Freefalling Into the Known
You are your only limit.
I’ve always been a sucker for adrenaline. Bungee jumping, roller coasters, you name it. Skydiving, on the other hand, would be completely new to me. This time there would be no bungee anchor point, no roller coaster’s steel frame or safety bar between me and the open air.
It would be an examination of self, a test of whether or not I would be able to accept not being in control.
A few days before our scheduled jump, I was feeling a little flustered. My boyfriend at the time – let’s call him Andre – insisted that it would be great. He had jumped before, so at first I felt reassured; that is, until I remembered the previous summer, when his idea of a relaxing vacation was spending a week mountain climbing in the Washington wilderness with nothing but a hacky sack and a trekking pole. Back to being nervous I went.
Skydiving had always been on my bucket list, and celebrating our two-year anniversary seemed like the perfect excuse to prepare to be amazed. Nonetheless, I was nervous. In my defense, I think most people would have reservations about jumping out of a plane 14,000 feet in the air while strapped to an instructor, a stranger.
I filled out the release forms– as you might imagine, there were quite a few things to sign. It was a slightly chilly day, so Andre and I wore plenty of layers; the temperature would be dropping quite a bit more during our ascent.
For this jump, I wore athletic joggers, warm socks, a tank top, a long sleeve quarter-zip sweatshirt, and tennis shoes.
Our group leader, a tall, 40-something year-old Caucasian man with thinning ash-brown hair, gave each new flier a reassuring smile and fitted us for our harnesses before we met our instructors. I found the harness difficult to walk in, but I tried my best to pick up the straps and waddle as quickly as I could to the jet bridge where everyone was gathering.
We boarded Start Skydiving‘s biggest plane– a Cessna 208 Caravan. It was the final evening jump, so several tandem students joined us for their last practice of the day. My instructor was an Argentinian man– we’ll call him Luis– who had been flying for over ten years. Luis explained everything, ranging from how I would be “jumping” to what I must do while we were in the air. He explained the hand signals he would give that would indicate when I should bend my knees or put my head back. Three taps on my hand meant that I should open my arms.
Our plane took off down the runway. Before I knew it, the sliding door was open and tandem students were jumping out into the open air solo as if it was nothing. Then there was a pause. I suddenly remembered that the courageous me from ten minutes ago had volunteered to go first. Unfortunately, that girl left as soon as the plane door unveiled silver, empty, icy air. I frantically told Andre I loved him as Luis slid me towards the door.
Before I could think, Luis jumped. For me, since I was strapped to his front, it wasn’t so much a jump as it was a push. Just like that, my knees were bent, and we were falling through the air at 120 miles per hour. The air was so cold, my face almost instantly went numb.
At first it felt like the big drop of a rollercoaster minus the track. I felt my insides floating around inside my rib cage. Luis advised me to keep my eyes on the horizon line instead of on the ground in order to avoid vomiting. I did, and, surprisingly, it worked.
It was sunset and at 14000 feet, both the sunset and we were above the clouds. When I recalled it later, it felt as if I was dreaming. Keeping my eyes fixed on the horizon, I almost felt as if I was floating, or not moving at all. I was staring at the beauty of the big picture.
After we passed through the clouds – at about 5,500 feet – Luis let out the parachute, and we jolted back hard. After several seconds of drifting, he instructed me to take hold of the parachute and explained how I could change direction with each hand. Yes, I skydived and steered a parachute in one day.
Four or five minutes later, landing at the base where we started was much smoother than I thought it would be. All I had to do was keep my legs straight and my toes up to avoid breaking my ankles on the ground as we slid to a halt on the grass of the open field. What an incredible experience!
Andre landed moments later with pink-flushed cheeks, his blonde hair wildly fluffed from the long fall. He came to join me for our final waves to the camera.
In retrospect, I realized that it’s only natural for the human, physical part of myself to feel apprehensive about something like skydiving. The human body wants to survive, to be safe, to be comfortable, to be in control. But really, I knew where I was going. I was going right back to where I started. On the ground, where I belonged.
I’m certain that if I went skydiving again I’d still feel scared, even though I now know that everything would be fine. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe it’s not the destination that most of us are scared of in life– we’re scared about the journey, the parts of it and experiences we can’t control. But if we’re focusing too much on those fears, it’s like looking down at the approaching ground while skydiving. It’s confusing, gut-wrenching, and crippling. Instead, we should be should be looking steadily at the horizon. The anchor point we didn’t think was there is always there for guidance. If we stay focused on it and allow ourselves to let go of our obsession to always be in control, before we know it, we’ll arrive at our destination safe and sound.