I Jumped Out of a Plane

That’s right.  I jumped, out of a fucking plane.

During my teenage years, I decided skydiving would be one of the things I would do soon after turning 18.  Then 18 hit, and I didn’t have the cash, the people, or the drive to do it anymore.  So at the age of 26, I’d almost forgotten about it completely until my friend and old roommate had his 27th birthday.

Reed is afraid of heights.  That being said, for some bizarre reason, Reed decided to jump out of a small, rickety airplane at 14,500 feet for his birthday.  Kudos to him.  Ben is also afraid of heights I suppose, but hadn’t really come to terms with this realization until plummeting through the air at 120 mph.

Well, lets start at the beginning.  Out of the many people polled to come along and do this with us, due to factors such as price and general wimpiness, the final tally was Reed, his girlfriend Rachel, and me.   We met up at Skydive Midwest around 11 AM and I thought we were going to be jumping into a class, onto the plane, and then out of the plane.  Nope.  Hours of waiting lay ahead of us.  Eventually, we get called up for our “training” class.  The class mainly consists of the instructor popping in a DVD of really experienced skydivers doing crazy shit like jumping out of a plane in a raft, flying through hoops, doing acrobatic routines, or performing King Lear in midair (ok, I made that last one up).   The point of showing us this DVD is to impress upon us how “cool” it would be if we shelled out the $2,250 or so to get a skydiving license through them.  That fee would entail around 25 jumps or so, and ground school.    Even though I know I don’t have that kind of cash and know I’m being pitched, I have to admit it is tempting.  Once you have your license you can pretty much jump solo anywhere in the world and do it for about $25 a jump.  Anyhow, its worth mentioning that you can also get your license by doing the required kinds of jumps and training while paying one jump at a time.

Moving on… after the “time share” portion of our training is over, the instructor goes onto to the actual training part.  Here’s what you need to remember:

  1. When you get up to that open door and are fastened to your tandem jumper: toe up to the line and cross your arms across your chest.  This is to prevent you from grabbing the sides of the open door and resist falling out, like any rational person is bound to do when facing an open door with no railing at 14,500 feet.  You are also to crouch forward a bit as the door is not very tall, and fall out with them when THEY push out
  2. Once falling put your arms out and kick your legs back up to minimize wind resistance.  This seems to be the easiest position for a stable fall
  3. When landing, lift your feet up so that your tandem jumper lands first, then put your feet down or just land on your ass.  Otherwise you will land while they’re still flying,  resulting in a poor landing experience for all parties involved.

Ok.  So more hours of waiting,  then its time.  Our tandem jumpers get us suited up and we are led onto the plane.  The tandem jumpers are fucking around, joking with each other: “Geez I shouldn’t have drank so much last night, my head’s all fuzzy,” or “I shouldn’t have taken all those painkillers a few hours ago” etc.  The plane starts climbing.  I start laughing trying to let it push out the fear.  Then they open the door all the way, and we are at the proper height for the jump.  My heart starts pounding as the first person is led up to the edge and, 1..2..3.. bam, falls out of the plane.    Upon their exiting, we feel the whole plane move and sway.  There is not much time to react as everyone follows fairly quickly.  A solo jumper gets outside on the edge of the plane and jumps along with the next pair.   One after the other, Rachel and Reed in their turn toe up to the door and fall out, fairly textbook.

I’m the last in line and its my turn.  My guy starts edging us forward along the bench we’re on(there’s not much room on the plane) and all of a sudden I’m stuck.  I see that my boot has gotten caught around a seat belt on the ground.  My tandem partner can’t hear me too well at this altitude with the door open so I’m sure he thinks I’m just freaking out.  Eventually I manage to communicate that I’m stuck and we both get my foot loose.  Having something go wrong so close to my jump leaves me a little rattled as I shakingly toe up to the door and instinctively put my hands on either side of it.  Dammit, broke rule #1.  Luckily I don’t have to be corrected, realizing fairly quickly what I’ve done, and I tuck my arms across my chest and crouch over.  Before I know it, I’m falling out of the plane and completely forget rule #2.  I think my arms are still across my chest and I feel us get flipped around, looking upwards almost immediately after falling out of the plane.  I feel the guy use his leg to flip us back over and then remember that I need to play a part in our survival.  I put out my arms and legs like I’m supposed to and notice that it doesn’t feel like falling anymore.

When jumping out of a plane, if you’re able to even keep your wits about you in the beginning, it will only feel like you’re falling for the first few seconds.  There are several reasons for this:

  1. Your body has never experienced falling for longer than a couple seconds, much less a solid minute of free fall, and has nothing with which to compare the experience.
  2. As you’re falling you eventually reach speeds of 120 mph and the wind actually has a strong, physical presence.
  3. The ground does not appear to be getting closer.

Number 3 above, I think confuses a lot of people, because despite being told not to waste time staring at the ground, you can’t help but expect to be making more visual progress as you’re plummeting towards the earth.  You get no real “ground rush” when freefalling because the height you are falling from is so high that the ground does not really appear to be getting closer.  By the point you would actually get a “ground rush” kind of sensation, it likely means your parachute has not opened and its too late.

So, I fall.  And for me it seems like a long time.  I start laughing and enjoying myself, but then survival instinct kicks in and I think about whether its time to pull the chute or not.  Ultimately, I remember my tandem jumper hasn’t indicated its time yet and so try to look around instead.  Knowing that you are falling about 9,000 feet through the air, while it feels like you’re just floating in midair on heavy wind is a hard sensation to convey.  Anyhow, I don’t really think I realized I had any kind of fear of heights until that moment.  Especially since I knew that the experience of surviving a skydive and of not surviving a skydive, would be very similar for a majority of the trip.  Eventually, my tandem jumper shows me the altimeter letting me know its time and I try to find the cord, managing to pull it and save our lives (give me some creative license here).  The chute opens and I get a beautiful view.  He points out Chicago and Milwaukee from that height, and I just hang there in the air.  I start getting a little disturbed about just loosely hanging  with nothing to hold on to and so decide to just hold on to the straps of the harness for some minor psychological comfort.

It’s time to land.   I try to keep my legs up but don’t get them up quite all the way and ultimately make some contact.  I think he still landed first.  Anyhow,  No bruises or injuries.  Still, 3 out of 3 rules broken.  Maybe I need to take that training course again.  Oh well.  Once back on Terra firma, I feel the adrenaline rush through my system along with the relief of being on solid ground again.  We all go and chug the beers we bought earlier and kept in a bag of ice by the car and it feels good.

All in all, despite my bitching, I had a great experience skydiving and would highly recommend Skydive Midwest.  The staff was professional, the experience was certainly memorable and I had a lot of fun.  I’m pretty positive I’ll do it again.  Here’s some other dude’s video.  I could have shelled out 90 bucks to have gotten my own, but figured that was a little too much money to get a tape of myself crying at high altitudes.  Maybe next time.

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