In honor of our October book club selection Jumping Fire: A Smokejumper’s Memoir of Fighting Wildfires, my friend Steve and his son decided to try skydiving. Anyone else interested? Thus began our 2-month quest to complete a dive. In the end, we had 4 brave souls: Steve Maylone, his son Mike, friend Dave and me (Sheryl). Our date: Noon on Sunday October, 12, 2003.
What began as a stormy & windy day cleared to a beautiful sunny but still windy afternoon and, as my husband Todd quoted from a movie “It’s a beautiful day to die” (anyone remember the movie?). Between that and his singing the Green Beret song as we drove, you know how it goes… “fighting soldiers from the sky, fearless men who jump and die”, should have dampened my mood but he reminded me to relax and have some fun with it (did I mention that Todd was NOT jumping with us?)
As we approached the Drop Zone, skydiver speak for the airport, we traveled down a dirt path to a collection of trailers, sheds & Tiki-huts on the edge of a small airstrip. There was a viewing area with patio in front where jumpers & friends socialize and DID I JUST NOTICE A GUY IN A NECK BRACE? No kidding, there he was hanging with the other jumpers. As I walk inside, DO I SEE A GUY WITH A GASHED KNEE, BLOOD GUSHING? No kidding, they finally decide to relocate the knee repair job somewhere in the back – probably due to the panic in my eyes and the fact that I haven’t yet paid. Apparently he tried to land like a plane in the runway, not a good thing.
Once the rest of our party arrives, we are given a liability waiver to review and sent to watch a video explaining the dangers we will face and yes, they really do say dangers. The guy in the video looks like a former member of ZZ Top, 2-ft. beard included. All I can think is “what does he do with his beard while he is diving?” As he explains it, we are waiving our rights to sue in exchange for the thrill of making a skydive. We must be nuts, we sign and pay. (I’m still trying to figure out the beard thing).
We have chosen to jump in tandem, which means we will be strapped to an instructor who controls our jump. Originally the guys wanted to jump solo, but I convinced them that 1) tandem is safer, 2) it only takes 15 minutes of training vs. 6 hours and 3) the clincher – you get to go more than twice as high and FREEFALL, 14,000 feet high to be exact.
My instructor is Brent. His favorite line is “whatever happens to you also happens to me and I’m not gonna die today”, OK, I like the attitude. My camera guy is Tim who HAS A REALLY NASTY BLACK EYE that he got when the ground met him too quickly. Again, we must be nuts, because we continue to suit up & strap in.
During the instruction and prep process, the whole Surfer Dude, or rather Skydiver Dude atmosphere disappears. These guys are professional and serious about safety and procedures. When the camera comes back on, it’s all high fives, thumbs up and the universal skydiver sign – wiggle the hand side to side with the thumb and pinky pointed outward, middle fingers down – Have a Safe & Smooth Ride.
Six of us are loaded like cargo into the plane, a Twin Otter that we learn is the ultimate for skydiving because of its ability to climb quickly and the fact that it is equipped with a large exit door. At 14,000 ft (that’s what, 3 miles high?) we prepare to jump. NOW I’M NERVOUS. My throat drops and my stomach rises to meet it as Hippie, Dave’s camera man clings to the outside of the plane like Spiderman and Dave and his instructor fall out of the door. NOW I KNOW WE ARE NUTS! Brent and I walk to the door on our knees and as Brent keeps inching forward I think “stop, I’m too close and I will fall out”, oh yeah, that’s the point. One...two...three and tumble out we go – hurling through the sky.
WHAAAAAAAAAH!!!! What a rush the FREEFALL part of the dive is.
Todd said they could hear someone screaming from the ground. Dave later admits he screamed too but Todd puts his “…money on Sheryl because she has a good set of pipes.” Steve & Mike are still keeping up the macho front, “what me scream, no way”. We turn in fast circles right, we turn in circles left, we plunge towards the ground – WAY COOL! It’s only about 60 seconds but it feels like much longer.
At about 5000 ft. Brent opens the chute and you instantly and violently go from a horizontal freefall to swinging upright, pendulum fashion from your lower harness straps. I giggle as I hope the guys took seriously the advice to make sure their lower straps were adjusted properly. We are in a giant swing in the sky and I can now hear Brent talk. First thing he said was “awesome freefall” followed by “we have a perfect chute above us” – I did good…Brent and I have bonded…I AM A SKYDIVER! I’m just enjoying the view, staring at the ground, swinging away in the wind – OOPS, I remember too late the instruction DO NOT STARE AT THE GROUND, you will get vertigo and feel sick. Yep, that’s exactly how I feel.
To steer the chute, you pull on hand straps. Pull right and you accelerate and spiral down to the right like the stripes on a barber pole, ease up and you are back to the swinging pendulum, pull left and down and around you go in the opposite spiral. So, now not only are the two of us hurling through the sky but I AM NOW HURLING IN THE SKY as well. Think of that the next time something splats on your windshield that just cannot have come from a bird! Brent tries to be smooth with the ride but he needs to hit the drop zone, not the next county so, down and around we go until, feet up & out and we slide onto the grass for a soft landing. You will need to ask Steve about his soft landing.
Brent ditches me in the drop zone, I think he is dreading the abuse and ribbing about the “The Hurler” the rest of the gang will throw at him, apparently he has a knack for selecting the soft of stomach types. I walk in with my head down, hoping that nobody knows what happened up there but I can tell Todd knows and he informs me they were all having a great time trying to figure out what they were seeing. Wonderful, I’m glad to have provided such entertainment value for the spectators.
Dave, Steve & Mike loved the dive and fortunately did not feel sick. They are now stuck with planning how to prioritize skydiving into their entertainment budgets. As for me, another fantasy bites the dust and until they can let me freefall all the way down and catch me at the bottom – PARACHUTE? I DON’T NEED NO STINKING PARACHUTE!
Have a Safe & Smooth Ride - The Hurler
See photo attached
Attached File: SkydiveGroupof4a