Sunday, June 28, 2009

How Crazy? Jumping Out of a Plane Crazy!

I've been a little scared of heights for as long as I recall. I'll experience a fight or flight response even during a movie's 10th-floor-straight-to-the-ground shot. (Watching the movie Vertigo on a big screen is an experience, let me just say.) So I've long wondered if I'd ever have the guts to jump out of a plane.

Hey, don't look at me like that: I'm not claiming that it makes the least bit of sense.

Earlier this year, for whatever reason, my wonder started to turn a bit more serious until last month, when I decided that I'd thought and wondered and fretted far too much and for far too long: I either went ahead and did it or I was a pu... er, I mean, a wuss.

So this morning, after several previous attempts were cancelled due to bad weather, I was off to Raeford Parachute Center in Raeford, NC. The area reminded me of where I grew up in rural Indiana. Quiet and peaceful (except for the meth labs and the Oxycontin robberies, of course ;-).

I got to the center experiencing a mixture of excitement and anxiety, which is pretty much the norm, I'd expect. As my tandem instructor, Tico, put it, he really wouldn't want to jump with somebody who didn't have enough sense to be at least a little nervous.

The training and prep were fairly uneventful. We were first shown a video that went on at some length about relinquishing our legal rights should we suddenly find ourselves paralyzed or splattered across someone's tobacco field. And that's fine: should I die in a skydiving accident that is due to someone else's negligence, I plan to haunt his ass to the point that he thinks the movie Poltergeist is a whimsical comedy.

Generally speaking, though, I was pretty cool up to the point of squeezing into the plane.

This was a tiny prop job carrying 18 people, if I remember correctly: there was a pilot (or I had faith that there was), six tandem teams, four photographers, and one solo skydiver. As one of the instructors said, we were so close that, in some cultures, we'd be considered married. Being squeezed in like that with the hot, stagnant air combined with the gas fumes was anything but pleasant; fortunately, however, my instructor and I were to be the 2nd tandem team out of the plane, so we were right next to the door. And it only took a couple of minutes before the plane started taxiing for takeoff, at which point the wind took care of the heat and fumes problems and I was able to relax again.

I relaxed until the first tandem team fell out of the plane, I should specify.

I've spent the better part of the afternoon telling people that I "jumped out out of a plane," but that's really not accurate. No, it really is more an act of falling. Once the first team was away, my instructor told me to slide off the bench, get my ass on the floor, scootch my way up to the door, and hang my legs over the side. At which point, I have to say that I started having second thoughts.




But there were four tandem teams behind us, so even if I'd somehow been able to convince Tico to bag the jump, it would have been a major inconvenience to move out of everyone else's way. Plus, I really didn't like the idea that I'd be the subject of object lessons and general derision at the training center for years to come. So I decided that I'd best just go with it.

Things progressed somewhat quickly from that point.

Tico told me to lean my head back, and the next thing I knew, we were out of the plane and freefalling.

My next admission is that I experienced a second or two of "What the *#&%$#@ are you doing??!!" but quickly realized that everything was out of my control for the foreseeable future. With that understood, I was able to relax and started enjoying the hell out of the ride. And it was incredible. Absolutely incredible. We'd been warned to not look down -- either look at the cameraman or at the horizon -- however, to the best of my recollection, that was the only bit of advice that I ignored: the views from 2.5 miles up are far too beautiful to ignore.

I could go on and on about the experience of freefalling, the feeling of the canopy deploying, sensation of flying, etc. And while I had a photographer recording things, I really wish I could have taken my own pictures so I might have captured the beautiful red-tailed hawk floating below us as we were approaching the drop zone. Just an incredible experience all around. The only questions in my mind now are when I do it again and if I tandem again or graduate up to accelerated freefall.


  1. Awesome it worked out and you didn't p*%% out, very cool!! Tandem sounds like the way to go if I ever decide to take the fall.

  2. Thanks for the vivid account and the photos. I'm never going to experience skydiving personally, unless I'm having a REALLY bad travel day, so I appreciate the vicarious thrill.

  3. My dear friend John - YOU are NUCKIN' FUTS!!!!! I have long come to the realization that I AM, in fact, afraid of know that queasy tightening in the 'nether regions' when looking off of a 20 story balcony? Climbing Old Rag and going beyond the platform at Seneca Rocks WV were only accomplished by following someone who'd done it before, but I STILL hated it! You're my hero....Shrill

  4. Hey John, Just wanted you to know how happy i am that you we're able to do this. Actually it was a real big suprise to learn that you had this interest. To achieve this dream and overcome a fear is to say the least, "phenomenal". Go with what makes you strong and you have my greatest respect. Hang tough brother and be safe.