Adventures with Richard Bleil
Yes, as of today, I am a professional skydiver! Well, maybe not professional. In fact, maybe anti-professional, since I was not paid to jump. In fact, I had to pay for somebody to jump with me. Just like I have to pay for somebody to…well, let’s not go there.
The reality is that I enjoy having experiences. I’ve been wanting to go skydiving for, well, pretty much my entire life. I think I discussed the physics in yesterday’s blog, but the reason I’ve always wanted to “take the dive” instead of bungee jumping is simply the free fall.
It was a beautiful day and a wonderful hour and a half drive to get to the small municipal airport. After all, it’s not like they’d allow jumping in a major airport with lots of air traffic. Apparently. I learned.
My favorite part of the jump was the dog. My skydive instructor is visually impaired so the dog jumped with us. It seemed pretty scared.
Just kidding. There was a great dog, but she was a sweet old puppy, laying spread across the entire hallway and she was moving for nobody. So, we all gingerly stepped over her, and she was happy with that. Once I reached the office, they showed a video that I think I was supposed to watch, featuring a man who claimed to have invented tandem jumping. I was reading the several pages I had to sign to promise I wouldn’t hold the airport responsible for any injuries or death, or the company responsible for any injuries or death, or my instructor responsible for any injuries or death, or the company owners are you starting to see a pattern here? It was crazy. They asked for an emergency contact number in case something happened, so I put “911”.
At first, it looked like I was jumping alone. We got out to the tiny little airplane (seriously, a tiny little one-engine aircraft with a seat for the pilot and that was it. I think sitting on that floor was the worst of it. But, when we got to the plane, the pilot wasn’t there. Apparently, he was still finishing the vodka. (Kidding, of course, but it didn’t matter; we had a parachute!) By the time he got there, another jumper was ready to join us. It was good, though.
She jumped first, so I had the opportunity to see the process. In the airplane, I had to scootch around so the instructor could strap himself onto my back like Yoda riding Luke. And, yes, I was that inexperienced. I honestly still am.
Perhaps the most difficult part was maneuvering out of the airplane. My big error was my desire to hold onto something as I was moving so I wouldn’t fall, but, of course, the idea was to actually fall. Once ready, though, off we went.
At first, my stomach jumped up, kind of like that going down that first big hill on a roller coaster. Unlike the roller coaster, though, you quickly become accustomed to it and your stomach returns to its normal position. In a roller coaster, this is when the turns and loops begin to throw your momentum around. In skydiving, you just keep falling.
At first, the tumbling was way too chaotic to actually be able to take stock. I was hoping to see the airplay flash by my field of vision, but I honestly never saw it. I did see the ground and sky rush by, but eventually we straightened up and just started falling. The acrobatics seemed nearly impossible to me when I really think about it, but watching the video I realize he released a little control chute to orient us and keep as oriented.
The wind was extremely loud, rushing by my head. I didn’t realize how strong it was until I saw the distortions in my face in that same video. This is as close to experiencing zero gravity as most of us could ever get. In space, there IS gravity, but the astronauts are moving at the same speed, and in the same direction as the spacecraft, so the experience feels gravity free. In other words, the spacecraft and astronauts are all in free fall, just as I was. The difference for me, though, is that my free fall was hampered by wind resistance.
As I watched the video, the free fall seemed to last for a little more than twenty seconds. It felt much shorter to me, but the video didn’t lie. Terminal velocity is generally achieved in about twelve seconds, so I was there. What I did not expect, but should have, was the feeling of nauseousness. I’m sure this is because of the water in my inner ear (I forget what it’s called, but it’s that water that helps us keep balance, and that makes us dizzy when we spin around too fast for too long). In free fall, that water is not able to orient, so yes, I started feeling dizzy and sick to my stomach, but it was good.
Eventually, I felt a dramatic yank and realized the parachute had deployed. This lasted about ten minutes or so. It was incredibly quiet, so calm, and such a gorgeous view. I was allowed to “drive” by handling the parachute controls when, frankly, it wasn’t so important to control. Nothing around, and plenty of maneuvering room to reorient when I got us lost. Frankly, I did better than I expected. With my sense of direction, we’re lucky we didn’t land on Venus.
Maneuvering was incredible, and very much reminiscent of a roller coaster but very smooth. We turned left, and right, flung around like a little toy soldier on a string. Eventually, he took over and we came in for a landing. To do this, I had to hold my legs straight out as if I were sitting on the floor. I assumed, when he explained this on the ground, that it was so I didn’t interfere as he landed, so it was kind of a surprise when suddenly the ground hit my derriere, my butt, my tushy, my very sore, well, you get the point.
Is it a new hobby? I doubt it. Very happy to have experienced it, but maybe not as much fun as I had hoped especially since I was so focused on not losing my lunch. But, thrilled to have done it, glad I faced my fears, and excited to be able to say yep, been there, done that.