Earlier I wrote about something that stresses me out and makes me want to start killing people, so I thought I’d balance that out today by writing about something that makes me happy.  Let me tell you about the most amazing thing I’ve ever done.  Last summer, my good pal Adrian (one of the A’s from Road Rage with A&A) reached a milestone by losing 100 pounds, so to celebrate, he dragged me, my girlfriend Stephanie, and our friend Amanda to a little town in Georgia to go skydiving.  Skydiving had always been one of those things that I told myself I wanted to do, but that I never really expected to be able to work up the nerve to try. So this seemed like just the push I needed to get over my fear and just get out and do it.

So one morning, we got up and made the four hour drive to the drop zone.  I’ll admit, I was a bit apprehensive.  Okay, that’s an understatement–I was scared to death.  We got to the drop zone and watched a little disclaimer video, then signed our lives away.  After that, we got to know our instructors and videographers, and then were told to wait.  While we were waiting for our load to be called, we got the chance to go outside on the observation deck and watch another load of skydivers jumping.  That may have been a bad idea.  At 14,000 feet, the plane looked so small, you could barely see it, which freaked me out a little.  We saw the plane circle around a few times, then we heard the throttle being cut back, which some experienced skydivers standing around told us meant that the jumpers were about to exit.  About a minute later, we started seeing parachutes open, a lot closer to the ground than that plane had been.  Five minutes later, we watched them land, and when one of the jumpers (I think he was a student) did a nice faceplant on his landing, we realized why skydivers wear helmets.

The plane landed and refueled, and finally our names were called.  We had been fitted with special harnesses that attached to the instructor’s harness at four points, and the instructors all made the obligatory “Where’s your parachute?” jokes.  Our instructors led us to the plane, along with our cameramen (in my case, cameragirl), who would be capturing the entire experience through the video and still cameras they had strapped to their helmets.  We hopped aboard, and each of us sat in front of our instructors on one of two benches that ran the entire length of the cabin.  Not exactly first class on an airliner, but I later found out that as skydiving planes go, this one was pretty darn comfortable. At this point, I started getting nervous. Somehow, getting on the plane made everything seem more real. But the plane took off and there was no turning back, so I decided to just deal with it and try to have fun.

The plane ride up took about 15 minutes.  My instructor and I were joking around the whole time, which really helped to ease my nerves a little bit, but I was still pretty nervous.  The temperature on the ground was sweltering, and being crammed inside that stuffy airplane with 20 other people and no air conditioning wasn’t helping anything.  Obviously whoever was in charge of the door felt the same way, because on the way up, they opened the door for a few minutes to get some air circulating, and the air that came in was surprisingly cool.  It felt nice, but having that door open made me nervous.  Okay, more nervous than I already was.  Fortunately, nobody fell out, and our trip to 14,000 feet continued without incident.

Finally, my instructor told me that we were at our target altitude.  This was it–the moment of truth.  No turning back now.  The door opened, and everything just got surreal.  As soon as the shock of freezing cold air hit me, my fear was gone, replaced completely with anticipation and adrenaline.  I remember moving toward the door with my instructor, and thinking that this didn’t feel real.  Adrian and his instructor went first, and then I was next.  My cameragirl positioned herself outside the door to get a good shot.  My instructor knelt in the doorway, and I felt myself dangling outside of an airplane two miles off the ground, nothing holding me but this little harness.  The view was indescribable–I could easily see the curvature of the Earth.  It was the most exhilarating thing I had ever felt in my life… until what happened next.

On my instructor’s count, we rolled out of the plane in sync with the cameragirl, and we were flying.  That’s the only way I know to describe it.  It doesn’t feel like falling, it feels like flying.  No sudden stomach-clenching jerk like you just hit a drop on a roller coaster, no intense feeling of acceleration… it’s just like flying.  Or floating on a pillar of very, very loud air.  My cameragirl flew around us for a while, trying to get me to make goofy faces for the video.  And make goofy faces I did.  I’m convinced that there’s no feeling in the world that compares with the feeling of freefall, and I couldn’t help but be excited about it.

After about a minute of pure freedom, I felt myself slowing down very fast (it feels like you’re going back up, but it’s just the rapid deceleration), which was not exactly pleasant thanks to the straps between my legs, but the next thing I knew there was a parachute over my head, and I could hear again. My instructor asked me how I liked it, and I was just about speechless.  I LOVED it, I couldn’t wait to do it again.  But our adventure wasn’t over yet.  While we gently floated down to the ground, I looked around and took in the view. It was just as breathtaking as the view from the plane–maybe even more so, since we could make out objects on the ground much clearer, and had a full 360 degree view of the landscape. It was incredible.  I got to pilot the canopy for a few minutes, and even put us into a spin (which was fun, but my junk didn’t appreciate the extra G forces).  Finally, I could see the ground getting closer, and we came in for a perfect sliding landing on the grass.  The adrenaline high must have lasted 2 hours; that was easily the most amazing thing I had ever done in my life.

I loved it so much that I decided to learn to do it by myself.  So a few months later, I found myself at Skydive Alabama in Cullman, AL, taking a first jump course for AFF (Accelerated Freefall, the most common method for learning to skydive) students.  I didn’t really expect to be nervous on my first jump, but I was.  Yes, I had done it before, but that was with a highly experienced instructor strapped to my back and making all the life or death decisions. Up there, if something happened, it was all me. To start with, I had two instructors holding onto me in freefall to make sure I didn’t screw up too badly, but once I deployed my parachute, they were gone, and I was on my own.  Luckily, I didn’t have any serious problems, and I passed my first of seven jumps required to graduate from AFF.

Over the course of the next few months, I did the rest of those seven jumps (although seven turned into eight, when I had to repeat Level 3).  I realized that the more I did it, the more exciting it got.  With each successive jump, the sensory overload effect in freefall was wearing off, and I started noticing more things.  I realized that I could see the airport on the ground, other jumpers in freefall, that sort of thing.  I also realized more and more with every jump how much I loved that sport.  It satisfied my need for adventure, it helped me face my fears, and it brought along with it an awesome group of people in the skydiving community.

Unfortunately, not long after I graduated from AFF and finished my first solo, I moved out on my own and realized that I didn’t have any money.  This didn’t really jive with my new addiction, because skydiving is expensive.  So after 10 amazing jumps, I’ve had to put my skydiving dreams aside for now, until I save up enough money to start going again.  I can’t wait until then, because even just writing about this has got my adrenaline going.  Honestly, this is something that everyone in the world should do at some point before they die.  Whether you do it once and never again, or whether you make a career out of it, everybody should be lucky enough to know what it’s like to fly.

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