Tally Ho! (356th new thing).

January 14, 2013 § Leave a comment

On Day Three Hundred Fifty-Six I jumped out of an airplane attached to a strange man wearing a silly hat. That’s right, I went sky diving.

Most Unflattering photo first, to get it out of the way. I look like a chubby kid in a convertible.

Most Unflattering photo first, to get it out of the way. I look like a chubby kid in a convertible.

I originally planned to go a few days earlier, but Skydive Georgia called me a few hours before my 2PM appointment informing me that the weather conditions would not allow the jump to be completed safely. It was too windy. I rescheduled for the following Monday, taking advantage of having a weekday off to do something a little crazy.

My friend Melanie had purchased the half off deal with me months before, but lawyers work on Monday (along with most people), so I headed to Cedartown, GA on my own. The headquarters of the skydiving facility was located in a tin shack in the middle of a pastoral setting an hour and a half west of Atlanta. I timidly walked in and checked in with the front desk. They had me watch a safety video and once again sign a four page document releasing the company from any responsibility of my death or maiming. It was routine by now.

There was a weathered couch and a few chairs in one corner of the large carpeted reception, all seats taken over by a super redneck family and their extended relatives. A group of them went outside every five minutes for a cigarette break, leaving the small children to clamor towards me and sit inches away, peering over my shoulder at my computer screen as I rested by back against the aluminum wall with my ass on the dusty carpet. I was beginning to feel a little uneasy in my situation.

Meanwhile the “skydivers,” who looked like extras from some early nineties high-adrenaline action film (think Point Break or Hackers, but weathered) wandered in and out, eating fast food and joking around. I was torn between openly staring at each of the genres of groups in the room and going to my car to read until my name was called.

Universal hand signal for "I'm so extreme!"

Universal hand signal for “I’m so extreme!”

I never made the decision because after a few minutes the adreniline junkie skydivers began to gather their tandem mates. I put my backpack and purse away in the trunk of my car and was then harnessed up. In terms of harnessing, this one was probably the most comfortable, with the zipline one being the worst and rock climbing right in the middle. My “instructor” was a fast talking shaved-headed Midwesterner who smiled with his gums. He went through a brief safety talk as my belts were tightened and released for comfort. He told me he has tried skydiving fifteen years earlier, fell in love, and promptly divorced his wife and became an instructor. The tale came across as a rehearsed anecdote that, to me, was not all that encouraging. Seriously, he divorced his wife to become a skydiving instructor in Cedartown, GA? Not very promising, or very goal oriented. To each his own, right? I just hoped he was good at his job.

On a positive note, he did let me know that I could wear my borrowed GoPro since I had bought the video package for an additional hundred bucks. The promise lasted until the safety master walked by and took the camera away from me because of “safety issues.” Honestly, I had a hard time getting the darn thing to stay across my wrist without flapping around on one side, so I wasn’t too disappointed. Tandem guy promised to give me the video from his camera attached to his glove.

The first group of jumpers headed off across the field to catch their plane while those who opted for an extra 4000 feet of jump for ten bucks waited behind (me included). The “videographer” came over to “interview” me about the experience. Honestly, the only reason I ordered the video was to have media to add to this post. Knowing how formulaic the whole thing turned out, I should have opted out.

The dude positioned me in front of a speed limit sign which read, “120 MPH.” He turned on his fixed wide angle lens camera and shot the sign, tilting the camera left and right then moving in to the numbers on the sign until the lens hit it and went black. Then he suddenly popped up in front of me, asking asinine questions about how I was feeling and how high we would be jumping. Once he turned the camera off, obviously disappointed with my performance. he informed me that he would be asking the same type questions again on the plane, so maybe I could think of what I wanted to say. Hrmmmpf.

I saw a woman who had the figure of a twenty year old and the face of a fifty year old go through the same routine with a old man who was also about to tandem skydive. He was much cooler than me. And I decided right then and there I would never quit anything to become a professional skydiver. I’m pretty sure falling through the air at ninety miles an hour ages you faster than an hour a day in the tanning bed.

Finally our group was called to board the plane and the rednecks from the morning all whooped back into the metal building. We shuffled over a little hill to a group of small buildings as the tiny plane with a big sliding door pulled up. I climbed in last, straddling a bench with everyone else, in the front with Captain Video in front of me. This was probably the first time I began to get the telltale butterflies in my belly. I’m not afraid of heights, but I always get a bit of a rush as the airplane takes off. We climbed higher and higher, as I looked at the altitude on the tandem instructor’s wrist.

At about 6000 feet, my video dude turns back to me and asks a few more questions, just as silly as before. I try a little harder, but not that much. I try to talk about turning 30 and doing something new. I think I failed again in his eyes.

Old Dude Jumping First

Old Dude Jumping First

And then it was time to jump. My instructor told me to kick my legs back and keep my chin up when we exited the plane. I tried to remember that. The camera guy fell out first, back to the ground, and then it was my turn. I dangled over the edge of the open door for a few seconds and my heart went to my throat. The adrenaline began pumping. And then we were out, falling, though it never felt like falling. More like floating with a massive amount of wind forcing itself up my nostrils. The camera guy came parallel to me the instructor kept yanking my head back to expose my face. They signalled to blow a kiss (seriously?!), and I did. Then I tilted my face back down to get some more air. I felt almost on the verge of a panic attack from not being able to breathe, but still refused to open my mouth in case any bugs or birds decided to enter. I felt a hand on my forehead again, pulling my chin up.

Blowing Kisses

Blowing Kisses

The only time I felt the butterflies again after the initial jump was when the camera dude went beneath us. I realized I was actually falling, not floating, and had a quick prick of fear that I would land on him. And after that he floated away and released his parachute. Whew.

Shocked at finding someone between me and Earth

Shocked at finding someone between me and Earth

The video from my instructor’s GoPro. Love the frozen end shot.

Next it was our turn for the parachuting. There was a slight pull and the ground grew smaller again as we drifted sharply upward. The instructor loosened the harness into more of a seated position and we leisurely floated toward the big X not yet in view.

I saw the Atlanta skyline in the distance and a brief hump of gray that could have been Stone Mountain. We circled around, first to the right and then to the left. It was incredibly peaceful, and I instantly decided that this was the only part of skydiving that would encourage me to go again. Well, that and maybe if I could do a flip or something. It reminded me of parasailing.

After what seemed like both an extended and incredibly brief amount of time, the ground beneath my peppermint swirl sock clad feet grew life-size. As instructed, I lifted my heels up and landed ungracefully on my butt. The parachute was gathered up and my video guru came over one more time for some high fives and thumbs up.

Landing in my Christmas socks

Landing in my Christmas socks

I picked out a couple of songs for my video (super hasty decision) and gave the info to the video guy to put together. I also transferred the video from my instructors GoPro to my computer for an extra tip. And then it was done, and I wound my way back to Atlanta, pretty happy with my adventurous day, but not necessarily wanting a repeat experience anytime soon. I need to age naturally for awhile first.

Here’s the video that was made by the company. I get the impression they may have been using the same graphics font for at least ten years now, selected by a flunking first year graphic design student. I wish I had more shots of the parachuting, but overall, I suppose I’m glad to have some documentation.

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