Steamboat Springs We’d been flying for a little more than 10 minutes, up, up and around over the runway where we’d taken off on a sweltering summer morning in Longmont, 11 experienced skydivers and six more, like me, soon-to-be skydivers.
We crossed over 15,000 feet, and the pilot decreed we’d climbed high enough. At the far end of the plane — I’d gotten on first and thus was next to the cockpit — experienced jumpers made their final preparations and opened the door.
My tandem partner for the day, a seems-like-a-surfer dude named Jon, waved me over from across the aisle and began to strap me in. After a few minutes, just before the first of our group jumpers took flight, he pronounced us ready and, as the plane’s load lightened every second, we began to shuffle down the bench toward the door.
My nerves tightened as jumper after jumper went out the door, and Jon leaned over me. “Remember what I told you,” he started.
There was only one problem.
“Hey, man,” I hollered against the wind. “You haven’t told me anything yet.”
Skydiving was Jacki Brazill's idea. Convinced by friends that she needed to do something “big” for her 30th birthday — a cousin went to Paris — my fiance choose skydiving, and I reluctantly agreed to go.
I did plenty of wavering.
Skydiving long has been on my bucket list, but always as a “someday” sort of thing.
It looks a little different when “someday” becomes “Saturday.”
The thought made me nervous. Real accidents happen in skydiving, right? Experienced skydivers have accidents. I knew the odds were in our favor, but the odds of returning home safely from, say, tubing on that same Saturday afternoon, seemed even better.
But I agreed to go, with some dark-humor pessimism.
“We will be flying!” Jacki said as we neared our destination, Mile-Hi Skydiving Center.
“We will be falling!” I said.
We showed up expecting a morning full of classes and drills, maybe a test. There’s not nearly that much that goes into being the attached part of a tandem skydiving trip, however.
We checked into a hanger at Longmont's Vance Brand Municipal Airport, paid the bill — $198 each — and were told to fill out an understandably long legal document as we waited.
Then they called our names, we hopped on a trailer and rode across the runway to another tent where other beginners were preparing for their flight. When the time came, we boarded the plane.
Just don't mess up
My dark humor had nothing on the tandem jumpers and photographers, some of whom jump a dozen times each day with first-timer clients.
As we prepared to board the plane, Jon’s eyes got wide and he ran back inside, having forgotten something.
“Uh, what do you think he forgot?” I tentatively asked one of the other instructors.
“Who knows, this time,” he responded. “He’s always forgetting important things.”
Later, as we chit-chatted on the plane I asked Jon how long he’d been doing tandem jumps.
“This is my second day!” he proclaimed.
“Don’t worry,” another jumper told his client. “If we’re going to crash, the last thing going through your brain will be my brain.”
Skydivers are so funny.
And there we were, 15,000 feet high and edging toward the door, when I got my only advice — crouch by the door, cross my arms over my chest and kick my feet back when we jump.
“You’d probably have forgotten anyway,” Jon said, grinning.
In all that is one of the big takeaways of the experience.
I asked Jon why he got a helmet — the one he almost forgot — and I didn’t, and he explained that it didn’t matter if I was knocked out, but it did matter if he was.
Why didn’t we take lessons or rehearse our jumps on the ground? Why didn’t he ground his last-minute rules into me before cold air was rushing through the plane?
Because none of that really mattered. Jon went skydiving, and I was, thankfully, securely attached to Jon. I’m sure it was possible for me to screw it up, but it would have taken some decided effort.
It was like a ride. One incredible, surreal ride.
What a leap
Surreal is the best way to describe the actual jump.
There wasn’t much of a chance to chicken out, as you shuffle toward the door. The guy in front of us went, and then it was our turn. We slide up to the door. The photographer we’d hired stepped out just ahead of us, hanging on, and then we all just fell away.
I didn’t decide to jump as much as we just fell.
Skydiving may be deadly, but it doesn’t feel like that at 15,000 feet. There’s absolutely no sensation of impending doom, of the ground rushing up at you. It’s just the incredible sensation of hanging over the Earth. After the adrenaline of going out the door, it felt more like a dream where I can fly than the death-defying thrill I imagined.
We fell for about a minute, one of the longest minutes, as it were, then spent another five minutes gliding down after Jon pulled the chute.
That’s surreal, too, hanging over the Front Range almost motionless. It was cold when we jumped and hot when we landed. When we pulled the parachute, it was oddly perfect, no warm, no cold, no wind.
Have I mentioned it was surreal yet?
We landed right on target, and Jacki, the first out of the plane, was waiting, beaming.
Ok, so she was right. Skydiving wasn’t a death trap. I left with two pieces of advice. First, give it a try. It’s not as scary as it seems like it will be. Second, even if your role in a tandem jump is minimal, maybe, just maybe, figure out what you’re supposed to do before you’re looking out the door.
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9