This is a departure from the normal post today. I am writing today’s post based on The Daily Post @ WordPress.com. The topic for today is to write about your strongest memory of heart-pounding, belly-twisting nervousness: what caused the adrenaline? Was it justified? How did you respond? Here is my response.
Seeing people that normally deal with the anxiety and excitement of an extreme sport such as skydiving on a daily basis with the look of worry and terror in their eyes is a bit unnerving. Especially since I was suited up and waiting my turn to do the very thing that had brought this terror to their normally calm expressions.
I had made the comment to my wife that the landing we had just witnessed did not seem like a very graceful execution of a textbook reengagement with the ground. I expected to see some flawless landings from the group of regular skydivers that we were watching. However, when the guy that had just landed didn’t get up and people were running in different directions all with a similar expression, I knew that something had gone terribly wrong.
When the ambulance and rescue vehicle drove across the landing field, I felt the strong desire that I had brought with me that morning to attempt skydiving start to wane. After all, if this guy who was a pro couldn’t land without injury, how would a green novice like myself have any hope.
I looked at my wife and then at my two young children running around the airplane hanger oblivious to events that were occurring in the near distance. Was I about to make them husbandless and fatherless, I wondered.
The scraggly instructor who looked more like a biker than a skydiving instructor came up to me a few minutes later. He still had the calm, controlled expression that everyone else seemed to lose earlier.
“Mr. Kramer”, he said, “You sure you still want to go through with this.”
Odd question I thought.
“Well, I dunno…what happened”, I questioned, wondering if the same fate would befall me if I went through with it.
“Oh, he was just messing around trying to show off”, he responded matter-of-factly as if he saw this sort of thing all the time.
“Is he alright”, I asked as the ambulance pulled out of the airport with the fallen skydiver.
“He’s fine. He legs may be broken, but he will be alright”.
I entered deep thought mode for a few minutes as everything swirled around in my mind. All the potentials for danger and potentials for fun were competing with one another in my mind. I replayed the video from my orientation earlier that I watched prior to getting suited up. Be aware, the video announcer had said, this sport is still considered experimental and injury and even death could occur. Not very inspiring
“Are the conditions ok. I mean that’s not what caused him to crash is it?”, I questioned.
“Nope, conditions are fine. Like I said he was just showing off.”
“Let’s do it!” I said looking into his eyes determined to go through with my desire to do this.
After a hug and a kiss from my wife and kids, I was jumping into the back of an old pickup truck with my instructor. Heading out to the runway, I could feel my heart starting to beat stronger as the adrenaline was starting to flow. Was I really doing this? Was I going to jump out of an airplane after seeing the commotion of the morning? Would I end up like that guy getting lugged away by an emergency crew…or worse?
The truck came to an abrupt halt and we jumped out onto the black deck of the runway. There it was, the airplane that would take me to my jumping altitude. I was not impressed by what was in front of me. I had been on some small planes, but this was ridiculous.
I had seen the websites and brochures for skydiving companies over the years as I worked up the nerve to actually sign up to do one. Their planes looked nothing like this. They were always shiny and sleek looking like they would take their passengers into the sky in comfort and style. The one before me now had none of the above.
It was small; enough room for the pilot and maybe four people on the floor in the back. There were no seats in the back, just the smooth, hard surface of the floor. We entered the door on the side of the plane as I realized that it had no door, just an opening in the side of the plane where a door used to be at some point in this little plane’s evidently long life.
Inside, things didn’t look much better. Duct tape held many of the panels up the sides of the interior. The one seat used by the pilot looked like something stolen out of an old junkyard car and bolted in to take the place of a once more appropriate seat.
My instructor clipped us onto the plane using the hook welded onto the floor. Good thing because I was wondering how we would stay in this thing once it started to pitch and turn.
The engine started and the wheels rolled and sooner than I could say wait a minute, I changed my mind, we were off the ground. The engine strained and fought its way into the clear blue sky.
As we climbed to our jumping altitude, I was lost in the beauty around me. The sky was as blue as the Caribbean Ocean with white billowy wisps of clouds scattered around. The Rocky Mountains spanned the horizon off to the west. The people, cars, and buildings beneath us started to look like the setting on a model train set. For a minute, I had forgotten about the dilapidated aircraft that I was strapped into or the fact that in a moment, I would be jumping out of it.
My trance was broken and I was brought back to reality with the instruction to get into position. With that command, my heart was racing again and I could feel the adrenaline rushing once more.
We scooted over to the edge of the plane with me strapped onto the front of my instructor. As I had been told, I swept my legs over the edge of the floor and allowed them to dangle under the body of the plane. Sitting on the edge of the plane, I could see the world below and realized how quickly I was about to get much closer to it.
My heart was now about to beat through my chest and my adrenaline was on full throttle. My body was shaking with anticipation and warning me of imminent danger. The body doesn’t quite understand why we are jumping out of something that is not about to crash and so it revolts against the notion.
“Are you ready?” the instructor screamed at the top of his lungs to combat the noise from the airplane engine and the wind rushing against us.
“Yes!”, I screamed back.
“Then scream!”, he yelled in return. The scream was to make sure you weren’t holding your breath out of fear.
I let loose a blood-curdling scream like Braveheart going into battle. “Ahhhhhh”, I yelled as our bodies left the solid form of the plane and the free-fall began. The sensation of the bottom dropping out beneath me quickly took my breath away and ended my war cry.
Falling, strangely, felt a lot like not falling. Besides the air beating against my face and contorting the skin on my face into Jim Carey like expressions, it felt surreal like I was just watching the earth while floating in the air. Yet at the same time my adrenaline was pulsating and I felt the rush of a drop from an amusement park ride. It was a sensation that I can’t quite describe.
With a tug like running into a clothes line while riding a bike, the parachute opened and slammed the breaks on our descent. The slow gliding motion felt as if I was a bird soaring towards the ground.
As the ground neared, I had a realization that once again broke my relaxed enjoyment. The landing is what the guy earlier that day had messed up and we were coming up to that portion of our journey. As my father-in-law colorfully says, it’s not the fall that gets you, it’s the sudden stop at the end. Plus earlier in the orientation, they had said that you could land on your feet, on your butt or on your head. Be ready for anything because you never know what to expect. Again, not very inspiring.
My heart raced once again as we approached the ground. The adrenaline surged once more as the possible outcomes spun around in my mind.
With a well-timed stall performed by my instructor, we paused before gently touching down on the ground as if we had just softly stepped off the back of the pickup truck that we were riding on earlier. Our journey had come full circle and we were back on the earth. Even better yet, we were unscathed in the process.
Once I was unhooked from all the straps and buckles, I returned to the welcoming arms of my wife and kids. I felt relieved and excited that I had gone through this adventure, yet sad that it was over.
It was one of the scariest and most exhilarating experiences I had ever been through. I had never been that scared in my life. However, it goes down as one of my top ten experiences.