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August 20, 2006

Nine Point Eight Metres Per Second Squared

Last November, Bonnie received a birthday gift certificate good for one jump at Skydive Toledo, and has been waiting for the summer's clear warm weather to use it. July this year had been unusually hot, so she sent out an email to her closest friends inviting them to jump with her on July 29. I was the only one who accepted.

The two of us headed down two hours to Toledo, Washington, a sleepy little town you have no reason to visit unless you're skydiving. We registered, initialed and signed pages upon pages of disclaimers and waivers, then began waiting. After waiting for half an hour, I asked the woman behind the counter what the hold up was. Apparently we were waiting for the cloud cover to break. I really wished they had told us that there was a chance the jump would be cancelled before I forked over my non-refundable $200 (good for a reschedule). We hung around another two hours before giving up and heading home, vowing to return next week.

The next week, we made the same long drive. It was a hot, clear day, and we were certain the jump was on. We got there at our appointed time of 1:00 pm, and were told there was a two-hour delay. Apparently they had run out of fuel, and needed to have some more driven in. We decided against hanging around the hot hangar, and drove out to the nearby Lewis and Clark camp grounds for a hike.

We cam back to the site in time to see some people land from their jump. The skies were full of hooting and cheering, as the jumpers sailed down. The landings were as graceful as could be expected, and didn't look the least bit painful. Another hour went by, and we went out to the local burger shack for some milkshakes. When we got back, we got a basic training session by the owner on how to position oneself, etc. Basically, our job was to not interfere with the tandem jumper's ability to not let us die.

We were then informed that Bonnie's gift certificate, although good for $200, was not eligible for the same $200 jump I had bought. For reasons that remain mysterious to us today, her $200 gift certificate was only good for a 10,000-foot jump (about 3 km), while my $200 was good for 12,000 feet (about 3.6 km), and all sales were final.

At around 5:00 pm, we were ready to get suited up into our harnesses. Both Bonnie and I forwent the jumpsuits in favour of the clothes we were wearing. Just then, another round of jumpers had just landed. One of the tandem jumpers, a blonde surfer-dude type, ran in excitedly telling everyone how the chute and become twisted, and he had to cut it loose and use the reserve chute to land. His customer looked a lot less thrilled. He then introduced himself and told Bonnie he would be her tandem jumper.

I met my tandem jumper, a much more sedate guy named Mickey. He checked the straps on my harness, and declared us ready to go. We walked over to the tiny prop plane on the runway. This was easily the smallest plane I had ever seen, let alone ridden in. The four of us crammed in behind the pilot, and we took off. Despite what I said about Toledo having nothing to offer, it is truly a beautiful part of the country, especially when viewed from the air. The higher we got, the more pastoral landscapes and mountain ranges we could see. We saw Mount Rainier, Mount St Helens and Mount Adams, and even Mount Hood in the distance (here's a map to get an idea what I'm talking about). With every 100 feet we climbed, the more nervous I became. It seemed like all the moisture from my mouth was being sweated out of my palms. When we reached 10,000 feet, Bonnie's instructor strapped himself to her back, then the door opened. I was still strapped in by my seatbelt, but the rushing wind inside the plane made me feel like I might get sucked right out. Bonnie and her instructor positioned themselves with one foot each onto the step just outside the door, then they were gone. Just like that. My instructor told me to watch them fall. Cautiously, I peeked my head out the door, but only saw horizon. "No," Mickey said. "Watch!" and pushed me so my upper body was hanging out of the plane. Then I saw Bonnie and her tandem jumper getting smaller and smaller. It looked to me, in no uncertain terms, that they had indeed just fallen out of an airplane. Then Mickey pulled me back in and the door shut. Well, I thought to myself, There's nothing I can do for her now.

It took another few minutes to reach 12,000 feet, but it felt like an eternity. I just kept replaying the sight of the figures shrinking against cow fields in my head. Then, it was my turn. Mickey strapped himself to my back, and I put on my goggles. The door opened, and the rush of cold air hit me face first. I put my right foot on the step, and I thought to myself that this was my last act of my own volition. Everything after this step is in the hands of this guy strapped to my back. I had never been more scared in my life (I'm getting that same tingling in my palms just writing about it). Before I knew it, Mickey pushed off and I was falling.

It took a good ten seconds before I could regain my senses. During that time I was completely paralyzed, true sensory overload. I remember seeing the bottom of the plane, the flipping over and being it in the face hard by wind. When I did regain control, I was falling through the air, accelerating at 9.8 m/s2. The wind was rushing into my nose, and I felt like my heart had stopped beating. Then I noticed the incredible view. The world is a truly beautiful place, I thought. Too bad I'm about to die. As we fell, we passed through pockets of progressively warmer air. It was about 85°F (30°C) on the ground, and it seemed we were warming 10° at a time. After about 50 seconds of freefall, the chute suddenly opened, and I was yanked upwards with 3Gs of force (my crotch and armpits were sore for days after). With 5000 feet (1.5 km) left in the drop, we sailed leisurely over cow fields and dirt roads. I started laughing. I wasn't scared anymore, my adrenal glands having exhausted themselves 3000 feet prior.

The landing was as smooth as I could have asked for. We slid on our butts for a few feet, and that was it. Bonnie was waiting for me in the landing field, and I was sure to kiss her before kissing the ground.

It was an incredible experience, redefining my senses of fear and relief. For days afterward, I felt invincible. Suddenly crossing the street against the lights no longer felt like living on the edge. I had just upped the ante, and I feel great. People ask me if I would do it again, and I don't think I've ruled it out, but let's just say it doesn't top my list.

15:27 | Misc Rambling


One time when I was a kid, I fell out of a tree.

Posted by: Rew at August 22, 2006 4:48 AM

it totally beat the time I jumped off the porch with an umbrella in my hand.

Posted by: bonnie at August 23, 2006 2:33 PM

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