If you’d have told me 5 years ago that today I would be jumping out of a plane I would have laughed heartily in your face. Back then I had enough trouble sitting inside the plane, let alone willingly jumping out of it. When the idea of the skydive got brought to the table by my friend Neil I thought it would be one of those ideas that after being brought to the table sits there forever, starts to grow mold, and then eventually gets binned, never to be mentioned again. However, once we clicked ‘book’ on the online payment form for Skydive the Beach and Beyond there was no turning back.
Last night, whilst contemplating my own existence and irrelevance in the world in an attempt to bend my mind into acceptance of this challenge, I couldn’t help but have thoughts of me wheeling my automated wheelchair through LAX airport with my leg jutting out, fully encased in a plaster fortress, receiving pitying stares from fellow commuters. Was it insane to plan to jump from a plane three weeks before my imminent holiday? Probably. But I couldn’t think like that. That’s the sort of thinking that has already put a negative on the whole venture before I’d even arrived at the air strip.
I decided to embrace the Nike logo: ‘just do it’. At the time, sitting safely in my cosy flat, it seemed to give me that needed push to stop me overthinking things. Wasn’t the point of life to sometimes do things out of your comfort zone? If everything was too scary to even consider then I would probably never even leave my bed; trapped forever in the cocoon comfort of an ida down. It was time to man up.
The 5am wake up for our drive to Byron Bay was unpleasant but sometimes when you are doing things that freak you out, it’s best to get an early start on the day, leaves less time for logic to raise it’s ugly and polluting head. When we finally arrived, we had to wait a couple of hours for our turn, spending our time watching the various other Saturday thrill seekers float their way to the ground in front of us. They all seemed to walk away smiling, but as I pointed out to Neil, the only reason they were smiling is because they don’t have it looming in front of them.
Finally it was our turn. Kitted up in our harnesses and ready to take the leap, we boarded the small one engine plane. Why was it, whenever you really wanted the sky to open up into a torrent of sideways, life debilitating rain, it never happened? I guess it was the universe’s way of saying: ‘now is your time for a ludicrous adventure, enjoy!’. Thanks universe.
Coasting along in the plane, tucked neatly in front of my tandem guide I felt no anxiety. This was happening, and I had to embrace the absurdity of plummeting 12000 feet out of a plane. My travel buddy was telling me the tandem guides do about ten of these a day. Imagine that, I pick up the phone ten times a day talking to customers and think it’s a stretch, whilst they are jumping out of a plane ten times a day. I thought my job was intense.
Eventually we reached the desired dive height, the door slid open and people were shooting out of the plane at the speed of lightening. Swish, swish, swish. It felt like we were all covert operations paratroopers, heading down to drop zone. My turn arrived, my legs were wrapped around the belly of the plane, my face was being whipped with icy cold air and I waited for that moment of weightlessness. And I waited. And I waited. And then I heard yelling: ”Abort, abort! Chute out, chute out!”, and the next thing I know I am being tugged back into the plane by the brute force of my travel companion, and the door is firmly slammed shut.
I couldn’t really understand what was happening at that point. I felt calm. I had already accepted my fate, what was the hold up? Was this some strange terrorist attack in which the plane had been taken over on a whim, and I had been unlucky enough to be selected as a detainee at the last minute: ‘No, wait, we want her. Wheel her back in. We might need a female for the sympathy vote. The media loves woman captives. Hopefully she has children”.
Feeling a tad confused, I turned to the man strapped snugly behind me and said “Is everything okay?”. He reassured me that all was fine: “Yep, the parachute has come out of the bag a bit but we are just getting that tucked back in now. Everything is fine”. I accepted his response and didn’t feel over bothered about the whole situation. I reasoned with myself that it probably happened all the time, small glitches like this. I deliberately ignored the fact I could feel his heart pumping into my back muscles like a mini jack hammer through a wall of fine cement. I hoped it was just the adrenaline from hauling my considerable frame back into the plane.
We circled for a few minutes to get us back into the area of deployment, and soon enough my legs were tucked back underneath the cold metal of the beast, ready for take off. The feeling of weightlessness hits you instantly. My face felt like a thousand wind blowers had been directed towards it at full force. So much so I could barely breath. The land mass below me looked like one of those 3D eye magic images, and if I squinted hard enough I would find the magical hidden image within. Perhaps this was a 60 second window to discover the meaning of live?
However, before I had time to fully evaluate the meaning of anything the parachute was released, and I was floating through the atmosphere at a leisurely pace with my mate on my back, having a pleasant chat. All opportunities of life meaning gone in the pull of a string, like it might never have existed.
As soon as my body stopped plummeting towards earth at a momentous speed, the nausea kicked in. Any thoughts of soul searching had certainly drifted away into the higher altitudes. Cruising down the view was beautiful: lush green fields, typically golden beaches, light reflecting aqua water, but all I wanted to do was vomit or faint. I was so indecisive I couldn’t even choose which one I wanted to do more. “Isn’t the landscape beautiful?” my tandem mate implored. I wish I could have been more whimsical and present in the moment as my companion but all I could mutter was: “I wish I hadn’t eaten that egg sandwich before this”. He obviously thought the same as after one 180 spin in the air he said “that might be enough for you right now”, probably feeling a little bit worried about being the victim of regurgitated egg sandwich mid air.
As my bottom softly padded along the undergrowth, I felt a huge surge of relief and joy. I had done something that I had never thought myself capable to do and I had lived to tell the tale.