As the plane takes off all that you hear is the buzzing engine spewing a moody hum, and you feel the vibrations of the entire Skyvan stretching as it climbs to 12,500 feet. Your ears pop and you have to brace yourself against the seat or the wall of the plane as you wait through the 2o minute climb, but the anxiety you may have felt on the ground is fading slowly as chatter begins to dissipate. Jokes shared moments before are distant memories, and no one dares a glance out the window — instructors or students alike in this.
Students wear blue jumpsuits with goggles dangling off their shoulder straps. You’re all uniform in your lip-biting, wringing of hands, and nervous eyebrow-raising glances of “you thinking what I’m thinking?”
Soon the time comes to get connected, so you shift over and sit on your Instructor’s lap. It’s uncomfortable, not only because the space is tight but, well, sitting on a grown adult’s lap while you yourself are an adult is a little bit of an odd move if the candles aren’t lit. There’s also an impression on your leg muscles as you balance yourself and brace against both the pull of gravity and the tug of straps as your Instructor tightens your harnesses together.
There’s a gust as the rear door of the Skyvan opens, and the people towards the rear of the plane casually leap out and disappear. They’re the advanced students, instructors, and other “pros”. There’s a line of four-legged tandem Instructor-student creatures who start to walk awkwardly. You’re in front of your Instructor as you step together; a person learning to walk, and his shadow. You approach the door, and he tugs your head back so you look at the ceiling. “Hold onto your shoulder straps, lean back. Kick up your legs behind you.” He shouts this for the fourth time since you met on the ground a half hour ago, safety tips for making a good jump.
Then you walk towards the rear of the plane, the smell of gasoline and exhaust blowing past as nothing but fresh air and emptiness lie in front of you. Any hesitation you may have felt is now gone — well, except in the face of the poor girl with purple hair who decided not to proceed with her jump as she watches you walk past. That anxiety and bundle of nerves has unraveled and there’s a sense of “release” as you make a sudden hop and —
FALL THROUGH THE AIR.
Just for a second, but instead of landing on the ground you suddenly do a back flip, remembering to hold on tight to your shoulder straps and kick up your legs behind you. As you tumble through the air, Instructor helping you adjust so you face the ground, the Instructor taps you on the shoulder, and you LET GO of the straps.
Air blows past as you spread your arms and continue to fall. You open your eyes, and the earth is two miles below, but looks like a high-res Google earth panorama, unmoving but very real.
You catch your breathe, and it’s a struggle. Not only is air blowing against your chest and stomach, but the harness has been strapped tight, your jumpsuit is a half-size too small, and there’s moisture everywhere. It’s almost like forgetting to hold your nose when jumping into the deep end of a pool for the first time ever.
The air is chilly.
There’s not a bit of amazement lost.
You look down and see the world growing just a little larger, and then you feel another tap on your shoulder, reminding you to hold on again as —
A sound like snapping a sheet across a bed, the fabric quickly unraveling and sighing.
The parachute deploys and you feel a tug at your thighs and shoulders. You dangle a moment, and the Instructor tells you to hold onto the straps dangling from the parachute. You could use them to steer, but for now, just hold them in place as the Instructor loosens a couple of the harness connectors between you. Legs dangle freely, arms are held at length to feel the gentle breeze as you glide for ten minutes towards the earth — again, a hi-res photo zoomed in, the land approaching at a crawl.
Minutes later, your feet are falling asleep and your arms feel bloodless, pins and needles crawling under your skin to just be back on the ground, or, even better, falling freely once more. The clouds above and in the distance take on a more crisp sort of white-grey color, untouched by smog. There’s Lake Elsinore in the distance, and the small patch of green grass which serves as your landing target.
You hear an adjusted flapping of the parachute, and the sound of a rope being tugged through a small ring, and suddenly you spin in a wide 360 degree turn. And again. And again, as your Instructor manages to steer through what he calls “thermal winds” to get you better angled for landing.
You stretch your legs straight ahead when he tells you because, almost by surprise, the ground is coming up fast. Too fast. But not dangerously so. The ground approaching means you’re approaching the ground, and the experience is coming to an end.
You slide across the grass as you come in for the landing, like sliding into second base casually. Shake hands, gather parachute, and walk on wobbly legs — weakened from the harness cutting off some blood flow, but also because why walk when you can fly?
The rest of the day — weekend — week — you think of these moments and you smile, a serene cocktail of adrenaline rush comes over you, like you’ve walked through a refreshing water mist on a hot day.
All is well.