The skydiving extravaganza
posted by Jen on 11/02/01
There were about a dozen reasons why I shouldn't have gone. My parachute might have failed. My reserve parachute might have failed. I could have broken my leg on the landing. It cost about $185.00 for an experience that lasted less than 20 minutes. I've already gone once before, how much different could this experience be? Besides, the skydiving ranch was about an hour's drive from the city. Every bit of logic told me to just stick around my apartment and find something safer to do.
So when Mark called me on Wednesday night to see if I would be interested in going skydiving with him, all of those excuses came to mind. Why not just tell him I might have to work on Sunday? Why not just tell him I was too nervous and maybe could we take a rain check. As all these thoughts were going through my head, I heard myself tell him, "Of course I'll go with you."
To give a little background on Mark: this is a guy who used to race motorcycles for a living. He is also an accomplished skier, a great snowboarder and well, a certified skydiver. To give a little background on Jen: look at a box of thumb tacks. Imagine the personality in each of those tacks. I might be a little more exciting than some of those tacks, but not much. I've only gone skydiving one time before this, but the whole point of me going, sadly, was to spite a friend who said I wouldn't be able to go through with it. Sometimes, I sit back and look at the pathetic things I do just to make a point, and I shed a tear for myself. My idea of thrill seeking is trying out a new bar or running outside instead of at the gym. It's sad, but if you talk to me on a Monday, and ask how my weekend was, I could probably tell you the same thing every time. Went to a few bars in my neighborhood. Went to the gym in the morning. Hooked up with a few boys, got me some ass, you know how it is. Wrote in my diary. Totally just kidding about that last part, I don't even own a diary.
Jen, did I ever tell you how funny your jokes are?!
Really, you mean it?
NO, you're not funny at all, actually.
What my attempt at humor is supposed to demonstrate to you is two-fold. One, I really don't explore what life has to offer too much outside of New York City. It's not even that I'm scared to do it or anything, I just find so many excuses that prevent me from making an effort. Two, I was going skydiving with someone who I really didn't know that well, and would probably severely disappoint when he discovered how lame I was. I pictured arriving at this skydiving ranch and being intimidated by all these cool, daredevil-type people, who would take one look at my preppy turtleneck and black pants and automatically peg me as a high-maintenance chic who had no business being there that day. Well, I couldn't have been more wrong.
We got to the ranch and everyone there immediately waved us over and invited us into their conversation. I didn't even know these people, and we were like insta-best friends. All of the people in the circle had gone skydiving before at least one hundred times (Mark had gone 125 times) and some of them competed in national skydiving competitions. As Mark said, skydivers are probably the happiest, most laid-back people around. It was so funny to come from the city, where everyone is always rushing around, running to get to work, running to the grocery store, running to the dry cleaners and then running back home. Always, always in a rush even if they don't have a significant thing to do that day. In contrast, everyone at this ranch was just completely chill, walking around in a relaxed pace, wearing a little contented smile and a pair of wind pants, patiently waiting to get back up in the sky for another dive. It was honestly the nicest break from the city I could find.
After sitting down and watching the instructional video and filling out what may have been 20 pages of paperwork, I made an interesting connection. In front of the video monitor was an actual grim reaper doll. Now, I don't know who the prankster was who put that there, but after the guy in the video talked about 4 people dying every month, I got a little nervous. Why would a place of business, a place that is well aware of the dangerous reputation it has, try and create more anxiety within its customers? Strange. Another interesting thing of note, the guy in the video was the same guy who did the video at the skydiving place I went to in New Jersey. It was pretty easy to remember, the guy honestly had a three-foot long beard. I remember looking at the beard and wondering, did he strap that beard on just for the comedic value, or was it a real beard? I didn't see any strings or anything, but how could anyone grow a three-foot long beard? Also, is this his only gig? Instructional videos for skydiving ranches, or does he do videos for all "ex-treme activities"? I'm not trying to be funny, I'm just curious.
Anyway, after literally signing my life away and putting on this humongous orange suit (yeah, I'm glad I'm the loser who struggled to find the perfect outfit the night before), we were ready to get on the plane. I decided to throw in the extra $75 for the video and photography. If I was jumping out of a plane over two miles high, I wanted some documentation, for the readers of course.
I think the plane ride may have been the scariest part of the whole experience. Because my gut was already churning with the idea of jumping out of this plane, and looking out the window to see us climbing higher and higher up only gave me more anxiety. My instructor, Andrei, was a pretty interesting character. He just strapped an altimeter on my arm and, as we were about to jump out said, "By the way, you'll have to take a look at this, and when you see the line hit 6, you'll pull the cord to release the parachute." I started laughing and said, "No seriously, you're pulling the cord, right?" He looked at me deadpan and said, "Of course not. All students are responsible for pulling the cord when it's time to land." He gave me what may have been a one-minute instruction on what else to do as we were about 10 seconds from jumping off the plane. It was then I started honestly freaking out. In my video, you can actually see me saying "Shit, shit, shit!" over and over again. Which made it that much more classy when I got back to Mark's house and his parents watched the video.
Yeah, Mark, you really picked a winner this time. Well done, son.
Anyway, as I told Andrei, "I'm probably going to be too nervous to jump out myself, so just give me a little nudge. Andrei had absolutely no qualms about full-on kicking my ass out of the plane. Andrei also thought it would be a good idea to do a back-flip upon exiting, which might have been fun for me if I knew what was happening at the time. I had no idea of what was going on or what my surroundings were, I just saw white light and the plane fading away. And then, everything in my brain changed at that very second. Suddenly, I was facing downward, shooting toward the ground at the most intense speed, and feeling more overjoyed than I ever felt in my life. As my ears filled with pressure and I couldn't hear a thing but the crisp cold wind rushing past me, I almost blacked out with sheer happiness. I could barely open my mouth, because the wind pressure was causing the skin on my face to curl around my ears. My whole body was completely weightless and relaxed; I felt totally in control of my arms and legs, but completely powerless to where the wind would take me.
In the video, you just see my instructor behind me, waving his arms around, and me with an enormous grin plastered across my face. My videographer somehow positioned himself directly below us and got footage of every spin, turn and twist Andrei had us doing. It was great having the videographer there, because he got me to pretend I was swimming and doing really cheesy things like giving two thumbs up and making fake muscles and stuff. I was doing this dorky breaststroke, making all of these tough girl, dumb faces and doing the stupid things I would never do in public. For about 60 seconds, I just didn't give a damn about anything but the odd rush of being higher up than the rest of the world. The sky never looked so beautiful, or I guess it's as beautiful as it's always been, I've just never looked beyond the skyscrapers to notice it. We were coasting over the most brightly-colored purple rolling hills that seemed to stretch on for miles. It felt like, just for those 60 seconds, that we were really, actually flying. I know it sounds pretty cheesy, but that's the only way I can describe it - like strapping on wings and actually flying. At that speed, and with that scenery extending every way you look, you honestly can't feel anything but absolute euphoria. In fact, I was so wrapped up in joy that I completely forgot to check my altimeter or pull my cord for that matter. I guess all the instructors are prepared for dumb students.
Andrei pulled the cord and all of a sudden we were upright and I was holding the handles on the parachute, steering us all over the landscape. Tugging the cords lets you control the parachute completely, pulling yourself wherever you want to go. While most people think the ride is over as soon as the parachute goes up, I had almost as much fun with the parachute extended as I did during the free-fall. Because instead of plummeting along at 100 or 200 miles a second, you could sort of coast along and take in the whole scene. Andrei tried to talk to me, but I was just so overcome with emotion, I could barely speak. I was simply dumbfounded by the incredible experience I just had - and I'm already planning my next trip.
If you've never been skydiving before, walk -- no -- run to the nearest skydiving ranch near you. How is that for marketing propaganda? Yeah, pretty bad - I guess that’s why I just got laid off from my marketing job. Seriously, if you've never been skydiving before, just go. I'm sure you can come up with your own list of reasons not to try it out, the cost probably being one of the more significant ones. But the beauty of skydiving is, the cost goes down each time you go. And after you've gone 8 times, you can get certified and just pay $15 per jump. So stop coming up with reasons not to go, and give it a try.
If you're in the NYC area, try: THISAsk for Andrei, he's a little crazy, but a lot of fun.Try this for a comprehensive listing of skydiving drop zones too.