Despite what one might assume from my chosen career path, I have never had an desire to go skydiving. Now, I never said that I wouldn’t jump out of an airplane, it is simply not on my bucket list of things to do.
Here is a list of reasons why:
- Not a big fan of extreme heights.
- Seems unnecessarily dangerous and reckless.
- Why? Why in the world would you jump out of an airplane?!?
- It’s scary as fuck!
- Not my kind of thrilling adventure. (I fancy myself an explorer, discovering the mysterious world around us. For example, locating the long lost treasure of the ancient Cat People on the island of Catopia! Now, that is an adventure! Or I could walk across Spain…whatever works.)
Jumping face first out of an airplane though? That’s crazy. Who would do that?
Skydiving, remained an event that would be taken under consideration should the opportunity arose. One such opportunity did arise recently by way of my bestest friend, former teammate/pairs partner and Bride-to-be, Hollie.
As an extension of her stagette, Hollie kindly invited her ladies to partake in skydiving with her; something that has been on her Bucket List. Relayed by her sister and Mistress of Honour, a Facebook invite was issued:
Who wants to go skydiving with Hollie on the Sunday after the party?
$295 for a tandem jump. No experience required.
My immediate reaction to seeing my name tagged specifically in the post was one of nausea.
The silence of the other girls and their general assumption that Michelle, stunt woman and acrobat, would totally be into that sort of thing, meant that I would indeed be the one who would be going on this adventure with Hollie. And really, despite the peer pressure, I would never leave my friend hanging like that. I don’t particularly want to potentially plummet to my death from an airplane but for you, Hollie, I will do anything.
Plus, what kind of professional would I be if I turned down skydiving because I was too afraid to go?
Seriously, I would never be able to show my face in any circle again!
So, I agreed, said “yes” and hoped for the best. Hollie’s obvious joy and excitement well worth my personal unease. So it was settled, Hollie and Michelle would jump out of an airplane the following afternoon of her stagette.
Oh god, this unfortunate feeling of dread, I know all too well. So gross. It starts with an unstable quiver of adrenaline that spikes the heart rate and breathing ever so slightly, while the momentary sickliness of anticipation makes itself at home in you bones, where it would live until the task is complete. The sensation recedes slightly as fear crawls back into it’s black cave, hungrily awaiting the next time I try really hard not to imagine myself plummeting to the earth.
I have friends who thrive on this feeling. I suppose I do too, in a way, but this is just intense. Bleh.
One thing I am confident is my ability to overcome my fear. I am not ashamed to admit that much of the work I do scares me, and though not always enjoyable at times, I am always able to clear my mind, focus and get the job done. One would assume the same principle applies to skydiving.
- Accept what is about to happen.
- Clear you mind.
- Breath again.
Don’t think, just do!
Ah Fuck! What am I doing? Who jumps out of airplanes?!
In the weeks leading up to the eventful stagette/skydiving weekend, I was quite happily able to forget about my perceived impending doom. Even the night of the stagette, amid the wonderful drag shows, frisbee games with firemen and general shenanigans, I was able to put the event of the upcoming day out of my mind. (The nice firemen might have helped too.)
It wasn’t until the exceedingly long 2 hours drive to Innisfail that the realization of what was to come really hit me. Fear, had once again begun to show it’s ugly face.
First, the complete disbelief of what I was about to do.
“Is this really happening? Are we really going to jump out of an airplane, for fun?”
“FUUUUCK! I am definitely jumping out of an airplane today.”
And then…what for it…oh, there it is…
The long, torturous, uncomfortable, creepy crawly sensation of anticipation, as it’s snake like tendrils, slowly slither their way up your bones and into your already alert nervous system.
Oh ya, that’s a good feeling.
Hollie and I chat, somewhat nervously, every now and again voicing our anxiety with an “Oh shit.” Or two. And as much as we try to fight it, the skydiving destination grows closer and closer with every turn of my jeep’s wheel.
This is happening. Better get ready to deal with it!
Eventually, and somewhat hesitantly, we turn down a rural, gravel road to arrive at Big Sky Skydive in Innisfail. I find it comforting to see that this legitimate business is thriving meaning that people don’t generally die while falling from the sky here.
We enter, make our way through processing and find ourselves watching a movie, that I assumed would be about the safety procedures and process of you know, skydiving. Instead, the video was a selling tool to get jumpers to buy photos and videos of their flight at an extra cost. That was disappointing.
Of course I am going to get pictures and a video! If I am going to cry, pee or poop my pants (or all of the above) during this experience, I sure as hell want footage of it! Shut up and take my money.
And then we wait…
Fear bubbles in my belly…
Anxiety heightened, my body vibrates…
The dreaded anticipation…
Fuck me. This is happening.
“Oh shit.” We say.
Two loads of jumpers are waiting to go ahead of us. As the first group is suited up and directed to the pale blue picnic table, atop a small flat bed ready to take them to their plane, I wonder if they are as nervous as I am?
Probably even more so, since they are now 20 minutes away from their own jumps. Jesus.
I feel nauseas. I could cry at any moment. Someone needs to hold my hand here. This is nuts.
The building adrenaline pumps extra energy into my body. I need to move. I spend the next hour and a half nervously chatting, swaying on my feet and/or pacing. Nothing will alleviate this feeling for me. Everything I do is a mere distraction at this point. There is a new sensation growing: curiosity. Or is that excitement? I can’t decide if that small curious flash of excitement is for the actual jump or if I am just excited to get it over with. Either way, I can use this to my advantage and perhaps not pee myself.
The first group returns all in one piece, nobody died. That’s a good sign. The next load, a group of guys out for a jump on their buddy’s birthday begin making their way to the blue bench.
We’re next. Shit.
In an attempt to calm myself, I watch the employees repack to recently used parachutes. I am not sure this comforts me. I suppose I have never really though about how those chutes get repacked and refolded. What a stressful job that must be to have people’s lives so directly in your hands.
Pacing seems like the best option at this point.
Hollie, although I know she is terrified on her own account, is quite bubbly and obviously excited. She is practically bursting at the seams! While, I grow quite in my terror, Hollie seems to be getting more and more enthusiastic. She has wanted to do this for a long time, so not completely unexpected. Perhaps, this is her dealing with her fear as well.
The Birthday Boys finally return after what seems like hours, in actuality it was probably much closer to 40 minutes. The completely shocked and amazed looks on their faces tell me that if the muggles can do it, than perhaps so can I.
“How was it?” Hollie and I inquire.
“Was it scary?”
“In the plane it was really scary but once you jump out it’s so cool!”
Hollie and I look to each other for support, mentally cheering each other on. We can do this and it’s happening right now.
Oh crap, this is getting real.
We both pull on black canvas jumpsuits, gloves, goggles and are fitted for a harness, which I am strangely comforted by. I’ve spent a LOT of time in a harness in my day, this is one part of this whole skydiving process that does make my skin crawl.
Our tandem diving partners, introduce themselves as Dave and Chris. Each of them having just returned from both of the previous two dives. What an interesting job that must be.
Dave, my partner, assures me that this jump is going to be an amazing experience.
“Let’s go for a dive!” As he slaps my back, gently nudging me toward the blue picnic table on the truck.
“Oh shit.” We say, again.
This is really fucking happening.
It’s ok, everything is going to be fine.
The picnic table lurches into movement as we are whisked away to our awaiting airplane.
Whatever sense of fear, dread and anxiety I was feeling earlier in the hanger has all but tripled now. All I can do, in the name of survival, is quietly await my fate. I will be jumping out of this airplane, now right in front of me, whatever happens will happen and there is no turning back. What are you going to do about it?
Clear your mind.
Better make the most of it.
After a few pictures and a short interview for my video, in which I admit to Dave that I am “scared shitless.” Hollie and I are instructed to board the plane where we will climb for about 20 minutes until we reach 12000 feet. Lucky me, according to Dave, I get to sit in the cockpit passenger seat.
This is indeed lucky, because the multitude of dials and switches are the perfect way to distract myself while to small propeller plane crawls it’s way into the sky.
Oh man, if I thought I have experienced fear and adrenaline before, this would have been enough to make my head explode. I often had to close my eyes to refocus my intense nervous energy from avoid the thoughts of worst case scenarios. On the outside, I appeared calm, reserved and pensive while internally, my nervous system was having a field day sending tremors of electricity to every inch of my skin. My heart thundered in my chest, threatening to explode outwards like a scene from Aliens.
This is fear. Real fear. Use it, accept it, acknowledge it and pass this test.
Breath. Calm yourself with breathe.
Gone was the feeling of disbelief and present was now the adrenaline spiked acceptance about what was about to go down…me…out of an airplane. Slow to seep in was that curiosity, what was this hair raising experience going to be like?
Dave taps me on the shoulder, we’re at 10000 feet, it’s time for me to leave the cockpit and assemble our harnesses together. As I sit down beside Hollie, I wonder how she is doing because this is truly terrifying. As if sensing my thought, she looks at me and smiles, albeit nervously but at least she’s happy.
“Two minutes to jump!” The pilot yells over the intercom. The cabin bustles with movement as the solo drivers (crazy) prepare themselves. Dave fills me in on the schedule, “those four up front will go out first. They will be gone in a flash. Your friend will go next and then we’ll be last. Are you ready?” All I can do is nod. Hollie and I clasp hands for a brief moment.
“GO GO GO!”
And the cabin door flies open with a crash as the the deafening blast of air fills the plane! As quickly as the door slams open, the solo divers are flying out of the opening and into the sky. Dave nudges me from behind to move down the bench while Hollie and her partner prepare themselves on the edge of the door.
My body trembles violently as I inch my way forward, there is a resistance in my extremities that tries to fight against my movement towards the door, I have to close my eyes for a second to steady myself. When I open them, I see Hollie for only a few seconds before she is gone. Out the window. Into the sky. This is all happening so fast.
It’s my turn now. Dave crossed my arms across my chest as he motions for me to take my seat on the edge of the plane, legs dangling in the wind. I can barely move my entire structure is shaking so much, my limbs don’t obey as I try to make my way to the door. My heart kicks it into high gear as my breathing becomes more rapid and shallow. The sound of the air passing though the cabin is so deafening that I can no longer hear the calming words of reassurance i have had playing in my head for the past 4 hours. I use my rebellious arms to lower myself onto my butt. The cold air hitting me, waking me from my momentary nightmare.
Then a funny thing happened, I realized that I wasn’t as terrified as I thought I would be in this exact moment. The nanosecond before the jump. I am already here, the serene acceptance of it. Sure my body was still experiencing the intense physiological symptoms of fear but mind was released. In that nanosecond, I noticed many things:
My legs which are sticking out of the planes door and being dragged backwards by the wind, pulling me off onto a slight angle. Interesting, I never thought of that.
My right shoe is untied. Hope I don’t lose it.
The ground is very green.
The sky has cleared up. It’s not as cloudy anymore.
Suddenly, my arms are crossed infant of my chest, head pulled back, Dave and I sway backwards once and then…
The cold rush of air hits my body as we dive head first out of the plane tumbling into a forward somersault. The wind blasting up all around me, as we fall 210 km/hour towards the ground. I feel the pressure of the air resisting me as we free fall. Just as we begin to right ourselves, I catch a glimpse of the silver underbelly of the plane. We stabilize and Dave taps my arms as an indication that I can open them up.
This is happening. I jumped out of an airplane. I did it! As if there was ever any doubt I wouldn’t do it!
That momentary absence of any fear of thought was abruptly transformed into panic as we continued to fall and I realized that I could not find a way to breath as the wind crashed into my face, up my nose and into my mouth. I can’t breath.
My actual worst nightmare. Drowning. Though, I never imagine I would be drowning in air.
For almost 50 seconds (what I perceived as eternity) I lay face down, falling from the sky, strapped to some dude, completely unable to breath while I choked on the air.
I should be looking around, enjoying the experience and scenery.
I can’t breath.
This is hell.
This is torture.
All I can do is turn my head side to side, searching for small gaps in the air flow that I can take a few breaths in and wait those long seconds for that parachute to open.
The wiz of a rope being pulled and a sharp crack, Dave and I are jolted upright from our free fall. Our large, completely glorious green and white parachute blooms above us.
I always knew that thing would open. Was there ever any question in my mind?!
I can finally breath.
Finally, I am able to look around and enjoy. The blue, partly cloudy sky filters into grey as it reaches the vast fields of green and yellow stretch out all around us. Linear outlines of roads and highways, create grid along the rural landscape. Now, this part I enjoy! Hang me in a harness any day, this one just happens to include a parachute.
“Do you want to steer?” Dave inquires from behind.
As if that is even a question.
He hands me the yellow handles of the parachute and offers me instruction on how to make all sorts of turns. Soon, Dave and I are spinning and twirling in the air as I dance with the parachute. I laughed, I hooted, I hollered and I sure as hell had a shit eating grin on my face the entire time.
However, I can honestly say I was relieved when it can time to land.
As we gently slid in on our butts and came to a stop, I let out a long sign.
Hollie sliding in next to me.
We did it. We went skydiving. So glad it’s over.
My shaky legs, still feeling the affects of the huge shot of adrenaline, had me hobble over to Hollie as she burst up off the ground in pure glee! We hugged, high fived, hugged again and remarked at how neither of us peed ourselves!
The adventure was deemed a success!
As for my curiosity, I can’t say I was overwhelmed by a sense of joy or ecstasy when I finally returned to the ground. The experience was exhilarating for sure but mostly what I felt was relief that it was all over. The scientist in me was completely fascinated with my body and mind’s reaction to the extreme circumstances. The physiological and psychological stages at each step of the way will be evidence I will be computing for quite some time, I imagine. Having gone through such an intense dousing of pure adrenaline, there will be many points in my upcoming work that I am sure the findings of this day will become applicable. There was never any doubt in my mind that once committed to this that I wouldn’t go through with it. That was simply not an option at any point. Personally, the skydiving experience was simply a grand test of my ability to handle fear. Did I pass? Yes, definitely. Would I go again? Please, no.
And let’s not forget that real reason I was there, to support my friend, Hollie. Knowing that she got to cross one thing off that bucket list and loved it is enough for me. She made the whole adventure worth it!
Now, about that hidden treasure on the island of Catopia…