Tuesday, December 07, 2004

down to earth

I'm finding it difficult to write about the weekend. I mean, I can list all the stuff we did and talk about the flight and the jumps and the landings and everything. But that's all just dry facts.

You'll just have to imagine me jumping up and down with excitement when you read it. 'Awesome' does absolutely nothing to describe the feelings of jumping out of a plane at 3,500 feet.

It was fan-fucking-tastic.

Inexpressibly amazing.

Yeah, I had a good time *s*

We went up on the Friday night (5 hours of driving, through the Blue Mountains which would have been lovely if it hadn't been a) night time, and b) so foggy it was like driving in a marshmallow) and Saturday we went out to the airstrip for training. The training started at around 7:30 and went all day, which seems like a lot but the time went pretty fast. We were finally ready to go for the jump in mid afternoon (I lost all track of time so I couldn't tell you when), and then it was just a matter of waiting on the wind..

There were eight students: six first-timers and two who'd done a number of static line jumps, but no free-fall as yet. The legal requirements for pushing beginners out of a plane say that the wind has to be below 15 knots and has been under it for 15 minutes. That afternoon the wind was all over the place and hovering around 15 knots.

Then the first group got the ok and were off. I was in the second group so it was a nervous/frustrating/exciting wait on the ground for them to finish. They all got out fine and landed well, the wind was pretty steady for their landings.

Then we were on. The worst bit was packing into that plane - a single engine thingy with enough room for the pilot, instructor and four others kneeling in the back. So we got in, all cramped and contorted, and taxied out to the runway only to be turned back at the last minute because the wind had come up again.

So it was back again.. and another nervous wait. I honestly thought at that stage that we weren't going to get to do it, the wind was all over the place.

But then, about 20-30 minutes later (or however long it was - time really had no meaning to me by this stage), we were given the nod. No fucking about this time, check equipment (got your parachute? yep. good-o) in the plane, down the runway and up. And up. And up.

It takes about 5-8 minutes to get to 3,500 feet, enough time to truly start packing your pants.

And just when you think it can't get any scarier, they open the door. At this stage we're moving at 120mph & still lining up for the drop zone, getting the plane in position. So it's really fucking noisy and windy.

Then it's "throttle down, brakes on, lets go".

*deep breath* just remembering gives me palpitations..

I was third out so I had to watch and get more nervous as the others did their exits. After each jump the plane does a circuit around the target area, so there's plenty of space between each person (avoiding mid-air collisions and landing on each other).

So by my turn I was pumped. Pretty well psyched out, truth be told, but I managed to focus on just getting the exit procedure right.

Oh.My.God. When that door came open.. It was a good thing we'd spent all day drilling it into our heads.

"Hands on door!"
"Right foot!"
"Left hand!"
"Right hand!"
"Check left!"

At that point I was hanging from the strut of the plane at 3,500 feet waiting for the ok to let go.


Let go..



That moment was worth the whole thing.

It was only a few seconds before the static line dragged my chute out and I started having to worry about end cell closures, line twists, getting the steering toggles down and everything else. But those few moments were sublime.

After that was amazing too. Gliding around the sky, seeing the incredible view (thunderclouds rolling in from the south) and trying not to get too distracted. Because the target assistant was turning a big arrow to keep me on track for landing.

For 3-4 minutes it felt like I was just floating, there's not much perception of speed till you get closer to the ground. Then once I got within range the TA switched to the paddles to guide me the last couple hundred metres. That was a nervous time, I was close enough to see how fast I was actually traveling (around 20 knots) and had to really focus on the TA and not think about the ground getting closer very fast.

As it was, my landing was less than graceful but that wasn't my fault (honestly!). The wind had dropped to almost zero so there was nothing to slow my forward speed, which meant I executed a humourous pratfall for the merriment of all watching. Bastards.

I was absolutely buzzing.

Unfortunately that was the only jump we had time for that day, otherwise I would have been up again straight away.

That night was the club's Christmas dinner so we were back out at the airfield for a bbq and the presentation of our certificates (apparently I had the best arch Cindy, my instructor, had seen on a guy. What can I say? I'm flexible!). After all the anxiety, stress and adrenaline of the day we were all pretty beat, I was almost falling asleep through the video of the year's events until it came to the formation freefall competitions in Florida, and the base-jumping in Norway. That was pretty insane. And got me hooked all over again.

Hmmm.. Base jumping..

Anyway, the next day was a bit better for wind although it was extremely changeable. As I was to find out to my discomfort.

For my first jump of the day all seemed to go well. I was first out which was just as scary as the previous day, but this time I had everything down sweet and it went flawlessly. Had line twists again, seems to be a pretty common problem but very easy to fix if you don't freak out.

I took a bit more time to fool around flying the chute, doing turns and spins, and also having a better look around. Lots of fun.

The landing, on the other hand, not so much fun. Unbeknownst to me the wind had first swung around 180 degrees then dropped to zero on my final approach. This meant that I was quite a bit further away from the target than I should have been and approaching much faster than desirable. I didn't really know any of this at the time, at least not till the very last instant when I noticed that a) the TA was a long way away, and b) the ground was coming up very quickly.

As it was I was spared splatting straight into the ground by the fortuitous placement of a barbed wire fence.

My right leg whacked into one of the posts, spinning me sideways and head-over-heels. I came down shoulder first into the fence then, after losing a little blood and a great deal of fabric from the jumpsuit, went face down into.. well I've no idea. Probably not the barbed wire coz I've still got a face, maybe just some brush, then the ground. I remember the ground.

And my first words upon cheating death?

"Well, that was unpleasant"

Master of understatement me.

But at least they came to get me in the ute so I didn't have to walk all the way back to the hanger. And the chute wasn't too badly ripped - they repaired it and I took it up for my third jump about an hour later.

That one went off without a hitch, although the landing was again a little rough. The wind gods really don't like me much.


Well, there's more but I could just go on for hours about the whole weekend. It was brilliant and I'll be going back for more. Only two more jumps and I get to try freefall! Yeehaa!

tough as nails me..
Originally uploaded by fb.

No comments: