You can know anything. It's all there. You just have to find it.

-Neil Gaiman


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Freefalling - Part 4: A fall through the clouds

So we are falling, and my brain is not working.

Because my brain has short-circuited I do the thing I'm not supposed to do. I immediately take my hands off my harness and stick them out. After watching the video I realize I'm the only spazz that did this. Everyone else followed directions. About 2 seconds later I think, "Oh shit! I'm supposed to wait until he taps my arms." I really couldn't help it; it was total instinct to put my arms out. When you dive into a pool or fly pell-mell over your handlebars you put your hands out. And believe me, I've had a lot of practice doing those things.

Then I put them back, and two seconds later Gino grabs at them and I stick them out again. I do think I managed to arch enough though because as we fell forward and did a somersault into the sky we are now in the right direction - horizontal with him above me. The roar of the wind is immense; if Gino is saying something, I can't really hear him. It is also cold, but right now I'm not really noticing the cold.

What do I notice?

Directly in front of me, close enough to almost touch, is Bergie the camera guy. He is slightly below me looking up at me with a big grin. I wave my arms in front of my face and start laughing because he looks so funny, posed in a yoga bow with his hands to his side and a big lens mounted on his helmet. I'm gasping with laughter the way I do when I ride roller coasters but there is so much wind blowing into my face it's hard to breathe. There's TOO MUCH air, which sounds kind of ironic, but it makes me snort and I try to say something to the camera but I think it sounds like this:

Breeeaaahhhh Gaaacck!...Haaaaaa....Neeeeaaaaahhhh!

Or something equally poetic.

Bergie is giving me a thumbs up and I flail around like a drunk fish shaking my arms. I thought I was doing some cool moves - unfortunately I didn't have the presence of mind to do the Superman pose. When I saw myself on film, I realized that I was acting like some of the riders on the Metro Transit buses. You know, the people that no one will sit by because they are twitching and having a loud conversation... with their Styrofoam coffee cup?

Yes, I looked like one of THOSE people.

We are supposed to fall for about a minute but it only feels like a few seconds and then Gino shakes my wrists. This is the cue to grab my harness because he's going to pull the chute. I'm wondering if it will be a huge jerk and if it will hurt. Because two people fall faster than one, tandem skydivers have a drag chute they deploy a few seconds after jumping. A regular person's terminal velocity is around 120 mph, but two people falling together can jump it up to about 160 mph. This could hurt when you pull the rip cord so they use this chute to slow tandem jumpers.

Gino pulls the chute and I don't remember hearing anything, but Bergie is suddenly gone from view and we are shooting back up. It is AWESOME! This was probably the coolest part and I look up to see the parachute snapping open. Thank you Lord!

The roar of the wind is gone, but now I'm suddenly tightly squeezed; there is so much pressure from the harness that it is painful to breathe. I wasn't expecting it; when we were falling it didn't feel like falling; it felt like floating or hovering or being under water; I didn't feel the force of gravity on my body. Now I did - big time.

I hear Gino talking to me. "So how was that?" he asks.
I don't remember what I said. Wow? Cool? Weird? Awesome? It was all those things.

He pulls the cords and we spin to the right. This is where my sausage McGriddle threatens to make a comeback appearance. The spin and pressure on my chest makes me instantaneously nauseated and I hang my head forward.

"Want another spin?"
No I don't. I don't know what I managed to say but I think it sounded like, "Bluuuuuuurrrrrgh."

Gino loosens up the straps on our legs and the nausea passes. We are gliding through the sky and it is really incredible. He tells me to grab two nylon loops above me and shows me how to steer. "Pull on the left one." Then we turn left. I'm wondering how we figure out what direction to go, when I look down the land all looks the same. Then I start to see the other parachutes. Bergie shows up again and flies next to us taking more pictures.

I ask Gino many times he's jumped.
"Oh, I stopped keeping track at 13,000 or so."
"And that was back in 1991. I've been jumping for about 25 years."

I can definitely see why people get hooked on this; I have a hard time to compare it to anything I've ever done. I guess the closest experience I have would be learning to scuba dive. They are similar in that they are both dramatically foreign environments from where we spend most of our lives.

I start to see the parade of balloons making their way to a big field. I recognize the roof of the building and I see a plane come taxiing in.
"Pull down the right loop to your waist."
I do and we make a sharp right turn and suddenly we are over the cars and building and the ground is coming in close.

100 feet...
50 feet...
20 feet...
10 feet...

I have my legs raised in front of me as high as I can, so I don't interfere with Gino's landing. I'm supposed to wait till he tells me to put my feet down.

A second later he lands and says, "Okay down."
I put my feet down in front of me and it is just like I stepped down a stair. One step down. Like freaking Mary Poppins and her umbrella. It's so unbelievably gentle and easy, and I just stand on the grass wondering what just happened.

People rush in to grab me in case I were to trip or fall forward but it isn't necessary. Gino unhooks my harness and I stand there blinking in the sunlight like a newborn. Bergie has swooped in and quickly turns to film me and ask me questions. Again, because I'm so dunderstruck I sound like a robot. I suppose some people jump up and down and do a little freakout, but I just stand there and smile because I don't know how to function yet.

Again, I'm glad I got the video because it's over so quickly that I was like, "Umm...I want to go again. This time I will ENJOY it."

Back at the tandem room I get a neat little certificate to put in a frame and some stickers for my car. I look at the Accelerated Freefall class that they offer. A six-hour training class and you jump out of the plane on your own, with two instructors holding onto you. If you don't pull your chute, they will. This seems horrifyingly exciting to me. Now I feel that I could definitely jump out of the plane and pull my own ripcord, but then what?

I ask Gino, "How do you figure out how to fly your parachute down?"
"You have a little radio attached to your harness and someone telling you what to do and talking you down to the ground."
The disturbed part of my brain thinks, "Ooooooh! I want to do that!"
The rational part reminds me, "With your luck you will land in a tree, or on the highway into oncoming traffic, or into a herd of angry Holsteins."

Maybe next year.

Fifteen minutes later my video and roll of film is ready.

Well, that about sums it up for me. I really have to mention the Twin Cities Skydive again. They were completely professional and fun and I had a great experience. If you are ever thinking of doing this; I would definitely make an appointment with them.

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