I have always had a fascination with flight and being in the air. As I child I could spot any airplane in the sky. I ran through the yard with my arms spread out like an airplane, jumping from my front birch tree while simulating weird engine noises. Well, yesterday my dreams came true: I got to fly.
I’m not going to lie, I was pretty terrified of what I was about to do yesterday morning. I hadn’t slept well and I found myself looking at the ground to avoid any thoughts of my future plans. Skydiving has always been of interest to me and I have always wanted to do it, but never thought that I would until a few months ago. My father has always wanted to skydive as well, so for his 52nd birthday my mom and I decided to help out. After discussing with him when and where he wanted to jump, he made the comment that he didn’t know if he could go through with it without having me along as well… so I agreed.
When we arrived at Skydive Allegan, I met some of the other people who were diving, signed a form saying I wouldn’t sue the company if I was injured and that no one in my family could sue them if I died (great…), and walked to a back hangar with one of the instructors for a short description on how to actually perform the jump. I was skydiving in tandem, meaning that there would be a strange man strapped to my back who would monitor all the necessary data: rate of our fall, control of the descent, deployment of the parachute, accurate landing. I still had to know a few basic procedures, though, as to make my partner’s efforts a bit easier.
After meeting my tandem partner Travis, we climbed our way into a Cessna 182. If you know your planes at all (which I did not), then you know very well that this particular plane has no kind of area meant for people. The entire cabin had been hollowed out to allow room for five people: four jumpers — meaning my dad, his partner, Travis, and me — and the pilot. It was a cozy ride up.
With it being such a small plane, talking was pretty limited. Travis, obviously knowing I was experiencing a mix of excitement and nervousness, attempted to make small talk. I learned a lot about his various tattoos… By the time we reached 8,000 feet in the air I sighed out of relief. There was no going back now, so why not enjoy it? I continued to watch the ground disappear beneath the pile of clouds we rose through and waited for the next step in the process.
Due to the intensity of the clouds, the pilot decided to drop us at 10,000 feet. As the door swung open and the cold wind hit me, I was struck by temporary paralysis. I watched as my dad stepped out onto the small platform and held on to the plane’s wing. He gave me a thumbs up before him and his partner back-flipped into nothingness. I didn’t realize until that moment that Travis must have scooted us up to the edge. Now it was my turn!
My legs didn’t seem to want to work. I had that tingling feeling in them as I stretched out and squatted on the platform. My hands were a whole other story… they couldn’t let go of the plane. The wing, which is where I was told to hold, had scratches all over it from people I would assume were much my afraid than I. This made me feel a bit better. For what seemed like only a few seconds, I rested on the outside of the plane, beneath the wing, surrounded by white clouds. The wind was amazingly forceful and I wondered briefly how birds can move forward in such power. Then I received the tap on my shoulder, crossed my arms, and began to fly.
Let me take a moment to describe the process of this particular kind of skydive. Standing on the outside of the plane on top a small 8″x 8″ platform is not the traditional style, I guess. Back-flipping into the sky on your first dive is not normal either, but this is how my experience went. The wind hits you at about 120 miles per hour as you begin to free fall. You are flying through the air end over end for the first five seconds of this fall. When your partner is ready for you to be in the correct free-fall position, he slaps your shoulder and you immediately arch your back and flair your extremities out. The free fall lasts for about 30-40 seconds, so you fall for about 5,000 feet at 120 mph.
When the barrel rolls ended, I looked out over the ground some 7,000 feet below me. It was amazing. The ground was a quilt-work of green trees, farmers’ fields, lakes, and street paths. I could see the tops of houses and buildings speckling the countryside like pepper, and a horizon covered in slow-moving clouds.
I’ve always wondered what a cloud tastes like, and I quickly found out. I think that was my favorite part — falling through a cloud. It was cold and wet and indescribably horrifying. I was falling so fast that the experience was over in a second, but for that one second I couldn’t see where I was going and the fear was breathtaking. I felt so alive.
At that moment, I owned the world. There was no anxiety and no tension. I was utterly devoid of pain, grief, and worry. I felt no affliction of the mind or the soul. Looking out over the beautiful earth, I was at complete peace with myself.
The fall itself seemed to last a whole five seconds before Travis deployed the parachute. We began a slow descent to the earth which took about seven minutes. There are two cables that run down from the parachute with strap handles on the end of them, both used for steering. Travis had me slide my hand into both and steer us. Having mentioned my love for roller coasters, he told me to pull down hard on the left. We immediately went into a tight spiral dive. I tried it the right and the same thing happened. That stomach-clenching feeling hit me just like going down the first big hill of Millennium Force and I laughed with joy.
The landing came far too soon and was much softer than I imagined. You cruise into the grass with your legs lifted in front of you and land on your butt. I earned some grass stains on my backside, but otherwise I felt like a child going down a slide. It was fun! More experienced instructors met us on the grass to knock the chute behind us, and Travis and I took one more selfie before departing towards my parents to hear about my dad’s experience.
I was given a certificate to show that I had completed my first skydive and I drove away from the little hangar with the pulse of life rushing through me. Skydiving is an experience that I hope to undertake again, just for that small time of absolute peace. It is an experience I shall never forget.