Note: I wrote this several weekends ago, but was too lazy to finish editing it and just post. I’ve had a horrible case of writer’s block lately. I really hate writer’s block.
Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve wanted to skydive. You can blame my father for this one. I loved hearing tales from both of my parents’ childhoods and young adult lives. Daddy would casually mention swimming with sea otters, spear fishing, competing in car rallies, running from bears, and, oh yes, skydiving! I couldn’t wait to have similar adventures of my own. I credit my mother with my affinity for nature, animals, and sly humor. My father gets his due for my adoration for travel, exploration, and adventures.
In high school, I made a deal with one of my best buds, my lifelong friend Robyn, to do a tandem jump. So here we are, 28 years old, and we (and Robyn’s husband, Derrick) finally fulfilled that promise. (For those who may not know, a tandem jump means an instructor is strapped to your back and does the vast majority of the maneuvering for you.)
We booked our jumps at Ridgely Airfield, located across the Bay Bridge and out in the sleepy Maryland countryside, back in the early summer of 2009. Constant rain and overcast days canceled our scheduled jumps again and again. But in the last weekend of May this year, clearer skies and our schedules finally all aligned to give us what we wanted so badly: our first jumps.
On Saturday, May 29, the sky was somewhat overcast in the morning. The jumps were delayed while the crew waited for the clouds to clear. That meant that the schedule was already behind when we arrived at 4:00 PM. We hung around with several others waiting for their turns and watched them come in for landing. Finally, at the end of the evening, it was our turn. But there wasn’t enough room in the little Cessna for all three of us plus our tandem instructors and the pilot. They could only take two of us, max, at a time. I told Robyn and her husband to go ahead – it was their anniversary, after all! Skydive Maryland’s owner, Lance, held out hope that I would still be able to jump, but by the time R. and D. finished their jump, sunset was almost upon us and it wasn’t safe. I was so bummed. I had been watching people land and talk about how great it was all day, and I was definitely primed and ready to go! Finding out I wouldn’t be able to made me unbelievably antsy, but I tried not to let it show. I told the crew I’d come back early the next morning – and of course I did. Me and my snooze button get along a little too well, so I showed up an hour later than I wanted to, but whatever.
I had some lessons Saturday, but I did them again Sunday. A jovial instructor named Bob showed me a picture of a tandem jump in progress so that I could see the proper form. He then had me lay on my stomach on what looks like a Y-shaped skateboard. In this position, students mimic the correct way to arch the back and lift up the knees when falling. I kept wanting to bend my knees rather than lift them. Bob also told me that he has done as many as eight jumps in one day.
After this lesson, I was given a cool black-and-hot-pink jumpsuit to wear over my clothes. I wore a T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers with it. This kid who jumped on Saturday wore tighter fitting sneakers with no laces. They flew off in the sky and are probably being run over by a tractor in a field right now. (I thought they were ugly shoes anyway.)
My tandem instructor, a serious guy with cool tattoos named Chris, tied all kinds of buckles and straps around me. They fit very tight, which he explained is the way they are supposed to be. He pulled and yanked on them to make sure they fit just right, then did it again, then did it again. Trust me, I appreciated his attention to safety. The pilot had pulled up the tiny plane by this point and as we headed off my heart started to thud. This was it. I was finally doing it. Chris reviewed the exit technique with me, Lance caught my thoughts on video, and we piled in.
The inside of the plane was very small; there was just enough room for the pilot, Lance (with a camera strapped to his head), Chris, and myself. Chris made sure I buckled my seatbelt. As we hurtled off down the runway, he asked me to tie my hair back a little more. As I started to do so, my stupid ponytail holder snapped! He just smiled and calmly tied it. Thankfully it didn’t break again. I stuffed my ponytail down the back of my jumpsuit, knowing full-well it wasn’t going to stay there.
The flight up took roughly 10 minutes, and I stared out the window the whole time. Halfway up, Lance turned to me with the video camera and asked how I was feeling. I wondered how he could get my response with the loud engine – Lance, Chris, and the pilot used hand signals to communicate. I felt surprisingly calm as I stared out the window to the ground below. Suddenly the plane slowed. I kneeled in front of Chris as he had instructed, and he strapped me to him as I put on my goggles. This was it. Once we were all set, Lance opened up the door and headed out. Chris stepped out onto the little ledge with his right foot. As he’d taught me, I moved my right foot next to his and turned the rest of my body in the same direction. The bird’s eye view of the ground was right below. There was no turning back – not that I’d ever entertained any thought of calling it off. I really, really, really wanted to do this! Still, I felt the first, and only, bit of fear twist my heart. I saw Lance jump backwards off the ledge (like it was nothing) and I knew it was our turn and – OH! There we went!
There was no time to even think about it! I let out this totally girly scream. The crisp wind blasted up into my face and right down my throat. I couldn’t even feel my goggles and at one point I lifted my hands up just to see what my face felt like. Ha ha! There was a feeling of super free-falling for a few moments – not long. Then we were still falling, but it no longer felt like falling – more like floating. I could see clouds not far away and the ground down below. The view was mesmerizing. Then Chris tapped me and I looked up and saw Lance not far away with the camera. I tried to smile and hold my thumbs up – the video shows I was only somewhat successful.
Lance disappeared from my vision and I heard a whoosh and felt a huge jerk upward. Of course, that meant Chris had deployed the parachute. I felt the straps around my thighs jerk hard (they are still sore, and have bruises) as we went up several feet in the air. As Chris directed the parachute towards the drop zone, I recognized the airfield and all of the planes. I began talking like Keanu Reeves in Point Break: “Whoaaa. This is so cool. This is totally awesome! Wowww.”
The parachute turned in circles a few times as we headed toward ground and it was mildly dizzying. The view was clear all across – fields, barns, houses, trees. Our landing was pretty gentle, although I don’t think I pulled my legs up enough and we fell down. A guy came out in a golf cart and picked us up. Chris said I did very well because I was super relaxed and natural. Or at least that’s what it sounded like he said; my hearing was totally off for about 20 minutes after coming in.
And that was it. The time in the sky was not long – just a few minutes. It felt like the plane ride up was longer. I was sad to leave. I wanted to go again, immediately. I can’t wait to get back for another jump, and I’m also looking forward to seeing Ridgely again. It’s a cool town.
Here are some pics. Thanks to Eric Mercado for taking these photos.
Here are some stills from the video, courtesy of Skydive Maryland. I’ll post the whole video later on. You can also see it on my Facebook page.
It’s been a boiling hot summer so far. I am gearing up for our trip to Murrells Inlet this September! I also have other surprises in store.
If you want to schedule a tandem jump at Skydive Maryland, check them out on Facebook or at their web site.