It was almost anti-climactic.
Remember when you were a teen, anticipating that first experience with the opposite sex? Sweat pouring, heart racing, adrenaline coursing through your veins; anticipation is so powerful it overshadows the moment. Being so caught up in the desire to do everything “right” that it feels as though everything is going wrong?
Until it happens, and thoughts of “That wasn’t nearly as difficult as I’d thought.”
Today marked the end of the Recovery Road process for me. I’m not entirely recovered, that’ll take some additional time, but at least I know I’ve seen the elephant, and it wasn’t as big as it was marketed to be.
I made my first jump today. Seated in the Elsinore Otter, surrounded by Jay, Yong, Jon, Don, Dave, Chris, Pat, and others, I found myself flying higher than the aircraft due to butterflies in my belly. My last jump didn’t turn out so well and left me in the hospital for a long time, in recovery for a longer period of time.
Arriving in Elsinore a week ahead of my goal was probably my first mistake as I’d promised myself (and my doctors) that I’d wait til at least November 1 to jump. I even got a letter of “permission” to jump (I mildly prevaricated and told them I needed a letter to get back in the air, just in case a zealous DZO/DZM didn’t want me jumping so soon after a full pelvic fracture, ACL replacement, and perforated colon) from my doc and therapist.
The AFFI candidate course is incredibly informational the seventh time around, and there is always something new to be learned with each AFFI/E teaching a bit differently. But watching the candidates go up and down is also incredibly painful, so when the winds stayed in the same place for three days in a row, it seemed like a safe bet to go, or as safe as anyone might be in skydiving. I asked Jay what he thought and his smile was all I needed. I’d jumped off of picnic tables earlier in the week, and practiced PLF’s just this morning upon the advice of my friends Jack Guthrie and Chris Warnock.
It was time. We all knew it.
Putting my freefly pants on at the 45 minute call, I was fully geared up and asking Jay and Jon for a gear check at the 30 minute call. I think I fiddled with my iPod for every second of the 30 minutes. Then I put on my helmet and realized the guy that had borrowed it for several months had a smaller head. As soon as we crossed through 1k, I took off my helmet and adjusted the strap so it wasn’t so tight.
“Are you OK?” asks Jay?
“Yeah, I’m fine, just a little nervous.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Jay give Yong a hand signal but don’t know what it’s for. She points to my seatbelt. In my nervous state of fiddling with my helmet strap, I’d forgotten to remove my seat belt. Now I’m more nervous because I’ve missed one of the most basic aspects of skydiving. Going out the door with a seat belt on isn’t considered very cool. What else have I missed? I took one last look at the photo in my helmet and put it on.
Waiting for that light to turn green seemed like an eternity. It was an eternity. Was I going to get my full 5K? They’d only been going to 3.5 for hop n ‘ pops earlier. Was I getting out at 4? Would a 3 second delay be OK, or would it bust my back/pelvis? Ummm….Should I do a 5 second delay instead? Hell, I DON’T KNOW! Would the voices in my head please shut up? They’re merely aggravating the butterflies that are doing windmills in my belly.
The light goes yellow; shit. This means I’m committed or I’ll look like an idiot. That’s a dumb reason to jump, so that no on on the plane thinks you’re an idiot….
And then it goes green. A nervous peace sign flashed out of my hand just as fast as the middle finger appears on the freeway, it’s like a pair of switchblades. “Where the hell did those come from?” and I’m gone.
Looking up at the aircraft, I can see Yong laughing at me. I counted to three, threw and then thought, “what if this sucker doesn’t open?”
See, a three second delay is sub-terminal. The idea is to break my back in to the sport slowly, so opening before my body is falling fast is a good thing. But it means the parachute opens slowly. I haven’t done a hop n’ pop in a long time, and almost forgot that the openings are slow. Very slow. Especially at a wingloading of like .9:1.
It’s now 4k and I’m under canopy wondering what the hell to do next. Practice stalls? Turns? Front risers? Rear risers? At that wingloading and that altitude, I probably could have mixed, baked, and eaten a cake….it took FOREVER to get down to 1K.
Now….can I hit the grass? I haven’t landed a rig this big in forever. And…they’ve fenced off the field. And the trees are taller, and..and..and…too bad. I’m committed. It’s gonna land whether I participate or not, and participating in the process seems like a good idea at about 10 feet above the ground. Hey! There are those peas! I’m right in them! Wow… That was cool.
And the tears started to fall as I realized that this painful journey wrought from a stupid action 5 months ago was over. They told my family on June 8 that I might not make it through the night. They told me on June 12 that I wouldn’t walk for at least six months. And they told me on that same day that I wouldn’t skydive for at least a year and a half.
Umm….”They” didn’t realize the power of the human spirit, I suppose. I never have focused on “starting” to heal. I knew I’d be in the air not later than November 1. Focusing exclusively on “being there” rather than “how do I get there” allowed me to keep my eye on the prize instead of on the floor with each footstep. It’s amazing…it’s inspiring, it’s baffling.
This road has ended in a discovery of freedom and human spirit. The joy at being man-alone in the sky, bounded only by the infinite blue hemmed in only by ever receding white clouds and the ever increasing ground below.
I’m back, and holy crap….I’ve missed my sky.