Saturday, November 15, 2008

SKYDIVING!!!

This picture is NOT me, but it will give you an idea of what I did recently!!! This photo was taken by Les Duggins, Jr. and is part of this article on skydiving. The guy wearing shorts is Chuck Hammond who was my tandem instructor.


This past Sunday, November 9, I went skydiving!! Here I have posted a VERY LONG second-by-second account for any and all who would like to know every single thought that went through my head during this experience. Get out now while there's still time.

SKY DIVING!! OH MY GOODNESS!! Hubs surprised me with this for my 27th birthday. It wasn't totally out of the blue; we'd seen a bumper sticker when we were dating advertising a skydiving drop zone and agreed that we should "do that someday". I think I'm the one who suggested it because I honestly thought it was right up hub's alley; he was always up to new adventures (still is). Then a delightful lady moved into the office next to mine at work, and she suggested we get a group together one weekend to go skydiving! I was a tad surprised she'd said skydiving (I guess I figured she was going to say "go hiking" or something), and I said, "Yeah...Cool! Let's do it!" I found out she has jumped over 35 times and just loves it. Here Hubs had someone to grill for info on all things skydiving; he's so good to do his research. Wednesday night, Nov 5, at about the stroke of midnight, so that technically my Thursday birthday had begun (why in the world were we still awake??) he couldn't wait any longer, so he handed me a piece of paper that turned out to be the confirmation email from
Skydive Carolina in Chester, SC. I couldn't believe it!


Come Sunday afternoon I was at the drop zone; I had filled out all my paperwork, signing things like, "You understand that this is dangerous and it is possible that you could die?", and was outside watching as each plane load of people went up and floated back down. We could just barely make out the plane about 13,000 feet up. They would announce when the jumpers were in the air, but we couldn't see anything for a minute or so until parachutes started popping open out of thin air.


In the time since hubs had revealed the surprise I had watched several You Tube videos of tandem jumps at Skydive Carolina and, boy, were they exciting. Except I could not help actually squealing out loud in a very nervous sort of way when seeing people actually leave the plane. I was not ever scared for my life, just slightly nervous as I thought about the actual jumping out of the plane part; I figured falling through the air might challenge my sense of self preservation.

Our training seemed to last all of 15 minutes and consisted of us first watching a video of Skydive Carolina's attorney making sure we understood that we had signed papers saying we couldn't sue if something happened and if we did sue we couldn't win; and then one of the tandem instructors describing what would happen during the jump, how we needed to hold our bodies in the air, etc. He said we'd actually need to hold the toggles that steer the parachute for a minute or so as our instructors readied the harnesses for landing and that we might need to steer toward a certain point. I was like...what? Steer "toward a certain point"? What point? So I raised my hand (why did I do that? There were 2 of us in there with the guy...and I raised my hand??) and asked, "So...they'll tell us where they want us to aim??" The instructor's all cool and like, "Oh, yeah, it'll be no big deal". I worry A LOT about not knowing what to do in an important moment...I did not feel it was not a big deal :)

I was still calm after getting the jumpsuit on over my clothes (the guy who got us our suits suggested I should wear a small, bless his heart...I can't believe I went through the motions of getting the jumpsuit legs down over my jeans and getting my jeans all situated only to confirm that, um, no this behind is not fitting in a small, thankyouverymuch...thankfully the medium was fine).

Look at that; picture of coolness right there.


I was still ok when Chuck got me all harnessed up.

Boarding the plane: no big deal. That's Chuck in the white sweatshirt holding on to the back of my harness.

However the higher we got the more my stomach fluttered at the thought of that first step.
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When we got to a certain elevation Chuck connected our two harnesses together with me facing out strapped to the front of him so snugly I couldn't draw a full breath, and honestly, it was reassuring. Around 14,000 feet they slid up the clear plastic door panel and people started sailing out...into thin air! There were a couple groups of solo divers that were doing formations or something because they jumped with their arms linked together. As people jumped and space became available Chuck scooted us down the bench (seating consisted of 2 benches, one running down each side of the plane's interior). I was getting more and more nervous and was not helping with the scooting, but Chuck was not giving me a chance to pause.
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Much quicker than I would have liked we were crouched in front of the door looking out. I was absolutely freaking out in my head. Chuck had me lay my head back on his shoulder, so that when we jumped my head wouldn't snap back and hit him in the face, and cross my arms over my chest until he gave me the signal during freefall to put my arms out Superman-style to help keep us stable. We rocked forward into NOTHING ("Ready!"), backward into the plane ("And!") and then ("Arch!") WHOOSH Chuck launched us out the door. I was seriously going, "Ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod" in my head...freaking out. I feel safest when I'm all curled in on myself, so even loosening up enough to open my mouth to scream was not an option. My teeth were clenched and my eyes shut TIGHT. I barely peeped maybe twice during the freefall part before Chuck opened the parachute. Saw a glimpse of someone else near us in the air and saw part of the ground and just could not handle it mentally, so I kept my eyes closed.

I didn't feel my stomach drop like on a fast elevator ride or on a roller coaster. You really don't have a sense that you are falling. You just hear and feel the overwhelming rush of wind (like if you stuck your arm or head out the window of a moving car) from beneath you. And you know that there is NOTHING HOLDING YOU UP! CRAZY!!
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I was just holding on to my sanity long enough to get to the canopy ride when the chute opened. I wondered afterwards what would have happened if I had kept my eyes open. Obviously nothing would have happened to us, but I guess mentally I just couldn't do it. Maybe I would have really freaked out and by keeping my eyes closed I kept myself calm...dunno. Also I was congested already and was trying hard to pop my ears, but not being successful, and I HATE the feeling of full ears. At one point I could feel us spinning and knew that Chuck was doing it. He couldn't see my face or know that I was freaking out; it was just one of the fun things the instructors can do to make the experience even more exciting. I was not excited. I felt that last little bit of control I had ahold of slipping away so I waved my hands back and forth in a, "No more of that!!" motion hoping he'd see, and I guess he did because we stopped.
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FINALLY Chuck opened the chute; he had said there would be a weird dropping and then jerking sensation after he deployed the chute. It takes a beat to open thus the little drop before the jerk. At that point we were about a mile up, going nice and slow, and we could talk. He asked me how the free fall was ("TERRIFYING!!") and how my ears were ("Bad") and told me to hold my nose and blow gently. Since I had come that day with head congestion, the normal ear clearing tricks weren't working (my right ear finally started to open back up around Tuesday night) but I did try and just decided not to worry about it. There was a lot of pressure on my eardrums though.
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But there was no fear. The canopy ride was AMAZING!! I guess it would have been frightening on its own had it not been for my sheer terror during the free fall. The canopy ride felt like the safest thing ever. The view was gorgeous! Green trees and fields as far as I could see. Chuck pointed out the field where the final battle scene in The Patriot was shot. He pointed out the sunset over my shoulder (we were the last plane load of the day right near sunset) and the faraway glint of light off the buildings of Charlotte, NC. He pointed out the runways of the drop zone. They looked so short, yet they were each a mile long. He had me take the toggles, and it really wasn't a big deal...I get so worked up over nothing sometimes. Pull on the right strap to turn right and the left strap to turn left. He had me put them both all the way up and then pull them all the way down, and we came to a virtual standstill in the air which was weird. We did a practice landing while we were way up high where he had me pull my legs and feet up in front of me (oh why haven't I been working on those ab muscles??) I guess so they wouldn't drag on the ground and make us face plant. He took the toggles back and did a couple deep swoops one to the right, one to the left and those made me a little nervous. I asked him if, after 12 years (you know that was one of my first questions to him! And sir, just how long have you been doing this??), this ever got old and he said not with tandem students.


If you click on this picture to enlarge it you can see about 11 little tiny parachutes. One of those is probably me!!




2 of the tandem jumpers from my plane load. The one on the right could be me, but I can't really tell...I don't remember being this close to another chute, though.

Before I knew it we were coming in for our landing which was flawless! Tandem landings tend to be of the sit down variety, sliding to a stop unless the wind is right for a stand up landing. We did do the sit down landing, but it was so smooth. I had seen a couple earlier in the day that definitely seemed to land with a "whump!" that didn't look too comfortable on the behind.
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We had paid to get a video (got to have me a video!) so Pete the video guy who filmed the freefall and then boogied down to the ground to film my landing came over and helped me stand up. Chuck started undoing the tandem parts of the harness and then my legs started shaking. It reminded me of January 12, 2007 when I was laying in the chair at the dentist's office waiting to be sedated to get my wisdom teeth cut out. I was so nervous and my legs were shaking so much as the doc probed that darn needle around in my arm to find a place to put my IV that my shoes were making this very loud "SLAPSLAPSLAPSLAP" sound on the vinyl chair. And I couldn't control it! That's how my legs were shaking after the dive. Though I wasn't scared, and I was actually having a great time doing my post-jump interview. The lady at work told me it was the adrenaline dump and that makes sense.


Chuck, me and Pete after we landed. There's my parachute on the ground! Love that piece of fabric!

Pete did ask if I actually opened my eyes, and I confirmed that, no, that had not been an option for me. He had told me before the jump that he would come up to me in the air and offer me a hand and if I wanted to take it I could and we would spin. He told me afterward that he never offered me his hand because my eyes had to be open for that part. I assured him that I was not the worse for missing the opportunity.



Here's hubs, me and Chuck. Please ignore the ridiculous face I'm making. I was laughing at something and the fellow taking the picture seemed a bit tipsy, and I wasn't sure I could impose on him to take another...sigh.
It was all amazing!! I definitely plan to do it again. My goal for my 2nd jump is to keep my eyes open during the freefall. I'll probably be a sucker and pay for a second video, because I want to be able to compare the two jumps. I would include a link to my first video, but a copyright violation issue surrounding the Tom Petty song used as part of the soundtrack is currently keeping us from posting it to You Tube. Hopefully I can get Skydive Carolina to send me another video with a different song in the background. Click here to see some random guy jump at the same place with my instructor...that's what my video is like! Except with me!

I highly recommend a tandem sky dive at Skydive Carolina! If you ever happen to be in Chester, SC let me know and we'll go :)
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Update: Here's a link to the video of my skydive! http://www.viddler.com/explore/waltyates/videos/1/

7 comments:

Gabby said...

Okay, that sounds awesome.

You'll never forget it. Don't tell your kids until they're 40, they will definately use it against you.

Trust me!

So glad you went for it!

Kimberly said...

Good point... :D

It was amazing! You mom says you went bungee jumping once, so skydiving would be nothing, right??

Gabby said...

I went in HS on a dare at Myrtle Beach. It was lots of fun, but I have calmed down A LOT since becoming a Mom. Enjoy yourself!

It's hard to do things like that when you start thinking about it. (or perhaps it is just that I am a weinee now!)

However, I am planning a trip to Italy one day. That is THE thing I want to do more than anything else!


So glad you and your brother are still close.

Jenny S said...

WOW! You are my hero! I could NEVER do it. First I am scared of heights and cannot imagine jumping out of a perfectly good airplane!!Second, I hate flying....wow!!

tardevil said...

Gabby's right...it's good you did it before you're a mom. I was fearless in my 20's too, but all that changed. Now, I would have pooed in my pants if I had done that. You should get the "Brave Blogger" award...but I don't know how to make those cute little awards! :O)

Jenn said...

Chica, you are fearless!! I am so impressed, there's no way in a million years I could do that. I'm glad it was such an amazing experience!! :-) What a way to ring in 27.

Heather said...

i am impressed with not only with your writing skills but also at the fact that you jumped out of a plane. holy cow you are my hero.