Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Laura goes Skydiving

My friend Laura, whom I've known for about 20 years or so, went skydiving on her 50th birthday this past weekend. This is her account of the experience. Excellent!

Skydiving Extravaganzara
by Laura Ramnarace

I thought I wouldn’t have to know anything about skydiving since I’d just be a lump of luggage strapped to a real-life skydiver but it turns out that they like to give the co-jumper a chance to pull the parachute chord if they want. And they want you to cooperate with the needs of the situation, such as aerodynamics, the instructor’s desire not to break any body parts, etc. Before I went skydiving my friend Uma told me a story about a person who went tandem skydiving and the instructor had a heart attack on the way down. So it was greatly comforting to me when right off the bat they explained how I could deploy the parachute if I should want to.

Dave’s instructor kept reading stories aloud from a book on tandem skydiving disasters. Like the one where the videographer forgot to put on a parachute when jumping. Another guy kept circling us with a worried expression and exclaiming, “Jump out of an airplane!? I’d NEVER do THAT!” Skydiver humor no doubt.

Using a plane on the ground for illustration purposes we were shown how we would sit in the plane, how we would get into position and be lashed onto our instructor’s front, how we would then stick our feet out the open doorway at about 10,000 feet elevation, how we needed to arch our backs during freefall and how we would have to tuck our knees up during landing so we didn’t trip our instructor and cause us to face-plant me into the ground with my instructor landing on top.

Our plane looked like a stripped down two-seater with one seat pulled out. No paneling, just metal with thick pads on the floor, and seatbelts. But I was cool on the way up. Chatted with the instructor, Kelly, about his experiences, his day job etc. Turns out Kelly is an internet security specialist when he’s not skydiving. When I asked him how fragile our infrastructure systems are he said, “Depends on who you ask.” I said, “I’m asking you.” He looked away, out the window, and said, “Too fragile.”

After about 20 minutes or so we reached jumping altitude. As instructed, I unbuckled myself and positioned myself facing the videographer who was on his knees with his back smoothed up against the windshield and next to the pilot. Kelly came up behind me and buckled me onto him at four points: two lashing my shoulders to his chest, and two cinching our hips so tightly I thought I could feel his man parts. My friend Dave, who also jumped, said at this point in the process he commented to his instructor that they should consider re-naming their outfit “Brokeback Sky Diving.” His comment was not appreciated.

Next, Kelly OPENED THE DOOR TO THE AIRPLANE. Now I know this is what has to happen in order to skydive but suddenly every cell in my body screamed that this was an absolutely INSANE thing to do! What the hell?!! You don’t open an airplane door when it’s in the sky!! Then the videographer STEPPED OUT OF THE PLANE exacerbating my alarm. He stepped out and stood on…. something. I still don’t know what he was standing on or why he didn’t just fly away right then. Despite my overwhelming panic, my hour of training kicked in and I obediently turned myself to face the open doorway. Kelly, firmly strapped to my ass, brought himself around and placed one foot onto the step that sticks out the wrong way from the plane. In training I had learned to place both my feet together in front of his but when I tried to do this my feet blew to the side and flapped in the wind. In the film of my jump the heroic videographer has a nice shot of me screaming at this point, “OH MY GOD!! My feet are blowing off!” with a completely UNCOOL look on my face.

Anyway, somehow Kelly got us set properly, my feet miraculously in their designated position. He patiently peeled my hands from the frame of the airplane and placed them on my shoulder straps as described in my training. Suddenly he yelled, “Ready… set… GO!!!” and abruptly launched us both belly down into the abyss. I found out later that we had reached 141 miles per hour during free fall. It’s really hard to hear anything with wind rushing at you at that speed and even with the goggles the ground was just a brown blur. And it suddenly was incredibly cold. I felt my fingers go numb almost instantly and had the momentary thought that I might get frostbite if we didn’t slow down soon. But time stood still so I had now way to know what “soon” could mean.

I heard the beeping of the altimeter in my helmet telling me it was time to pull the parachute chord. As instructed I put my left hand to the top of my head, put my right hand to the chord at my waist and PULLED! POP! Up we came, suddenly upright and I heard the vertebrae from my shoulder blades up pop like I was getting an extra-vigorous chiropractic adjustment. It felt good. Then everything went silent, slow and easy. It didn’t feel like we were falling, but more like we were floating around the sky. Incredible peacefulness. Nothing but this one moment existed or could ever exist. Kelly showed me how to turn us in spirals, and I did. Wheee!! When I came into range I yelled at my friends waiting for us on the ground. “Hi you guys!” and “Hey I’m 50!” Not so clever, but fun.
We executed a textbook smooth “butt-landing” into the soft, plowed dirt of the landing field they had for just this purpose. Three days later I’m still carrying with me a bit of that peace I experienced up there. I hope to keep at least some of it for the rest of my days.

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