I had decided to go skydiving. Almost no one in my life is interested or supportive of that decision. It's hard to say if that is because there is a vague concern for my well being or an overriding boredom in the activity itself. When you hit your forties there is really little debate if you are the type of person that can deal with heights and risk taking pursuits or not. I am not aware of many librarians that suddenly say, "This James Joyce novel needs to get put away, but first let's fuck and hang glide off that cliff.". Whatever niche you are in at this point is your niche. As I am not about to take up accounting or camping, I think it is reasonable that I accept that my local friend base is not going to suddenly sprout an interest in skydiving when none has germinated in the past. This was my white whale alone.
When deciding on a skydiving facility, I think we can all agree that safety is the highest priority. I think we can also agree that if a skydiving facility has had a fatality and has somehow remained in business, the chance of them trumpeting that fatality on their website is probably pretty low. This creates a situation in choosing a facility based on the quality of the website appearance and location. This led me to Aerohio in Rittman OH. For those of you like myself that were previously unaware of the sprawling community of Rittman, imagine a nice pocket of Kansas about 45 minutes from a major US city. There are cornfields, dirty kids riding four wheelers, gravel roads, and a large freshly cut hayfield that has a plane take off and lets people jump out of it. That appears to be the long and short of Rittman.
When I arrived at the facility I checked in. What "checking in" means is that I filled out a 74 page document that words and re-words statements like "skydiving is a risk taking activity and you could die, however if that does happen you promise not to sue us. Oh, and you also promise that anyone you know won't sue us since you'll be dead." With the amount of litigation in this country, frankly it is amazing that like minded people like these haven't been prevented from doing this by some type of governmental committee. There is probably a frumpy woman in an ugly suit trying to stop this type of fun right now "for the good of the children". I initialed a mind numbing number of boxes and declarations that undoubtedly an enormous team of lawyers built to prevent an equally enormous team of personal injury lawyers from penetrating. The funny part is in the end you would be suing Aerohio to win a small plane, two sheds, a trailer, a couple picnic pavilions, two porta johns, and a hayfield. That probably wouldn't offer much compensation in the event of a horrific skydiving disaster. The last time I went to the doctor for a sinus infection it cost more than the entire facility of Aerohio would lock, stock, and barrel. My guess is "crushed spine" is more costly than the re-sale value of a used porta john.
I just wanted to have the experience of a free fall and not do a lot of mucking around so I paid for a tandem jump. This means I would be strapped to another dude like I was an eleven year old girl. It's hard to imagine a more submissive position, unless of course I was in assless pink leather chaps. Still, I was willing to put up with the concept of having this strange man strapped to me if it meant my avoiding 5 hours of classes. I just wanted to know what it was like to jump out of a plane. I don't want to know how to deploy the emergency chute or untangle lines. I just want to see what it was like to dive out into the sky.
I was called into the gear hut to get outfitted. Before I was given my harness, I was shown a video hosted by a very strange looking man with a wild long beard. This is a video that was part of the air tight legal defense. Why they made the video hosted by a cross between a member of ZZ Top and a Civil War general, I don't have a clue. This guy is supposed to be the patron saint of skydiving, and he spent most of the time on the video telling me that I could die and I shouldn't sue anyone if I was touched in a way that I felt was inappropriate. This must be a big issue for these facilities now. Every sixth box on the forms was about not freaking out because someone from the skydiving place was touching the harness around your crotch, and it was sort of important that it was adjusted so you didn't fall out of the parachute and die. I viewed being groped in the nutsack as a small price to pay for a safe landing, but I can see how attractive women might run into a situation where they have extremely safe crotches and breasts after the dudes from the facility make really, really, really sure that the harness is adjusted.
I spent about 20 minutes with my instructor Nate telling me what to do during the process. To be honest, I have no real idea if Nate had any qualifications at all. He could have learned how to do this yesterday. I just assumed that since the other kinda wacky guys in the shed seemed to think it was OK that I strapped onto Nate and jumped out of a plane that it was OK too. I think that is what is referred to as "blind trust". He seemed like a cool guy, and he didn't mess around with my nutsack too much so I was fine with how everything was coming together.
I figured I would be really nervous since jumping out of a plane at 9000 feet is pretty fucking scary. For whatever reason, I was really calm. The die had been cast and this thing was going to happen now. I walked over to the plane with about eight other skydivers. I was the only first timer. The rest of the group was a hodge podge of dudes. Three of them were going to jump out and do some sort of formation. Two of them were in flying suits, like they were enormous flying squirrels. One of them was slipping into the suit as I was getting into my harness. He said, "There's only two stupid things you can do involving a flying suit." What's that? "For one, die in it." OK, what's #2? "Buy it in the first place."
I had bought the package with a guy filming me as I did it. It seemed like wise decision as no one was with me, and I think I would face some skepticism that I had actually left work at 3pm to jump out of a plane instead of doing something suburban like going golfing. Plus, between you and me, I was looking forward to looking at myself on video to see if I looked like Keanu Reeves in "Point Break". I also bleakly suspect I look more like a paunchy middle aged guy having a midlife crisis that is strapped to another dude like a prison bitch. The decision to film meant that I would be the second guy out of the plane after my camera guy and his Mohawk helmet went first.
The plane was really small. I sat by the "door". Door is a bit of a misnomer as it was actually a piece of plastic velcroed across an opening in the side of the plane. I had never had the experience of taking off while sitting between another man's legs while also being three inches from falling out of the airplane. Now I had. We slowly worked up to altitude. I was really comfortable. Once again, I cannot explain why. There was a real camaraderie amongst the guys on the plane as we all did the dude fist bump thing as we started to get really close to the jump zone. The camera guy got up and started to unzip the door. Cold wind blew in. Shit. This is really going to happen. I put my goggles on.
The plan is you sit with your legs out of the door. You rock back and forth and on three you fall forward while arching your back and keeping your head up. I didn't wear a jumpsuit. I was wearing what all serious skydivers wear, Chuck Taylors, Lucky brand shorts, and a skull and crossbones t-shirt. At 9000 feet, it's pretty cold on your legs. It's also rather counter intuitive to put your legs outside of a moving airplane. One... Two... And suddenly we are falling...
It sort of reminded me of diving into the ocean with scuba gear. There is the sudden confusion of trying to make sense of your new surroundings while also having the sudden shift of the bulky gear you had on land no longer being bulky because gravity changed. There was a twist and a turn then suddenly we are dropping in the familiar skydive position that you've seen in every action movie. It's loud as shit with the wind roaring in your ears. There is the sensation of great speed, yet it's hard to pinpoint exactly how fast because there is not much to provide context. The camera guy is smiling at me while filming. I am trying to think of something cool to do, but I've got nothing. I lamely make a Judas Priest devil's horn sign. Damn. That's going to look bad. Mostly I'm trying to just take it in. It's a massive rush of sensory overload. This moment is why those oddball guys get in the plane and do this. It is an awesome experience that isn't like anything else. I loved it.
It was a 40 second free fall. It seemed like it was about 3 seconds. The parachute deployed and I saw why those harness straps on your crotch needed to be well adjusted. I would not recommend to any male reader that they mistakenly have one of their testicles slip into the area between the strap and leg. This would make a 90 mph fastball to the cup seem like a bowl of candy corn. We floated down and it wasn't until we got close to the drop zone that I realized how fast we had been falling, even with the parachute. We landed perfectly as I skidded on my ass. If I could have, I would have hopped right back in that plane and done it again. And again.
While I was bullshitting with the guys in the gear shed prior to the jump, a couple of them remarked "You would fit in really well around here." There is some validity in that statement. I could see myself really getting into it. I would, of course, keep jumping until I tired of just doing that and bought the flying suit. Then I would be doing halo jumps with a bunch of equally stupid guys. That would lead to me really breaking through into a whole new thing as I would skydive with my scuba gear into a dive site, and then emerge from the water to my trusty sea kayak. This "Sky-Scuba" subculture would become my whole life, and I would bore everyone within earshot with my enthusiasm for this new discipline.
Ultimately I just climbed in my car and drive home. The gravel crunched under the tires as I started the long drive. My DVD from the skydive hadn't downloaded yet and I didn't want to wait. It had been as good of an experience as I had hoped. I did it. I was really excited about the experience. As I quickly found out, no one else really cared. This was my thing I wanted to do and the significance was mine alone. I'll finish typing this and let that be the end of it. It was just something that happened. Still, I will watch the DVD when it shows up in my mailbox. I hope I look just a little like Johnny Utah.