Trying Out: Plummeting thousands of feet and not dying (Week Thirty-One)
It is silly to suggest that I am brave enough to jump out of a plane. It courts death, is sheer lunacy, and involves a risky nature that I do not possess.
Being pushed out of a plane, however, is doable.
I have no kids, no great debts that someone else would have to take up. This year I learned that two friends, both highly intelligent, had engaged in the risky sport. If they were capable of such feats, surely it was not that foolish.
Again, with my life soon to be up in the air, I used the vast wisdom that was the internet. (There has to be some sort of thesis on how we literally put our lives in Yelp’s hands.) The first thing I looked up was the number of people that die from skydiving each year. Apparently, out of the select millions of folks that partake each year, only about twenty-four die from it. I can handle those odds.
Apparently there was a pretty great skydiving place about twenty minutes from me. It had some astonishingly high Yelp reviews. I did not know it was possible for the internet to have this many kind things to say about a company. All you have to do is not-kill people and they love you.
I looked at their prices, poked around, and booked an appointment.
The day of, I continually offered God opportunities to get me out of it. Want there to be too much traffic? No? How about if my car breaks down? Or runs out of gas? No? I am here… are we doing this? Okay then.
The only one “sign” I saw from God was an actual one. It seemed to encourage my recklessness. A billboard with a line of scripture proclaimed, “I am with you always.” I took “always” to mean “during freefall”.
If I have learned anything this year, it is that there is paperwork for everything. This is never truer than when people do not want to be sued for shoving you out of a plane.
I get it. I do. I expected as much. The eight to eleven pages would have scared off the meeker folks. I have no great fear of death, but I had a concern about my legs and my back. I could think of several scenarios where I would end up with broken legs, a fractured spine, a dislocated vertebrae; my imagination pulls its weight. Yet, I signed and signed and signed.
As I was registering and paying my fees, I asked the guy behind the desk how many deaths they had had. I was not too worried about one or two, since they have several flights a day, five days a week.
He informed me that in the sixteen years they had been in business, they had not had one fatality.
That is a pretty impressive safety record. In the last six years, they have only had one rolled ankle. Whatever concern I had at that point was more or less removed.
I went to wait with my other pushovers. We watched a ten minute video, practiced our “arches” and “leg lifts” on carpet, and were constantly reminded that this was a fun moment in our lives, not a somber one.
The staff was all rather friendly. I suspect that they have to maintain a calming and cheery presence to put the rest of us at ease. “Just another day folks, why not smile?”
There was a small child who must have just turned eighteen. There was a gal celebrating her birthday. There was a fellow who had come straight from work, complete with cowboy boots. I believe only one of our ten or so had skydived before. Clearly we were all a little nutso in the head.
We went outside, put on some flight suits, and met our instructors. I think most people had paid a little extra for the video package. Maybe if you are a repeat customer, you should start removing extravagancies. However if this is a once in a lifetime occurrence? Go for broke.
The jovial instructors harnessed us up, pausing here and there to address the GoPro cameras, and then we walked to a little plane. It was probably the equivalent of a Cessna. They had ripped out the chairs and bolted seatbelts to the floor. (We had been warned that we were all going to be nestled between the legs of the person behind us. There was mingling of crotches and butts. Oh well.) A portion of the side of the plane had been removed and replaced with a roll-up plastic. Imagine a garage door, but transparent and slightly sketchy-looking. Not as suspicious as the fact that part of the cabin interior was pulling off the ceiling; yet it was a hair suspicious.
The plane took off slowly with nineteen people inside. The fumes gave an odor to the plane rather quickly. Also, the fires in Canada were starting to get bad when I did this, so the air quality was beginning to decline. We kept getting higher and higher, gaining altitude, and the instructors kept acting like it was just another day. (Apparently, everyone that dove out of a plane in 2011 called out, “YOLO!” as they jumped. Yes, You Only Live Once. Do not yell it though.)
I wished the woman beside me happy birthday. I saw the plane finally break through the clouds. The very top of Mt. Baker greeted me. I felt calm the whole time. There was sun. There was a snow-capped mountain. The plane had not crashed. Everything was fine.
The staff showed off their lack of high-tech communicators by yelling back and forth across the cabin. “Altitude!” “Ten thousand!” “Got it! Nineteen on board!” “Copy!”
The door got closer and closer. They had opened it early because two individuals were skydiving on their own. They jumped out of their own free will. Kooks. After them, the plane hit 13,500 feet. I felt myself being unbuckled. Adjustments were made to my harness, and a disturbingly thin helmet was placed on my head. Still I was pushed closer to the door. People in front of me were disappearing from the view. My turn was coming closer and closer.
Before I knew it, there I was, sitting at the edge of a plane. My feet were dangling out into the air. Land was waaaaay below me. Half of my brain yelled out, “What are you doing!?!?!?” The other calmly replied, “Well, too late to back out now. If you die, you die.” (I will be honest; the trip to Newberg scared me more than this did.)
And that is when I was shoved out of a plane.
Now, in the instructions, they tell you had to brace your arms and legs. How to face the horizon and not the ground. How to have fun. The part that they skim over? The part that they mention for five seconds?
How to breathe. I could have used some help on that part.
We were either instructed to breathe through our mouths or breathe through our nose. I could not remember which. So I did both. I forced air out and in as much as I could, but I still had a hard time getting air into my system. (I think that is why, if you watch the video, my cheeks fluttered so much while others’ do not. I was fighting for air. And losing.)
I suppose I could have panicked. It would have been rather ironic to run out of air in my lungs when surrounded by nothing but air. Yet I was getting small amounts here or there. I told myself to enjoy the rush. When falling at one hundred and eighty to one hundred and twenty miles per hour, there is only so long a problem can last. I only had to hang in there a little bit longer.
Then the parachute opened.
It was uplifting. Really. We spend so much time with our feet on solid ground. Weightlessness is a hard feat to come by. This was a parachute pulling me up in the air with no limbs or gravity being felt. That sensation of feeling yourself fly up was euphoric. It only lasted a few seconds, but it was absolutely fantastic while it happened.
Plus, you know, I could breathe. The instructor checked in with me. He answered my questions about his favorite places to skydive. (He had done this for thirteen or so years; jumping in Europe, across America, and in thunderstorms.) He offered me the controls. I held them just long enough to seem polite. I could feel myself getting airsick as it quickly careened this was and that. Let the professionals control the one device that is slowing our descent. (I maintain that you do not put a toddler behind the wheel their first time in a car.)
As I slowly descended onto the city below, a little phrase entered my mind. It repeated itself a few times. “I’m freakin’ Batman.” Even nerds like their outdoor activities.
The technique they used to soften our landing was a legs-up approach. They like to slide into the land, not fall straight down. I lifted my legs to be perpendicular to my body. This let the instructor’s legs touch down first and he slid us onto firm ground.
Voila. They got me out of their gear, they gave me water bottle, and we all went back to our routine.
It is amazing how not-dying makes you feel around people. “Hope you had fun” and “See you next time” phrases were called out to my fellow skydivers. You survived falling to your almost-death. Why not be happy?
The first thing I did when I got home was to call my parents. I had not told anyone that I was skydiving. I pictured the scene when my emergency contacts got a phone call. “Yes, this is Philip’s brother. What? Where? He would never…. Where is this airfield?” Yeah, better not to worry folks in advance. I was reasonably sure I would be fine; no need to stress people out.
So I called Lady and Poppers and informed them of what I had just done. I expected a lecture. I expected outrage. I thought they would be upset. Nope. They laughed. They were somewhere between astonished and delighted. Go figure.
I received a text message from my sister the next day. She lives a few miles from my parents. “You did WHAT yesterday?” Nice to know I can still catch my family off guard.
Part of me wishes I was not so even-keeled. As you will soon see, there was no great reaction from me. No screaming, no cursing, no elation. I took in my current state, analyzed it, and tried to go with it. I get more excited watching The LEGO Batman Movie. I am typically glad I do not freak out much in life. Yet this was a time when it would have been nice to have some more gut-reactions.
Regardless, I was crazy enough to do something risky, something nuts; and nobody can take that away from me. Screw you logic! Take that, safety!
Normally I do not embed videos. It clogs up loading speeds. However, I think you will understand why I made an exception. And yeah, I would do it again. After all, nothing with horribly awry.
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