Without warning, the door of the tiny aircraft slammed up and open. The panic lasted a nanosecond. We were at 10,000 feet. Time to jump.
The slipstream screamed past the open door. It was fierce.
My daughter went first. She mouthed an unladylike expletive as she paused briefly at the open door, her eyes wide. Then she jumped. She is amazing. I’m so proud.
An hour earlier, our family had gathered at the airfield. Quite a group was assembled to witness this ‘bucket list’ jump for my 70th birthday: four daughters, their spouses/partners, families and friends: in all, nine grandchildren and twelve adults.
I was required to visit the front desk of the skydiving club and sign the usual legal disclaimer: ‘my survivors will not sue you’. Then I paid. The fee would allow me to jump out of a perfectly good aircraft. ‘Am I nuts?’ I was thinking. Just then, my daughter walked up and astounded me with: “Dad, what would you think if I jumped, too?”
I didn’t take her seriously, at first. She had enough on her plate — a nasty divorce, getting settled in new surroundings, a challenging job and a new relationship with a terrific man also dealing with an acrimonious divorce. And she suffered from a fear of heights! Was she nuts, too? Quite enough, already! I was concerned – mistakenly – she might loose heart at the last minute and embarrass herself. As it turned out, I’m the one who was embarrassed . . . for under-estimating my remarkable daughter. That day this little lady proved to her family and friends, and most importantly to herself, she’s made of sterner stuff than any of us had given her credit for.
So there we were at 10,000 feet (almost two miles high) looking for patches of blue in an otherwise overcast and rainy sky. Suddenly, the pilot of the single-engine Cessna pops up the door. My daughter was sitting on the plywood floor beside the void left by the door. Out she went. Then me.
By the time I was airborne my daughter was a distant speck against light gray billowy clouds.
We got to freefall for the first 5,000 feet. Skydivers in freefall reach terminal velocity in a blink of an eye — that’s 124 miles an hour (200 km an hour).
At first, we fell in a big arc in the direction of our jump plane, and then went straight down. Fast!
The experience is amazing.
There’s almost no sense of falling.
Except for the rushing air.
And flapping clothes . . . oh, and flapping cheeks. Don’t even try to smile!
Take look around. There are no reference points up here.
No way to gauge downward movement.
No trees or tall buildings, or power poles . . . to judge speed . . . and progress . . . as you go down!
Very, very fast!
Nor are many birds that high up, either.
And looking straight down from that height you have almost no sensation you’re hurtling toward the ground at terminal velocity. Besides, you’re much too busy, overwhelmed with the magnificent vistas all around you.
The feeling of freedom is exhilarating.
This is what it’s like to get high on getting high!
There are no apparent encumbrances.
Even the cushion of air slowing your downward progress . . . feels friendly.
Gravity must have been turned off . . . for a few seconds.
Except, there’s a constant reminder . . . air screaming past your ears.
You notice the view again . . . it’s somewhere beyond spectacular.
And no airplane windows in the way . . . or anything else.
You look around 360 degrees at all the magnificent mountains, lakes, rivers, golf courses, towns, roads and farms. The colors are stunning . . . a multitude of greens in forests and orchards and fields, and the blues and aquamarines of lakes and rivers and creeks.
The roar of the rushing air blots out almost all sounds except itself.
I tweak my outstretched fingers just slightly, like I’d been taught.
The influence on the rushing air is enough to cause a spin. Tweaking my fingers the other way reverses the spin. Amazing! What an extraordinary experience! I do it again, and again. Fun!
My daughter’s blue parachute pops open below, to the left. She’s maybe 1,500 to 2,000 feet down.
It signals our freefall is over . . . much too soon! There’s a feeling of disappointment, almost sadness.
Then my bright red parachute snaps open. The harness grabs hard at legs and arms. We’ve dropped 5,000 feet (1½ kilometers) . . . much too quickly. Yes, it’s disappointing . . . but yes admittedly also, the tug of those straps is mightily reassuring as the ground began getting closer, fast.
I grab the handles of my parachute and turn in a wide sweeping 360-degree circle. Then I pull hard on the left handle and raise the right, swinging back in a huge arc. What an extraordinary experience. I don’t want to stop. I would learn, after landing and stumbling around, that the circling had made me dizzy.
It’s no wonder birds enjoy so much being birds. Well, they seem that way most mornings.
With the parachute open, sounds can be heard again.
My gutsy daughter is just below me, squealing happily. She screams in delight all the way down to a landing precisely on the ‘X” made of white canvas strips. Unfortunately, she sprained her left ankle slightly. So caught up in the thrill of the experience she forgot the tandem instructor’s directions to raise her feet and look at the horizon while landing.
Yeah, we’re first timers. We jumped with instructors. Well worth it. They added much value to the jump with knowledge and technique that comes only from much experience.
The jump may have been on my ‘bucket list’ for my 70th birthday, but the thrill of skydiving with my daughter cranked that experience way up a whole bunch of notches.
As my daughter put it after her jump:
“Now, there’s nothing I can’t do.”
We believe her.