Sunday, October 02, 2005

Flight of the Alvina

Retrieved from Friendster Blog.

Sunday, October 2, 2005:

I woke up to a beautiful day: bright blue sky, not a cloud to be seen, temperature in the upper 70s.

I started off the morning at Peter’s reading of FLIGHT OF THE DODO in Bryant Park. There was a large crowd there of kids and parents, so the "friends of Peter" group staked out the back row. I thought Peter was natural, funny, and a pro, and it was great to hear the book read aloud. I realized that I hadn’t read it in a while, so even though I had once pored over every word, over and over and over, it now (or shall I say still) felt fresh, and I laughed out loud several times. I had the pleasure of meeting Peter’s mother afterwards, and she was sweetly emotional; it made me realize how momentous the occasion was. This was something that Peter had worked a lifetime towards, and finally it was real. He has an actual book published that he wrote and illustrated, and he read it in front of probably over a hundred people in Bryant Park in New York City. Incredible. I can’t imagine what that moment must feel like, nor what it must feel like to be the parent of someone who has realized their dream.

Soon after the reading, I took off on my own momentous trip. Noel, Craig, and I set out in Tanya’s car (thanks, Tanya!) for Gardiner, NY. Destination: Sky Dive the Ranch. The ride up was smooth and fun; as Noel snoozed in the backseat, Craig and I gabbed away. We only took one wrong turn that we corrected immediately. Despite a late start, we arrived at exactly 2 pm, the time of our reservation, and as we pulled up we saw a bunch of colorful parachutes descending from the sky. Beautiful! It was finally starting to feel like it was actually going to happen.

We met Craig’s friend Javier there and were immediately ushered into a training session already in progress. Nothing seemed too difficult, but the training made me a bit anxious. There were actually things to remember: crouch with your feet together at the plane’s open door. Lift your head. Keep your hands on your harness. Arch your back. Check the altimeter. Reach back to check the ripcord. Arms out. Check altimeter every few seconds. Pull ripcord at 6,000 feet. Legs out at landing. Of course, I knew there would be an instructor strapped on my back to make sure nothing went wrong, but I wanted to do it right, dammit!

We had about 40 minutes before we suited up, and during the wait was when I started to feel butterflies for the first time. (I think I was a tiny bit hungover from the parties of the night before, too. I probably shouldn't have helped Eveline sip from her screwdriver while on the subway. ANYway...)

We watched one plane climb impossibly high above us, at times losing sight of it because it was so tiny; then we marveled as the parachutes seemingly popped up out of nowhere--they were so high up, we couldn't see the people falling until the chutes opened. "I hope I get a pretty color" I joked. Then later: "What color is your parachute?" har har.

All off a sudden, we were on deck. Tried to find jumpsuits in our sizes to no avail, and then the woman helping us said we could just go in our regular clothes, that the suits weren't necessary--they were just to keep you warm, and also to prevent your clothes from getting dirty during the landing, since we were to land on our butts. But so many of the jumpsuits had their butt area worn through, anyway, so they wouldn't have helped much. So in my jeans and halter top, I got into my harness, tried on my helmets, met my instructor and videographer (Stan and Zak), and then we were off to get on the plane. "Remember to breathe up there," Stan told me at one point. After which I discovered that I had forgotten how to breathe. In, out, in, out.

Stan and I were the first to load the plane. I straddled the bench and sat between Stan's legs, Zak sitting between my legs, Noel's instructor between his, and so on. Craig was right next to me on the other bench, Javier in front of him. Part of the way up Craig's instructor asked Craig and me who should jump first. So the two of us played rock paper scissors; Craig won and decided to jump last. The two veterans (this was Noel's second jump, Javier's third) were first on deck. I watched my altimeter climb. Put my helmet and goggles on at 9,000 feet. Climbed up to 12,000 feet. And before I knew it, I saw Noel in his bright yellow T-shirt standing at the open door of the plane; suddenly, he plummeted out of sight. Wow--so fast! Then Javier also tumbled out of sight--his fall seemed different from Noel's fall, and I remembered that he had asked during training if they were allowed to do flips as they left the plane. The instructor had said no, but perhaps his tandem instructor agreed to give him a ride.

Then it was my turn. With Stan on my back, we waddled to the door. I couldn't stop smiling, but the cold air was making my teeth cold. It was so surreal, the ground incredibly far below. We crept to the ledge, Zak hanging outside of the door with the camera. I looked down. Whoa. He reached his hand under my chin and tilted my head up. Right. Keep my head up. I think Stan must have counted off, and before I knew it I was falling falling falling. Plummeting.

 I kept telling myself to pay attention, enjoy it. Everyone told me this part went by too quickly. I remembered to check my altimeter and do the ripcord check, but although I looked at the altimeter, I had no comprehension of what it said, and I had no idea if I felt the cord. I think I looked at the altimeter several times during the fall, but am sure I never actually read it. Mostly what I remember is the rushing of air, the whooshing noise, the slight sensation of my ears plugging up, and the ground so far away, everything having the vague feeling of grayness and blur and speed.

But mostly I remember the rushing wind, loud and strong. It didn't feel real. I kept just trying to look around, to see everything, and think I may have mouthed "it's so beautiful" several times. Not sure.

Before I knew it, Stan was grabbing my hand and pulling it back to pull the ripcord, although I'm sure he was the one to do the ripping. The rushing sounds changed, I felt myself being pulled up, heard the sound of the wind catch the parachute, and all of a sudden had the sensation that we had simply stopped, that everything had stopped. Now the world was colorful and calm and quiet. Beautiful. I think I said something like, "Whoa" and Stan laughed.

He taught me how to control the fall, to turn left and right and spin. We did a few spins to the right, then the left, and it only made me slightly dizzy. Then he let me control the parachute. The landscape was beautiful. Mountains, lakes, lots of green and trees. And so peaceful. It was too hazy to see Manhattan, though. I turned the parachute lazily right and left. Fun.

We floated down, came in for a perfect landing, me flat on my ass, both of us laughing. Wow. It was over. We all watched our videos. I was the only one who jumped without sleeves, and my arms looked incredibly weird. The skin flapped and moved like liquid, you could see the outline of my bones. So strange. But I was smiling. It still doesn't feel quite real. Totally surreal. And although I'm happy I did it and would totally do it again--maybe in 5 years--it wasn't a life-changing experience. I guess I'm a little disappointed about that. But I think it's because I was never truly scared, never really thought I'd die. I mean, of course it occurred to me that I might die (especially since we had to sign a waiver that probably said over 25 times, "You may die"), but no more so than every time I ride in a plane. I'm sure bungee jumping is much scarier. You're so much closer to the ground. Maybe I should do that next... 

So I'm excited to now be able to cross skydiving off my list of things to do before I die, and to add something new. The fun part now is deciding what will replace it. Any suggestions?

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