Sunday, June 1, 2008

Falling out of the sky

The weight, heat and pressure is crushing me from all sides. I'm on my knees, crouched over with five other people in a tiny plane. I'm carrying a parachute that feels much heavier than my own 111 pounds. I can barely lift myself up to look through the window and see 3,500 feet below. Suddenly, a rush of air whizzes through as Olga, our jump-master, opens the door. All my nerves vanish and a wide smile is plastered across my face. I am giddy with sheer delight.

I carefully watch each jumper ahead of me, climb out and hang on to the strut -- the bar that connects from the wing to the body of the plane. I think happily to myself, "That's going to be me in a few minutes." My friend Alex goes before me. After he lets go and Olga watches him for a few minutes, she shouts to me over the roaring 90 mph winds, "He did a perfect arch!" Now it's my turn.

I shuffle over to the right to be in front of Olga. "This is going to be amazing!" she yells, getting me pumped up. "Are you ready to jump?"
"Ready!" I yell back.
"OK. Hold on to the door and climb out!"

I put my foot out, aiming for the wheel of the plane, but the wind forces it to the side unexpectedly so that it's just dangling outside. They didn't simulate this when we practiced on the ground, I think to myself. But I adjust myself and start the climb out. Right foot, left foot over, hands on strut, shuffle hands up, shuffle hands up, shuffle hands up, step on to nothing and hang on.

Olga leans on the strut. "Are you ready to jump?" I nod my head. "OK. Look up! ... Let go!" In the training class, the instructor told us to keep eye contact with the plane as we're falling, count six seconds and to arch our backs as much as possible with hips sticking way out in front of us. I remember none of this. All I feel is euphoria enter my body as blue sky and sunlight whirl around me. Then fluorescent yellow and orange flash open above. Now I am floating gently in the air with square green patches of Alberta prairie below.

I thought being on top of the world was the most amazing feeling in the world. I was wrong. It's being above it.

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