Oh 2013. What a year you were. So many adventures. So few blogs. So much catching up to do.
But where to begin? Not where I left off, In Iceland. For the first blog of the New Year we will jump ahead, to the fall…My fall…out of a plane.
October of 2013 was a month of transition. I had just moved to Portland, just started a new job, and I was still settling into the wonderful adventure that is my girlfriend, Erica. Joseph Campbell would tell me I’d reached a metaphorical jumping off point. So I thought, to hell with the metaphors.
Skydiving has always been something I’ve dreamed of doing, despite my crippling fear of high places with discernible edges. Erica had gone before, so I felt less crazy and more excited about it. It’s one of those things. Once you’ve decided that you’re going to do it, you really can’t think too much about it. Or you won’t do it. And so we will use my experience to discuss the pros and cons of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane.
So we drove out to Skydive Kapowsin on the Olympic peninsula. It was Erica’s birthday present and it was either going to be the best present ever, or the last. Erica had used this company before, and if I’m gonna strap myself to someone and fall to our deaths, they better be an expert at it. Damn it.
Pro: Nothing says I love you like spitting in death’s face together. Though spitting while skydiving isn’t recommended. Or possible.
Con: You will scream and flail like a manic child in front of said loved one. Put the ego in check.
The morning had been rainy, and as we arrived at the misty airfield there was some doubt as to if we would be able to jump at all. I would have taken it as a sign from God. But apparently, God wanted me to jump. There was a break in the clouds headed our way.
The first step in the process is the paperwork. Several pages of “Hey, you’re jumping out of a plane. Don’t get mad at us if you hurt yourself. Or Die. Sign here please.”
At this point I had my first real doubts. Maybe…I should stay on the ground? Watch my girlfriend slowly turn from a falling speck to a disappointed lonely parachute? Drive home in shamed silence?
Pro: Written proof of your bad-assery.
Con: You sign your life away. Literally. No lawyer in the world can save your paralyzed butt should something go wrong.
We were on a bit of a schedule, as the hole in the clouds could pass us by at any moment. Two gentlemen strapped us into our very fashionable jumpsuits and led us out to the airfield. These guys would be doing the hard work of actually jumping while we were strapped to them as close as politely possible. I was in a jumpsuit and goggles; my pilot was in jeans and a hoodie. Nice. Just to reassure myself, we made small talk about his experience skydiving. He counted in his head for a moment, then estimated he’d jumped roughly 18,000 times. That’s 18…with a thousand.
Pro: That’s pretty good odds right? I mean, if he sucked at it, he’d be in a body cast or a coffin by now. Expert Skydiver!
Con: This guy jumped out of a plane 18,000 separate times?! You’re crazy for jumping out once! 18,000?! Expert Crazy Person!
The cozy little prop plane buzzed up to meet us and we hopped inside. Once in, we got strapped up with our pilots. It’s a strange sensation to watch your girlfriend get strapped to another man who will soon propel them both toward the ground.
The plane sputtered toward the runway. We had reached the point of no return. I mean, I guess I could just wimp out and stay in the plane after watching Erica do it. But that still leaves the silent shamed drive home.
Outside the window the ground slowly receded beneath us. Through the clouds I could see the beautiful Olympic forest, glittering lakes, and jagged mountain peaks poking through swirling mists. I always love flying for this reason. It allows for a truly awe inspiring perspective, and somehow flying lower in a smaller plane made it feel more intimate.
Pro: Fantastic scenery that few people can truly experience. Heavenly Peace.
Con: Oh good! You get to slowly watch the stable earth fall away as you contemplate the inevitable plunge back toward it. Bet the scenery looks great at terminal velocity! Hellish Torture.
My jumper’s altimeter read 13,000 feet. We had reached the zenith of our journey. With a rusty squelch the metal door was slid open. Erica and her jumper slid out to the edge, their feet dangling over the abyss. The wind grasped at our faces and tugged on our limbs. Here’s where it gets fun.
And in an instant, they were gone. An Indiscernible speck beneath us. My jumper and I slid toward the door, and I grasped my camera with all my strength. We dangled over the edge for a moment, and then it was over. We fell.
Free fall is one of those things that’s hard to describe. I knew I would be airborne for about a minute, so I was thinking it would be over quick. It felt like an eternity. I was plummeting, swirling, tumbling helplessly to the ground. The cold air yanked the water from my eyes and crystallized the saliva in my frozen grimace. It was a terrifying rush, a nightmarish thrill. It lasted forever and was over in an instant. Remember all those horrible thoughts I told you not to think earlier? You were actually saving them. For this moment.
Con: You’ve just jumped out of a plane. 13,000 feet in the air. Your life flashes before your eyes. All your regrets, sins, joys and accomplishments zoom by you like the flocking geese you just passed. Every possible horrible thing that could happen is playing out in your head. In this moment, you know your tombstone will say “Jumped out of a plane and expected to live. Loving Son. Dutiful Boyfriend. Idiot. ”
Pro: You will never forget this moment. It is indescribable, blissful, terrible, painful, and incredible. Your death was before you, and rather than stay safe, you leapt toward it and laughed in its face. Well…you didn’t laugh because little sound comes from you as you fall. Laughing would probably just make you choke in free fall.
Then there was a quick tug, a whoosh of fabric, and the fall was over. The parachute deployed and we sailed through the clouds. The change could not have been more drastic. The wind that was screaming in my ears a moment earlier was now a quiet whisper. The world drifted below and I had no concept of gravity or distance to the ground. The world was beautiful, peaceful, and silent. I was an eagle, an angel, a god. I laughed in the face of death and gravity. And I was small, so small above the impossibly huge earth. It was perfect. This is the moment that makes it all worth it.
Pro: Never again will you feel so empowered and so humbled by the world you live in.
Con: …I got nothing. It was awesome.
The ground was fast approaching, and the bliss was starting to wear off. I remembered “oh right, I’m actually falling through the sky.” The landing was much easier than I imagined. I was thinking I might skip on the ground, maybe have to land on my rump. I landed like a flitting feather.
Verdict? Go skydiving. Do it. I mean please god do your research and book with the expert insane people. But do it. You might die when you jump out of the plane, but you’re probably more likely to die on the drive over. Especially if you’re driving from Seattle.
But really, do it. And don’t think too hard about it once you’ve signed that dotted line.
Will I do it again? Oh no. No way. No need to cross that bucket list twice. I’m good.
Thanks for reading! Till our next adventure!
Onward to Glory!