You Jumped From Where???
Like most people, I used to have dreams of flying when I was a kid. Sometimes I'd soar like superman, sometimes I'd just be able to leap downhill and the ground would fall away faster than I would come back to it. In my adult years I'd thought often about going skydiving or hang-gliding, but the money and the time always seemed just out of my grasp. So for my birthday when my girlfriend Kate told me she would take me if I wanted to go, I jumped at the chance (pun intended).
Originally we planned to take the AFF-1 (Accelerated Free Fall, Level 1) class together on a Saturday, which would probably put us into the jump on Sunday. I'v always wanted to do it on my own, pulling my own ripcord, controlling it all, etc. However I happened to be climbing in a gym a couple days before the class and ran into Mary, who works for the skydiving company. Mary explained that doing the AFF class for my very first jump ever was probably not in my best interest, she pushed instead for me to do a tandem jump. After talking it over with Kate, we decided to switch (this also meant 15 minutes of ground school instead of 8 hours).
We headed up to Longmont for our 1pm appointment under some very grey skies. After arriving, filling out the requisite forms that explained we could not sue if we got hurt, and if we did sue we WOULD NOT WIN, we were informed that due to the weather we'd either have to wait or reschedule. So we waited. And waited. Then finally went into Longmont in search of food and something to read. We ended up at the local Target. Picked out a few magazines, got something to drink, grabbed a snack, and worked our way back to the hanger. To wait some more. Finally at about 4:30pm we decided to give up and reschedule. Unfortunately, the next 5 weeks or so were pretty packed for us, we'd have to put this off until August.
As we were leaving one of the tandem instructors stopped us to chat a little bit, then offered us a deal. If he could get a pilot for the Cessna, and we promised to be there, he'd see what he could do about getting us into the air at 7am the next day. We readily agreed, they tracked down the pilot who said "sure", and we left in a much better mood. The mornings that past week had all been really nice, with the weather coming in during the afternoon, so we were sure we'd be able to get to jump.
Of course, as is always the case with the weather, the next morning was anything but nice. Driving the hour plus to get to the hanger again we drove through lots of fog and some sprinkles of rain. Unsure if we'd get to jump, or just have to sit and wait more, we continued on. And were the first people in the parking lot. Since neither one of us had gotten much sleep the night before we laid the seats in the car back and tried to catch a quick nap. Only to wake up with the car surrounded by employees.
It didn't look good, the weather was still bad and the wave of Sunday jumpers was starting to show up. After about an hour and a half we were told to go ahead and get into the jumpsuits (and the goofiest hat I'd ever seen), just in case. We got dressed and waited some more. Finally the pilots were located and we headed out towards the plane, not quite sure if we'd get to go or not (but trying to be ready, just in case). Standing around on the tarmac, telling jokes and just generally waiting some more we got a decent view of some of the people who'd be sharing a plane with us. Besides Kate and myself we had a collection of jumpers who'd obviously been doing this a while, an employee of the company jumping at low altitude, a couple of students, a girl from Boulder doing her first jump (and intentionally not inviting her friends along), and our tandem instructors.
Just when it looked about its worst we were told to hustle up and get in the plane, a break in the clouds had just been seen and we were going to grab it. While we piled into the plane I could hear the engines fire up, next thing I knew we were on the runway and moving fast. One quick leap and we were in the air. All that waiting paid off, we were really going to get to jump!
While the regular jumpers popped out of the plane (one guy actually ran from one side of the plane right out the door, it was quite the sight to see), the tandem instuctors strapped our harnesses together and began to talk us through what was coming next. While I was concentrating on my instructor (Guy was his name), Kate and Mitch (her instructor) were sliding towards the door. I watched them approach, get into the crouched position, then... gone. She just wasn't there anymore. Next up was the girl from Boulder. As her and her instructor began the countdown the hole in the clouds closed and the pilot kicked the indicator lights to red. "Red light, red light" Guy began screaming, trying to be heard over the sound of the wind coming in the door and the propellors pulling us through the air. The instructor promptly sat back onto the bench behind him, dragging the girl backwards at the last instant before they would have gone out of the plane. A hard banking turn later and we were circling again, looking for another hole in the clouds (FAA rules say that you have to be able to see your landing zone from the plane, and we were jumping from 12,000 feet with low clouds). After a couple of minutes we finally got a break. Boulder-girl went, then we lined up in the door. One, two, three, out the plane.
I'm not quite sure if it was planned or not, but I know we ended up doing a flip in the air, then I was doing everything I could to arch like we'd talked about on the ground. Almost instantly (or so it seemed), we were stable and just falling. Fast. Enough to pull my cheeks back on my face. I was watching the ground with a surreal sensation when Guy made me look up (well, look up relative to my body, it was actually horizontal). Stunning, simply beautiful. Falling through clouds, watching the mountains on the horizon, trying to breathe through my nose (since it's a little tough to open your mouth and breathe when you're falling at 120 mph). After too short of a time there was a motion from Guy to pull the chute. "Whoomph", we were gently floating. No sudden jerks to slow down like I was expecting, just a gentle slow down and a re-aligment back to the normal vertical position that it's used to.
We practiced our landing on the way down so that we'd be sure not to crash and hurt somebody (since I was actually bigger than my instructor, odds are he'd be the one getting hurt). A few count-downs, a couple flares to practice the final descent and we were just descending. Right through a closing hole in the clouds. While Guy laughed and giggled like a kid we went into a tight corkscrew turn, almost parallel to the ground. By the time he pulled out I was a bit dizzy, but still able to help guide the parachute on over to the cloud (while Guy was yelling "Yeah, let's go kick a piece of this cloud!").
In almost no time at all we were rapidly approaching the ground (it seems to me that the last thousand feet appear to go MUCH faster than the first 11 thousand feet do), ready for our landing. "Three... two... one... wait for it... wait for it... ok, FLARE!" yelled Guy as we got mighty close to the ground. The flare gave us just a bit of lift (I was later to find out Guy wasn't expecting it), then we settled gently to the ground. And I just stood there, with a big goofy grin that wouldn't go away for a while.
A short walk over to Kate, then a stroll to the hanger later and we were on our way back to Denver, before 10am. I was amazed by a couple things over the weekend: the jump itself, Kate for getting it for me, the way that the jump school accomodated us for a day we weren't even scheduled, and the horrible weather Colorado seems to be having right now.
As a sidenote, we had some Blackjack's pizza sent over for all the employees, since they did such a great job getting us in the air and back down again...
If you're in Colorado and looking to do what I just did, give Mile-Hi Skydiving Center, Inc a call at 303-702-9911, or visit their website at http://www.mile-hi-skydiving.com/
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