|Inspired by recent events...|
by Bryan Golder
Published with permission
I wake up early in the morning hours, feeling slightly ill, but it is not a virus. It is my brain; my reason; my sanity making a last feeble attempt to divert me away from the possible future of becoming a small squishy spot in the middle of a field.
The attempt fails. I rise and drive to the airport. At the airport, I am roped, suited, harnessed, packed, pulled, and slapped. No, this is not an excerpt from Penthouse Forum. It's just yours truly being clothed with all of the equipment necessary for the jump (I made up the slapped part for dramatic purposes).
The plane takes off with me in it. This is the worst part of the experience every time. There is nothing like the ride up before the fall. Waaaayy too much time to think about things like: My chute - inspected by a guy who seemed a bit distracted and upset about his wife not coming home last night... The pilot - who apparently doesn't see very well... The plane - which looks and sounds like something they decided it would be best not to use during World War I... Life - which inexplicably puts me in these sorts of situations...
The only thing that makes it all better is that there are usually one or two beginners on board who have never jumped before. This is a keen time for me to turn to one of the more experienced skydivers on the plane and loudly discuss "that one time" we both thought we were going to die. Amusement at its finest. The pasty and pallid expressions of the first-timers is nearly funny enough to chase away the butterflies. We revel in their misery and fear to distract ourselves from Sanity, which is voicing one final appeal before packing her luggage.
Before I know it, the time has once again arrived to do the proverbial jump from a problem-free airplane. I check my altimeter for an accurate reading, turn to my partner, and check his chute harness and clips. He does likewise to me.
The harnesses and clips that connect the chute to my body are capable of withstanding a load of 160,000 pounds. It's a nice number...one that is comforting to mention to myself a few times as I stare out the door of that perfectly functional airplane towards the ground two and half miles below. I'm not gonna die because my clips can hold 160,000 pounds...I'm not gonna die cuz... Meanwhile, Sanity has just made hasty arrangements for a one-way ticket out of the country.
The moment is here. I stand and move on shaky legs towards the exit at the rear of the airplane. This is the part of the procedure that everyone agrees should be executed quickly (before your legs get a chance to run in the opposite direction), and there is usually a jump supervisor nearby to provide compassionate support in the form of a firm push if anyone should move too slowly. I arrive at the hatch and grab the support rail above it, feeling my skin try to crawl off my body and back to safety at the front of the plane.
The ground is so far away, and there is so much empty space between it and me. I linger for no more than a moment...and then... ONE!!! TWO!!! THREE!!! Aurghgapprgkqrwuharhhguh!! I've found that the easiest way to learn to pronounce difficult syllables in a primitive language is to practice them as I jump from an airplane. Sanity is now relaxing on a beach far, far away and sipping something with an umbrella in it until further notice. Please leave a message after the beep.
The free fall is an intense, almost "out-of-body" experience. You are almost completely weightless. The only thing that you can feel is the friction of the air passing you at 120 to 160 miles per hour, depending upon the position of your body. You keep your mouth closed, so the air doesn't rush in and burn the walls of your throat. Unlike the fifteen minute long free falls that take place in movies such as Point Break, you are very short on time here in reality. Falling two miles takes less than one minute, providing none of the time required to catch the bad guy, kill him, save the girl, and make love to her briefly before landing safely on the ground with your hair still looking really good.
The more relaxed and aware you are once you are out of the plane, the better. You don't want to miss a precious second of what is happening to you. It is a magnificent experience to behold! Look around! Do a few turns! A little swoop! Flap your arms! You're a bird! You're a plane! A fax just sent from Sanity indicates you're a "raving lunatic!" You glance at the altimeter on your wrist which - thanks to the forethought of some really bright people - was calibrated to read altitude above ground level as opposed to sea level, which if you think about it, is actually a really good idea. When it reads somewhere between 3500 to 4000 feet make a little mental note that this is an ideal time to release your parachute. This is also an ideal time to highlight, underline, circle, and draw a couple of asterisks around a particularly relevant issue for men who find themselves in this situation.
Recall when we were discussing the part about being roped, harnessed, and packed. Well, one of the things you should be very careful to pack properly (besides the parachute) is, without further adieu, and getting right to the point, and all modesty aside, your testicles. You definitely want to dwell on these little details (pun intended) and make sure they are carefully pre-positioned in such a manner that when the main chute opens and decreases your speed from 120mph to practically zero in less than 3 seconds, thereby pulling tightly the two harnesses that crisscross between your legs, you are not crushing flat those items which prefer to remain relatively round and free from exposure to violent external pressure.
But this is hardly the time to consider such matters. Now is the time to complete the task written on the aforementioned mental note. This is important. Once this task is complete your parachute should be, according to everything they tell you, open. If it isn't, well then, "Damnit," they say, "it should be." A quick glance upwards (or down for that matter) reveals whether or not they were telling the truth.
The intense part is over (or shall be momentarily if the chute failed to open). Now, completely the opposite of the loud, fast, and insane experience of free falling, is the gentle ride down in the parachute. Unlike the free fall, the ride to the ground in the chute is perfectly quiet and inspiringly peaceful; completely calm. The only sound you hear is the occasional flutter of the edges of your parachute. The view is better than anything short of a trip in the Space Shuttle. You are so relaxed and at peace (and grateful to still be alive) that you could take a nice nap at this point.
But of course, that's not why we do these things to ourselves. So instead, you pull down hard on the ropes attached to the left side of your chute's sails, and go into a spiraling dive to the left at 40 miles an hour! This is what it's all about! Three thousand feet left below you to practice 360's! And when, inevitably, the ground makes its final approach, and if the wind is just right, you can touch down so gently that you could land on an egg (treated with a thin coat of Kevlar) without breaking it.
Sanity, despite all her threats, comes back to you in a couple of days.
For more stories see pages