So my first attempt at skydiving was rained out. I went down the second day and this time I actually got on the plane -- which promptly taxied back to the terminal because of rain. This was even heavier rain than the day before. Strike two. Yesterday I went down to the airfield again. No rain this time.
Now this is going to sound strange given that I used to climb buildings for a hobby, but I'm afraid of heights. Of course, because I was able to climb said buildings I think "high anxiety level" is probably a more accurate description. However, I have an adventure streak a mile wide so when the chance to skydive came up, I jumped at it.
And then I fretted for a couple of weeks. I had this vision of people gathered around my remains, a puddle of Dinty Moore beef stew with tufts of hair sticking out. I hope my fellow skydivers brought spoons. My last words would be "WHAT THE FU"
Not even time for punctuation. I'm really good at fretting. It's a talent.
So we arrive at the airfield, sign in, stand outside and watch. The skydivers are coming in to land and it's beautiful. They're having fun, laughing, and landing as gently as butterflies. No beef stew in sight. All of my anxiety drains away. I can't explain it and it's not something I expected, but I'm really excited and am looking forward to skydiving.
Eventually it's time to pull on my jumpsuit and get my harness fitted. My instructor, Milko, is very experienced and in fact, owns half the airfield. He's very good at explaining how not to die.
There's a brief snag while they hunt for goggles to fit over my glasses. My glasses aren't particularly large, but the regular goggles keep smashing them onto my face. I can't see and they have to scrounge up another pair. They still don't fit, but Milko reties them and makes them snug. Then I walk out to the truck which we'll take to the plane.
Once in the plane, skydivers go up to the front, turn around facing the back, and other divers go up and sit between their legs until you have a chain of several skydivers, looking for all the world like a bobsled team with backpacks. I scoot up next to the instructor so he can strap me in and the plane takes off.
Personally, I love flying. It used to make me feel a bit anxious, particularly in smaller planes, but I got over that a long time ago. This time it's wonderful. Plenty of windows to look out of and it's a nice warm day with big fluffy clouds to catch me when I fall. Oh, yeah, I'll be falling.
At about 11,000 feet, my instructor has me sit on his lap (this is not the time to discover you're homophobic) while he tightens the last of the straps and reviews what I'm supposed to do. I pull my goggles down over my glasses. Snap.
The strap comes off the goggles. No, there are no more goggles. It was just the cord which pulled out so my instructor quickly reties them. The thought of goggles whipping off my face as I'm falling at 120 miles per hour is not fun. (Note that the cord which pulled out is not the one he tied the first time.)
As we got to 12,500 feet, a door in the back of the plane was slid open and I watched, astonished, as skydiver after skydiver casually hopped out, as easy as if they were jumping off the back of a truck -- which, in a way, I suppose they were.
Then it was my turn. Ah, that's nice: my anxiety is back is to keep me warm. We scoot forward with my back attached to his front. It's four legs and four hands, like some lobster which has figured out the trick of walking on its back. We get to the door and I hook my legs over the side and look down. Through the clouds. To the ground. I'm going to fall two miles. An imaginary voice whispers in my ear "here, have some perspective."
I look over to the camera man, "Swoop", and try to smile but the wind catches my face, blowing my cheeks up like a balloon. Then the instructor pushes forward.
At that altitude, oxygen is considerably reduced, but the air is still quite breathable. Apparently, some novice skydivers complain that they can't breathe but this is because they hold their breath. My instructor had made it extremely clear that I should go ahead and yell and shout because this will force me to breathe. As I tumble from the plane, apparently out of control, I find myself momentarily facing upwards and see the plane grow quickly smaller. I don't know why people hold their breath. Screaming doesn't seem like such a bad idea. Milko should be grateful I've already gone to the bathroom.
After Milko rights us, I find myself looking down and the camera man swoops in front of us, smiling and waving. I give him a thumbs up and smile because at that point, it went from terror to exhiliration. I was in freefall for almost a full minute and the only disappointing thing was being tandem, knowing I couldn't play. Of course, being inexperienced, that would have been dangerous, but it would have been fun nonetheless.
Eventually Milko pops the chute and I'm surprised at how gentle it was. There wasn't much of a jerk, but then I felt my harness dig in. Ouch. This is pain we're talking about. This is not fun. My instructor has me grab some straps and stand on his feet while he readjusts the harness so I can sit. It still isn't comfortable, but it no longer hurts and I can enjoy the gentle float across the country side. I'm looking down over England, floating on a breeze. It's fantastic.
The landing is gentle, but I'm a bit dizzy and after the heavy winds drag us back a few steps, I stand up, arms out, and have trouble staying up while my body gets used to the idea of being stationary. I swagger around, head bobbing like a stupid toy in the back window of a car, looking for all the world like I have Parkinson's disease. It was one hell of a ride.
Today my arms are sore and I've a bit of a scrape where the harness dug into my thigh, but nothing serious. Would I do it again? Probably.
Note: they sent me a preliminary video, but it was rubbish compared to the one they screened in their video room. I'll be getting the proper video in about a week or so and I'll post it then.