skydiving!

May. 5th, 2009 10:01 pm
artkoala: koala drawing (Default)
[personal profile] artkoala
This is an odd post to start my Dreamwidth existence off with, not having anything to do with art at all, but it's what I spent my weekend doing. And it's going to be way longer than anyone will probably want to read, but I'm putting it all in words for myself, mostly. Though I'm not sure it's actually possible to even get close to the experience with words, but I'm going to try.

So - on Saturday, May 2nd, I jumped out of a plane! This all started when Kimberly, one of my best friends from college, sent out an email telling us all about her first skydive, which she did in November - it was a birthday present from her husband. And she was going to go again, and did any of us want to go with her? I definitely did - I've wanted to skydive since I was sixteen, and never had the opportunity before. I'd made a deal with my mother, too, that I was allowed to skydive, but only if I didn't tell her about it until afterwards. So Kimberly made our reservations, and I claimed to be going to visit her for no particular reason.

So I drove down to visit Kimberly and Walt, and on Saturday morning, we decided that despite the threat of rain, it was worth driving two hours to the drop zone because it might not rain. We got there a bit before 1, which was when our appointment was. I have no idea why they make reservations, since we didn't do anything at all until 4:00. The weather had been bad earlier in the day, but had cleared up by the time we got there - partially cloudy, and with some wind, but no rain. There were periodic announcements about whether students were cleared to jump, depending on how windy it was. We watched people pack parachutes, practice freefall formations on the ground (like very odd choreography), and disappear into a tiny plane, only to come swooping down to earth ten minutes later, entirely unharmed. It was really fun to watch little specks fall from the sky, and then watch all the parachutes pop open. That actually did a lot to keep me from being nervous - seeing five planeloads of people go up and come back down without a single mishap.

We finally got called in to watch a training video, which went over exactly how much we'd signed our lives away on the forms we'd already turned in. And then Chuck came in to go over what we'd need to know for the actual jump - how to arch when exiting the plane, steering the canopy, and keeping your legs up on landing. Chuck was Kimberly's instructor last time, and ended up being mine this time - he was really great - very steady and competent, but also constantly cracking jokes and keeping things from getting tense.

So then we went back outside and hung out for a while longer, and then it was time to suit up. We got jumpsuits to wear, and a headgear with goggles attached. The jumpsuits are funny - they've got cloth bars attached to the outsides of the legs and arms, which give you something to grab when you do formations in freefall. Then we went out to the hangar and got harnessed up - another reassuring thing, getting firmly strapped in. (well, until we were on the plane and my shoulder straps kept slipping down my arms...) Chuck and I talked about doing a long freefall, and maybe an "unconventional exit" - as in, leaving the plane backward, but we ended up exiting sideways so the videographer (Kimberly paid for still photos, and he said he might as well take video in case she wanted it too) could film us going out.

So then, sooner than I was really ready for, Chuck said "let's go" and off we went to the plane. The door was in the side of the plane, behind the wing, and slid up like a garage door, but was transparent. There were two benches side-by-side, which you sat straddled on, so we were in the right position to hook up without having to twist around. Chuck and I were the back of our row, with Kimberly and Robert (her instructor) right beside us. The video guy, Terry, sat right in front of me so he could shoot Kimberly easily. Taking off was surreal - I've been on so many plane flights that it felt very normal, though everything was different, knowing we were going to be jumping out of the plane at 14,000 feet. I tried to watch, and the windows were lower than I'm used to - all I could see was ground until we got a good ways up. That was when I turned to Kimberly and told her it didn't feel real - that's why I could be calm, because there was no way this was actually happening. She was freaking out, and all of us tried to distract her, but I don't think any of it actually worked. It took what felt like a long time to get to altitude - somewhere around 7,000 ft it got hot in the plane, and a guy in front of me (relative front - we're all facing the back of the plane) yelled to ask if we could get some air - the guy closest to the door said "sure" and pulled the door up, which really helped, until it got cold and then they put the door back down. We also had an early jumper - it costs less if you just go to 4,000 feet, and then you don't freefall really at all, just deploy your chute immediately and have the canopy ride part. That was weird, too, having someone jump out of the plane at what felt like a random moment.

Chuck was joking around this whole time - my shoulder straps were loose, and he kept messing with them, being like "wow, now this isn't good, I mean, you could just fall right out." This actually made me feel better, because it meant he knew they were fine and I shouldn't worry about them. Then he hooked us together, and had me help pull all the straps tight - no more worries about looseness, I was very securely in - he asked me if I could breathe, and when I said yes, tightened the straps a bit more - then loosened my chest strap so I really could breathe. Once we got up to around 12,000 feet, we put on our headgear and goggles. Then Chuck found out I was ticklish, and recruited Gene (yet another tandem instructor) to help tickle me, which was really random and yet kept my mind off the whole jumping-out-of-a-plane thing for the last few moments before it was time to go. Also, unfair, as I was rather trapped at the time.

Then the next bit all happened really fast - we were at 14,000 feet, the door went up, I looked up and realized the plane was half-empty (first thought: where'd they all GO?), and Chuck was sliding us forward on the bench, we got to the door, turned around to face the front of the plane, I crossed my arms over my chest and grabbed my shoulder straps, looked at Terry one last time, Chuck said "READY. SET. ARCH" and I arched back, and we were out in the sky. I came out of the arch and tried to see the plane, but it was gone - it was all sky - we were above the clouds, so everything was white. There's none of that dropping stomach feeling you get on a roller coaster- it's like when you jump off a diving board - there's speed, but no leaving your stomach behind. We were falling, spread-eagled. It was loud, and cold, and totally amazing. The ground was so far away, the idea of being afraid of hitting it didn't even occur to me. Chuck kicked one of my feet, which made me think about my body position, and I made sure I was doing the right things - arms out, elbows bent beside my head, legs between his. (From the video, after, I found out that when we left the plane, I was twisted slightly sideways from him, so the reason he kicked my foot was to get it between his legs.) It was loud, and amazing - I wanted to keep doing it forever, and it also seemed a lot longer than I expected (55 seconds is a long time). I realized I'd forgotten to think about body position again when Chuck grabbed my wrists and bent my right arm down - we spun to the right. Re-stabilized, then we spun left. Did it again. I suddenly realized I was pointing my toes really hard, and concentrated on relaxing. I thought about looking at my altimeter, and then got distracted by Chuck pointing out a cloud, which we then fell through - hazy for a second, and then we were back out. And then Chuck pulled the cord.

Sudden jerk, sudden silence - from fast and loud to quiet and calm. We went from falling face-down to floating vertically. Chuck said "whew, it opened" which made me laugh. He checked with me to make sure my ears were okay, and had me take off my goggles. Gave me the steering toggles - well, sort of - I had the bottom loop, he had the third loop up. Told me to look up- "what do you see?" I said "our parachute - it's pretty!" (forgive me being an idiot, I'd just jumped out of a PLANE). He said "look at the corner - what about it?" I said "it's not all the way open!" (At the time, this didn't concern me at all - let's just assume the adrenaline rush was winning, okay?). He told me to pull the left toggle (the side that wasn't all the way open), and I watched it billow out and fill with air. "You just got your first parachute lesson." "COOL!" We pulled the right toggle and did a turn to the right - it took a lot more force to steer than I'd expected. He checked to make sure it wasn't making me nauseated, and I said no way, I loved spinning.

He pointed out some landmarks - the runways of the airport, each a mile long, looked tiny. We spun left and saw a huge rainstorm over towards Charlotte. We looked down at the windsock in the landing area, and he explained which way the wind was blowing and how we were upwind of the landing site, and faced us into the wind. I looked up at one point and saw Kimberly above us. Turning was fun - increased sense of speed, and wind, and control. I asked how much altitude we lost by turning, and Chuck said "a lot!" We got closer to the landing area, and Chuck pointed out our plane, coming straight towards us, though at lower altitude since it was landing. Chuck took the toggles back for landing - we did a wide left turn, I pulled my legs up, and Chuck touched the ground and said "Stand up!" and I did - no stumbling or anything, just smooth landing.

Chuck unclipped me, and sent me over to see Kimberly, who landed right after us - I went maybe two steps, then turned around and said "That was AMAZING!" and hugged him. I bet he gets that a lot, actually. Then I ran (Chuck yelled look UP! and I managed to not run into a tandem pair who were landing) over to Kimberly, who was still on the ground, having just landed. We did a final interview with Terry, and took a photo together with Robert (only regret of the day - that I didn't get Chuck into that picture).

I was pretty much euphoric for the next hour - we got out of our jumpsuits, I signed Chuck's logbook (I was something like his 2,628th tandem student). Kimberly decided to buy the video as well as the still photos, so we waited for them to edit it, hanging around for a while longer. Robert appeared with his dog Chainsaw, a 3.5 pound terrier of some sort. We watched the video, which made me realize yet again why I don't like videos of myself, but was awesome nonetheless. Robert said his exit from the plane with Kimberly was his cleanest of the day - no flips, just perfect. I don't actually know if Chuck and I did a flip, but I don't think so.

And then, right before we left, I called my parents. My dad had to go find my mom, and I wouldn't tell him anything 'til she was on the phone too. So then I got to say "guess what I did today?!" and "I went skydiving!" and my mother thanked me for keeping to our deal and not telling her 'til afterward. And my father said "oh sweet Jesus" under his breath. And repeated it every thirty seconds or so for the rest of the conversation, while my mom and I talked about what it was like.

And I have spent the last two days thinking "holy crap, I jumped out of a PLANE!" and being all euphoric all over again. It was definitely the coolest six minutes of my life.
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artkoala

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