Monday, July 16, 2007

You never forget your first time / Leap of Faith / How does the Gnome DO it?!

So, rather than a pithy intro to this, it's a longer one (as is the whole post). It's for all of those who might care about the continuing storrrry of a woman separated from her husband. (I'm really getting old - I don't remember the reference for that.) Anyhoo, so at the end of last weekend, my husband and I had verbally mutually agreed to live by these terms we had both written up for moving forward (slate is wiped clean, will communicate more, will have fun, etc., though much more articulately written). So I wrote him friendly emails Monday, blah blah. I heard little to nothing from him either via email or by phone until Thursday morning. I think by Tuesday evening, I in my head said fook you, I'm not keeping my weekend free for you. And since I mentioned earlier that I was interested in flying again, I decided to go skydiving this past weekend. If a gnome could do it, so could I...

I kind of knew what I was getting into because around 10 years ago I went tandem. I thought at the time that was fine for me, in part because the guy I was attached to almost made me vomit with flying the chute at sharp angles. And it's so expensive. But then I saw the buzzards flying recently, and I remembered what it was like to fly when I went hanggliding, and decided that I needed to skydive again, but this time with me 'totally' in control. I was actually more interested in the part after the chute opens, but of course, I wanted to learn it all, and duh, you need to also.

So driving there, I played relaxing music but when I saw the airport, I wondered what the hell I was doing. There were 4 other students in my class - two women and two men. The two woman paid up front for the entire certification ($3,000-ish), and the guys and I just paid for the first level. We and our heirs signed all the requisite forms, and we got started. I thought it was a little funny that the first instructor we had uses a wheelchair. Here's what can happen to you boys and girls! But that was just a mild passing thought, as he, like all the other instructors conveyed information in a clear and repetitive way. (Repetition is the key to learning in a one day course!)

Once we finished the class at 1:30-2:00 ish, we sat around and waited. If you are doing Accelerated Free Fall as this class was, you can't jump when winds are above 15 mph, and it was gusting regularly to that, and several huge dust devils had sprung up earlier. So you get to sit and watch the tandem jumpers go up and come down with huge smiles on their faces, and watch the videographers scream down from the sky to land running, watch the parachute packers pack chutes, watch the videographer spin in circles out back to record footage for the videos, watch the skydive teams practice exiting the 'plane' and then go do tricks up high, shooting out like fireworks to separate from each other enough to open chutes... All of that is very interesting, but after 3.5-4 hours, you just want to get the damn thing over with!

So, it ended up that the winds weren't going to die down, and I left to come back the next morning. I was first on the roster - wee ha! And so I had to do the juggling I always have to do when climbing - eat enough to maintain myself, but not too much so that I barf if I feel queasy. Drink enough to be hydrated, but not so much that I'll have to pee 10 minutes later. And wait until the last possible second to pee. So, got all my gear, got suited up, and headed to the plane to jump on my own. NOT. You have two people surrounding you the entire time approaching the plane to when you pull your chute.

I was impressed with the numerous safety checks throughout the whole process up to the jump. A necessary thing when doing things like climbing and scuba diving, but also very reassuring. The plane I was in had two benches and people straddle the bench one in front of the other - sandwiched. I thought it most appropriate that there was a sticker on the wall near me - the universal symbol of 'do not do this' (circle with a line through it) over a person-like figure with gas coming out of its butt. In the morning I can follow this pretty easily, but woe to those around me after lunch and in the evening. (Better living through Beano.)

I liked how they get you used to looking at your altimeter on the way up. 'Tell me when it's 3,000 feet, etc.' And they tried to show me where the landing zone was from the airplane... But anyway, at 13,500 the door opens and people start pouring out. Thankfully I know how to get into the zone or else I may have been petrified. And thankfully I could ignore one of the guys' earlier comments that they as a team had finally worked out their kinks jumping with such students as me, so if anything went wrong it would be my fault. Just kidding...

Anyway, so you stand there, check in and out, and then 'ready''set' JUMP. Holy crap. What a weird sensation. It felt like I was going feet first and I have no idea how I got into the arch you need to freefall - I guess that's why there are two guys on either side? It certainly is a leap of faith that the two instructors will get you through it all. Mistake #1 was not looking up enough when I jumped, so I didn't arch quite enough. I checked my altimeter like you are supposed to, told altitude left and right, and then started my butt checks (actually, you're reaching for the chute handle so you know where it is). Then I get a signal in my face and I know it means something but I can't process it quickly enough - and I get another signal which means to do three good butt checks and I'm still trying to process the first signal! And falling falling falling falling.... So anyway, I straightened my legs with some assistance (first signal), did three butt checks (second signal), checked altimeter and it was already at 7,000 feet!

A pause in the story to say when they do class on the ground, and you are going through the whole process to the point of pulling the chute, they make it seem like you can go reallllly slowly (relatively), and have a couple thousand feet to hang out. HA! THAT'S CRAP! In reality, if it's not a perfect perfect jump, before you know it you have to pull the chute out.

Anyway I think I had a few seconds to look down and see the ground coming up - so weird! - and then it was 6,000 feet when you keep looking at the altimeter, and then 5,500 when you have to pull. I still had a little problem finding the pull thingie (the practice fanny packs have the cord much higher than the one on my chute, so my muscle memory messed me up) so I had to be guided and then it was out and I was 'stopped'.

My chute opened up fine and then I had to deal with queasiness while I tried to find the landing area. They have an arial view of the drop zone and they go over the most likely landing pattern and the landmarks, and I saw NOTHING of that. Well, turns out I was facing the wrong direction. The guy on the ground guided me via radio and I followed the pattern almost perfectly. It's amazing how fast you are still falling - I thought there's no way I'd be down far enough to land where I was supposed to, but 1,000 feet, and 600 feet, and 300 feet came quickly. And an almost perfect landing - woo hoo! It's not that quiet with the chute - it's flapping in the breeze and stuff, so definitely not the same experience as hanggliding. But interesting nonetheless.

So, they said I did a good job, and all I could think of was what I could have done better. I said I wanted it to be perfect, which I did. But in reality, that cannot happen, and you have to flow with the mistakes...and learn from them. So, I may need to go one more time...

Oh, I kind of busted one of the guys' bubble on the ground. He, being the addicted skydiver that he is, said that he tells his students that it's the best experience you will ever have, and people agree, don't you? Well, I told him that it actually ranked pretty equally with hanggliding. Should I not have told the truth? I felt a little bad, but it was the truth.

But, I must admit, I lied to my mom. I'm certainly going to hell. But it was for a good reason! I talked to her Saturday morning to help distract myself, and she asked if I was going climbing, and I said yes. OK, well have a great time! I think it's pretty damn funny though that she's all fine with me going rock climbing, another dangerous sport.

So, that was most of my weekend. I think I remember every single little detail of the jump, and though you may think I wrote down every single little detail, I didn't. I've already been writing over an hour, and it's time to do some work!

Oh, but wait, the Gnome - how the hell can a short stumpy Gnome skydive well?


Ivo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Susan said...

Wow. I'm impressed and insanely terrified all at once by your post. I feel queasy.

NoRegrets said...

Tandem is way different and easier. You should do it!

My brother read my account and wrote this:

I think I remember every single little detail of the jump, and though
you may think I wrote down every single little detail, I didn't.

What - the part about wetting your pants?

NO, I did NOT wet my pants!

Susan said...

Ahhhh brothers. Classy. Simply classy.

Gyuss Baaltar said...


NoRegrets said...

From my mom, direct quote:

Oh, Good Holy Lord!

Gyuss Baaltar said...

your mom has used that kind of language in my presence, but it was a totally different context.

NoRegrets said...

Sick gnome-go amuse yourself. I heard gnomes are like dogs. BTW, you need to see the movie Harold and Maude.