On Thursday 24th December, 1998, I went skydiving. It was 36 degrees with clear, blue skies.
Two days after the experience, I wrote the following.
I thought that I would have a thousand words at my disposal to describe the experience. I thought that every thought and feeling would be indelibly etched onto my brain for recall whenever I chose. I thought I would hear nothing except my own internal conversation, and I really thought I would feel peaceful and free. But pre-emptive thoughts that have no basis of experience to work from can be very, very wrong, as I was to find out. So how do I tell you what I experienced? How do I describe what can’t be described? How do I get my brain to recapture every moment if it wasn’t in the moment in the first place? I’ll try to find the words and remember every detail but I can’t guarantee that I’ll be able to do the experience the justice it deserves.
Seriously, who in their right mind would jump out of a plane, strapped to a stranger you have to trust implicitly to bring you down to earth from ten thousand feet using only a large piece of nylon. Talk about madness! By rights I should have been nervous but I wasn’t. I had wanted to jump from a fully serviceable aircraft for a long time but I never thought I’d actually get the opportunity, yet here I was.
I suited up, put my harness on, got a few instructions of what was expected of me and six of us crowded into a plane that looked as if it was designed for a maximum of two. It took us half an hour to climb to ten thousand feet. The higher we got the cooler the air became which was a welcome relief from the stifling heat. Altitude was reached, the door was opened and it was the point of no return.
I shuffled to the door on my knees with my tandem master Michael of the 1900 jumps to his name attached to my back. Somehow we managed to organise hands and legs so we were in a sitting position on the edge of the doorway. The wind was whipping up a frenzy as I arched my back, tucked my legs under the plane, crossed my arms against my chest and smiled at the camera. Ready or not, Michael heaved us forward into the nothingness of space.
The only way I can describe the instant sensation of hitting the air would be similar to that of hitting water that was like glass, but without the sting. The wind was rushing into my head fast and furious. It was noisy and I remember thinking that I thought it would be peaceful and serene, but it was just the opposite. I felt heavier than I imagined I would and I couldn’t tell that we were falling 200 kilometres per hour. In fact, I couldn’t tell very much at all. Quite simply I had gone into sensory overload. My senses were still with me but my brain couldn’t cope with, or rationalise, all the different new experiences at once so I suppose it just kind of shut off. I remember screaming ‘woo hoo’ in delight and I think having that focus, forcing that part of my brain to function as normally as possible enabled me to remember a bit more about the experience than I normally might have. Having a video of it helps too.
After a quick tap from Michael, I uncrossed my arms and imagined they were wings and I was flying like a bird. I still hadn’t regained my senses and trying to process the feelings was a waste of time. My brain was still off-line. I forgot that I had a giant of a man strapped to my back until he pulled the rip cord and the chute opened up. In a matter of seconds we went from about a 200 kilometre per hour plummet to about a 40 kilometre per hour drift. And what a strange thing that was! We jolted and jerked a bit as we slowed down to a veritable crawl. Then the G-force of what we’d just done kicked in. I felt nauseous. I don’t know where my blood went but it wasn’t hanging around my head.
I heaved but I didn’t really want to throw up. After two more heaves I had no choice. Leaning my head as far right as possible I delicately let fly a mouth full of chuck. Sorry Michael! I breathed deeply and looked at the horizon and tried to tell my stomach that it felt fine but my senses had returned and they decided that I wasn’t feeling as great as I’d like to believe. A few more breaths and I felt ok for a moment but the closer we got to the earth the warmer it got and the heat suddenly over-whelmed me and I felt sick again. My stomach did a few more flip-flops and the remaining contents of my stomach decided they wanted to see the world from several hundred feet up but we were coming in for our landing and I didn’t want to be responsible for covering a member of the ground crew with recycled fluids, so I bravely held it in my mouth.
Knees up, heels down, we landed safely. The wind caught me and pushed me back. Michael lifted me forward. Upright, unattached and free to run, I headed in a wobbly line straight ahead, collapsed onto my knees and gratefully relieved my traitorous stomach. Yeah, now I felt like a million bucks but god I was thirsty. Having had my mouth open for most of the fall was probably not the smartest thing to do, but you live and learn. Cold liquid quickly fixed my problem and I tried to describe what I’d just been through but I couldn’t put into words all the different sensations. This is the best I can do after two days of talking about it.
From the moment I left the plane to the moment of touch down, I was not of the planet for maybe six minutes. It felt like one, twenty, none. It felt like forever and not at all. It felt like, it felt like …. I’m still not sure what it felt like because in many ways it defies description but I can tell you that it was a fantastic journey and a wonderful adventure and one I’ll try really hard to always remember if my brain is kind enough to let me.