i always thought it would be cool to go parachuting. james bond
does it. arnold did it. even george bush did it, and he's pretty
old. i pictured myself floating through the air, doing somersaults,
dives, and spins, then landing lightly on my feet, always one step
ahead of the bad guys.
but when irina asked me if i wanted to go the next time i was
in australia, i wasn't quite so sure. it's easy to imagine doing
something dangerous, as long as the imagining isn't threatened by
reality. you know - stuff like picking a specific date and putting
down a deposit. that stuff has a tendency of turning cool fantasies
into stomach aches.
we decided to go tandem, which is jumping while strapped to a
jump master. the main reason for doing a tandem jump is that you
don't have to learn anything about parachuting - you just have to
be able to fall out of a plane. even i can master this.
we arrived at the parachuting place, and spent 30 minutes filling
out paperwork. this was not part of my cool fantasy. we were asked
for lots of personal details, such as weight, height, and medical
history. oh, and next of kin. then we signed four waivers of responsibility,
promising not to hold the parachute school responsible should we
have a problem. the last waiver had to be notarized by an officer
of the court. sobering thoughts, huh?
while waiting our turn, we watched others jump. somebody would
point out the little tiny speck of the airplane flying 10,000 feet
above us. then a bunch of even smaller dots would appear behind
the plane. about a minute later parachutes would open, and five
minutes later, the jumpers landed.
after they landed, they were unbuckled from their jump masters,
and sent over to us. they stood there, wide eyed and silent, breathing
pretty hard. i think they were still catching up on the processing
of all the new sensations. after a bit, they started saying "wow",
and a couple of minutes later, they started smiling. within five
minutes, they were laughing and slapping each other on the back
and saying "what a rush!".
all too quickly, it was our turn. we put on the jump suits and
the rigs, and then three of us with our jump masters were crammed
into this itty bitty cesna 206. there were no seats - we had to
jam ourselves between our jump masters' legs. there was no door
on the plane either - a piece of canvas unrolled to cover where
the door should have been.
all the jump masters were wearing parachutists' altimeters, so
we were able to gauge the ascent. it took about 20 minutes to reach
10,000 feet, which was nice. the view was beautiful along the great
ocean road. the plane flew over the coastline, first towards the
12 apostles, then up to sorrento. we could see the bay and melbourne
in the distance. but it was a bit crowded, and my legs and hips
were beginning to hurt from being cramped up.
at 10,000 feet the show was over, and it was all business. first,
we had to lift ourselves up with our hands on the jump masters'
knees and sit in their laps. they strapped us together very tightly,
and then two by two we inched over to the open doorway.
here's how you fall out of an airplane: first you put your feet
outside, tucking them under the plane. then you arch your back and
neck as far as you can. oh, and try not to think that you're about
to exit a perfectly good airplane. then before you're really ready,
the jump master leans forward just a bit, and off you both go, falling
and spinning and twisting.
i didn't get the "roller coaster" feeling that i thought i would
get. and i didn't get the weightless feeling either. what i felt
was the air slamming into me. i guess that's what it does when you're
going 220 kmh (136 mph, or 200 feet per second). the air was so
heavy that it felt like i was swimming.
after 10 seconds, the jump master taps you twice on your shoulders,
and you throw your arms out and start to move them around. that
was pretty cool - you could control where you went and how much
you spun. and you could watch the objects on the ground moving closer
and closer to you.
35 seconds later, you're at 4,000 feet, and the jump master pulls
the rip cord. now, that's a pretty sudden stop! one minute you're
hurtling towards the ground at 200 feet per second, and the next
minute, you're floating. well, almost floating - you're still going
13 feet per second, or 9 miles per hour.
the jump master pointed out the landing zone (still way, way below
us), and then told me to look around a bit. what an incredible view!
together we pulled the parachute controls, and were spinning first
one way, and then the other. and by pulling both controls, the parachute
would lift, and we'd be weightless for a few seconds.
the best way to describe the next five minutes was that it was
too short. with an incomparable view, a controlled descent, and
acrobatics in the air, time flew by.
before i was ready, i had to prepare for the landing. the jump
master lands first while you hold your feet as high up as you can.
after he touches down, you put your feet down. and it's all over.
you get unbucked, sent over to the spectators, and try catch up
on your processing. soon you are laughing, proud that you went,
and happy that you survived the experience.
what a rush!