It’s only 900 stories down

It’s only 900 stories down

For my 70th birthday I treated myself to jumping out of an airplane about 900 stories off the ground.  The idea was rattling around in my head until my cardiologist said he had fun doing it and it would definitely be OK for me to do. So in June, 2013, I had this adventure at “Skydive Greene County.”

They have their own grass runways, landing zones, planes, etc. Most of these shots were taken by my jump instructor (tandem guy) with a very wide-angle GoPro Hero camera on his wrist. (He carried two for both stills and video and, of course, that service costs extra.)

By the way, you have to pay in advance.  I guess they’re afraid you might choose to land somewhere else and not settle your account.  Or maybe, it’s just harder to collect from your estate.

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I’m all ready in my “birthday suit.” Louise definitely wouldn’t pay for this gift, but she wanted to be there to see it.  I told her I was glad she came along as she was important for helping to identify the body. My color is fairly normal here. After the jump it was more a shade of pale green.

“Instruction” consisted of signing and initialing six pages of “I realize it’s dangerous and I could die and will-not-sue-anyone” papers, plus about a minute or two of “here’s what will happen and what you’re supposed to do…let’s go.”  Actually, very little instruction is needed, as they are VERY careful about your harness and they are totally in control of the dive.

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Getting ready to board the Cessna 182 and take off on one of their three grass runways.  In competition, real divers try to hit a dime-sized target in the middle of the blue ring in the middle of big gray pad.

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Including the pilot, they squeeze up to five people into this craft.  Unfortunately, jumpers have to sit facing backwards and that’s not my favorite way to be in a moving contraption, especially one that has a bouncy, floating feel to it.  It took 15 minutes to spiral up to 9000+ feet.

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To “jump” from this plane, you simply stand on the tiny platform and let go.

To say there’s not much space for maneuvering in there is an understatement. My instructor weighed about 200 and to get both of our right feet out on the step was very awkward.  I was strapped so tightly to him I could barely breathe and my teeth were practically biting the dashboard controls.  When he and I each had one foot on the step he basically just rolled over and away we went.

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Eight seconds later you can see the plane just to the left of his glasses.  At the start of the jump, my task was to hold onto my harness so my hands didn’t fly up and smack him in the face (nor try to grab for the plane).

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Instead of fashionable dark goggles, I was given this pair with pointy corners to cover my regular glasses. The VERY tight goggles, the wind, and the wide-angle lens gave me a distorted portrait. (Well, more distorted than I already am.)

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After dropping about a mile in 30 seconds (approaching 120 miles an hour), he opened the chute. It wasn’t a “jerk,” but more like tumbling very quickly into a different position.  At this point my stomach did not descend at the same rate as I did. The very constricting harness plus the jumpsuit I had to wear (because he thought it might be much cooler up there, but I came down hot and sweaty) was starting to affect me also. As we dangled in the air, sometimes dropping under the other jumper, sometimes bouncing a little over the thermals from the fields, sinking in a corkscrew motion, while the horizon kept tilting and the ground rotated, …well you get the idea.

Before the jump, I hoped it would last as long as possible. At this point, all I wanted was terra firma. The time “under canopy” (to use my experienced technical jargon) was about four minutes.  While I wished the ending could have come quicker, I realize that from any altitude above a few feet one does not wish to approach the ground too quickly.

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Louise didn’t see most of the dive as the plane couldn’t easily be seen nor heard at the jump altitude. By the time she saw me, we were just off the ground and she caught a few shots of our “feet up” landing not far from the middle of the gravel target.

It was once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. However, the, uh, “queasiness” for much of the day somewhat overwhelmed the thrill of jumping and staying alive.

Another item checked off the bucket list.  Actually, not too bad for a (somewhat) old man!

– Art