Have you ever wondered what goes through a person's mind as they fall to the ground at 70 mph 13,000 feet in the sky?
Yeah, me too. Now I can say without a doubt that it is everything and nothing going through that person's mind. It is like every amazing moment in a person's life melds together with a Zen sense of nothingness...nothing that happened before or will happen in the future matters at that moment.
How do I know this? Because last Saturday I decided to tempt the Gods and do a tandem skydive jump out of a perfectly good airplane.
A friend had brought it up casually with me a few months ago, and he said he was putting together a big group of people to jump sometime this summer, probably in July. Things changed, and he found out he'd not be able to have the larger group outing until later in the summer, so we made a spontaneous decision to go, just the two of us, without the bigger group.
We met at the skydive location about 15 minutes before we were scheduled to check in, and were greeted with 25 mph gusts on the ground. That equates to somewhere over 100 mph winds at 10,000 feet. So we waited. And waited. And waited some more. 3 hours later, the place was packed with all of the people who had scheduled a jump for the previous 3 hours.
And who was lucky enough to be the very first tandem jumper out of the plane for the day? Yours truly. As I donned the jumpsuit, I had visions of Goose and Maverick...and then got snapped back to reality when I passed a mirror and saw how ridiculous I looked in the too tight jumpsuit. In hindsight, I really should have followed through on my original plan to don parachute pants for the jump.
As we boarded the plane, the fear I had over the previous few weeks suddenly subsided. As we took off on the grassy runway and slowly climbed to 13,000 feet, my tandem instructor went over last minute instructions, then handed me a lifesaver candy and said "Here's a lifesaver, because you can't count on me for that." Ha. Ha. Wait, was he kidding?
As the door rolled open on the plane and we were given the thumbs up to prepare for our leap, a really quick but fleeting sense of panic came over me. Just inches away from me, 13,000 feet below, were houses that looked like dots. Buildings that looked like postage stamps. Farm fields that looked like patterns of a quilt.
Then with a last minute thumbs up to the camera man, we were out of the plane and shooting toward earth at 70 mph. Let me tell you that if you ever want to see what your face would look like if it were made of rubber, go skydiving. Oh, and they tell you to smile, but I recommend just keeping your mouth shut. Same principle as when you are on a motorcycle...you don't know what can make it into your open mouth at 70 mph.
After a freefall of about 60 seconds, my tandem instructor tapped my shoulder which told me to grip on to my shoulder harness, and he pulled the chute. There is an odd sensation that occurs as you drop a few inches lower from the tandem jumper when the chute goes out...for a second it feels as if you are going to drop to the ground. A little bit like that feeling you had as a kid when your older relatives used to pretend they were going to drop you when you were in their arms. Only you are thousands of feet above the ground at this point.
From there, it was a calmer, peaceful journey to the ground. After a quick popping of my ears so I could hear my instructor, we began our way down to our landing point. Slowly, the ground went from what looked like a miniature museum display of smalltown America to familar landmarks...Oh I recognize that road. Oh I recognize that car. Oh I recognize that person.
"Lift your legs. We are coming in fast," my instructor yelled. Time to land already? Wait. No. Rewind it back up again and do it all over. Please!
I have to admit, outside of the witnessing the birth of my sons, this was without a doubt the coolest moment I've experienced in my life so far.
So you can count on me returning to two miles above the ground sometime soon. I'm hooked.