Archive | September 2012

The Day I Fell Out Of A Plane

Before last Sunday, I always said I would never do a skydive. Since last Sunday, I’ve been saying the same thing. It’s those 5 minutes in the middle (the ones where I was somewhere between a plane and the ground) that I’m not quite sure about. Regardless of whether I’d do it again (and we’ll get to that later), the important point to acknowledge is that I jumped out of a plane! Me, the girl who is terrified of heights, jumped out of a plane! In the ultimate exercise in peer pressure, I decided to take my friend Dave up on his offer of joining him for what would be his second jump, and for some reason I agreed. Part of me was searching for some perspective on life to regain my work life balance after a particular busy month, while another part just wondered how bad it could really be. So much for 24 years and 9 months of willpower.

The jump took place in Pemberton, BC, which is just 30 minutes North of Whistler on the Sea to Sky highway. It’s a very small but very beautiful town, with fantastic scenery and amazing views. The day we chose was very sunny and very warm; perfect weather for falling 10,000 feet. I was so busy in the run up to the day that I hadn’t had time to get nervous, and even as we sat signing our lives away (literally) on the liability waivers the enormity of what I was about to do hadn’t really sunk in. We were harnessed up, double checked, and all of a sudden were making our way across the field to the world’s smallest plane. There was just enough room for the two of us, plus two instructors, to squeeze in behind the pilot. And even then we were sitting on each other’s laps. The flight up took around 15 minutes, and was a fantastically scenic experience in itself. As the instructors kept saying, ‘people pay hundreds of dollars for the flight alone’. So remind me again why I’m paying extra to jump out half way through?

When we reached 7,000 feet our instructors clipped our harnesses to theirs and went over the positioning. Jump out of plane, spread arms, arch back, keep legs back. Simple, right? Wrong. When the door to my left opened, it all became very, very real. I swung my legs out of the door and desperately avoided looking down, staring straight ahead at the mountains instead. My instructor was sitting in the doorway with his feet hanging out, while I was literally hanging from him, completely helpless. It was in that moment I realized that you don’t jump out of a plane, you fall. And you fall very, very fast. Somewhere in the depths of my mind I had imagined myself falling gracefully into position like a dove, and floating down without a care in the world. In reality I nosedived, somersaulted, kicked and screamed so loud that my waiting boyfriend could hear me from 10,000 feet below. I kept reminding myself to keep my legs back, but I couldn’t quite work out where ‘back’ was as I was staring at the ground, then the plane, then the ground. Needless to say, panic kicked in.

Once I managed to straighten myself out into some sort of T-Shape the experience was pretty amazing. I could tell I was falling, but only because of the speed of the wind rushing past me. We were still so high that the ground didn’t seem to be getting much bigger, and my stomach stopped flipping once we straightened out. It was very difficult to breathe, and as soon as I opened my mouth to ‘wooooooooooo’ I felt my cheeks fill with air. 45 seconds later the parachute opened, and I realized that I was so wrapped up in the unique feeling of free falling that I’d forgotten to even worry about the chute malfunctioning. Everything went very quiet all of a sudden, and the ground definitely started to get bigger. My brain took the time to process what was happening, which meant I found the parachuting much scarier than the free falling. I reluctantly took the handles and attempted to steer for a photo (the camera was strapped to the instructors arm), then handed them straight back to the instructor. The vast majority of accidents happen due to pilot error, so I’d rather not be the pilot. Everything happened pretty fast after that, and before I knew it I was sliding across the same grass field I’d left just 20 minutes earlier. And I was alive!

My initial feeling was one of delirious excitement and was very much powered by adrenaline. I couldn’t stop talking as I waited for my photos to be burned onto a CD, and then we were back in the car on the way down to Whistler for lunch. It wasn’t until later in the day when I realized how relieved I was to have made it to the ground uninjured that I started dwelling on how easily the ending could have been very different. I began to question my initial judgement at doing the jump in the first place, and even got annoyed at myself for not only choosing to be in that dangerous situation, but paying for the privilege. As I started texting, emailing and calling friends and family to tell them about my experience I kept reliving that moment where I first fell. It wasn’t pretty, and the more I thought about it the more scared I was. I likened the feeling to post traumatic stress syndrome, as my flashbacks kept me awake in the early hours of the following morning.

Even though I wouldn’t do it again in a hurry, I’m still so glad I did it. Jumping out of a plane was always one of those things that other people did, and now I’m one of those other people. I also achieved my goal of gaining a greater perspective, as there’s nothing like pushing yourself way out of your comfort zone to make you realize that life is too short to worry and stress. My bucket list is getting a little shorter, and my Facebook photo albums a little more interesting. I’ll end this with my thought for the week: No matter how bad your day, the world will never end, as it is round. And I should know; I stared it in the face from 10,000 feet.