Saturday, August 12, 2006

I am Not Going Through a Mid-Life Crisis

What inspires someone to get up at 5:30 on a Saturday morning? More importantly, what inspires someone to get up at 5:30 on a Saturday to go skydiving?

Tom really wanted to go, and invited me. I can't say that it was something I was passionate about, but I was interested. And although Kathy had her doubts, after I examined the activity's safety record and showed it to her, she said ok (though still she'd punctuate e-mails with phrases like "don't die tomorrow"). (Speaking of which, she had breakfast with a friend of hers yesterday and told him what I was doing today -- he was flabbergasted, not believing that I would do such a thing while expecting a child. For some reason he had trouble remembering that right after his wife told him she was pregnant, he quit his job to run a start-up company.) Our neighbor Bruce is an adrenaline junkie (he's raced cars, among other activities), so when Tom mentioned it to him, we had a threesome. We were going tandem, which means that an instructor is strapped to your back (connected at 4 different points), and he's the one with the parachute.

Our schedules were such that we had to pick a weekend two months in advance, but it was certainly worth the wait. Any of the previous five weekends would have left us sweltering and sticky, but today was a fantastic day -- it was actually cool in the morning, and the sky was a perfect blue. There also was very little humidity.

I really wasn't that scared when we drove over there, but my first moment of doubt came when we signed waiver forms agreeing not to hold the company liable if anything went wrong. Anything included negligence and even pilot error. The guy on the video (with a beard that made the ZZ Top guys look tame) explained that it's because, well, shit happens. After a moment's hesitation, I realized that no one had any interest in anything going wrong -- my tandem instructor had it in his best interest to be safe and make sure everything went well. Once I got past that initial fear, I was fine as we received our 15 minutes of training, got our gear together, got on the plane, and began the ascent. It was only after we'd reached our altitude of 13,500 feet and the door to the plane opened, the people before me jumping out while we're sliding into position that I really started getting nervous.

When we jumped out the plane, the brief lesson I was taught vanished from my brain as we began picking up speed. After a second or two, I remembered what I needed to do to properly orient my body, and then we were all set. Free fall is an amazing experience -- we were hurtling toward the ground, but we still were so far up that once I was properly oriented, the fear of smacking the ground never really entered my mind, even though I don't think I ever took my eyes off the ground. We were in free fall for about a minute, before my instructor signaled to me to reach around him to pull the rip cord. I had a bit of trouble, and he decided not to wait before pulling it himself, which was ok by me -- I have a much greater sense of survival than I do of independence.

With the chute opened we slowed our descent, and finally I was able to bring myself to look around at the gorgeous views. We also could have a conversation, once the wind was no longer screaming in our ears. After a little while where we just let gravity take hold, the instructor showed me how we could steer, and then he took me in a spiral, i.e., a rapid descent while turning in a tight radius. A couple of turns of that, and I begged off, my stomach not really agreeing with continuing. He then went into a sashay, which involved big 90-degree turns back and forth. That wasn't quite as nauseating, so I rode it out. Finally we started our final descent back to where we started. He led us right in, and I put my feet down to complete the touch down. My legs were shaky, but held firm. I had made it through intact, though my stomach remained queasy for a couple of hours -- not sure whether it was the jump/adrenaline, the fact that I only had orange juice and a banana in my stomach, the exhaustion of a short night's sleep, or some combination of these factors. Once I handed in the equipment I called Kathy to let her know I'd made it (she wasn't there because dogs aren't allowed, we'd be away too long to leave them behind, and no one was available to dogsit).

Tom's Instructor Shane, Tom, Me, and Bruce

Tom is ready to start doing this all the time, and Bruce definitely wants to go again. Me, I don't think so. I enjoyed it, and I'm really glad I went, but I didn't enjoy it so much to justify the high cost. I do, however, plan to go with Tom on the next adventure, rafting through Class V rapids.