Here’s the story of how our skydiving adventure came to pass. And, of course, the videos.
I blame Nikki’s aunt Jackie. She put the idea in her head. Jackie did a skydive for her 50th birthday, which inspired Nikki to do the same. “I want to skydive for my 50th”, she said. So I made it happen.
I booked for the first week of Spring skydiving season, but on the day the weather was too bad. The air strip was under water and the plane couldn’t take off. We rescheduled. For last weekend.
I was awake by 6 am, and the weather was not promising. Thunder, lightning, torrential rain. Bugger. We were scheduled to arrive at 10:30, so I called the air field at 9:30 expecting to get bumped again. But no! “The forecast says this will clear by mid morning, so come on down!” I was conflicted between being bumped again, and actually having to jump. Again, bugger.
Off We Go…
Out of bed, showered, in the car, and off we go. I made this quick video of us pre- and post-jump. You may find it amusing, I hope so. Friends did. We certainly did. It’s a little behind the scenes fun.
Skydiving is not something you do every day, so I went for the media package upgrade. This involves another skydiver jumping just ahead of you, filming you from a helmet camera all the way down. I had the good fortune to get someone (thanks, Ian) that really knew what he was doing. Watch the vid.
Not only did Ian have a video camera strapped to his head, he had a still camera which he triggered using an air tube in his mouth. Cool. So, in addition to getting the entire jump on film (link below) I have a folder of amazing stills, including this one of me exiting the plane. OK, I ran it through Photoshop to give it an extreme ‘kick’ to suit the occasion, but that’s really me, really doing this.
I want this job. Ian gets paid to show off by falling out of a plane backwards, waving up as his subjects scream toward him, often literally. Seems like a pretty good way to spend your day.
Nikki jumped first. I am so proud of her, she is amazing. I felt a pang of fear as she disappeared through the open door, a huge smile all over her happy face. And then, of course, it was my turn.
…Into the Wild Blue Yonder
Standing in the doorway of the plane, I was enthralled by the beauty below me.
Almost 3 miles up, I could clearly see the curvature of the earth. The shore of Lake Erie looks so much sharper in real life than you will ever see it on a Google map. The detail is amazing. The water, still clear filtered by Spring ice, was jade green, and as the sun played across it the rock shelf could be traced easily. Tiny toy wind turbines span slowly across the landscape. A little red dot near the horizon (the airfield) marked our intended landing point. Peace. Serenity. A unique perspective on the world.
Time. Stopped. We jumped.
That first step is a beauty. The acceleration really takes your breath. You think you’re ready for it. Trust me. You aren’t. After only 10 seconds you’re travelling at around 220 kph and have fallen half a kilometre (1,500 feet). You really feel the wind tearing at you. And you’re still falling.
But no longer accelerating. At this speed, air resistance kicks in. You physically cannot fall faster. Physics, it’s awesome. I grinned as we fell, recalling that, ironically, this maximum speed is called Terminal Velocity. Once you reach it you can breathe again and appreciate the excitement of free fall. And the speed at which the landmarks below are getting bigger. Oh boy. They are, aren’t they?
My camera man swoops in and we grasp hands as we do the obligatory skydiving spinny thing. I smile and wave for the camera. He pulls away. A glance at the altimeter on my wrist shows we are nearing the end of our 60 second free fall and approaching the ‘chute deployment point when we pull the rip…
Ooh. That also takes your breath. It will take some pushing and shoving to get those back in position.
A Change Of Pace
The descent slows. More time to take in the scenery. It’s a completely different ride. I take in this new experience. I can see why people do this. I scan the sky. I see an arc of colour, a mini-rainbow. I wave to Nikki, a half mile away and swooping happily at the end of her own string. She waved back.
My tandem partner, Scott, (excellent and very professional) asked me to put my hands in the loops on the ‘chute steering lines. I do, and following his guidance I steer us through the air. This is fun. Circle left. Circle right. Speed up, slow down. “Would you like to see a stall?” He takes back the reins and we drop like a stone, and recover. He throws in a few aerobatic twists and turns, just for fun. I’m loving it.
Then he decides we need to adjust my harness. Another glance at my altimeter. We’re at 2,500 feet. And he wants to play with the straps connecting me to the parachute. Hmm. I’m a logical man. I have a decision to make. And here are the facts: I know that each of the four straps on my harness can hold 5 tons, but I also know that this won’t matter if I slip out of it. OK, let’s do it. Stand up on his feet, he takes my weight to ease the tension on the straps. I yank the left strap. The right. That’s better.
Now we are approaching the landing area. I watch Nikki swoop smoothly across the road, her feet trailing through the leaves of a tall willow like fingers leaving ripples in a boating pond. She comes in. Lands. Smooth. Safe. Then, time to focus on our own landing. We’re right behind her, coming in fast.
They teach you “Keep your feet up as you land, slide in on your butt.” There is good, solid reason for this. If your feet hit and your legs are locked, your knee can go backward and you break at least one leg. I worried about this bit all the way down. I have a slightly dodgy leg, the residual effect of a stroke two years ago. Try as I might I can’t bring that foot up far enough, and I spike it. Sorry, Scott. I knew enough to make sure my knees were bent, but still. Bugger.
I stumble, going down to one knee, gently, bringing my partner with me. No big, I think he was expecting it (he really is very good), and we’re back up on the very next step with hardly a pause. Not elegant, but safe. I want a do-over. As I learned on the way down, pulling down hard on the lines stalls the ‘chute, bringing you to a gentle stop – if you are at ground level. For future reference, I could probably land on the spot, or just start walking, with more success. Mental note made. After checking that I hadn’t hurt my partner, we unhooked, and stepped out of the chute.
Camera man Ian is there, recording my reactions, and catches Nikki bounding toward me, throwing herself into my arms laughing. “Again! Let’s do it again!” Hugs, laughter kisses: A perfect memory.
Back On Solid Ground
Then I hear a voice I know well. My buddies John and Sandy are here. He’s running toward me with a camera flapping wildly. He has taken over a hundred photos of our landings. Bonus! I didn’t know they were here, they arrived after the plane took off. Mike and Cindy also came out, turns out the four of them have another place to be but they didn’t want to miss this so made a detour. Thanks, guys. We really appreciate you making the effort.
Off to the prep area, get out of these jump suits. Into the office. “Your videos will be ready in about 15 minutes”. OK, we went outside and filled in our log books – official log books. We are now registered skydivers. With certificates to prove it. And we can go on to become licensed. And go solo. And get a job taking photos. And… but I’m getting ahead of myself, here. It’s the endorphins, I realise.
“OK, here is a USB stick with all your images and video to remember your day. “
“Awesome. Thanks, everybody. This was a lot of fun.”
So that’s it. It’s over. We jumped, and now it’s time to leave. We head to the car. It’s lunch time, I’m getting hungry, and I feel the urge to celebrate.
I turn to Nikki. “OK honey, what do you want to do next?” I’m thinking lunch, or a celebratory beer. Without missing a beat she answers, loud and clear: “Edge Walk, CN Tower!” We’re not even in the car yet.
Here’s the start to finish video of the whole thing. And it. Is. Awesome.