Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Skydiving Pt 10

While I was waiting for clearance to jump, I stopped at the porta-potties at least a million times.  My instructor said that, during tandem jumps, people vomit, urinate, defecate, whatever, and that’s why he doesn’t do tandems any more.  I didn’t want to be that person, although I brought a change of clothes to be sure.  (By the way, if you want to lose weight, schedule a skydive; it kills your appetite for days.)  On the way out, I noticed a guy with a cast and crutches going in.  After he closed the door, I realized he had a tattoo on his arm of three chemicals: caffeine, alcohol, and ecstasy.  It was the other student who had taken the class with me a month and a half previously.
What kind of a school lets a kitten skydive?!
I waited for him to come out and we talked.  It seems he had managed to go on three jumps while I was waiting for the wind and a time that worked (Later, I met other people who had gone on six jumps in less time than I had waited; skydiving takes commitment and a lack of other things to do.)  He told me how he broke his foot.  When you finally touch down, you “flare” your parachute: pull down hard to tilt it backwards and brake your momentum.  He was flaring, but started too soon, stopped flaring and dropped like a rock for thirty feet.  They drove him to a hospital, where he got titanium pins in his foot.  Later, the skydivers gave him a barbecue to celebrate him becoming a member of the “heavy metal club.”  He told me he was up there most weekends, was practicing at a wind tunnel in Union City (with his cast on until he could jump again), and was donating video equipment to the company in exchange for free lessons.  Later, as I watched skydivers land way off target on the hills far away, he hopped in a golf cart to go get them.  Some people totally drink the Kool-Aid.
At least he's not this crazy.
Then I was called to get ready.  My instructor, a man called “Ego” (not his real name), threw me a green suit.  I asked for pink, my youngest’s favorite color, but pink suits only come in girls’ sizes.  I now realize why all the women are half naked and jumping in their bras: those suits are hot.  He put on my parachute, which is heavy and sits badly on your shoulders.

I studied the list of things I’m supposed to do while Ego mentions all the things that can kill me.  He also told me that jumping is “sensory overload” and that I might blank out and forget everything.  I was looking forward to it.
All he said to me was: "Oh no, not again."
My other instructor, a man called “Ficus” (his real name), came over to say “hi” along with my videographer, Zack, who became an ordained minister for his friend’s wedding.  While I ask Zack about that, Ego offered me advice “Focus on what you have to do to get in the right mindset.”  Half an hour later, I thought “This is what I do!”
Oh, yeah, there’s a video.  I was going to wait to post it until tomorrow, but that would have been mean:

You take off with the door open, only closing it for a short time.  I kept my helmet on because Ficus told me we couldn’t jump if it rolled out the door.  It’s pretty damned cool to fly without a door, but was disappointed I missed watching liftoff (Zack had to tell me).  Later they took my helmet off to put on an earpiecefor radio commands.  They showed me two small reservoirs that are long and pointy.  They call them the “dick pools” and told me they point toward the drop zone.  I wonder what they would call them if I was a woman.  “Tampon pools?”
When it was time to go, Ego says “You ready to skydive?”  I didn't even think about my answer.
Hanging on the side of the plane was amazingly loud.  You know that sound when they seat you by the wing of an airplane and it takes off?  Imagine that on both sides.  The wind comes through your helmet and into your ears in a deafening roar.
Not at all like this, but my arms are as muscly.
I looked at both my instructors, lift up, squat, and turned into the wind as they taught me so we can all go together.  I got a fleeting glimpse of the wing and then was facing the ground.  You can see me going through the training procedure on the video.  I checked with my trainers, but it was hard to tell if they approved, because the wind makes your face into a smile and there’s no gesture for “You’re fine!”  They did gesture for me to relax.
One of these means: never skydive again.
I arched into a better position.  I smiled at the cameraman, who was zooming around me on bat wings, and wait for six thousand feet.  If you look, you can see Ego give the thumbs up to Zack, meaning: “Go away; you’re distracting him.”  That’s when he started filming me from above.

Ficus told me to look at the altimeter and I said “Oh, crap, six thousand feet.” You have to pull at 5500.  Ficus immediately gave me the pull sign.  “Oh, crap!” I said.  “Pull now?”  I reached for my chute and then realize I forgot to do the “wave off” sign.  I waved them off, which Ego later told me was “cute,” and grabbed for my chute.
"New Game!  NEW GAME!"
The chute handle is a plastic tube that you pull out and throw away from you.  It has a tiny parachute that opens and pulls the whole thing out.  You stop really hard.  The strap across my chest between the shoulder straps whacked me in the mouth, but not hard enough to hurt (although that might have been adrenaline).  The leg loops pulled so tight that my legs still hurt today.

At this point in the video, Zack shows the instructors deploying their chutes.  They dropped 2500 feet more than me and then landed with “sport parachutes” and landed something like twenty minutes before me.
Not that much blood.
I looked up to make sure my parachute is deployed fine, but I really couldn’t tell.  I realized I had no idea what the control straps looked like and grabbed some random yellow things.  Turns out I guessed correctly.  I went through the parachute test as best I could: turning 360 degrees left and then right, doing a flare.  I tried to figure out the right direction to be moving, but it’s hard to tell when you’re high up.  I was bleeding freely onto my suit and checked my teeth to see if any were broken.

Finally the radio kicked in.  Ego told me to go through the test motions again and what direction to go.  Every now and then, the radio crackled to life with:  “Turn left.  Stay on that heading” or somesuch.  It seemed to take a long time to get down because I was in the beginners chute; it’s like having a hot air balloon instead of a parachute.
Wow, now I'm REALLY Lost.
I started to feel nauseous near the end and thought it was delayed nerves; Ego later tells me the leg straps cut off your femoral arteries and that I might have been suffering from a bit of hypoxia.  Didn’t that kill a guy on The West Wing?

Near the ground Ego tells me to flare.  I lifted up my feet, not wanting to break my leg, and landed on my ass.  Ow.  I guess I should have tried running.  I slowly stood up and wrapped up the chute the way I was taught.  It was hard to carry the thing as the straps kept getting caught on my feet.  It seemed sad that nobody came out to help, but there were other people landing, so I walked back to the hangar alone.

I asked how I did and Ego told me that all I needed to do was pull the chute.  Really?  What was the point of all the training?  I’m given a certificate, which I immediately spilled water on.  Ego then told me about the one fatality they had (some guy didn’t pull his reserve until he was almost to the ground), and compares it to the fourteen traffic fatalities on the nearby road.

My colleague with the broken foot asks if I’ll do it again and I say “no,” realizing as I said it that I meant it.

This entry is already too long.  I’ll give you my reasons tomorrow.

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