Monday, June 18, 2012

My Skydiving Days (Part 1)......

I have written a couple of blog posts about my days as a (sort of) skydiver. One was here, an occasion that might have ended my skydiving career earlier if I had had any sense. Or, on the other hand, been less lucky.

This post, by the way, was inspired by my blog pal DJan, who wrote this past Sunday about her days as a skydiving instructor. I never made it far enough to become an instructor, and something tells me I would have been a better skydiver if I had had instructors like DJan.

I think I was enthralled with the idea of jumping out of airplanes as soon as I knew what airplanes were. Maybe sooner. I remember playing on the swings at the playground and being disappointed they didn't go higher. I wanted to jump out of the swings, but I didn't want it to hurt. (It usually did.) Skydiving was one of those things that I didn't realize common folk like me might have access to.

One day when I was in college, I ran into a guy with whom I went to high school. We were both in Mrs. Marshall's 4th period math class. Apropos of absolutely nothing, this is my fondest memory of Greg: The headline in the newspaper was proclaiming that costs associated with building a certain dam in eastern Georgia had exceeded expectations. For several days, Greg kept looking at that headline and shaking his head, muttering, "Dam costs go up." Even Mrs. Marshall eventually got tired of it, and she was pretty patient.

Okay, back to the point. See why this will probably be Part 1?

Greg told me he had gone skydiving at this little place about two hours from our hometown. He left a note on my car one day with a drawing of a parachute on it, and we might have gone to the drop zone together if A) he had picked the right apartment; and B) if it hadn't taken me two weeks to figure out what the drawing was.

Greg and I couldn't make our schedules work out, so I made plans to go alone. I know, right? And keep in mind, this is in the days before the internet. I had to find out the name of the place, call them on the actual TELEPHONE, get some fairly vague directions, and then figure out how to get there. Good thing I was pretty handy with a map.

I went through the training program (many people were shocked that it only took one day) without knowing anyone else there. I had a tense moment or two at the beginning, which I wrote about in this early blog post. We jumped military-style round canopies in those days, and we had to learn how to do PLF's - parachute landing falls. We jumped off a little platform over and over and over again, practicing how to land on the balls of our feet, roll to the sides of our calves and the upper thigh on one side, then roll to that shoulder and over backward if necessary. Our jumps at the beginning were static-line jumps, just like you see in the old war movies (except we were sitting down), with a line from the parachute attached to a ring in the floor of the plane. There was no question of pulling the ripcord or not pulling it; when you ran out of line, that baby was coming open. Students had to have 5 good static-line jumps (I had to do 6) before they were allowed to jump and pull their own ripcords.

The little Cessna 182's we jumped out of had no seats. There was room for four skydivers and their gear and one jumpmaster. I don't remember what position I was in my first time, but I wasn't first. I had lots of time on the way to altitude to think about what I was doing. Lots and lots and lots of time. I remember the name of my first jumpmaster - Hugh Aul. (I thought it was funny because it sounded like "You All" and even he commented as such.)

When it was my turn, Hugh let me know we were at altitude and flying on the approach line. Then he told the pilot to cut the engine (they didn't really "cut" it, but slowed it down tremendously), and he opened the door. His next command was for me to sit in the door. I had to put one foot on the step and leave the other one danging. When he said "Go!" I was supposed to put my weight on the step, reach out for the wing strut and hang there for just a second, then release and allow gravity and the static line to take over. I remember sitting in the door and thinking to myself, "What in the world have I gotten myself into?" When Hugh said "Go!" the first time, I froze. He clapped me on the shoulder then and said "GO!" again. I would like to emphasize here that he did NOT push me out. I don't think any of the jumpmasters there would have pushed any student out.

My exit was fairly weak (that's why I had to do 6 jumps before being cleared for freefall), but it wasn't long before I saw that glorious round canopy over my head. I did remember the steering toggles (although they didn't really steer, they just turned the canopy into or with the wind), and I looked down and spotted the arrow on the drop zone. This particular drop zone didn't have radios at that time, so the only way they could communicate with student jumpers was a huge wooden arrow they would spin around to indicate which way we should turn our canopies. It was an inexact science, but most of us found our way near the landing zone if not on it. I don't even remember where I landed that first jump. I do remember it was nearing sundown, and the view from above was stunning.

I was gathering up my canopy when another girl from my class (there weren't many of us) came back from her landing. Someone nearby asked her how it was.

"Oh man, it was beautiful! Gorgeous! Breathtaking! I can't believe how cool that was!" the words just spilled out of her one on top of another.

The person asked her, "Are you going to jump again?"

"HELL NO!" she replied.

I did jump again. I had a total of 66 jumps spread out over a period of about 14 years, with a couple of long breaks in between.

When people find out I used to be a skydiver, sometimes they ask why I quit. My answer is always, "Because I wasn't very good at it."

To be continued...

1 comment:

DJan said...

Nobody is very good at skydiving in the beginning, B. It's not exactly a natural human activity. I do wish I had been your skydiving instructor. I've never jumped a round parachute, but hubby has over a thousand on them. He liked them in some ways.

I enjoyed hearing about this and look forward to Part 2! :-)