10,000 Feet

Did it, bought the t-shirt.

I was strapped tightly to this guy who, at 29 years of age, had done this over a whopping 8,000 times.  My kid sister Marielle was next to me, rarin’ to go.  Below me was the truly breathtaking panoramic views of the Dutch West Indies island of Aruba.  So why was I, well, scared of “jumping” out of this airplane at 10,000 feet?

Or as my friend Dan later put it:  “Being scared in that situation is a sign of mental health.”

The other day my alarm went off at 7:30 am, and, still showing the fatigue signs of a night of Amstel Bright beer, cigars and good conversation, I took a bleary shower, drank a cup of tea and had half a banana, and got picked up from my cushy hotel- along with my sister Marielle and our good friend Amy- by a couple of amped-up (truly, it’s the only word:) dudes from Sky Dive Aruba.

We were going to, as the saying goes, jump out of a perfectly good airplane.  (I love the phrase, ‘perfectly good.’)

In truth, it’s perfectly safe.  With my “instructor” (read: dude I’d just met entrusted with not killing me) logging over 8,000 jumps and deploying his secondary parachute only four times, it seems to me sky diving is safer than half the things we do in our daily lives:  Driving in the rain; consuming sushi at the mall; arguing with our significant others.  It’s controlled risk-  certainly way more risky than another careen down Space Mountain, but not nearly as risky as, say, climbing Everest.

Which brings us back to the question, Why was I scared?  I think that’s linked to the question, Why did I want to do this in the first place?  The easy answer is, Well, it’s on my bucket list (as is not seeing that flick).  But why?  Why, why, why?  Is it that at the tender age of 32 I can began to see the window of life closing?  Is it that further away I get from my mid-twenties, I seem to get more scared of things?  (I also scuba dived on this trip, not too far down but over a cool wreck, and for the second year in a row it was harder to take the initial plunge.)  Is it because my sister Marielle had gotten me into this one-of-a-kind mess?  Is it solely in the name of reminding myself that I am a living person who, like all of us, could go any minute?


Sometimes there’s no ‘why’ thought, there’s only what is.  And that’s how I found myself strapped extremely tightly, with several cords, and basically sitting on my “instructor” dude.  (I put that word in quotes as there’s not a ton of instruction; these dudes know what they’re doing.)  It’s how I found myself with both our pairs of legs dangling over the opening in a very small, very yellow Cessna airplane.  It’s how I found myself with a little lump in my throat, contemplating the phrase they had introduced to my vocabulary earlier:  “No means go.”

And so we went.  My instructor dude Keith kind of shimmied (you don’t “jump” from the plane in this instance) our legs over the plane, and at 10,000 feet we back-flipped into a sustained free-fall.

My still-improving wordplay skills fail me spectacularly at this moment.  This is simply no touchstone to describe a 40 second free-fall.  My mind was absolutely blank (a rarity in our media-soaked times) as I took in the sight of the very yellow little plane recede.  My face, under goggles, was in that wind-warped position that looks so silly later in photos, and for 40 seconds I was hurtling down towards Earth with absolutely nothing.  It was phenomenal!

Then, Keith pulled the parachute and, well, this amazingly low-tech gadget opened.  My mind was of two frames on this:  “More free-fall, please” and, “Oh, sweet relief, it worked.”

For the first 20 seconds after I could do nothing but scream and curse, as all evolved human civility did not find what I’d just done.  (Seriously, you’ll see the video-  it’s rated ‘R’.)  It was the adrenaline rush to beat all prior adrenaline rushes.  (The only thing I can compare it with, of course, is acting on stage.)  For the next eight or so minutes after that, Keith and I parachuted through the rarified air, and it was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever laid eyes on:  the coastline of Aruba; the blues and greens of Caribbean waters; the California Lighthouse and the tiny homes and tiny pools and tiny lives of people down below.  I was flying, without an airplane!

Certainly the high mark of the post free-fall was when I was allowed to navigate us through a surprisingly low-flying cloud.  Keith gave me the parachute reins, and we pivoted from left to right.  The cloud was in front of us, and in an instant we two dudes whooshed through the cloud.  At the moment, it didn’t so much feel like flying, as (were it not for the, say, 4,000 feet below us) running on air.

And then, just when I felt I could do this forever, we landed.  Shockingly lightly and smoothly, with two mid-twenties workers running over to unharness us.

At the end, there was nothing to be afraid of.  To “jump” out of a perfectly good airplane at 10,000 feet, to free-fall for 40 seconds, to float over an island paradise for about eight minutes-  it’s one of those rare moments that connect us to what it is to Be Alive, this strange, odd journey we’re all taking.  I would highly recommend everyone do it.

And of course, if you do it, you may find yourself a bit scared.  And that’s good too.

Um, pretty nice view.

(I’ll try and get the DVD up on the Inter-webs soon.  Thank you.)


6 Responses to “10,000 Feet”

  1. diane Says:

    hey fn! way to go — next time i want to go with! xxx d

  2. Bingo Says:

    Nice blog! Where is the video?

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