In my home town there is a bridge over the creek that is kind of a right of passage when you jump off. The tradition had kind of faded out by the time I was a teen, but my mother always used it as a euphemism for doing something she thought was stupid, “If everyone else jumped off the George Bridge, would you?” None of us ever actually did it. Years later, we decided it would be better to jump out of a plane instead.
My brother and sister and I have been talking about going skydiving since my sisters 18th birthday. This summer we were finally all able to go. August was pretty stormy, so after one cancellation due to weather we were afraid it might not happen. Seven years ago, my cousin and I did our first jump here after her 18th birthday, I was 19 at the time. I can’t believe it was that long ago, but I’d remembered the great staff and experience I had at Finger Lakes Skydivers. So, on our rescheduled jump day we got up and drove the 90 minutes to Ovid New York and got in our jumps first thing on a Wednesday morning right before the afternoon clouds rolled in.
We were tired after the early morning drive and were ushered in to watch an informational video as soon as we arrived. The facility is a small “airport” basically just a short landing strip in the middle of nowhere with some renovated duplexes that served as FLS headquarters. After the video we had to fill out paperwork basically stating that we knew we could die and our families couldn’t sue if we did. Then finally, we got a run down of how the jump would go and how all the equipment worked.
We were jumping tandem, so only four people could fit in the small plane in one go. So my brother and sister went up first with their tandem instructors and I waited on the ground anxiously watching the clouds.
After about a half an hour I saw little parachutes in the sky and got to watch them come in on their landing next to the air strip. I really enjoyed seeing both of their very different immediate reactions when landing, and I’m glad they went first.
I thought I would be totally ready and in seven years since my last skydive I have faced so many new fears that this, something I have already done before, should be no problem. But, I started to get an anxious fear about 5,000 ft up in the plane and had to force myself to breathe deeply and not look out the window I was seated directly next to. I had to tell myself over and over; You can’t chicken out. You can’t chicken out. When we got past 10,000 ft (about 3,000 meters) my tandem guide tapped me on the shoulder, indicating that it was time to turn around so he could harness us together. The hatch opened and in three steps we were out of the plane free-falling above the clouds.
It was the last run they took that day because the weather turned soon after we landed. When I was in free fall we were above the sea of clouds, it was cold, a crisp chill like early December snow in upstate. That is what it looked like, I was going to free fall into a big pile of snow. But, when we would have hit the snow, after about 30 seconds of free fall, my tandem instructor opened the parachute and we sunk into the thickness. For me, this was the most terrifying part. I have never been in a situation where I was equally sacred and thrilled at the same time. All around me was white blank space. I couldn’t see a thing. Nothing, just white, no ground, no sky, just hearing the rush of wind and white space. The only way I have been able to describe it, is when a movie cuts to a scene where the character is outside of time or space ( like in Bruce Almighty when Jim Carey is in that empty white room talking to Morgan Freeman).
We started to spin the parachute by pulling on each handle. The left side would make right circles and the right side left circles. The circles in the white blank space made me want to vomit, just orbiting out of control in nothing, I felt so disoriented. My heart was beating out of control and I never wanted to see the ground so badly. Finally the clouds started to break and I breathed a sigh of relief that I was still alive and ground was still real, and I didn’t just jump off a plane to my death (However, I’d imagine that’s what death would look like to me, just white blank nothing, so I would have never known). Spiraling below the clouds I got to see Ovid NY in all its farm field glory. It is a beautiful view and because it is so open you can see for miles. This time the spiraling did not bother me so much. As long as I can see the ground my feet don’t necessarily have to be on it.
Mom, we never jumped off The George, but we sure do enjoy jumping out of planes. The perfect siblings bonding activity.