So, that time I jumped out of a plane? Yeah, that one.
Some writer I am. You would think playing the virgin skydiver would provide plenty of creative fodder. But I think I could trawl the thesaurus for hours and still fail to come up with the right mix of synonyms to describe the strange cocktail of elation and exhaustion it engenders.
Sandwiched between Matt, my assigned photographer, and my tandem diver Milan, I still couldn’t believe what I was about to do. Milan – a jovial Croatian who’s been in New Zealand for eight months and reckons he’ll stay until the powers that be boot him out – assured me with nonchalance that he’d already done about eight jumps that day.
We’d only just met, but the usual personal barriers didn’t apply. There I was squeezed in between his legs, sitting on the floor of the plane – upright spooning, if you like – and Matt in turn slotted in between mine. We formed a strange kind of human jigsaw puzzle: tourist between the seasoned pros, a pattern continued all the way to the front of the aircraft.
Relax, he urged me. I let my hands rest on his jumpsuited thighs. Tried to breathe. Matt snapped a photo. I wasn’t ready. For the photo. Or the jump. Or anything.
Milan pointed out our rising height on his altitude watch – 5,000, 10,000, 12,000 feet. He hooked my harness onto his, tightening straps, pulling my goggles over my face. The clouds thickened; the plane banked sharply. I inferred that we’d reached the top of our ascent: 15,000 feet, more than double the height of the mountains we’d long since overtaken.
The next 10 seconds or so are a bit of a blur. There was NO time to think. The door opened and the first pair disappeared into the ether. Suddenly I was aware I was being pushed from behind, and found myself scooting merrily toward the exit.
My legs were out. I tucked them underneath the helicopter, like we were told to. Facing directly into the expanse of the open sky, I naturally recoiled and threw my head back, just like we were told to. And I forgot all about taking a deep breath, like we were told to.
It wasn’t cold, but before I knew it I was in the air, and gasping for breath as the plunge sucked all the wind from my lungs. Photographer Matt materialised to the left, and right then I knew how celebs feel when accosted by the paps, being snapped when you least expect – or want – it.
I’m not photogenic at the best of times, and plummeting freefall at 200k was definitely not among my finer moments. In all of the photos that show my face, I look like I’m crying in terror. Or constipated. The wind’s rippling my face, and my mouth hangs gormlessly open. I was desperately sucking air like nobody’s business (I have enough trouble breathing at ground level, let alone when the air is that thin … plus I may or may not have been hyperventilating a little). As for the DVD, I haven’t even dared to touch it. NZONE won’t be using my shots in any promotional footage, that’s for sure.
One of the others on my jump hated the initial freefall, but the worst part in my books was the spinning. Slowing down was a BITCH. I’d kept my eyes open the whole time up till then, but being whirled mercilessly around like a rag doll (I think that’s what it feel like to be a tiny molecule of water sucked down a freshly unplugged drain) was like nothing I’ve ever done. It’s beyond dizzying and makes you feel utterly, utterly out of control. Milan was having a blast; I was practically wetting myself. So like a child, I whimpered quietly, clamped my eyes shut and clutched my harness for dear life (I would’ve hugged myself and curled up into a ball if I could’ve).
The gentle, swaying descent – now that was a blast. I caught a glimpse of the parachute edges a couple of times, which brought on a wave of panic, so I quickly learned to train my eyes firmly below. Milan pointed out landmarks in every direction – Mt Cook, Coronet Peak, the Remarkables. It was a perfectly clear day with amazing visibility – the river, the mountains, the greenery. And quite honestly, that part felt far too short. I could have marvelled at the surroundings from the air for twice as long. But other jumpers started swooping in from other directions, and before long, we were approaching solid ground once more.
When it all comes down to it, I was nervous for three reasons:
Heights. My fear of heights is debilitating.
Pressure. Not only do I not have a head for heights, I am terrible at depressurising, but my ears popped reasonably quickly on the way down.
Motion sickness. I can’t read in moving vehicles without paying for it dearly afterwards.
The height thing didn’t turn out to be such a problem. Waiting for my ears to pop was more painful. But worst of all was the fact that I was nauseous for about an hour afterward – a case of extreme motion sickness, I guess.
All up, skydiving in Queenstown made for an amazing, unforgettable afternoon. Every night for the week that followed, I found myself running through the whole thing in my head and marvelling, Did that really happen? They say some people immediately rush to sign up to become jump instructors after their first skydive. But I think it’s safe to say it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me – an adrenaline junkie I am not.
Ever been skydiving? Or want to?
Good for you for doing that when you were so terrified and had physical reactions to your adventure. No surprise you did this in Queenstown. It was one of my favorite places that I’ve ever visited. I love New Zealand. I didn’t do a free fall jump, but years ago I did a static line jump. You do that by yourself, and the plane pulls your chute. You would have probably liked that better because there is no free fall, just floating around on air. BTW when I was in QT I did tandem hang gliding. I LOVED it, but the girl who went after me threw up when she landed. LOL. You might not want to do that one. 🙂
Ummm, no I have never wanted to skydive or done so. I have what I call a “fear of falling to my death.” I don’t exactly fear heights; being in an airplane or in a high rise safely behind glass are just fine for me. It’s when I’m in a situation where I feel like one misstep will lead to a big fall that kills me dead. The last time I was in such a situation was when I tried to attend a baseball game; I was given seats way, way in the upper deck. I had to very, very slowly walk down the stairs when I needed to leave my seat because we were so high up and the pitch of the steps seemed so steep I was very scared. I ended up leaving that game early and declined to participate in another such “fun” outing with friends or colleagues.
Luckily I have no issues adjusting to pressure when up high in a plane and I don’t get motion sick, either.
I’ve heard people say one should do things that are found truly scary and then the fear is gone. I guess that wasn’t the case for you? I know it wouldn’t be for me, so no skydiving is in my future.
I am not one for heights, and the Mr. might have a heart attack if I decided to jump out of a plane, but I have a good friend who LOVES this. And she gets even more out of it because she is soooo tiny (like 90 pounds soaking wet?). She actually has to wear a weight vest when she does solo jumps. She says its way more fun when you have less weight (as in not an instructor strapped to your back). =)
ooh, you’re brave. 🙂 I’m at the age where I wouldn’t go skydiving. my time has passed–I once signed up to do one the next morning in grad school in Hawaii on a whim but the weather was crappy so they postponed it. I never got the confidence up again to do it again. 🙂
My aunt used to be a skydive instructor, even won an international medal at some competition…I didn’t get those genes.
Part of me really wants to skydive, but the other part of me remembers when my uncle did it (I think I was about 7 or 8 at the time) and he slammed into a steel barn and was hospitalized for an extended period of time… then I realize that I’m probably much better off with my feet planted firmly on the ground! I’m glad you enjoyed it, though!
Wow, what an experience. I’ve never been sky diving and the only thing holding me back is that it’s really freakin’ expensive around here. I’m not afraid of heights, flying or anything like that, I just bring myself to dole out $600 to throw myself out of a plane.
Three words: You are CRAZY. But kudos to you for having the guts to do that. I am terribly afraid of heights, yet I am hiking the Inca Trail next week to Machu Picchu. From what I remember, isn’t New Zealand an adrenaline junkie’s dream and bungee jumping was invented there? Travelling to New Zealand and Australia is on my bucket list. Thanks for sharing your thrilling experience with the rest of us. 🙂
Yup, AJ Hackett came up with bungy! We’ve got it all – the airborne stuff and the ground stuff too like white water.
I would never do that. But, it sounds like amazing! I’m not one for heights, much less jumping out of a helicopter, but thank you for sharing your experience, I almost feel like I was there!
Holy crap. O_O;
No, I could never do for that. Especially if I have to pay for it. HAHAHA! It sounds pretty cool experience to have in the Bucket Life and while I’m not afraid of heights, I have this horrible fear of hearing a cord snapping sound… O_O;;
Oh wow! I totally missed this post. I can’t believe you jumped out of a plane! I don’t think I could do it.
One of my two best friends is a skydiver. She met her husband that way — he was her instructor. I think they’re both insane. They no longer jump out of airplanes, in their old age. But he’s still a firefighter.
OMG, that scenery!!! What a place.
So, here’s the plan…you sponsor me to immigrate to NZ. I’ll be your cleaning lady, feed the cat, and carry your luggage, thereby appearing to be gainfully employed. You need a cleaning lady and I need to hike the Milford Sound before I kick the bucket. Obviously, it’s a win-win! 😉
Just you wait for my next few posts!
I don’t have a cat, but in 20 years time when we can finally afford a house, T wants a dog. Howzat sound?
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You go girl!! I think your reaction was a bit more ‘normal’ than the excited yet nonchalant attitude I had when I did it 😉
This looks like so much fun! I can’t wait 🙂
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