I’ve fallen out of a plane from 14,000 feet.
This all started about ten months ago when I reconnected with an old high school friend of mine and during the course of catching up with him he told me about sky diving. And as I listened to him I noticed the way he talked about it. He had a passion about the subject that few people ever speak with. The man loved Sky Diving. When I say he loved it, I mean that in the most literal sense. Part of his heart was devoted to this thing.
It’s different then when I say I love Bagel Bites. He loved it and it was contagious. I wanted to taste this thing that had made such a difference in my friend’s life. So I set out to do it.
So on July 13th I and my friend made the drive out to Rochelle. I put on a suit, cause that’s what I feel most confident in, and I took with me a lot of courage and all the clichés that people threw at me before going.
The clichés: Aren’t you scared, what if your parachute doesn’t open, are you crazy, be careful.
The answers: Yes. Then I’ll probably die. Not crazy just hungry for a thrill. As cautious as possible while falling 14,000 feet, sure.
It was very warm that day. Skies were clear. And the trip out to Rochelle gave me a very long hour to think about what I was about to do. But the entire time I was dead set on wanting this. I was at a place in my life where things were very static. Work was dull and there was a girl that gave me nothing but trouble but I was blind to it. Everything was just ripe to be shaken up. That and I would be lying if didn’t say to myself a few times that even if the parachutes didn’t open the world would only be losing another dull office worker.
And that thought became something that chanted over and over in my head as we went through the procedurals at the jump site. If the parachute didn’t open what would it really matter? But this isn’t a depressing thing. It’s not meant to be that at all.
The reason being that I came to understand what that chant really meant while we were waiting for the plane and for our jump times. Up to this point in my life I never really took any chances that mattered. I lived safe and for the most part safe choices got me safe results. Boring, miserable safe results. Sky Diving happened at a time when I was already starting to make changes but this became symbolic of the evolution I wanted.
The reason it didn’t matter if my parachute failed is because I would have at least made a choice. The most important choice in my life. To choose stagnation or to face fear and do something anyway. If the parachute didn’t open I would have died while in total control of my life.
That idea is addictive in a way I can’t describe. Live or die, I decided my fate. Me.
The realization stuck with me through the safety video. The video itself starts with a man telling you that you might die and why you have to sign a waiver. It stuck with me while we got our harnesses on and while I watched the packers put parachutes together. It stuck with me as we boarded the plane and during the flight up.
The flight takes about fifteen minutes to reach the 14,000 foot point. Everyone is laughing and having a good time. There’s a great man by the name of Victor there. It’s his 80th birthday and this is what he wanted to do. Amazing. Everyone is strapped to their tandem dive instructor. My guy was named Kasey and he was a blast. Much respect knuckling was done.
Then this red light goes off. The instructors start clipping hooks onto us while the pilot says we’re five minutes from drop. Still there are jokes and smiles. But you feel the reality in your stomach. Looking out the windows doesn’t help. It’s just this blanket of color. You can’t tell your high up. You can’t really make out anything.
What I’m about to say next I can’t possibly put anymore emphases on.
The door to the plane opens and you hear this noise. It’s a noise like when you open your window on the expressway but louder and filling the entire plane. It sucks all the heat right out and even though it’s July I still felt a chill. And the smell, you can smell the engine exhaust blowing in.
When the door opens it got real. But in my head the chant returned and it was so loud and so reassuring. It doesn’t matter.
We scooted along the floor following everyone out and get to the edge of the plane, my legs dangling out and my hands gripping the straps of the pack. And then we fall.
People ask all sorts of questions about this. It’s not what you think it is. I promise. My eyes were closed for the first few seconds but if they were open what I’d of seen would have been my body flipping over and the plane above me. Then the instructor lets the stabilizer out to keep us in a stead fall. It feels like nothing really. The dominant sensation is sound. It’s loud. Head out of your car window on the expressway loud. The wind hits the face too but you’re not paying attention to that.
And I never thought about the parachute. I wasn’t concerned about it opening or not because this impossible wonderful thing happens.
For sixty seconds the world is gone. There is nothing else but you and the soft green in every direction. I have to say this again because this is what my friend was in love with. It’s what has a little piece of my heart too. There is nothing else. This is your world for sixty seconds. No bills. No projects at work. No heartbreak. No anything. It’s all gone. Just you and you alone.
Then Kasey shakes my arm and I remember that’s the signal to pull the parachute cord. My hand scrambles for it but I’m only half in Kasey’s world. Most of me is still in that place. In the fall. He takes over and pulls the cord.
Almost no one pulls their first time.
There is no jerking motion like you’d expect. You’re pulled out of the place you were in by the sudden reminder that you have mass. You feel yourself again. The first moment is unpleasant compared to the weightless drop you were in.
Above you is the canopy of the parachute. Below you is the Earth and little shapes are starting to be recognizable. It’s not quite the place I was in during the fall, that awesome void, but this is a serene place too. There’s some wind. The rippling of the canopy. The feeling of your mass as the instructor steers. I tell Kasey to just do all the steering and give me a good trip down.
After the parachute opens it takes about six minutes to reach the ground. You put your feet up and land in a crouching position. It’s easy. Otherwise you slide in on your ass. The chute comes off; Kasey disconnects and grabs a new chute before running off to meet the next guy on the way to the plane again.
I meet my friend on the ground and I tell him the most truthful thing I’ve ever said to a person. That this was the best thing I’ve ever done with my life.
We laugh, we have corndogs and we head home. But this changed me. This was like a religious experience for me and I still struggle with putting it into words that do it any justice. See, trying to even talk about it diminishes the experience in a way. We live in a world where we regularly dismiss peoples’ big fish stories with a smile and a nod.
This isn’t something that there are words for. This experience lives in a dimension of the tactile and the emotional. It has to be felt not told. This was defining. This was deliberate. This was the best thing I’ve ever done.
And that’s my approach to Skydiving.
*In a future article I’ll talk about my other trips there and I’ll go into great lengths about fear. But in short, fear is an insane feeling that can hit you when you least expect it.