As I watched Mihai’s legs disappear over the edge of the open door at 13,500 ft, my instructor turned to me and asked “Are you ready?” My mind was racing, going over the waiver I signed and trying to remember the bit that said I could back out at any time. My mouth said “Yes I am”. I hate it when my mouth says stupid things like that.
When Mihai Stoiciu and I discovered we shared the same birthday in September, we decided to go skydiving together. It made perfect sense at the time. Really.
We didn’t want to do the tandem thing. We wanted control: to pull our own ripcords (a misnomer) and steer our own chutes. We took the Accelerated Free Fall Course at Jumptown in Orange, MA. Ten hours of instruction, training, and memorizing procedures. Then we got rained out and waited a day for the weather to clear. Finally, with the surprise of an accurate weather forecast, it was jump time!
After climbing to altitude and watching Mihai disappear, my two instructors and I go through the pre-jump procedure and bail out of the airplane. The mind just goes blank in the sensory overload of the sudden and bizarre world of freefall. Slicing wind. Three hundred sixty degrees of horizon all at once. Looking down at small puffy clouds. I’m in my body falling and falling. Breath.
The mind doesn’t go away for long though, thanks to the repetitive training. Going through the practiced procedures takes about 30 seconds of the 50 second freefall, after which you get about 20 more seconds to mindfully look around and appreciate the experience. Wow.
At 6,000 ft it’s time to focus on the altimeter and pull at 5,500 feet. A comfortable yank of sudden deceleration. That open canopy above your head is a blessed thing of beauty. More procedures: check the integrity of the canopy, unstow steering toggles, ascertain controllability. Then it’s a couple of minutes to just float around up there. Do some turns. Look at your legs dangle thousands of feet above the ground.
The modern parachute is essentially an inflatable glider that you fold up and strap to your back. Jump out at altitude, pull, and it inflates. You hang from this glider like a pendulum; practicing a few turns and flares, it is remarkable how far out you swing.
Playtime is over at 1,200 feet. Time to set up for approach and landing. Enter the landing pattern. Watch the altitude and your position over the ground. I’m coming down faster that I thought I would. Flare at 15 feet. How can I tell when it’s 15 feet? Flare now! I land a bit fast and slide on one knee. Total dufus. How embarrassing.
I stand up firmly on the reborn Earth and look up at small puffy clouds. Breathe.
Gather and field-pack the chute with trembling hands. Return to hanger. Try to act cool. Debrief with the instructors.
High fives with Mihai.
“We did it!”
Make plans to do it again.