Once Upon A Time I Fell Out Of A Plane

I'm probably not the sort of person you'd picture going skydiving. I don't know who you would picture going skydiving—a sportier sort of person? A musclier sort of person? A person who didn't think it would be totally fine and normal to hike the Great Wall of China in flipflops?—but I am not offended in the least by the fact that it probably wouldn't be me. I am pretty unequivocally un-hardcore. I get my thrills making cute gift tags for my Christmas presents, thank you very much. I get my adrenaline boosts finding Donna Karan for 40% off at TJ Maxx.

And yet this weekend I jumped out of a plane. On purpose. It wasn't even on fire! It didn't even contain Kim Kardashian!

How did this happen, you ask? Well, it is basically because I cannot resist a deal. I love a good deal, Internet. And when, last year, I saw a Groupon for skydiving, I pounced on it. I couldn't pass it up! They were practically paying me to jump out of a plane—trust me, I'm sure there are people who would—and I am weak in the face of that kind of savings. So I bought it. I also put aside, temporarily, the nagging thought that perhaps skydiving—with all its ropes and pulleys and inordinate danger—might be something you'd want to pay full price for. Ah, you're here for a discounted jump, are you? Then let's just give you a discounted parachute. And a discounted plane. And here's your instructor, we just finished training him five minutes ago. He's actually our accountant the rest of the week, but we think you'll do just fine. 

And so this is how, on a perfectly good Saturday morning, I found myself traveling an hour and a half north to Cloverdale, where we had booked a 2pm jump. Out of a plane. In the sky. I feel I cannot emphasize this part enough.

I was scared. I was pretty darn scared. "But it's such a rush!" crowed Sean, who had done this once before. "It's the most amazing feeling ever!"

It was a strong argument but my argument, I thought, was stronger: why tempt fate if you don't have to?  I fretted that I was probably going to die, that first my parachute wasn't going to open, and then—as a total fluke, never before seen during the careers of any of the skydiving staff—the reserve parachute wasn't going to open either, and I was going to end up as a cautionary tale in a local paper somewhere ("...and she didn't even pay full price!")

"Pshaw!" he said. "There is, like, a 000.1% chance of that happening."

"But why take the risk that it could?" I replied. "Why just jump out of an airplane for no reason? For sport?"

"Because," he said. "It's fun."

Despite my gnawing fear, I felt pretty strongly that I wanted to follow through—and not just because the Groupon was about to expire. So, stomach in knots, I went through the five minute training—which basically consists of signing your name on a few forms that are all, "listen, you get that you could DIE, right?"—and then headed out to the field to wait for my name to be called.


Please confirm that you are an idiot who is happy to play Russian Roulette for a brief burst of adrenaline, and also that your family won't sue us if you croak.

This is probably the most nerve-wracking part, waiting for your name to be called. When it finally was, Sean and I were escorted into a barn where an entire crew of extreme sports-loving men—many shirtless, many tattooed, many goateed—were doing complicated things with straps and parachutes, chugging down Gatorade and slapping each other on the back. It was like we had walked straight into a Pepsi Max commercial. You got the feeling that none of these men—ever, in their entire lives, not even once—had felt even the slightest twinge of fear.

"I'm really, really nervous," I told one of them.

"Why?" he said. "What's there to be nervous about?"

"Uh, everything?" I replied. "Maybe starting with the fact that I'm going to be jumping out of a plane?"

"Oh, well don't worry about that," he said. "You're not jumping out of a plane. You're falling out of it."


Please note the abject terror in my eyes. My mouth is smiling but the rest of me is about to burst into tears.

We trudged out to the airplane, which was about the size of an overhead baggage compartment, and went through a few more training points. For a person who was about to jump—excuse me, fall—out of an airplane at 12,000 feet, I felt alarmingly unprepared. All I needed to do, I was told, was to keep my legs tucked underneath me, my arms crossed against my chest, and my head bent backwards. I repeated this information to myself obsessively, like it was Mark Ruffalo's phone number that had been handed to me anonymously in a bar. 

And then we were off. The plane fit only four of us, sprawled unceremoniously on the floor, and the door stayed open for three-quarters of the ride. Once I had got over my brief panic attack at a) being in a plane where I could twist my head to the left and brush the pilot with my ponytail, and b) TAKING OFF IN A SMALL PLANE WITH THE DOOR OPEN, WHAAAAAT?, I actually started to enjoy the ride. The views over the mountains and vineyards were gorgeous and the lack of a door (or seatbelts) made it pretty easy to enjoy them. After about ten minutes, I kind of even forgot that I was going to be jumping-I-mean-falling out of the plane shortly. My instructor even leaned back and took a nap.

And then, at last, it was time. Time for what, you ask? Oh, only time for the most awkward five minutes of my life. 

Because here is the thing that nobody tells you about skydiving. It is this: skydving is super awkward. There comes a point, which no-one warns you about, when you must—in a space the size of a bathtub, high above the earth—scoot backwards and raise your butt onto the lap of your instructor. I repeat: YOU MUST SIT ON YOUR INSTRUCTOR'S LAP. And then you must hold that position for many minutes, while he hooks all of your various hooks and straps to his hooks and straps, and then when all the hooking and strapping is done, you must STILL sit there—both of you in silence, your calves aching from trying to balance your weight on them in case you might be squashing him—until it is time to jump out of the plane.

Trust me, at this point, you really want to jump out of the plane. I am pretty sure this is the secret to skydiving.

Sean went first. He and his instructor shuffled over to the open door of the plane, balanced there for a minute while Sean and I locked eyes and he silently bequeathed all his money to me in the event that he didn't make it—at least, that is what I got from that interaction, although I guess he could actually just have been saying that he loved me, or perhaps commiserating with the fact that I was still half-sitting, half-hovering on my instructor's lap—and then he was gone. Seriously, it was so weird: one second he was in the plane, the next second he wasn't. I may have been imagining it, but I am pretty sure he made a cartoon whooooooooshing sound as he fell out.

And then it was my turn. Back down on the ground, I had asked a couple of veteran jumpers what it feels like right before you jump, when you're sitting on the edge with your upper body in the plane and your legs dangling beneath it, half a second away from launching yourself out into the great blue beyond.

"So you basically feel like you're going to die, right?" I asked earnestly.

They both laughed. "That is the last thing you feel," one of them said. "Honestly, at that point, you just don't feel any fear at all."

And surprisingly, I have to agree. It seems impossible to imagine, but there I was with 75% of my body being dangled out of a plane, in the split second before the other 25% joined it, and the last thing I felt was fear. You just don't have time to feel fear. You do have time to think "holy crap, I'm dangling out of an airplane and I'm really, really, really high up" but that is about the extent of it before you fall.

And the fall is something else. I honestly think that my brain blacked out most of it—doesn't that sound like something the brain would do? Block out the trauma of falling out of a plane?—because I just have a rather hazy recollection of a) a lot of speed, b) a lot of noise, c) a lot of wind rushing at my face, and d) screaming like I've never screamed before. We were in free fall for about 45 seconds, which, let me tell you, feels like a really, really long time when you're tumbling through the sky, and while my life didn't flash before my eyes or anything, I did have a really strange, brief, emotional moment where I felt like I was about to cry. My most overwhelming thought during the fall, though, was whenistheparachutegoingtoopen, whenistheparachutegoingtoopen, whenistheparachutegoingto—ah, there it is, I'm not going to die.

And this is where Skydiving Is Awkward, Part 2 comes in. Imagine you have, for the past 45 seconds, been screaming like a baby, uttering every swear word known to man, while a stranger—albeit a stranger whose lap you have briefly sat on, so I guess you have some history—is strapped to your back.  For 45 seconds, this is fine: you are tumbling through the sky, the situation is new, there's an outside chance you might die, etcetera etcetera; no-one would begrudge you the need to whoop like a toddler and curse like a sailor.

But once that parachute unfurls and it is clear that you are no longer possibly facing imminent death, everything goes really, really quiet. Immediately, the turmoil of the past 45 seconds is long behind you, and now you're just floating gently in the sky like a bird. And it is kind of like that old joke where the record stops at a party just as one woman leans into another woman and shouts DOESN'T MARY ANN LOOK FAT IN THAT DRESS?, because there you are, strapped to a complete stranger who has just had first-hand experience of the impressive depth of your curse word collection, and now you have to make small talk for five minutes while you float gently towards the ground. Um, come here often? You know....to the....sky?

Moreover, I had the very real feeling, as soon as the parachute opened—which stops your free fall with a rather violent jerk, by the way—that I was about to throw up. It wasn't fear anymore: it was the actual physical fact that I had tumbled out of an airplane half an hour after eating a perhaps rather unadvised number of Licorice Allsorts. (Newbie lesson #1: do not eat candy before skydiving.) While I focused all my energies on not spewing from five thousand feet in the sky—seriously, can you imagine a grosser scenario? Where would it go?—my instructor was trying to point things out to me and show me how easy it was to dip left and right just by pulling a strap. He even asked me if I wanted to fly the whole contraption, and while there was nothing in the world that I wanted less at that point—apart from maybe to not be incredibly nauseous while strapped to an unfamiliar man and floating over Northern California—my default politeness kicked in, and I was all "Oh yes! Totally! Sure!"

Long story short, everyone tells you that the floating-with-a-parachute bit is the best part of skydiving—it's like being a bird! It's like dreaming of flying! You are Icarus without the pesky threat of the sun!—but that part of it was rather wasted on me, as I spent probably two-thirds of it concentrating on not throwing up (the other third was pretty awesome, though, I have to say.)  No, my favorite part, surprisingly enough, was the 45 seconds of free fall, which is so jolting, so insane, so unfamiliar, that you really do feel as though you have just consumed eight sugar-free Red Bulls and then stuck your hand in an electric socket. And then lived to tell the tale. 

And maybe that is the appeal of skydiving, now that I think about it: that you have cheated death, no matter how small the odds that you wouldn't. Because honestly, while I enjoyed it and am really glad I did it, I feel absolutely no compulsion to go skydiving again. It has—along with whitewater rafting and swimming with sharks (and swimming with pigs!)—been added to my resume of life experiences, and that is where I am happy for it to stay. I do not need to tempt fate any further. 


Look at that, I got a certificate and everything! One for the new gallery wall? 

This is in strong contrast to Sean, by the way, who received the literature we were given about training to be a skydiving instructor with perhaps a little too much enthusiasm for my liking. 

In summary, if you are on the fence about going skydiving and wondering whether or not you are brave enough, I assure you that are. If I can do it, anyone can. And it really is a lot of fun. If you are wise, though, you will choose a skydiving place that is five minutes away from a winery so that you can flee there immediately as soon as the harness comes off. 

Buy whatever you want. Congratulations, damn it. You are alive. 

1
MLE
Sep 07, 2011

Yay, you did it!

We see people skydiving there all the time (riding by the airport on our bikes, or driving south) and I always wonder what it's like. I'd love to do it sometime, but sometime will have to be when I have disposable income again.

2
Tamara
Sep 07, 2011

Thank you for mentioning the awkward lap sitting, because seriously, why does no one mention that? I think I can safely say, I will never skydive.

3
Nolita
Sep 07, 2011

I have to say that I thought I might hyperventilate just reading about your experience! Whoa! Also, I could not stop laughing imagining being semi-perched on a stranger's lap and then silently floating down to the earth making small talk with him. How was the landing?

Thanks for sharing this experience...it's not even on my Living List and I don't feel compelled to add it at this point.

4
Pam
Sep 07, 2011

You perfectly captured how I felt before and after skydiving for my first-and only-time. The only thing missing is when, after I already paid to skydive, I watched a solo diver muck up the landing, bounce off the ground, break his femur, then scream in pain while waiting for an ambulance to arrive. Not long after the people called my name to dive and I thought I was going to pee my pants in fear, but except I refused to back out because I didn't want to lose my hundred bucks. Luckily I lived to tell the story (femur intact)!

5
Maggie
Sep 07, 2011

You hit the nail on the head re: leg muscles getting tired from trying not to put all your weight in the instructors lap!

6
Linda
Sep 07, 2011

Oh, and they don't tell you that all that wind is going to be rushing straight up your nose so it will be hard to breathe! That was my experience, anyway. I was also taller than my instructor, so I had to keep my legs tucked while we were landing so I wouldn't hit first and have us faceplant. It is very difficult to keep your legs tucked while you are approaching the ground at high speed and every fiber in your body is telling you to put your feet on the ground. There's a video of me hesitating, trying to stretch my legs, then reconsidering at the last possible second. Thank goodness I did.

I also had the nausea. At the time I assumed it was motion sickness, but your description reminds me that I ate a ton of candy corn while waiting for my turn. Interesting.... Yep, an excellent cautionary tale.

7
Stacey
Sep 07, 2011

I was crying I was laughing so hard at all the awkward parts. Not that I was likely to do it before, given that I'm terrified of flying, but now that I know I'd also have to spend many awkward minutes tethered to a stranger, there's absolutely no way. But I'm glad you did, so I got to read the description!

8
Nichole
Sep 07, 2011

That was possibly one of the best skydiving stories I've ever read. And still, skydiving is high on the list of Things I Will Never Do, Not in a Million Billion Years.* My hands got sweaty just reading this.

*Also on the list: Touching a snake on purpose; consuming chocolate-covered bugs; walking on hot coals.

9
Teej
Sep 07, 2011

I am really, really impressed. At least I think that's what I'm feeling. It's hard to discern under the thick layer of panic that is coating my entire psyche right now.

10
jen
Sep 07, 2011

My husband has wanted for years to get certified as an instructor. Me? Terrified of heights. Absolutely terrified. He thinks that by me jumping (ahem, falling) out of a plane will cure this fear and give us another hobby. I'm not sold on the idea. Maybe if I see a Groupon... :)

11
Kate
Sep 07, 2011

Am I the only person who read this as your last "hurrah" before taking the plunge into parenthood?

12
Mrs. G
Sep 07, 2011

Because of your vivid description, I will never have to tempt the fates by falling out of a plane. Thank you!

13
kat
Sep 07, 2011

oh lord. this is my on my list to do for my 30th birthday which is this year. and i am both excited and TERRIFIED. i'm not sure reading this helped. :)

14
Amber
Sep 07, 2011

"Didn't die" is a fully legit accomplishment. You win. At life. Literally.

15
Leanne
Sep 07, 2011

This is, by far and away, the most hilarious account of anything I have read all year. And boy am I impressed-- jumping out of a plane on purpose is ballsy!! Thank you, because now I don't feel the need to do such a thing, I will merely be the greeter-upon-return. Possibly holding a barf bag and a bottle of wine.

16
Jannette
Sep 07, 2011

Perhaps because I love Mark Ruffalo, you had me at, "I repeated this information to myself obsessively, like it was Mark Ruffalo's phone number that had been handed to me anonymously in a bar."

Great description of the experience - I almost feel as though I know what it'd be like...still not sure I'll ever commit to jumping (er...falling) out of a plane in my lifetime!

17
Monica
Sep 07, 2011

Oh Holly... you made me laugh so hard... love every single minute and imagine it all in my head... even the swearing that you did not write about!

You also made me remember my first time skydiving as well... which pretty much mirrors your experience.. except that I did not do it because I had a discount Grupon, but because I was tipsy on Tequila and apparently could not stop myself from accepting it as a dare!

But, its always something that you would remember...

18
Peach
Sep 07, 2011

god dammit, i wish i could write like you.
brilliant.
is it weird that i believe skydiving will cure me of my fear of flying?

19
A'Dell
Sep 07, 2011

Woo! You did it!

I am pretty certain this is something I'll never do, mostly because I feel that I up my chances of dying via small aircraft, statistically speaking, every time we fly in our own tiny plane so why ADD to the pile by jumping out of a tiny plane? That just feels unnecessary to me. Also, I am a sissy.

20
Misty
Sep 07, 2011

No way, I have issues with rollercoasters!! I'm one of those people that once they stop screaming, they can't really breathe anymore....and I'm a big fan of breathing. I think it's really cool that y'all jumped though.

21
Pretzel Thief
Sep 07, 2011

Congrats, Holly! Awesome, exhilarating stuff.

You are far braver than me, that's for sure! Doubt I could ever take the plunge...pun totally intended.

Also, OMG on the awkward lap sitting!

My husband and I went paragliding on our honeymoon (Queenstown, NZ) and that lap sitting thing...MAAAAN! It didn't help matters that my paragliding instructor -- in the photos snapped -- was making "YEAHHH!" faces behind me...yikes.

Hella awkward!

22

When I went skydiving, I wasn't near a winery. But I WAS in Hawaii overlooking the breathtaking island of Oahu (and I could definitely see Molokai I think from the sky), because my husband and I figured if we're going to die doing this, at least we'll die after spending a week in Hawaii and enjoying spectacular views on the way down.

It's all about optimism. :)

23
Starla
Sep 08, 2011

It is definitely on my list of things to do before I die!
Well done, you're very brave and it does actually kinda sound like fun!

24
Sandra
Sep 08, 2011

AWESOME! Having gone ziplining for the first time this weekend, your story resurrected all sorts of butterflies in my tummy.

The funniest thing, though, was your reference to Licorice Allsorts - which I had never heard of, but which were also mentioned this very morning in the book I'm reading (The Forgotten Garden by Kate Norton - I highly recommend it!).

25
Amy
Sep 08, 2011

Just reading this makes me feel as if I might burst into tears. I don't think I'll be going, but seriously, GOOD FOR YOU. So brave!

26
Sheila
Sep 08, 2011

I sat here reading this, knowing full well you must have indeed lived to write the tale, and still my heart was in my throat the entire time. I'm sure if someone took my blood pressure right now it would be extraordinarily high. Which is what I'd have to be in order to ever, EVER attempt to jump-I-mean-fall out of a plane.

Thank you for amusing me at the same time solidifying my decision never to do this. Ever.

27
Mads
Sep 08, 2011

This is almost exactly what my skydiving experience was AND I wore flip flops to the Grand Canyon. I think we are both pretty impressive people.
Love this post!

28

I'm not going to call you out on the jump/fall as a pre-baby maneuver, but now that I have a kid, I think skydiving is not a likelihood in my near future (or ever?)...bummer. Sitting on a stranger's lap sounds so fun!

29
kathy
Sep 08, 2011

congratulations, holly!!! and to sean, too. :)

as someone who has made several static-line jumps (not tethered to a jumpmaster, but temporarily to the plane, stepping out of the plane a mile up and hanging onto a strut underneath a wing), i had such a rush of memories and feelings from reading your post. high nerves every time i did it. the 85-mph wind whistling through the plane and worrying that it could pull my sister and me through the door as the first skydiver on the first jump (a guy named "hobo" who wore nothing but shorts, teva sandals and the chute on his back) opened a door and somersaulted(!) out of the plane and we looked first down towards the ground and then at each other, all the while laughing nervously. feeling awe and gratitude about our beautiful world - and how i was viewing it from the perspective of a bird in flight. feeling some awe about my sister and myself for facing such a huge fear, too. and grateful that we paid the money to get video shot from the ground and the pilot's helmet-cam that showed my sister and me making our jumps (some of the best money i've ever spent) - because i wanted proof and to re-live those moments that went by too fast, are some of the proudest moments of my life. so ... thanks for bringing all that back for me. :)

all of that to say - i know what it takes to get out of a plane in mid-air and i am both proud of and happy for you.
again, congratulations to both you and sean.

and i hope you frame those certificates and display them proudly!

kathy

30
Susan H.
Sep 08, 2011

We were driving by Cloverdale last Saturday and we SAW the skydivers (perhaps you?) overhead. Alas, we were only going to Coppola Winery, not nearly as exciting!

31
Mymsie
Sep 08, 2011

I just saw a video of someone using his phone WHILE SKYDIVING to book a hotel before he reached the ground. A pretty flagrant waste of resources but still kinda cool. ;) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7eHinI95rc

32
Anna
Sep 08, 2011

That was absolutely hilarious, You just made my day, I was sitting here after work with a scowl on my face when I started reading, and couldn't help but laugh and smile! Thank you for your humor!

33
CharlieSue
Sep 09, 2011

I thought my reasons for not wanting to jump out a plane had everything to do with fear, an intense dislike for free fall and love of actually living. However, the LAP SITTING now tops all those.

34
Camels & Chocolate
Sep 09, 2011

I went skydiving (alone) in 2006 (after hitchhiking from a Spanish town to the mountains (alone)), and everything you experienced was pretty much step-by-step how my afternoon went, particularly the sick bit--in fact, my default politeness did NOT kick in, as I really was holding in the chunks! I've hardly ever felt so motion sick in my life, and by the time we were teetering back and forth from right to left, I was ready to just GET DOWN ALREADY.

And like you, been there, done that, don't ever need to do it again.

35
Victoria
Sep 10, 2011

Holy crap, I had butterflies just reading that! Well done you!

36
ShutTheFolkUp
Sep 10, 2011

I just have to say the awkwardness factor is increased tenfold if you are a MAN forced to sit upon the lap of ANOTHER MAN. I spent most of my teenage years not sitting on men's laps, and so imagine my surprise when as a 21 year-old I was asked to do it at 12,000 feet.

37
Ann
Sep 11, 2011

Well, I'm sorry to be so so serious, but my friend's friend was killed skydiving and I would never, never, never do it! Glad you're okay though and that you had an interesting experience. I promise to have a more cheerful comment next time!

38
Wacky Mommy
Sep 11, 2011

you rock, mama. I'm a fraidy cat but that's okay ;)

39
Lynne
Sep 12, 2011

When I went I had the hots for the instructor so I quite enjoyed being crammed next to him in the cessna, and then I was 18 so I scrambled out of it like an...? idiot I guess. I recall watching the odd guy who was rolling up the parachutes beforehand and was like, holy shit, my life is in THAT man's hands. I still remember hearing myself scream in my own head! Not with Joy!

40
Mary
Oct 06, 2011

"I repeated this information to myself obsessively, like it was Mark Ruffalo's phone number that had been handed to me anonymously in a bar."

// I'm sorry, I had to stop reading & post that this is the best line I've read in a blog in maybe forever.

41
kelly Bushing
Feb 19, 2013

This was just what I was on looking for. I'll come back to this blog for sure! I bookmarked this blog a while ago because of the useful content and I am never being disappointed. Keep up the good wor.

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