The next several posts are trips down memorex lane. They recall one of the most exciting times of my life. I’d just started an incredible relationship with a girlfriend who later became my first (and so far only) wife. That the marriage didn’t last but a small handful of years and that we’ve been divorced at least twice as many years doesn’t at all detract from the wonder of joy of those early years.
It was in that setting that I (we) tried skydiving for the first time and fell (pun definitely intended) in love with it. These posts (which were first written back then and have since been slightly revised) are about those experiences.
Tandem Jump #1
I’ve wanted to try skydiving since my teens. I love adventures and trying new things, and I also love flying and airplanes. Over the years I met several skydivers; they all just increased my desire to take the (literal) plunge. When my girlfriend (later fiancée, later wife, later ex-wife) mentioned that she and her girlfriends planned to try it, I jumped at the chance to join them. Here’s the story of that first jump; it was written about a year afterwards.
Going to the Drop Zone
On August 9, 1997, CN and I made a 90 mile drive to a strange and wonderful place, called Skydive Hutchinson. We didn’t realize then that this would change our lives forever! Since that first day, we’ve made that drive many more times, and have come to love the place called “Hutch.” But at the time it was all very new and strange.
[NOTE: Not long ago I tried to visit their website for the first time in years only to discover they’ve closed up shop after 12 “successful and wonderful” years. I can well imagine they’ve retired at this point.]
Upon our arrival, we were greeted warmly by Rose, co-owner of Hutch. First, we watched a video about Tandem skydiving. The video warns you in no uncertain terms that skydiving is DANGEROUS! It has been made as safe as possible, but make no mistake, there is some risk.
About Tandem Skydiving: The idea is that you’re strapped to a specially trained, very experienced skydiver who does all the work and is responsible for saving your (and their) ass. (Skydivers have a saying, “When you exit the aircraft, you’re dead. It’s up to you to save your own life.”)
After the video, we signed a waiver stating that we understood and accepted the risk. For what it’s worth, Skydive Hutchinson has an outstanding safety record. They are extremely safety conscious and professional! I have never had the least reservation about jumping there, and you couldn’t find a greater bunch of folks.
With the formalities out of the way, we were fitted into jump suits and given the small amount of necessary training: how to hold our body, how to sit in the door of the plane and a few other important things we needed to know. It’s actually quite simple; anyone can do it… if you’ve got the right stuff!
And finally we boarded the small plane and flew to altitude. Then, they opened the door and……
There I go! My very first jump out of a perfectly good airplane. But I’m securely attached to Larry, one of the Tandem Masters at Hutch. You’ll see a better picture of him once we make it back to the ground. (Circled in red, you can see the drop zone, which is about two miles below us… we were at 10,000 feet altitude.)
It’s difficult to explain the experience of jumping out of a plane. The first time it really hits you is when they open the door! Not many of us, normally, are in a flying airplane with a door open.
Actually, the very first time it hits you is when you’re in the plane and it lifts off the runway. That’s when you think to yourself, “My God! I’m going to jump out of this thing!!” But when they actually open the door “at altitude” then it really hits you. You lean over and look out the open door, your eyes get big and your heart starts pounding (as if it wasn’t already).
And here comes CN right behind. She’s strapped to Tandem Master Shawn, an outstanding skydiver we’ve gotten to know in the past year. He’s helped us learn a lot during our training.
(He was my coach on my first two-way jumps, but that’s a story for later.)
One thing I love about that picture is the plane in the background. In the later pictures, you can see it getting further and further away. “Hey, there goes our ride!”
“Oh, well, guess we’ll just have to get down on our own.”
Here she is in the classic “box man” position falling through the air with the greatest of ease! Looks like she’s having fun, eh? On the video, you can read her lips as she screams, “This is GREAT!”
And all too soon, the free fall fun is over, and you have to open your chute. Once you exit the airplane, it takes you about 10 seconds to fall the first 1000 feet. During that time you’re going from zero to roughly 100 MPH (downwards!). After that, you fall at the rate of about 1000 feet every six seconds.
But once you open your chute (and assuming it opens!) there comes several minutes of a whole different (much calmer) kind of flying: Flying under canopy. This is almost as much fun as free falling. It’s almost like being a bird.
You have time to look around and enjoy the scenery from up on high.
They knew we were a couple, so our Tandem Masters flew us in close formation and even did a few spirals around each other. It looks great on the video; the two of us (and our pilots) just flying around without a care. (And, by the way, if you do ever try skydiving, be sure to get the video/picture package. You will want those images to remember and savor!)
But ultimately gravity wins (modern sport parachutes are just gliders), and you return to earth’s firm embrace. That’s CN and Shawn in the lead with me and Larry following up and behind.
Do we look stoked? We were!! The long wait was well worth it. Our lives changed forever this day. We originally thought this skydive would be a once in a lifetime thing; an event to check off our list of things to do. Little did we know we’d be taking up skydiving as our favorite sport!
Here we are back on terra firma with our Tandem Masters, Larry and Shawn. What an incredible, unforgettable experience. We liked it so much, we immediately signed up to do it again in a week. And Larry must have guessed we were totally hooked, because every time he walked past me, he whispered, “AFF, AFF, AFF.”
What is this “AFF” you ask? It stands for Accelerated Free Fall (instruction), and it (at the time) was one way you learn to skydive on your own. CN and I both took the training and earned our “baby skydiver” licenses.
But that’s another story. The next tale in the story is about our second (tandem) skydive.
I close with my favorite skydiver saying: