For a long time I have known that before I die I was going to jump out of an airplane. I can’t tell you why I have known that, I just have. The first time it became clearly focused in my mind was when the Senior President George H.W. Bush jumped on his 75th birthday. For some reason that just really grabbed me that a man his age and his accomplishments would do something as outrageous as that. But he wasn’t satisfied with one jump, he has since done it on his 80th and 85th birthdays as well. After his jump for his 85th birthday he is quoted as saying:
“Just because you’re an old guy, you don’t have to sit around drooling in the corner,” he said. “Get out and do something. Get out and enjoy life.” George H.W. Bush
Those are wise and profound words! My problem was that I was sitting in the corner drooling on myself even as a young man! What I needed to do was just as simple as “Get out and enjoy life.” I know how obvious that sounds, but it is pretty amazing how few of us actually do that—I certainly wasn’t. Adulthood and modern living seemed to get in the way and all the fun and joy steadily disappeared from my life. Eventually, all that was left was going through the motions of living.
So I have known for some time that before I die I was going to go skydiving; it was just something I had to do. So when we got into Moab and I started trying to decide what adventure to take next, I started seeing signs for Skydive Moab (http://www.skydivemoab.com/) everywhere. Finally the idea sunk through my thick skull,”Why not go skydiving while you are here?!” I can’t think of a place I would rather jump out of an airplane than right here in the astounding beauty and profound energy of Moab, Utah!
By nature I don’t do things fast, I like to go slow and deliberate and mull things over for a while, then decide and take action. So I assumed this would be another of those things. The first step is always to gather information so I headed out to the Moab airport to find out prices and availability. I got into the hanger and met the owner and started asking questions. The price was $190 for a tandem jump from 10,000 feet. They offered to video tape it with their GoPro video (and also still photos) for an extra $80 (I asked if I could just take mine, but it was against regulations). I’m not jumping out of a perfectly good airplane without getting pictures!! So I did that as well.
He said he had an opening that next day, did I want it?
Man, that brought it down to a simple “Yes” or “No.” No deliberation, no pondering; I simply had to decide right now: “Yes” or “No.” It seemed like an important moment and I didn’t want to mess it up so I said “YES!” He wrote me into the schedule and that was it, the decision was made and irreversible: I was going skydiving!
So I arrived the next day and found out it had been too windy that morning so they had to wait for it to settle down. That had pushed the other people ahead of me back so it was going to be another hour before I could jump That was actually a good thing because I sat around and watched several other people take-off, jump and then land. It turns out the landing zone was literally less than 100 yards from the hanger, so you could watch other people jump from the plane and fall as teeny-tiny dots until their parachute opened, then you could follow them all the way down to their landing. The more I watched other people and visited with them after their jump, the more I was sure I had made the right decision. This was going to be FUN!!
The weather turned out to be just right. It was mostly clear but with enough clouds to make the sky interesting. And it was windy, but not too windy. It turns out that you want some wind when you land. They have total control over the chute so you always land into the wind and if there is enough wind it slows you down so you don’t hit as hard. On a calm day they don’t even try stand-up landings, you just skid in on your butt. But on a windy day like this one, everyone was doing easy stand-up landings.
The first thing I had to do was sign a huge stack of legal documents signing away all rights to sue in case of injury or death. It listed everybody I couldn’t sue and then listed all of the other people who couldn’t sue for me if I were dead. It must have taken a small army of lawyers a long time to come up with this Liability Waiver because it seemed to cover just about every possibility including gross negligence. But that wasn’t all; after signing that I had to watch a video covering it all again and sign a document saying I had watched the video and I fully understood I might die doing this and if I did neither I, nor my heirs, would sue anybody for anything. Whew!! I was already tired out!
Finally the time came for me to go. First, I got instructions from the owner of the company. He showed us (there was one other fellow going up to jump with me at the same time) the airplane which was very odd because it only had one seat, for the pilot! We were going to sit on the floor between the instructors legs. After we had climbed to altitude we had climb up on his lap and he would buckle us together. The other fellow and his instructor jumped first so they were right beside the door, so getting out was easy for them. But for us we had to kind-of butt-hop over to get in position.
After learning how to sit in and exit from the plane, my instructor helped me suit up. They do a really good job of keeping things very simple for first-time jumpers like me. There are just a few things you have to remember to do and they half-way expect you to forget even them in the adrenaline rush that hits you when you fall out of the plane. While you are in free fall the wind noise is so strong you can’t hear each other, so they have taps and signals they use to remind you what you are supposed to be doing. .
All you have to do during free-fall is spread your arms, arch your back, and bend your legs at the knees so your feet are high. That puts your mid-section lowest and the laws of physics say the heaviest things fall first. That keeps you face-down as you fall. Of course I forgot to do all those things! But, just like they had told me would happen, the instructor took my hands and spread them (you can actually see that on the video), and pulled my feet up to where they were supposed to be with his feet. Once the chute opens you can talk to each other and you don’t have anything else to do except enjoy the ride. He even gives you the controls for a little while and you have control over the chute. I was pretty intimidated by the whole thing and I really didn’t do anything with them but hold on to them.
The next time you have to do something is during the landing. Because he doesn’t know the exact wind conditions until he is about to land he doesn’t know if it will be a butt-skid landing or a stand-up landing; so you don’t know either. Your job as the student is to either hold your feet and legs up as high as you can if you are going to land on your butt, or to put them down to land standing up. But because you can hear each other by then he just tells you what to do moments before you actually land. We had a good wind, so just as the ground was rushing up at us he yelled, “Legs down!” I then dropped my legs and we did a nice stand-up landing! But somehow I hit at a bad angle or too hard on my left leg and my knee took a pretty good shot, it hurt quite a bit. I could barely put any weight on it. In fact if you listen on the video you can hear him telling me to “Stand up buddy…,” probably because we were at risk of falling down under my weight. But I was able to stand up and so we were okay.
No else knew I had hurt my knee, I wasn’t limping and I never said anything. But that evening it had started to stiffen and was swollen. The next day I could barely walk on it. I was sure it was just a very minor sprain so I took the day off from all activity and used it as an excuse to have Judy baby me which of course she was glad to do (women are such suckers that way!). The day after that it was much better and within a few days it was almost back to normal.
So your question probably is, “What was it like, was it fun?” That’s a hard question for me to answer. The whole thing is such a huge shock and it happens so fast, I didn’t really have time to feel anything. During free-fall it is just a huge sensory overload. You’ve never done anything like this before (you just jumped out of a fucking airplane!!) and everything seems wildly bizarre! The wind is rushing past you like you’ve never felt before and it has an all-consuming noise to it. In my case my long hair and beard were flying straight up into my face and mouth.
Then the chute opens and throws you all around and you have no idea if that is normal or does it mean you are about to die?!! After it deploys everything is suddenly calm and quiet and just floating by. And that is a huge shock in itself just by the suddenness of it. But it is a good shock and the rest of the ride is very pleasant. You can talk to your instructor and he readjusts your harness to make you more comfortable. You can look all around and absorb the incredible view that is before you.
The whole time you are floating in you don’t have a lot of sense of falling but you are looking down at the airport and after a little bit it becomes obvious it is getting bigger. As it gets bigger and the instructor starts to maneuver you towards landing, your mind starts to wonder what landing is going to be like? You feel another rush of anxiety as it approaches; Are you going too fast? Are you too slow? Should you be swinging around like this? Will you break your ankles? But then you land safely and all is right with the world.
So my answer is that no, it probably wasn’t fun for me in the normal sense of the word fun. But, it was an incredible experience I wouldn’t have missed for the world! And it was a necessary step toward making it fun. I think I will have to do it again so that this time I can actually enjoy and savor the experience! Wanna join me!