see Lake Erie off in the distance.
The single jumpers opened the garage door-like panel on the side of the plane and began popping out. My dad was the first tandem jumper out, and I was the last.
Approaching the open door to plane, I was supposed to sit on my butt, wrap my legs around the underside of the plane, and then my lead would launch us out. Honestly, it all happened so fast, it was hard to think about what you were doing and how ridiculously crazy the whole thing was. WHY ARE YOU PURPOSEFULLY JUMPING OUT OF A PLANE WHEN YOUR LIFE IS NOT IN DANGER AND YOU AREN’T INFILTRATING NAZI-OCCUPIED FRANCE, YOU FOOL? is not something that goes through your mind. You just do it because your brain can’t catch up fast enough to what’s going on.
With a heave, we were out of the plane. As we curved away from the plane in freefall, we flipped upside down and all I saw was the white blur of the plane across the sky. We corrected ourselves within a few seconds and suddenly my brain snapped back into the present moment: WHAT IS GOING ON WHY AM I DOING THIS??
We were in a minute of free fall, my arms latched around my chest, the patchwork of farms zooming up at me, but too slowly. My cheeks were blowing every which way, as if I were standing in a wind tunnel. I’m glad I didn’t pay the $95 for a photographer, since it would not have been flattering.
After 60 seconds of me mouthing silently, “OMG OMG OMG,” the parachute deployed and we were jerked into a vertical position. We slowly drifted downward for another four or five minutes, my lead piloting our trajectory through dramatic, intense turns. These were actually my favorite part of the whole jump.
The whole skydiving experience didn’t seem real. It seemed crazy before climbing into the plane, but besides the few seconds when we we’re freefalling, I never felt like my life was in danger. Secured via harness to somebody else doing all of the work, the experience felt more akin to an intense ride at, say, Cedar Point, then dropping from two miles above ground. I felt very safe.
My dad has said, since his five jump five years ago, that skydiving was a life-altering experience for him. (Maybe it’s the near-death scenario that makes you take stock of your life?) Like our trip to Japan, the impact of skydiving didn’t–and hasn’t yet–hit me immediately. It was a crazy, crazy thing. And I’m glad I did it.