On Sunday, I jumped (more like tumbled) out of an airplane at an altitude of 14,000 feet – that’s more than 2-1/2 miles up. I told you I’d let you know what that was like, and I will try to describe it for you, but it’s one of those “you had to be there” things.
First, the rush. Not the rush of jumping, but the rush of getting to the jump site. For me, that meant leaving church as soon as possible, changing clothes, and hurrying to the airport, which is more than an hour from home. We went through a MacDonald’s drive-through – slowest MacDonald’s ever – had to stop for gas, and I was worried everyone would be waiting for me.
They were not. When I arrived, the place was packed. All the people whose jumps had been postponed – ours was postponed because of weather on three straight Sundays – were there, waiting. And waiting. I waited about four hours.
When our group was finally called, we went inside to put on jumpsuits and get our instructions. On a large mat, we watched as three full-time parachute packers worked non-stop to prepare the chutes for the next round of jumps. It was interesting to watch these young people work. They talked and laughed with each other as they worked and I wanted to say, “Would you please concentrate on your work?” (Well, not really. But I could see how someone might feel that way.)
My instructor Dom had me get into a harness and then explained what I would be required to do. I would need to lower my head to get through the small door on the plane. I would then place my feet on the four-inch-wide step outside the door and hold my head up. When we jumped, I was to pull my feet back and hips out, while holding the harness straps along my chest. Then, when he tapped my shoulder, I was to release the straps and hold my hands out and up, rather like signalling a touchdown. We went through the procedure a couple of times. Then we headed out to wait for the plane.
We got on the place with two other tandem jumpers and five solo jumpers. The tandem jumpers and some of the solo jumpers straddled the two benches and, while on the bench, our instructors hooked themselves to our harnesses, tightened them down, and got us ready. We were pretty much sitting in our instructor’s laps, and I had a solo diver sitting on mine. The space was very tight.
The skydiver in front of me was trying to reach a strap of some sort, and my foot was tangled in it. Because I was hooked to my instructor, I couldn’t lean forward to help him. He fumbled around for two minutes, trying to release his strap from around my size 17 shoes, while I tried to lift my foot and help. I didn’t know it – assume he didn’t either – but he untied my shoe in the process. When I landed, I still had the shoe. My son joked that if my big shoe had fallen off at 14,000 feet, it might have killed someone.
After the jump, my wife Karen asked me if I felt like I was falling or floating. I said, “Neither. I felt like I was skydiving. It is its own thing.” I was hoping it would feel like flying, as a long-time diver once told me, but it didn’t. I think it might feel that way for a solo diver, but when you are strapped to someone else who is controlling the dive, you’re more like a passenger than a pilot.
Still, it is quite an experience to be at 14,000 feet without a mountain or an airplane under your feet. From up there, I could see lakes and houses and farm fields; golf courses and housing developments. I was surprised there were so many people living in such a rural setting.
I could see that some lakes were crowded with houses and there were still boats at their docks. Others were too shallow for boating and there were no houses alongside them. As I was looking this way and that, trying to take it all in, the chute deployed. I wasn’t prepared for that! I was not cognizant of the speed with which we were hurtling to earth until the chute opened. I felt like we were jerked roughly back into the sky, though of course we merely slowed our fall.
After the chute opened, my instructor began steering us toward the airfield. He performed a couple of spins but, for the most part, just took me on a nice, smooth ride. A couple of times we seemed to drop at an accelerated rate and, when we turned, we keeled over a little, like a sailboat.
As we neared our landing site, Dom told me to lift my legs. I had seen others land on their feet, but I am 6’4″ and probably five or six inches taller than Dom, so he wanted to slide in on our backsides. The landing was soft and all was good. A photographer said something to me, but my ears were completely plugged and I couldn’t make out what he was saying. I suppose it was, “Smile!”
There was a lot to smile about. It was fun. It was unlike anything I’d ever done before. Would I do it again? Maybe. What I’d like to do is solo dive from 14,000 feet, but that takes time, instruction, and money! But I’m not ruling out another tandem dive.
Were there negatives? A couple. The first is that I rushed like crazy to get there, not realizing I would then need to wait four hours for the jump. If I had familiarized myself with how skydiving works, I would have realized that from the outset, and would have been more relaxed about about getting there on time.
The other negative: sinus pressure. I’ve always had trouble flying because my ears would hurt and, before I had surgery to correct a Z-like septum, I used to get a stabbing pain in my eye on descent. The pain would last for 20 or 30 seconds, but it was bad – like having an ice pick stuck in your eye. The last time I flew, I had that pain again, after a reprieve of several years. I was hoping that wouldn’t happen on the dive and it didn’t, but I was pretty deaf afterwords and had a headache right behind my forehead. That got worse as the evening wore on, becoming very painful before getting any relief from the acetaminophen I took.
When I knew I was going to jump, I decided to use the event as a fundraiser for a wonderful non-profit, Beginnings Care for Life. They regularly make a difference in people’s lives and in the community – and they do it by hard work and genuine love. I wanted to support their efforts. If you would like to know more about what Beginnings does, check out their website, http://www.beginningscare.com/. If you would like to help them to carry on their important work by making a financial gift, go to https://www.gofundme.com/f/jumping-for-beginnings-care. I support Beginnings with confidence – you can too.
If you’d like to see a video of my jump, go to https://skydive.shredvideo.com/f/rTsNHEokR4 (viewing time 3:39).