That Time I Jumped Out of a Plane
A few weeks ago I got the chance to throw caution, and myself, to the wind. Long story short: I went skydiving.
And it was pretty freaking awesome.
It was also strangely exhausting, and a little bit nauseating.
Also, I nearly choked to death.
Describing the experiencing of going skydiving is surprisingly difficult if the person you’re talking to has never been, but I suppose I’ll do my best. And I guess I’ll do it in middle school essay format.
Introduction: Getting There and Suiting Up
Much like with other big experiences (at least the ones I’ve had) there’s a certain amount of waiting beforehand. There’s the waiting for your scheduled jump day to arrive (we booked about a month out). Then there’s the, in this case, 2-hour drive to the middle of nowhere airfield. Then there’s the sitting around waiting for your jump to happen, which is full of a serious increase in the amount of nervousness you didn’t know you felt for the act of throwing yourself out of a plane.
Once you’ve gotten used to the idea that it may never actually be your turn, you get called into a room with a dozen or so others and are made to sit through a 30-minute video where it seems like they’re doing their best to scare the absolute shit out of you. I assume because if you have been appropriately scared shitless, you weigh less. This, of course, is all to cover the company’s ass legally, because in case you didn’t already know this, jumping out of a plane two miles in the air with nothing to stop you but a large bag strapped to your back can be potentially hazardous to your health.
Then you file out, and the people you’ve been assigned to jump with strap you into a surprisingly uncomfortable harness that feels as though they’re attempting to squish your shoulders down to your groin. It’s at this point that the adrenaline starts pumping and turns most of your fear into a strong desire to act a little like a drunk frat guy at a kegger: yelling a lot, acting overly confident, possibly harboring a desire to chest bump someone. Mostly though you don’t do these things because there’s still a small part of you trying desperately not to pee yourself (I imagine this is also true of drunk frat guys).
Then you file into the plane.
Paragraph 1: The Climb (no, not that Miley Cyrus song, STOP SINGING)
Once you’re in the plane, packed in very very tightly, sitting in a stranger’s lap, while essentially straddling another, the adrenaline and fear start competing a little more. If you watch the video above, you can see my instructor attempt to talk to me at this point, and I’m much less talkative than when I was on the ground. That’s because the only thing going through my head at this point is “oh my god. oh my god. oh my god.” and I’m trying very hard not to panic.
I’m also keenly aware that there is virtually no going back at this point, but when they open the door to the plane, and the first person jumps out, the two sides of me start having an argument that went a little like:
Sane Part: You’re going to jump out of THAT?!
Crazy Part: HELL YES!
Sane Part: But that’s insane!
Crazy Part: YUP!
Sane Part: But we’ll die!
Crazy Part: Maybe, but it will be AWESOME!
And then the sane part stops talking because we’ve jumped out of the plane at this point and all it can do is scream and attempt to remember where my arms and legs are supposed to go.
Paragraph 2: The Free Fall
Once you’ve jumped, or really fallen, out of the plane, there’s a brief period of time where your brain sorta freezes up. You’ve gotten your arms and legs in the right spots, you’re pretty sure you’re breathing, and then your brain stops and sorta resets. That’s the moment it gets awesome.
Free falling is nothing like you imagine it to be. It’s about a thousand times better. It feels a little like flying, or floating, but with a lot of wind rushing by you. Your stomach doesn’t fly into your throat the way it does when you go on a roller coaster. Every part of you is moving at the exact same speed, and oddly, it feels like exactly the speed you’re supposed to be moving. You feel completely in control, even though you are probably the most out of control you’ve ever been. At once completely separate from everything, and completely one with everything. It’s like an out of body experience with the Earth, and I think the only people with more claim to that are astronauts.
Then your chute deploys and things start to get weird.
Paragraph 3: The Parachute Part
I imagine that the period after your chute deploys is better for other people. For me, it was mostly uncomfortable.
For starters (as you can see in the video), when you deploy the chute it pulls the whole harness up a bit, which for me meant I got a little choked. Luckily that lasted only a few seconds before I hoisted myself up a bit and my instructor loosened the straps.
During that time, your instructor will probably decide “hey, you paid money for this, let’s make it fun!” and they’ll start doing things like spinning you in circles and zigzagging back and forth. To most people, this is probably a blast. For me, it made me realize I probably should have informed my instructor ahead of time that I get motion sickness.
Then you start to realize that skydiving requires muscles. You need leg muscles for holding yourself up a bit in the harness so it doesn’t cut into your thighs, arm strength for pulling yourself up for the landing, and abs for lifting your legs, also for the landing. I have none of these, so my descent was several minutes of discomfort in which I tried very hard to pay attention to my instructor who was pointing out really interesting landmarks. I also tried to appreciate how beautiful and serene everything is from that altitude and without the pesky plane in the way of the view, but all I kept thinking was “I wonder how much longer I can go without losing my cool.”
And just when you think you can’t hold on any longer, it’s time to land.
Conclusion: Landing and Not Throwing Up
The landing is about as fast and blurred at the first few moments of the jump. You’re trying to remember several different things at once, where to put your legs, following instructions as they come, and trying really hard not to think about the fact that all the injuries in skydiving happen on the landing. Then as soon as you began, you’re done, sliding on your ass very ungracefully and spending a very stunned moment just sitting there, realizing you JUMPED OUT OF A PLANE.
And then it’s over. You get up, realizing slowly that your legs feel a bit like jelly, that you’re shaking with all the adrenaline coursing through your body, and trying to figure out whether you actually need to throw up, or if you just need to breathe because you weren’t doing enough of that before. And once you get your head back on straight, you just have one question:
When can I go again?