Today, I went skydiving.
I’m going to try and get something insightful out of my head while it’s still fresh, but I doubt that’ll work very well, considering the whole thing has been a blur from the second I got on that plane…
My buddy Charlie and I have been sending videos of BASE jumpers, skydivers, and wing-suit fliers – pretty much anything involving terminal velocity, gravity, and a parachute – back and forth to one another, for the past 6 months or so. In print, it’s always been the next rung in the ladder. We’ve done gnarly things with the snow, wind, and waves, so gravity at 13,000 feet was the next logical progression. That being said, the hypothetical instant messaging of two extreme-oriented dudes and the reality-based shock of actually planning such an adventure, are two very different things.
I am terrified of heights; or at least, that’s what I always thought.
On skis, I can hit pretty large jumps. The two biggest booters I ever hit were the 2010-11 Dew Tour jumps at Mount Snow, which were 60 and 70 feet respectively. With those jumps, you’re in the air a decent amount of time and completely at the mercy of your own ability.
On a kite, I’ve boosted 10-15 feet at a time.
When you’re in the moment and committed, neither of these endeavours seem so daunting or that high, and even if they did, they only last 2 to 3 seconds, max.
But skydiving… with that, you’re in the air… eh em… high in the air for a bit under 10 minutes. Just the idea of such a long hang time gave me the mental wiggle room to think of every possible disaster possible, and it’s always made skydiving unapproachable for me.
There’s no way to ease into it. No way to work you’re way up from something smaller. It’s go big, or nothing…
Well, needless to say, when Charlie called me up two weeks ago and said we were booked, I was nervous. I drove up to New Paltz, NY not knowing what to expect. The day before the jump I was entranced by the idea. I meditated on it. I paced. I bugged out with excitement and anxiety. And then the morning came and we were finally off to the dropzone. We get there, and the girl behind the desk said it was too cloudy, sorry, and that we’d have to come back another time. I was simultaneously relieved and disappointed. And then, just as we were walking back to the car, she tells us the jump was back on… only to let us down again.
I’m pretty sure your heart is not supposed to do the kind of gymnastics I put it through that day. Those moments just prior to commitment are the most tense and jagged. But they’re also indicative of you being on the right path…
On one hand, I need to do this before I die, if not only once. Until I do, I will be forever disappointed in myself for not taking advantage of the one life I know I have. On the other hand, I have to get over this incredible mental barrier of fear and in-the-moment resistance to do so.
Fast forward a week later, to today (4.7.2012). I booked and planned our dive for 9:30 in the morning out in eastern Long Island, NY. This time, things were different. Prior to the day of the jump, I started really digging down into my fear until I became an expert on its nuances. The meaning of the phrase “There’s nothing to fear but fear itself” revealed itself to me. I started to think that, yes, there will be typical physical fear: my body is going to sweat and my heart is going to beat, both more than usual. But it’s when you start adding meaning to these things, and let them build into a feedback loop of anxiety, that you become crippled. Don’t do that, and you’re set.
With that realization made, I drove out to our dive nervous, but ready for anything. Just prior to our getting on the plane I was amped. In the plane, I was awed and ready, and even when people started jumping out the plane, I knew that I’d be – mentally, at that moment – o.k.. In fact, I was joking around and high-fiving people; by the time I got to the bay door, I was itching to get out.
And then I was in the air, and none of it mattered a bit, one way or the other.
Fuck fear; thought in general was not something I was occupied with. The world was rushing by me and, after hitting terminal velocity, gravity didn’t really exist. I was in a dream. I was going faster than I ever had before (sans mechanical assistance), with the most incredible view ta’ boot. I’d say more, but when I said ‘thought’ wasn’t something I was taking part in, I meant it. Every sense was so overwhelmed; I remember literally thinking that falling all the way to the ground wouldn’t be the worst way to go. It was bliss. No fear. All now.
Then my tandem instructor pulled the ripcord, and things became even more surreal. It wasn’t violent or jerky, like I expected, but actually a pretty mellow deceleration, the result of which is real-life flying. When you’re falling, there’s no real control or direction (other than down); you’re just falling. But when you’re under the 'chute, you can steer, and that’s when you feel like a bird.
I had my arms out like wings, and took the reigns for a little bit, too. I remember saying, “There is absolutely nothing wrong with this” over and over again, as the euphoria of the moment began to contrast with my now returning thoughts; this was supposed to be scary, but was instead the most excellent thing I could possible be doing. My instructor was asking me how I liked it and pointing to where we’d land. And like that it was over.
I hit the ground like a feather – it’s amazing what parachutes do – and proceeded to laugh and squirm uncontrollably in giddy pleasure for a few minutes. I found Charlie, we did a bro-mantic chest bump, hugged everyone in a hundred foot radius, and then walked back into the hanger.
Scheduling the next trip in t-minus…