I'm not afraid of dying. Nope. I'd prefer I didn't die tomorrow, I have too much to do but if (snaps fingers) that was that then no problem. Hell, I'm spiritual and either there's some big, great beyond or there's not. Guess what? If I'm wrong I won't be in any position to care.
I am, however, greatly concerned with HOW I die. In other words I'd like it to be as peaceful as possible.
Willingly falling thousands of feet from a fully functioning airplane just to slam into the ground, bones shattering, blood spraying etc. would not classify as a top 5 in the ways I'd like to shuffle off this mortal coil. When my good friend and co-worker Josh years ago asked if I wanted to go skydiving I replied no. No thank you. Not happening, good day sir.
But when he asked again at the end of last year in preparation for his birthday I said yes. I had trouble thinking of why exactly and then something he said made me pinpoint what it was. On Josh's bucket list two of the larger items were:
1. Sky dive
2. Go cage diving with sharks
He had asked who wanted to join him on both activities. I wanted to sky dive. It seemed interesting. I did not want to go cage diving with sharks. The reasoning was very simple, I didn't want to swim with sharks because I felt that the sharks would be bored with me, they are giant fish that live in the sea who got a bad rap because of a movie made 30 years ago, I feel kind of sorry for them. You are lowered in a cage so there's no real suspense and there is also 0% guarantee on the day you're in the water the sharks will appear. I have no real desire to spend a lot of $$$ for an experience I have no emotional connection to. (NOTE: I wish Josh luck with this quest.)
This however was not my reasoning for jumping out of a plane. I didn't want to go skydiving because I was afraid of it. It looked fun. I bet it was a really awesome experience. The only thing holding me back was fear, plain and simple. That was a shitty reason. So when he asked again I said yes.
The build up was surprisingly painless. I realized I wasn't doing any hard work, my tandem partner was doing the heavy lifting and assuming they hadn't been having marital problems or any substance abuse issues, they too would want to stay alive as much as I would.
The drive out to the airfield was about 2 1/2 hours. It was moi, Josh, Josh's cousin Alan and Rich. We arrived at the hanger and were greeted with bright smiles. They were very enthusiastic that we would be jumping with them. They brightly handed over the largest waiver form I've ever seen which was basically five pages saying the same thing: "There is no guarantee that under even the best circumstances that this will not kill or horrifically maim you! By signing this you can never, ever, EVER sue us, this is all your fault!" And it's true, once up in the air, anything could happen. No one dragged us there, this was our choice. I never blinked, never thought "let's get out of here" but the thought did cross my mind that IF some freak accident were to occur and IF I was horribly injured but still alive how pissed at myself I would be. I shrugged my shoulders and signed, let future Greg worry about that.
A video on safety quickly turned from boring into epic with the appearance of this gentleman:
I don't know what Skydiving Rasputin's name is but for some insane reason this is the man they chose to host the video on the joys of falling out of a plane. No wonder he loves it, nothing can kill Rasputin!
Following the surprisingly hilarious, not reassuring at all video, we waited around. We talked to some other folks who had just jumped, I ran into a co-worker of mine Lauren who had just finished jumping (small world) and passed the time anticipated our turn. I saw that one of the staff wore a bright blue jumpsuit with flames and hoped that they would be my partner. If you are going to do something potentially fatal it's best that your partner looks amazing.
After about an hour we were up. Alan's partner seemed pretty cool, down to earth, nothing too flashy. Rich got paired up with a large man with a huge scar on his face, if I was a foreign country and this duo parachuted in I would surrender immediately. Josh got a little French man who spoke with a thick accent. From his look and manner of speech he and Klaus Kinski would have made excellent co-stars in some kind of buddy cop movie. As fate would have it I got the Blue Flame. Blue Flame was very cool in explaining the procedure, what to do on the plane, what to do once in the air and then how to land. We were all briefed on the protocol and that was it. Off we went.
There were 16 of us crammed in a little plane, I chatted a bit with Blue Flame. His wife had signed him up for skydiving years ago to get him over his fear of heights, he fell in love with it and quit his day job to do it full time. As the plane climbed I just kept thinking that the view we had out the window, all the empty space, we would be out in that within minutes. The door opened:
Out goes Josh.
Out goes Alan.
We're making out way towards the edge. My cameraman is hanging halfway out the door the camera in my face. I offer it a smile, I lean forward, then back and then I'm gone.
It's bizarre and I can't really do the whole falling sensation justice. The closest comparison and even this doesn't begin to describe the actual sensation, is that it's like riding a roller coaster but one where the car you are riding in shoots off into the air. Back in the hanger, watching the videos of the others the minute long free fall seemed to last forever but in reality it felt over within seconds. He pulled the cord and my harness pulled tight as the parachute deployed. Drifting down was surprisingly peaceful. One of the guys back in the hanger had offered us some advice: "Look around". He said your gut instinct would be to kind of freak out, almost not think about anything but he said the best thing to do is enjoy the ride. I watched the ocean, the trees, I steered the chute for a bit, I tried to take it in.
He told me to brace for a landing, hold my feet out, let his legs touch down first. I agreed and got ready. Then in one of those moments, the ones you would play if your life had a greatest hits countdown.
There are certain words you don't want your parachuting partner to say. Honestly next to "Oh shit" the only words I think I would deem worse would be "We're dead!". I manage a "Wha-"
That's it. I don't even have time for the "t". In an alternate world this is my last word, an aborted "What?!"
We go from in the air to on the ground in what feels like a flash. Thinking back it's amazing how at that last moment the ground just shot up at us. Trying to glide in we lost the current and dropped instead. We managed to miss the target area, landing in some bushes. My tailbone nails the ground and I'm shocked. What just happened? In a split second my mind flashes back to the waiver I signed, the even under the best circumstances anything can happen sentiment that had been stated and restated, over and over. I just didn't want to be paralyzed, I believe we can rise to whatever challenge is set in front of us but I really didn't want to be fucking paralyzed because I was being an idiot. I cursed past Greg and went to wiggle my fingers and toes. Everything worked. I was happy/still shocked when we stood. The kicker is Blue Flame seemed shaken up. I offered him a "Any landing you can walk away from is a good one" but he seemed pretty relieved we were both OK. For the record I think he did everything right, this isn't an exact science, stuff happens. We're fine.
We drove back to the facility and waited for our DVD's (my crash looks especially epic on Rich's disc). Since we had more time to kill I called the folks to tell them what we did. (I am no super genius but telling them after was definitely a good call) While we can put this whole heights thing behind me my mom made me promise if someone wanted to wrestle an alligator for their birthday that I wouldn't go along so I apologize in advance if that's anyone's plan.