I must admit I was having serious cold feet when we pulled up to the place. It was in the middle of the hot desert; an old beat-up hangar and a strip of asphalt fit only for ultralights and flying tin cans. Painted desert brown the outside of the building looked like it hadn't been touched in years. I've come to think that might be exactly right.
After finding a bathroom to let off the nerves I built up over the 60 minute drive I returned to find a man talking with the rest of our crew. One of the planes had a transponder problem and it had been being fixed that morning, so the crew and plane had to make a 15 minute flight from across the city. So we waited.
I think at this point it's important that I mention how stinking hot it is in the desert in August. I'd also like to point out that swamp coolers do not work well when the humidity is even slightly high. Today it was a little more than slightly high. So we waited - and cooked while we did.
As we waited the manager invited us to sign over our lives to him and his crew, which we did (to his surprise) after reading all that we were signing over. I've signed my life over before, but wow was this a great waiver. Basically I signed on the line indicating that I knew that I was likely to die and agreed that I really did want to die and that no one else was making me die. What a great sport.
When the crew showed up we went through the procedures. This consisted of practicing our position in the plane, our position in the air, and our position when landing. After a very short time (much shorter than I anticipated) our jump-master, Dwight, said, "Alright, who's up?" Reacting to peer pressure and ego, I raised my hand and suited up. A typically uncomfortable harness was fitted to me, I was handed goggles, and we headed for our tin can.
I was pretty sure the old Skylane wouldn't even make it off the ground, but God works miracles every day and we made it up to jump altitude after 20 minutes of diligent praying and looking through the hole in door.
Once at jump height I got into position and my harness was made significantly more uncomfortable (thankfully). The instructor clipped me to him, opened the door and told me to get into position. I reached my right foot out and placed it onto the wheel spar, slid my left knee over toward the door and leaned out onto my right knee. Jump-master Dwight began to count.
I jumped out of a plane 2 miles above the surface of the earth.
Free-falling is nothing like I thought it would be. I was thinking it would be 45 seconds of missing stomach. Instead, it's 45 seconds of unparalleled escapism. It's just you and the clouds for 45 seconds. Then he pulled the cord.
I severely underestimated the glide step of skydiving. I thought all the fun was free-fall. I was wrong. Gliding with the birds was incredible. No engine, no steering wheel, no glass. Just me and the birds and the clouds and the sound of a small breeze as we slipped smoothly through the clear blue sky.
After five or so minutes my nature trip ended and I stepped back onto the ground, reuniting myself with the crew.
This is an experience I will never forget and hope to be able to relive someday.
I saw a great shirt today. It said "If being in a plane is flying, then being in a boat is swimming. Get out of the plane."