Tomorrow I’m going Skydiving.
That’s not the odd part.
The odd part is that I feel relatively fine…and I’m about to jump out of a plane.
I thought I’d give a commentary as much ‘as it happens’ as possible, so am starting with the night before the jump so as to give some insight.
I have a feeling I’m about to be develop a deep and loving relationship with parachutes and meeting the ground slowly, but am also sure that a sincere freakout is on the way, at 12,000 feet.
I’m hoping that the adrenaline and sensation won’t cause me to say something stupid afterwards when asked “What’s it like?”: “Uhm. Er. I…It’s like having the fan on”
I’ve heard that you’re supposed to scream as you jump- so I’ve been thinking that I might as well sing a song on the entire way down, it’s just a matter of fixing onto which song for the journey down.
Now, it’s about 10 minutes from plane to Earth, so I’m thinking either two songs with some supreme guitar solos (‘Freedbird’ or ‘Stairway To Heaven’) or three sweet songs to help with the plummeting.
Other than that I’m pondering the following: ‘Afternoon Delight’, ‘Breath’ (Pink Floyd) and ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love’. For a 9 AM jump at this time of the summer- they should go down hopefully just as well as I do.
Other than that- all I have to do is make sure I’m wearing clean underwear (in case of post-mortem) and bid my loved ones farewell.
As I said before- I still feel fine, but have a sense I’ll be feeling distinctly unusual in about 12 hours time. I’m going to have to get up early. Maybe being sleepy will help with the fear. Sure as hell is a good way to wake up- don’t think I’ll bother with coffee.
See you tomorrow.
Day Of The Jump.
I was supposed to wake up at 6 and awoke at 5 instead.
Last night my wife asked me very nicely not to die “Please?”- I shall do my best to do as she asks, as a favour to her to be later called in.
I have bid my friends a facebook farewell and now feeling pleasantly excited about the forth-coming experience, though I am also glad that it is apparently over and done with in the grand total of 20 minutes.
There were some thoughts floating about my head in bed as I tried to sleep, thoughts reminiscing my bungee-jump from a year ago. A feeling of missing a step for about 6 seconds and, far from a scream, a deep guttural lurching sound from my depths. Not quite ‘Afternoon Delight’ as I am hoping. We shall see.
Although I am fully confident that by mid-afternoon today I will either be sipping a celebratory drink with my co-jumpers or sitting back here in my living room do much the same as I am right now…but there are still those necessary nerves that I hope will be quashed by the adrenaline I know is also soon on the way.
So, until afterwards guys…
I’ve Been Skydiving.
I feel goooooooooooooooooooood.
Feeling good with a capital ‘fuck yeah’.
Let’s run through what happened to me a few hours ago.
I arrived early at the air-field, signed in to at the front desk, was made a provisional member of the Parachute Association (“I got my provisional!”) and promptly made my way to the nearest lavatory so as to use the hell out of it. I think I lost about a kilo in there.
I was weighed and measured and told to wait for a long time- about an hour, at which point I was sent to a post-jump briefing for those first timers amongst us.
Much like the ride for a roller-coaster, this was the most terrifying part of the experience. About an hour in all went by until I was called to be suited up and to meet my professional.
The suiting up, the brief plane-ride up to 12,000 feet and being tucked up into a flying tin with a dozen other leapers was of little consequence to the experience. Aside from when the winks and handshakes began making the rounds- bringing with them about a little comradery as though we were of some fellowship bound together to return to Earth smiling and alive.
I felt fine until my pro wished me luck- which I felt a tad disconcerting. Why would I need luck when, if the worst and squishiest were to happen, that would be your responsibility and, my word, my mother would make knowledge of your name and pursue you. I didn’t tell him that.
“When you get to the rim of the door, tuck your feet under the plane and scream”
Quite an instruction, which I looked to heartily obey.
We sat with our legs out of the plane, the noise furious, the wind awakening and the view endless, we rocked back…and then forwards…
The screaming, they said (and as I discovered), was very necessary as not to do so would result in a sky’s amount of air cramming its way into your lungs as you go hurtling.
I found this to be true, only the scream I made was not a conscious effort (on my part anyway), whereas the breathing certainly was.
The sensation of the free fall (lasting about 20-25 seconds) is about as much as you can feel with the entirety of your being. You don’t think- you can only feel. Feeling is all you can do, aside from the scream. “Remember to breathe” was not a sentence uttered in my head- it was an equation grandly smashed together within my noggin which activated my nerves and made my upper-torso go: “Breath now”.
This was not just a matter of air rushing in and your lungs trying to cope with that- it’s also because you’re getting distracted by the 130mph plummet that’s happening to you right now.
You fall fast. You really do. You fall so fast you forget things, like breathing. I descended so quickly I forgot I had brown hair and am male. That is some good falling.
As I was a tandem jump- I was required to have a stern pensioner strapped to my back, whilst this same poor gent was made to wear me as a belly and crutch warmer, a lifestyle I hold very little merit in. No one told me I would have to sit on this man’s lap as though he was an armchair. He was so armchair like, he was even pleasantly leathery with reasonable wear and tear.
This man was my pro and his name was Clem- a former cabbie who was convinced by a military friend of his to jump out of a plane for charity in 1981, a thing apparently unheard of at the time. On that first jump of his, Clem immediately arranged a sudden change of career and has been doing this ever since.
“It’s a good deal safer than being a cabbie” he told me whilst winding up the parachute. “I’ve never had a knife pulled on me in this job”. I felt inclined not to change this- Clem being a lovely guy and I didn’t wish to disrupt his quality leatheriness.
Following the jump, and the immediate manner in which one attempts to explain the sensation to others, you realise just how over used superlatives are. The sensation of the fall was far beyond such now-meaningless words as ‘Amazing’ and ‘Incredible’, this being why all I can think of for it is to say perhaps “Unreal” and to encourage others to try it. As I said earlier- all you can do is feel. At 120 miles per hour. Powerful.
My throat still hurts- the fact that I could hear my own scream (and I swear I could hear myself laughing as well) means that I must have been loud and my sore throat qualifies this as likely true. It turns out that your own personal volume is surprisingly easy at 12,000 feet. Why was I laughing- some sort of jolly hysteria perhaps, but I am left to assume that this speed is just funny.
Like when you receive, with no invite, a swift shin to the bollocks and your being is screaming at you: “SAM?! ARE YOU STILL IN CONTROL BECAUSE THIS FEELS LIKE YOU’RE NOT!” and all you can do is reply: “AAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH THIS IS HUMOUROUS!”
And then Clem let loose the parachute and we slowed down incredibly and the only uncomfortable moment of the experience occurred- not the sudden grabbing action upon my testis, but the potent realisation of how fast my heart was pounding. Struggling to get one’s breath back and to allow time to process what just happened- you are bound by only one thought which cancels all worry: this is lovely. Messing about with parachutes.
Clem allowed me to steer as well- doing what are called ‘fast turns’: “Pull the right handle to turn right, turn the left handle to turn left, do not pull them both or we will crash, and don’t look directly down”.
To give an idea of the height and speed, four of these ‘fast turns’ (lasting about 5 seconds each) equated to dropping the height of Canary Wharf from top to bottom.
It was following the ‘fast turns; and now on the slow decent that Clem casually stated in my ear: “By the way, we’ve lost a highly important piece of equipment”
“Oh. Oh, okay, well it was a pleasure knowing you Clem…”
I realised that the ripple of terror throughout my being was surely lessened by the adrenaline I could still taste on my tongue, before Clem assured me the equipment was missing from the air-field only- not from us.
Upon landing and returning to the canteen the taste was stronger and I felt compelled to combat this with an orange ice-pole. At this point, with my certificate for jumping in one hand, my dripping ice-pole in the other and the enlightening sense of potential in myself and in the world made me feel as totally complete as I have in many years.
As it turns out, for future reference, I’m a jumper.
And ‘face-first’ is once more proven to be the preferable way to go about something.
On the ground Clem and I embraced, folded up the parachute, and enjoyed a brief debate about how natural this all was.
I argued that the Skydive itself was unnatural, but that skydiving was like a joke- the fear of uncertainty and shock followed by the relief of the enjoyable comfort that makes you laugh, and this was natural. That and the 130 miles per hour that happen to your face-first whilst you’re essentially just lying down, mixed with the accomplishment of curiosity- once more- a natural aspect of the dive.
Clem argued that super-markets were also unnatural and so we left it there.
“Is that the fastest I’ve ever travelled?” I asked Clem.
“Not if you’ve ever travelled in a commercial plane before, but it is the fastest you’ve travelled without mechanical assistance” he replied.
“Didn’t the plane help quite a bit in getting us up there then?”
I countered, for the sake of it really, and the debate began to ensue once more before the bus back from the field to the canteen arrived to collect us. As it turns out, squeezing an unfolded parachute into the front compartment of a bus is one of the more amusing things to watch someone attempt to do. Poor old Clem.
There we go, that should do it.
Maybe it will feel different next time, which will surely happen soon.
Thanks to Skydive Headcorn.