There’s this point in your travels where you will feel a intangible feeling of lightness. Where you have travelled for so long, and so far that you become an instantaneous particle in motion. You never quite settle upon the ground, you sort of just float above it a few feet watching the blades of grass dance beneath your feet. It’s a beautiful moment to have with oneself. A moment of realization that makes you realize you have created your own world, not that you aren’t on earth, but that you have created a more vibrant and unique version of the real one…..to just enjoy on your own.
The last five months has flown by, which tells me, I am beginning to enter true adulthood…..where life just seems to be on fast forward. I spent a couple months playing on my snowboard in trees that have become so familiar within the past three winters, that I feel as if I know each branch, and each snowflake by name. I thought nothing existed in the world more beautiful than the perfect powder or tree-line. And I still feel strongly about that…..but then I met the sky. I really met the sky. I got to know it, I got to feel it, I got to laugh with it and cry with it.
I decided I wanted to become a skydiver….because it was the closest thing I could imagine to being a bird. And so I did. I became a skydiver. I went to Moab, Utah and spent all my savings in a tiny hanger, trusting three men to teach me the techniques of becoming a bird. It was the wisest decision I have ever made.
I can’t really explain the beauty of skydiving, you can only imagine. I can’t even give proper imagery to the creations your imagination expels as your going through the learning process. But I can try.
Nothing but excitement and anxiousness filled my mind the first few days of ground school. Learning from paper was the easiest part of the whole process. The instructors were funny, and light hearted. Their lifestyle was intriguing and made me feel like I’d finally met people that understood why being a bird was so important to me.
Then came the execution of the learning process……suiting up, getting into the plane, and willingly jumping out of a plane thousands of feet from earth. I faced my own issues, I looked inward and saw many things about myself that challenged me. I saw things that told me maybe I’d finally face a challenge that I couldn’t overcome. I’d finally found something large enough to frighten me enough to back away. Well if you know me, you can imagine, that I did EXACTLY the OPPOSITE of what my conscience screamed for me to do.
The door opened to the Cessna 182, the wind filled the small plane, I lost my breath for a moment and my stomach was filled with butterflies. I edged my way to the door slowly, I looked back at Jimmy. He smiled, he gave me the thumbs up and I slowly crawled out onto the step of the plane. I grabbed the wing, hung from it, took a deep a breath and then I did something my body and mind told me I shouldn’t do……I let go.
As I fell from the plane at 120 mph, I could see Jimmy’s face in the doorway of the plane, smiling down at me, because he knew I’d done exactly what every beginning skydiver has to do……I let go of my largest fear. And that was death. Weeks before my course started I had nightmares every night of the awful things that could happen to me if I went through with this. I pictured the worst, I prepared for the worst and when I let go of that wing….I swear I cried. I can’t imagine what it was like because as soon as my chute opened all I could do was scream, the loudest I have ever screamed before. I never felt so alive in my entire life. I never felt more invincible. Not in the matter that I was defying death, but in the matter than I was invincible from myself. There was a internal battle going on in my mind, and I won…..I won. Then I pulled my toggles out of followed my landing pattern and stepped back onto solid ground…..that was the happiest moment of my life.
To know that humans have created these contraptions that allow you to fall 10,000 feet from the sky and still walk away……is magic. That’s the only way to describe it. We have been given this unique gift to actually see the things we dream of, and we can …..if only we face our fears. It’s the most beautiful thing I have ever done. I watched the others students deal with their own demons, you can watch one anothers face in the plane, and see the look of concentration and calmness. And you know that those are the only two things that ARE NOT happening in that moment at all. You will never know what they are facing, but you do know that they are facing their own fears. And that’s what made my classmates priceless to me in the process.
As the jumps progressed I had an instructor in the air along side me me until I was ready to fly alone. That’s how is goes. As I got further along into my free-fall course Kevin was there to teach me how to move forward, and backward and how to do 360’s and backflips and eventually tracking. They weren’t always perfect, but I was always able to gain my stability back. The plane ride never got easier if your curious to know. It was always 20 minutes of solid nerves up to altitude. But what did become the easy part was letting go. I began to want nothing more than to be out of the plane and into the sky, that became my comfort zone. It’s crazy how you mind does that, transforms something so scary to you, into something so comforting for you.
The day came when I had to learn to pack my own rig. I did one practice pack at my instructors house, and the next day when I got to the drop zone the owner said it was time for us to pack a chute. So I did. And honestly I didn’t pay the closest attention to the details because I thought we were just practicing. But we weren’t. Once we finished, they said “Ok, it’s time to jump your first pack job.” I am not going to lie…..THIS was now the scariest moment in my ENTIRE life, not only was this to be my first time jumping my own pack job, but this was a coach jump and I was supposed to be practicing my first DIVE out of the door of the plane. Now TWO things had my nerves on fire. My skin felt hot, my eyes burned, and I was having problems talking and swallowing my own saliva.
Val, the other student, couldn’t have been more confident. Haha. I think I was actually annoyed with how confident she was to jump her own pack job. I just needed someone as scared as me, to make me not feel so bad about the level of fear I had for this jump. But nonetheless the skydive community is not one to baby you into the plane, everyone told me to stop being a puss about it, that the parachute wanted to open no matter how awful of a pack job I may have done. So I held it inside….a little……a tiny bit …..and I got on the plane. Val and Kevin were all smiles. I did about 17,000 gear checks and touched my handles in order. I clutched my harness with nails of stone, and I wore my worries on my face. Kevin just smiled, told me to relax. As we approached 10,000 ft he smiled at me, shook me and said…..”Are you ready to skydive”…..and I said “YES”……but what I really meant was “FUCK NO” ….”HOW THE HELL CAN YOU LET ME JUMP MY OWN PACK JOB AFTER ONE PRACTICE, DO YOU WANT ME TO DIE”…
So I slid up to the door, Kevin crawled out onto the wing and watched for my dive. I stalled, my shoelace was undone….and of course that really is the MOST important safety precaution before jumping out of a plane, right? haha. Apparently not, Kevin’s face didn’t look to cautious or amused….he wanted me to get the FUCK out of the plane….we were traveling far from our landing spot, and going way past our limit.
Soooooo I stalled a LITTLE bit longer, then I yelled “MY SHOELACE” and dove out the plane. The whole time I was thinking, fuck, fuck, fuck…..fuck. I already said goodbye to everyone I love in my mind on the plane, I dealt with the fact that I could possibly not make it to the ground, and totally dramatized the entire jump before it occurred. And you know what? The jump was PERFECT, I practiced forward movement, docking, and watched my altimeter and had plenty of free fall time before I had to pull my pilot chute. And when I did…..do you know what happened? I DIED. THE END.
No my canopy appeared overhead, beautifully, perfect. No line twists, no tension knots, no line dump. Nothing. I’d fabricated this exquisite story of ‘what ifs’ and everything that they said wouldn’t happen…..didn’t. So I guess that means I was wrong? Yeah I guess it does.
Anyways the point of this entire blurb is that the learning process with frightening, and eye opening, and beautiful, and different, and unlike anything I have ever experienced ….and that’s how I became a skydiver. Because I finally let myself fall in love.
Ps. I am now back home in Austin. I visited my first NEW drop zone since learning. I went out to Skydive San Marcos. Completely nervous about flying a larger aircraft with more fun jumpers because I didn’t like the idea of so many canopies in the sky. But yesterday was magic, it was beautiful. I made lots of new friends, I witnessed true drop zone culture, people looked after me as the new jumper, I packed 3 packs and jumped them (successfully), and had accurate landings. I am on my way now to being what I always dreamt of. Being a bird….complete and total freedom from everything that hinders your mind in the world, once your flying up above it 🙂