Falling into Neophilia (or "Yes I Did Go Out of That Airplane at 3500 ft")

I must be honest.  I really didn’t jump out of an airplane (or a “perfectly good airplane” to quote most people.)  Here is what it is really like.  Or at least how I remember it.  I fully understand that those two things could be slightly different.

I had to sit in the open doorway of the airplane in flight, my feet dangling over the edge. (Yep….I looked around as I sat there and noticed quickly that earth was pretty far down below, but before I had time to dwell on it, I remembered the sage advice I had been given throughout the day and turned to look at the airplane instead).  Then I had to brace one hand on the right of the doorway and the other on the wing, slide onto this little step as I grab onto the wing while standing up, scoot over on the wing until I got beyond the step and supposedly had both hands inside these black lines that were painted on the wing (yep….that means beyond the step and with nothing beneath your feet but air very quickly) and turn “confidently” over to my left to look at my instructor Amanda, and wait until she gave me the thumbs up to drop from the sky at about 3500 ft.  Yeah, really.  Sort of shocked and horrified me, too, when she first described what would happen.  But when she gave me that thumbs up I let go and let myself fall without hesitation.  And there I went…..falling through the sky all by myself.   My security blankets, Amanda and Damien, still in the plane.  I know…..why would I do that?

So OK.  I wasn’t totally by myself for long.  As soon as I felt the jerk back that they had told me would mean that the parachute was opening as it was supposed to, a voice started to talk calmly over the walkie talkie strapped to my chest and coach me the rest of the way down on the things Amanda and Damien had been going over with me all day.  At first he had me do lots of test things in the air.  He said “Let’s practice landing position…”, and I did that.  He had me turn it to the left, and I did that.  He had me practice landing position again.   And then turn to the right.  And then a series of rights and lefts until it was time to get into position to land for real.  There was no time for just hanging out and examining the view….there were things to do for the whole flight.  But I did happen to notice a few glimpses of land as I was doing it all (since I am female and can multi-task)…..and I have to say that Walterboro is prettier from the air than it appears on the ground.   I didn’t get the perfect stand up landing, but it wasn’t horrible either.  I landed quite softly on my knees (the lessons on the proper falling and rolling technique if you couldn’t stand up on landing….I must not have mastered.  Or probably more accurately, they just didn’t come to mind.  But I still think my technique worked out quite well.)  I underestimated how much force I would need to apply to the straps at the end, or I think I could have stuck it!!!  But that was it.  The voice on the other end of the radio comes in a golf cart to pick me and my parachute up and we head back to the hangar.  I had skydived!

If any of you read my very first blog entry (“A Time To Begin”, March 31) I talked about Ed Ristaino, a balloon pilot friend (and skydiver) who I had been getting advice from when I decided that 2012 would be the year I skydived.  Ed was killed in March in a ballooning accident.  Damien is his son, and after I wrote that blog Damien offered to take over advising where his dad left off.  One “small” difference. Where Ed had been advising me on where to take a tandem jump, Damien wouldn’t even entertain the idea of me doing a tandem.  He decided I would enjoy a static line jump more (let me point out that this was before he had  even gotten to know me.)  It was ridiculous how easily he convinced me.  But I am glad he did.  I can do a roller coaster ride any day.

I had wanted to jump tandem for years, and the one time during those years I let me mind explore the idea of jumping out of an airplane (just tandem), I got unreasonably scared.  Pure mental horror, to be exact. That fear actually lasted for about 24 hours.  It was very weird. (Note:  No plans had actually been made to jump at this point.  This was pure daydreaming.  Or nightmaring.  Reality is not necessary for me to scare myself to death.). But that was the worse fear I ever had about skydiving.  It surprises me.  While I probably was petrified underneath when I was doing it, what I honestly felt was better described as confusion and bewilderment.  “I’m really doing this?????”  “Amanda was right?  I actually can hang from the wing of an airplane??????”

Not only did I make that jump, but in jumping by myself I went totally exploded the limits of what I thought my capabilities were.  Back when I was talking to Ed at that Mongolfier party in November, even jumping tandem was a stretch for me. It was beyond comprehension that I would jump on my own.  Of course it was also beyond comprehension that Ed would be watching my jump from above.  But I think he was and I think he was delighted.  With both me and Damien.  I was wearing a bracelet that Damien made me in Ed’s memory.   He was a part of my team.

(Steve Brady….I also was wearing the “Magcell Warriors” shirt you brought me back from Iraq.  You still trump me for bravery, but also it reminded me if you could do that, I could do a little skydive!  Though Scarlett Johannson was not around for me to have my picture taken with her at any point in the day.)

Amanda, my coach, was a great blend of encouragement and determination.  She always kept the edge of “It is important that you learn this and do what I say or you will die,” but always appeared very optimistic that I wouldn’t.  I believed her.  Most of the time.  Except when she told me that I would be able to hang out on that wing while in the air that high and it wouldn’t be as bad as I imagined.  She even proved to be right then, though.

Now I just may have nightmares of the “If you see this thing going wrong, this is what you need to do” part of the skydiving training.  My junior and senior years in high school my history teacher, Mr. Gainey, would give us “picture tests.”  Mr. Gainey’s room had pictures from floor to ceiling….anywhere there may be wall space were pictures and some other place’s too.  Thousands of them.  With each unit of study we would have something like 100 pictures to learn.  We’d get tested on maybe 50 of them.  He would hold up the picture and you would have to tell him who it was and where they were from.  I usually did well on picture tests, but they created agony for me in the learning process and until the test was over.  They did not come easily for me, and were probably the thing that I studied for more than anything else during those high school years.

Damien and Amanda returning from their jump

Let me describe the skydiving “picture test”.  Me all harnessed up with skydiving gear, almost hanging, but not quite, Amanda on one side of me and Damien on the other.  Amanda would give the order and we would drill through the procedure that I was supposed to follow when hanging out on the wing.  (A concept I still wasn’t wrapping my head around.)  Then I was supposed to look up (as if I were looking at my parachute overhead) and Damien would hold a picture over my head.  I was supposed to tell them if anything was wrong with the picture and if so, drill through the procedure I needed to follow if there was.

Let’s just say high school picture tests did not fully prepare me for this.  My mind did not work fast enough to figure out what was wrong.  Was it the ropes or the canopy that was messed up?  It sort of looked like both, but then again, maybe it was supposed to look like that and it was OK?  Then I would get distracted….what was that thing called that kept the ropes from getting tangled and was supposed to be above my head when the chute opened?  At the time as my mind was trying to think, both Amanda and Damien would be trying to get me to answer quickly and instinctively and do something!  We did it over and over and over again.  Yeah, that was the most stressful part of the day.  And I still don’t know for sure that I could identify any of the issues in the air and make the proper adjustments.  But I am quite confident I know where the pull for the reserve chute is and I have that procedure DOWN!

When I was in the plane and getting ready to jump, I noticed the bumper sticker to the left on the door.  Funny how small things bring comfort.  It really did relax me.  Well, that and knowing that I didn’t see any anxiety on Amanda’s face.  I knew she wouldn’t let me ruin her perfect record of not losing anyone in a jump. She is a competitor.

So yeah, back to Saturday’s post.  I think I am a neophiliac, even though I still need to take the written test.  I recommend it.  Be it skydiving or some other adventure.  Go ahead and give it a try.   You can and should go beyond your own expectations for yourself.  Though I recommend you have a good team to back you up!

“If you never did you should. These things are fun and fun is good”
Dr. Seuss, “One Fish, Two Fish”

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