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The Pam who fell to Earth | Pamdemonium
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The Pam who fell to Earth

October 7, 2010

After I jumped out of the plane, only one question seemed relevant.

Would my face rip off before my head exploded?

Pam and Joel prepare to take flight.

We had arrived at the jump site before our scheduled 5:30 p.m. “early check-in.” Fran S. was turning 40 in a week and wanted to skydive. I wanted to join her. Shaun wanted to watch.

The wait was excruciating – we watched one group of four customers landing and endured the full process for another group: a quick lesson, suit up, take off, jump, float to the ground, walk across the field and remove gear. As the last jump of the day, we would fall from the heavens as the sun set. And the sun was setting.

Our training was brief. As novices, we were tandem jumping. We watched a short video and then signed or initialed a form that said in at least a dozen different ways in a dozen different places that neither we nor our relatives, estates or heirs would sue any person or company remotely connected with the manufacturing or distribution of parachutes or operation of aircraft or packaging of gear should we die or endure bodily harm. Or the airport, the woman who answers the phone, any passersby, owners of homes in our way or the licensed skydivers to whom we were tethered.

The hands-on instruction lasted about 20 minutes. Face down on a scuffed trailer floor, we learned to “arch.” This involves lifting your head and shoulders off the floor and extending your arms back and up, while simultaneously raising your hips so your legs are off the floor but are bent at an angle of at least 90 degrees. Fran and I arched like monsters; the two young men who rounded out our group were less adept.

We met our tandem partners and suited up. Both Fran and I paid extra for the video package and photographs so we each had a videographer with a fancy helmet camera who was to jump and shoot. So did one of the lads. We filed onto the plane – a 1946 Super Twin Beech that looked like a very large aluminum vintage ice grinder – four customers, four qualified jumpers, three photographers and maybe one random solo skydiver who grabbed the last spot and wanted a final freefall that day.

Joel, my guy, and I were to be last. He latched us together. Cozy does not do the relationship justice. “I’ve had sex with people and not been that close,” Fran said, later at dinner.

The ride up to 13,000 feet was interminable. I was not scared. I was impatient. Remember as a kid when you’d be in the car on the way to the lake or grandma’s house or wherever and it seemed to take FOREVER even though it was only eight miles? It was like that. Had I not been poised for my first skydive, I am sure the noisy, windowless plane ride would have been pleasant, at least until someone else on board let one rip and the interior smelled like ass. It was a hot day and we were the ninth jump, so the air was already ripe.

It all happened very fast. “Doors,” the pilot said, the experienced folks echoed the word and we lined up. At the open doorway, I started the thought, “Really? I am jumping out of a plane,” but only had enough time to think, “Really?” and then we were falling.

I expected exhilaration; I hoped for cosmic insight.

Too late to turn back now.

Exhilaration I got. What I did not expect was near-blinding pressure and pain in my ear canals, like flying with a head cold but worse, that soon extended into the sinus cavities above my eyes. I should have anticipated this – I am sinus challenged and cannot remember having “cleared” my ears for 20 years or so – but did not. I also suffer from motion sickness, particularly on winding roads or watching movies filmed in that oh-so-artful hand-held technique. (“The Blair Witch Project” made me want to barf but not from terror.) Of course I had left my acupressure wristbands, which really do work on winding roads, at home.

I figured how much winding around takes place? Two miles down, a little breeze here and there, right? Because I was so excited and fearless, Joel spun us around during the 50-second freefall. This I learned from watching the video—I didn’t remember. I do clearly recall lifting my head up to look at the photographer who was falling in time in front of us. In one James Bond movie, our hero is trapped in a g-force simulator and the pressure ripples his skin, creating waves about to break or birth an alien. Falling at 120 miles per hour felt like that – in one, slightly fuzzy photo taken from the side, my face and neck are ripped.

Fifty seconds passed quickly; Joel tapped my shoulder and the chute opened. I’ve never been to a chiropractor but I think the snap counts as a spine adjustment. As we slowed, Joel pulled on alternating cords to twirl us earthward and I fought the urge to hurl.

Customers can try piloting the parachute, and I grabbed the reins. Because I didn’t want to look lame, I twirled us once or twice, with Joel’s assistance. My upper body strength did not match my enthusiasm, and tandem chutes are big. The ride down lasted perhaps five minutes, if that, and we skidded to the ground on our butts.

My face was intact; my head had not exploded though it hurt like hell.

It was a blast. And I will do it again, with some planning and sinus spray and decongestants. I don’t need to become a licensed skydiver but I’d like to go another round knowing in advance my head might hurt. On Jump 2, I’ll skip the photographer. I’m glad I did it because having the video and stills is great but mugging for the camera limits the ability to look around and take in the scenery.

My first skydive was not quite a cosmic experience and that’s fine. The hot-air balloon ride in April was far more serene and suited to reflection. Skydiving is an intensely physical experience, and novices can quickly become hooked on the adrenaline rush. For me, the jump was an attack on the senses, with deafening wind, piercing pain, shredding skin and the smell of sweat, which may be better because that’s the stuff that makes us feel even more alive.

Note the arch and fine lines.

“For the love of Dog” will resume as soon as I can find the entry I wrote two weeks ago. And I do have a video of my jump but can’t seem to get it loaded.

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{ 6 comments }

Fran October 7, 2010 at 8:30 pm

I would so totally do it again in a heart beat. I loved it!! I am hooked. I wish they gave a Pell Grant for Sky Diving School. I miss the feeling I carried with me for weeks after wards. Thanks for going with me Pam. I love having you and Shuan there with me!!!

admin October 7, 2010 at 9:28 pm

Fran, without you getting it planned, it would not have happened. Let us do it again to welcome the spring. I will research sinus mitigation techniques. And I will shameless request Joel. Adorable, and hot.

Tracy Doucette October 8, 2010 at 10:25 am

Fabulous pics. I think I like the still shots better than I’d like the video–as you remember I have motion sickness as well. And horrrible sinuses. Yeah, I’ll never be up there, but glad you did it!

admin October 8, 2010 at 1:11 pm

And still, I’d do it again. Once. Perhaps a nice beach sit in Tulum?

Katie Morell October 8, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Pam,

What a great post. I feel like I was there jumping with you. Your writing is incredible! Glad you had fun!

Cheers,
Katie

admin October 8, 2010 at 1:14 pm

Thanks, cuz2. I am at last in a place of career/mind where I have time to write for fun. I will do it again. I think. I am not afraid of the jump, but the ear pain was intense. Glad to see your posts on FB, too. Working from home is harder than folks realize.

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