Since yesterday, barely a minute goes by when I don’t think about the upcoming jump....from a plane!! I am terrified but crazy excited. Or just plain crazy. What on earth was he thinking? What was I thinking? It was easy to say I would like to do this some day but now it’s a reality!! My universe has shifted since I opened John’s Christmas card and saw the gift certificate.
Within 24 hours I told everyone who mattered, talked to family and close friends, even casual friends, in an effort to come to terms with it. I have to get my head around it and work up the nerve. The reactions of people when I told them were interesting too! Anything from “it’ll be easy, a no-brainer” to “you could die”. Well, that about ran the gamut of my emotions too.
I would be jumping tandem with a trained expert, an instructor, so I shouldn’t have to worry about anything. Well, I had to worry about trusting a complete stranger, a whole bunch of them really, and their equipment and expertise. And that in itself took me to places that were already making this adventure very intriguing. My brain was going full tilt thinking of all the possibilities and implications of this jump. It took on a meaning I was not expecting and even revived past memories.... of what? Symbolic leaps? Accidents I’ve had?
Watching a video on Christmas morning of someone else doing this was a good first step. The much younger woman in the video made it look like fun! A lot of fun! And that is where my brain is parked at the moment.
Well I am slowly coming to terms with this and have started a Pinterest page with pictures of sky divers. I’m very excited but I have the feeling that something is hanging over my head. Like a parachute!! Ha!
Good news however, Bill, a friend from Pennsylvania with a cottage in Bancroft wants to jump too! So we are going to do it on the same day. He turns 76 on January 11th so we are hoping to do it around then. I am still really surprised by this! Bill has parachuted 32 times when he was in the army but they didn’t do free fall. This makes it even more fun having someone else along but it also means the whole gang here will want to come and watch.
Over the next few days I was working up the nerve to call and make the appointment. John said he would but I wanted to do it myself. I finally did and then attempted to act normally until the day arrived.
We scheduled the dive for Saturday, January 11th, Bill’s birthday. But it was cancelled due to wind and clouds. What a nightmare. Another day of anticipation. We rescheduled for Sunday, January 12th at 1p.m. and it was a gorgeous day for it.
We picked up Bill and his wife Linda and headed over to “Jump Florida” around noon getting there in lots of time to initial each paragraph of a huge waiver. I’ve signed waivers before but this was by far the longest! Not good for the already jangling nerves. I stopped reading the details on the recommendation of a total stranger, a young man who was doing the same thing. By the last paragraph my initials were shaky, barely legible actually.
Okay, forget that crap and move on to step two: pick 3 songs from their list, one for the plane ride up, one for free fall and one for the parachute open part. I chose “Let the Good Times Roll” by the Cars (John’s idea), “Free Falling” by Tom Petty and “Kickstart Your Heart” by Motley Crue. I was not familiar with that one but liked the title. It is a hard rocker song that I don’t actually like much in hindsight but maybe it will grow on me.
These songs are to go along with the video that my instructor would be taking of this crazy adventure. John was determined that we should get the video even though I had trepidations. When you put your hands into the “Xcelerator” hand drier in some public washrooms and watch your skin move you really get creeped out. So apply this phenomenon to your face and you can see why I had doubts. Plus I have seen the movie “Bucket List” and will never forget how Jack looked when he did his dive! It has dawned on me that John may have had ulterior motives when getting me this for a Christmas present. It was for his entertainment, not mine!
“Jump Florida” is out in a rural area near Plant City, not far from Lakeland and consisted of a few shack type buildings, canopies over picnic tables, and hangers with small planes in them. There is a TV area where people were watching their videos and lots of others were milling around trying not to look nervous and some grinning like crazy. Bill and I were the only ones with gray hair that were jumping. The grass runway looked so short!
Our names went up on the board under load 7. This was an extremely busy day for skydiving since yesterday was cancelled. (??? Why do so many people want to do this??) There was lots of time to watch others get geared up and head to the plane which held about 14 people. I talked to people, watched their videos, watched the plane take off, watched the plane “ poop people” as I heard one instructor say, watched the parachutes come down and no one dying, watched the plane come down, really got into how things were working here. Some were solo divers, some were tandems like me. It was really nice to see the turnout of our Sanlan RV Park friends sitting in their lawn chairs near the landing area. What a great spectator sport! Actually there were lots of comments among the instructors about the huge spectator crowd that day! Some of the solo jumpers even tried to impress them by landing close to them.
It was around 2 p.m. when I finally met Renaldo my “instructor” and life saver as I see him now. I think he’s from Argentina so this is a bonus since he had those Latin good looks and sexy accent. He looked young, fit and strong. We had an interview for the camera and then he put me into a harness and took me and 2 young people aside for our instructions. He said our legs would dangle over the edge and as we left the plane we were supposed to put our head back on his right shoulder and cross our arms over our chests. During free fall we were supposed to make our bodies into a U shape with our chin up and legs back between his, like trying to kick him in the butt. When he tapped our shoulder we could put our arms out like his and fly like a bird. Sounded simple. “Now, go wait over there and don’t touch your harness. I will come and get you soon.”
Renaldo had 2 jumps ahead of me so I had quite a long wait. The harness was heavy and tight so I had to sit down once in a while to take the pressure off my shoulders. But I could walk like a penguin. It took about 1/2 hour per load so I had an hour to wait.
Oh oh! Here he comes. He tightened and re-tightened my harness and we headed to the plane. I followed him up the ladder and literally crawled in to straddle the bench in front of him. The plane was full and it looked like 3 or 4 solo jumpers going first, then Bill and Pasqual, then me and Renaldo, my new best friend. A bunch of people were behind us.
No seats in this plane, just 2 benches running the length of it and we were packed in like sardines. Some soloists didn’t even have a seat. They were crouched near the door. The experts were laughing and joking, giving us high fives, video taping us and having a good time in general.
As the plane rose to an alarming height Renaldo was strapping me to him so tight that I could feel him breathing. If he moved I moved. And I thought the harness was tight before! I asked if we were nearly there but we weren’t even half way and I was shocked. Looking out the window of the plane and seeing the mini world down there made me think we were high enough. Renaldo put goggles on me. He told me to cross my arms on my chest and keep them there. I was hugging myself really hard. Now Renaldo was hamming it up for the camera and asked me if I was ready to fly like a bird. Did I have anything to say before we jumped? I couldn’t think so he said “life is good, no?”, I repeated it and then all hell broke loose.
I watched the door being pushed up and felt myself being pushed forward. Looked like people were falling out! There goes Bill! Now I’m on the floor and he’s scooting us forward!! I couldn’t stop him...we were as one and I was at his mercy. My legs are dangling over the edge. OMG!!!!!
We went out head first and I think I lost all bearings because I couldn’t tell we had done a summersault before straightening out. I was screaming and possibly swearing but there was so much wind blowing into my open mouth I couldn’t even hear myself. I felt Renaldo tapping my shoulder and my arms went out. He had shoved my head back since I forgot and my legs went automatically back and up. Now I really did want to kick him in the butt but I was too weak. My chin was up now and I felt glued to him thank god. Eyes wide open under the goggles that were squeezed onto my face. I couldn’t even tell that my face was flapping. It was quiet but the speed was immense and it seemed like eternity. Those were Bill’s words but I agree. I was gulping air and my mouth was drying out. The world looked beautiful. It became almost serene now that the terror of the head-first dive was over. The speed was incredible.
I was just getting the hang of hurtling toward the earth at breakneck speed when I was jerked about like a puppet on a string. No, that doesn’t do it justice. More like...nothing I can describe. Chaos in my brain. I realize now why there are no instructions for this part. You don’t really want to know about it or you might back out.
The mustard coloured parachute was open. When I settled down I just had to ask if I was alright? He said I was. I wondered if I would be able to walk if we landed safely. He said I would. He said he was going to loosen my harness. I wasn’t keen on that but he had gotten me this far. Now it became very peaceful and slow. He did a few whirly birds which made me say wheeeeee! I could see the landing area and our audience so I yelled at them. From the ground it looked like the parachutes were coming down fast but I now knew that was a matter of perspective. It was like molasses compared to free fall.
Legs up! I was so worried about the FUA’s. Renaldo suggested I grab my pants (just below the knees) to hold my legs up. “Show me you can do it.” That worked and my friends on the ground said I looked athletic. They had no idea what was really going through my mind. These feet were NOT touching the ground before his! Renaldo skidded along on his feet then landed us on our butts. He must have cushioned my landing since it was quite smooth. Nice guy.
It was amazing! I told Renaldo this and thanked him profoundly and shook his hand. I felt like kissing the earth but that may have been a bit dramatic. Once I realized I could stand up I hugged him. Jimmy, a 77 year old Sanlan friend said he wanted to jump too! Is he nuts? So we waited around for him. I saw Renaldo and felt I had to tell him the truth now that I was extra alive.... I yelled over to him that I loved him. Believe it or not I still love John too! What an amazing Christmas present. I think he gets me.