I didn’t know exactly why I was doing it, and there was a screaming voice in my head pushing me back out saying “what the fuck you think you’re doing?!?!?!?!” but I did it: I jumped out of a plane 13000 feet high attached only to another person who had only a backpack. Well, into that backpack was the parachute and that person was a highly trained instructor, but none of this crossed my mind when I was free-falling into the sky and into a cloud, where I could see nothing and barely breath.
But let’s break it into pieces, because yesterday I felt like the whole world was about me, and I would like very much to share this whole experience. If you’re only interested in the dive itself, go to the end of this page, this first part is more about the whole experience I had today. It started at 5:15AM on 16 of July 2009, my 32nd birthday, when for the 3rd day in a roll my sleep vanished. I gave up sleeping, went to make some cofffee, take a shower, avoid the computer and make sure I had all information on how to get into the Weston airfield for my previously booked tandem skydiving. At 7:15, I believe, I was out, with sufficient time to catch the 8:24 train to Bicester North, or so I thought… Jubilee line had problems, people on the ticket line had problems, so I had time only to see the train leaving… ok, next one in 30 min. Or so I thought :) I swear I saw the message “Calling at … Bicester North…” both on the platform and the train, and here I went. First minutes looking at the window and listening to music, and in the first stop, this lady sits on the other side of the train and says things I’m not understanding, but seems like she wants to chat. Why not, I thought, and took off my phones and nodded with a smile. She was from Wolverhampton, she was coming back from her granddaughter graduation trip; she loved to travel and goes many times to Canada. She thinks skydiving was really interesting, and one of her daughters does all sorts of this crazy things. She remembers the bombing in the last war, but as she was only 2 years old, she was more curious than scared. She finds weird that nowadays they serve tea in any place only in very large cups. And suddenly she asked me where exactly was I going, and as we couldn’t see it on the information display, we called the attendant that confirmed I was in the wrong train. But fortunately, in 10 min we would pass by the very next station from the one I should be going, where I could take the very next train, which next stop would be where I needed. And so I did, thanking not only the lady but also all my saints, gods, goddess, cosmic energy or FSM…
Arriving on the airfield one hour later than planned, I looked for Alf from Skydiving Alfresco, and I was told he was on the plain and should be down quickly. That was the first of many many jokes I heard there, which I really appreciated. During the next several hours waiting my turn, the jokes and twittering were my tools for not panicking – I forgot my towel… I was actually relieved to find I would have to wait, so I went to the gathering house, watched some TV – which puts your mind in the alpha-relaxed-non-thinking state, and then felt brave again and went to the watching area after the hangar. Unfortunately it was a cloudy day, but when I was getting close to the area there was an opening and the sunshine welcomed me, and the sound system around the field connected to a local radio station started to play Easy Lover:
“You’re the one that wants to hold her
Hold her and control her
You’d better forget it
You’ll never get it
No don’t try to change her, just leave it, leave it…”
I saw the airplane going up, few people dropping, and I was actually disappoint because it seemed to be not much high and too quickly, but, ok, maybe it’s better that way. After some minutes I was nervous again, and back to the house. I met this girl with shaking hands in the bathroom, she had a bad landing and twisted her thumb, but kept telling me how much it worth. She was from Scotland and had travel just to this jump, among many students. Again, getting nervous, but telling myself ‘I so not going to back down now’. Later back to the watching area, I recognised Alf by the description on the uniform and the pictures, we talked and then later he started the instructions. It was easy, but at that moment just felt like too much information my scaling nervousness could remember, but I tried. And of course, if I’m always making jokes, under the circumstances I was on fire, as my twitter statuses can tell. I met this couple who also was waiting for the tandem, and two other girls. It took a lot more time than it seems, because very often the plane needed to go refuel or went to do some display in the area, but I wasn’t exactly urging for it. When the two other girls went to dive, I was back into the watching area to see how the tandem was and the landing. Hm, where is this plane going? F*** that’s high!!! So I learned that what I was watching before was the students, who are dropped into a much lower high and seem they immediately open their parachutes. For the professionals and tandems, it was way higher – double, actually. So high I couldn’t see the plane anymore, just people suddenly dropping out of clouds. And the sound system starts to play ‘It’s raining men’… see, even the unknown was in a good mood. One of the girls had a bad landing, not serious, but must have hurt a bit when she put her feet on the ground earlier than should and the instructor landed on her legs. So I told to myself to do not play the smart one and just let go, you will only do what you’re told to do.
So, it was my turn to put the graceful (not!) outfit, stop twittering and get ready. My mouth felt drier than ever but I only took some sips of water, and even with a painful hunger – it was about 2PM and I had breakfast really early and only some grapes and a chocolate for lunch (don’t tell my PT) – I was glad I haven’t eat, because my stomach was also trying to convince me I shouldn’t do it. A last training, and again Alf told me he had taken up to 190kg before so I was really easy. I asked how, and then learned he took a guy from a Scandinavian don’t-remember-what-sport team, actually several of them, and the tallest one was 2,14m and 190kg. Ok, good to know. Last signatures, say hi to the camera, jumping around to release some of the excitement/panic. Kylie Minogue started sounding… Time to go on the plane, and Alf was required by rules to hold me by the straps from that moment on, which felt appropriate since my legs started to protest against it as well. I’ve told him before that if I started panicking, he should just ignore and push me out of the plane.
Alf also told me that it was a good place to make friends, because the plane was really cozy. There was about 15 people inside the tiny plane, really close to each other, and then I think it started to really hit me – oh my god, I’m really doing this. Yet one last time the question ‘why am I doing that’ crossed my mind, with no answer yet, but I knew I had to figure out and answer to that urge to just do it. A small plane seems to go with the nose really up, but I guess it’s the same for regular planes, just because they’re bigger so you don’t feel it. But that was a part I’ve done before, so it wasn’t scaring – until they open the door at 6500 feet to drop a student – and I started to panic again. But I was decided to not back down, even if it meant go to tears. Last review of the instructions also for the camera, Alf makes the last joke saying ‘and that means I will pull the parachute (crossing fingers) that will hopefully open’ and I tried to concentrate into the instructions and don’t break into the panic. And at the negative to ‘any last question?’, people started to singing Happy Birthday to me!!!!
There was one last question for me: “are you ready to skydiving?” I just shouted yes and felt the adrenaline taking over. Than we were at 13000 feet, the door was open again and people started to jump out like it was nothing. I don’t know how I managed to go to the door, but there was I, hearing myself almost crying, and I managed to do the only thing I was expected to do: cross my arms and grab the straps in my shoulders, put my legs up, back, crossed and bend it the most I could. How did I managed to do that at the airplane door I don’t know yet, but my I think my body actually reacted grabbing the straps the hardest I ever thought I could, and bendding my legs even more to get close to the only thing keeping me into the plane, the instructor. I think I remember he pulling my head back, which I had forgotten. And on the same time I was involuntarily screaming ‘nooooooooooooooooooo’, we jumped.
You know the feeling when you face an air turbulence and the airplane sudden drops? It was that, but for waaaaay longer. I was not in control of anything, and even if my mind kept telling ‘I’m not going to die‘, my brain was screaming ‘whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy’. Then I got a tap in my shoulder, and I think I’ve been with my eyes closed to there. Then I released my arms, and we were into a cloud. And there was the video guy, and I think a piece of my brain got really perplexed to the whole thing: I was in accelerated free fall, the cloud was all over and I could only see this guy’s eyes. I think I tried to make signs to the camera and get control of myself again, but I’m pretty sure I will look absolutely terrified in the video.
Than, 45sec later – which felt way longer but now seems like just 5 – I got this tapping on my shoulder meaning I should again grab the straps and get ready for the second part, and I couldn’t do it properly, there was no space for my hand. Since I was expecting the parachute breaking the fall to be really hard, I just grabbed a strap above my shoulders and prepared my body for the impact. Surprisingly, it was very soft. Then I was flying. I was grasping for air like I never before, while I heard myself making some sounds like crying really hard. Some bad words also came out. Alf was stabilizing the parachute, and ‘welcomed me to his office’. “Most people work a quarter of their lives to get a office with a view…”. Ok, the worst was over… Finally, I started to enjoy the view and the feeling. Out there, just flying, looking at everything, like from an regular flight, but there was no plane. Just suspended in the air. After a while, Alf started to make some turns too fast, and I had to tell him I was going to be sick if he didn’t stop, and so the rest was nice and easy, just to enjoy and start realizing what I’ve just done.
Very few minutes later, I received the instructions to get ready for landing. I put my arms behind my legs, pulling them, and tried to put my feet upfront; if I touched the ground before him, we may get hurt. I told myself ‘again, sneaky one, don’t try to control and even if you feel you should step, you won’t until you’re told so’. And next thing, we landed, seating, no injuries, no nothing. I only wanted to be there for some minutes, but there was the camera again and I had to wave to it, when I realized “oh, it is high definition”. I think that’s something they didn’t expected to hear…
When I felt strong enough to walk, I went to the hangar. I was sweating very much, and was told that was a body reaction to adrenaline. I received last instructions to drink lots of water because I would be dehydrated from the whole thing. I wished the couple good luck, thanked Alf for the whole thing. I realize that having a professional that is ready to answer any question, gives you plenty of information and makes you feel you have something to trust even when you’re panicking, it was key so I could do it. So, thanks again, Alf, and if anyone in UK wants a good reference, the website is here.
Than I was out the hangar, in my regular clothes, feeling relieve, but now I started to feeling something else. For a second, I felt bad I was so terrified I missed the free fall, but only for a second, when I though: “are you kidding me? look at what you just did, you still asking to be perfect???” You know what, I rock! I’m a fucking awesome badass redhead riot woman! I was so proud of myself!
Than I realize what was I doing, and why I was doing it. No mater how much my friends told me, I was never been able to met my own standards. No mater how much had I worked, seen, read, learned, made, I still had all those old messages printed in my head since early age that I couldn’t, I wouldn’t, I didn’t make it right. And I had to jump out of a plane at 13000 feet, more than 6000 miles away from hometown (in a straight line), to convince myself I can do anything. I’m brave enough to brake any convention and do what I want to do, not what I should do or what other people think I should do.
I knew I wouldn’t die. I knew I wouldn’t hurt myself if I only let go, let go the control, you’re don’t need to be encharge of everything. I knew I could and I should trust a complete strange. I knew I was kept safe by forces we can’t yet explain. I knew I had brake through. I overcome my own limits and did something because I wanted it, even my whole body was trying prevent me from doing it. My limits are only in my head, my mind is free and want to embrace the world, to know the unknown, to fly, to change history, to live life at full. I felt so overwhelmed with gratitude and happiness I could only be thankful for this amazing day and experience, whose consequences and insights I’m still realizing. I felt all the love and caring from my friends, my family, and many people we touch lifes everyday without realizing how much impact we can have. I realized how much some people impacted my own life, and probably have no idea of that. Some I will have to opportunity to tell, some not, like that nice lady from the train that besides all the cold and anti-immigration stereotype there may be about British people from the country side, helped me to feel welcome and saved me from hours running around lost. I hope wherever she is, she receive my thankful feelings.
So, that’s my experience. If you feel any compelling to do skydiving, do it. Even if you don’t really know why, your soul knows better. Do it.
Ave Mary A
Where did you go?
Where did you go?
How did you know to get out of a world gone mad?
Help me let go
Of the chaos around me
The devil that hounds me
I need you to tell me
Child, be still
Seek and shall ye find…
PS.: Pictures here, trying to get the video online. It’s really interesting to watch your own reactions, and completely different to what I remembered. I didn’t know I was smiling and enjoying it so much. The video is even better, just need to figure how to rip it.