This past Sunday, I went skydiving for the first time.
It was a tandem jump at Skydive Snohomish, and my instructor Mike (who rocked!) and I jumped out of an airplane at 13,500 feet (2.5 miles). We reached our terminal velocity, 180 mph, in a few seconds, and spent about a minute in freefall.
It was totally amazing.
I’m still processing the whole experience. My stomach felt like it was at 13,500 feet for at least an hour afterwards. And in the same way that part of me is always hiking up a mountain, part of me will, I suspect, always be skydiving.
Holy fucking shit!
Once we were at altitude, there was very little time to think about what was happening.
Mike and I were the first two tandem jumpers, but we were preceded by a team of five who exited the plane in formation, and a team of two doing some sort of headfirst freefall thing. From the moment the door opened, this is a rough summary of my thought process.
“Hey, those people in front just fell out of an airplane! What the fuck! Hey he’s scooting us forward! Okay, my job is to tuck my feet under the plane. Hey, we’re about to fall out of an airplane! I JUST FELL OUT OF AN AIRPLANE!”
That only took a few seconds, tops.
There were two terrifying moments. The first was the initial drop, which I expected to be scary. The second was when the canopy opened, which I didn’t expect to be scary. What those moments shared was my body’s realization that it was falling towards the Earth from a great height.
The Fitbit knows
This is my heart rate today (thanks, Fitbit!):
That spot where there’s a gap in the graph, where it spikes from around 70 bpm to around 115, is when our plane took off. (“Oh shit, this is actually happening.”)
I’m pretty sure the spot where it spikes to 126 bpm is when we actually jumped.
The clichés are true
I’ve heard skydiving described as “the ultimate freedom.” That’s true.
Once we hit 180 mph, it felt like floating. I was so high up that the ground didn’t feel like it was rushing towards me, so even looking straight down didn’t feel like I thought it would. The part of my brain that should have been terrified after the initial drop hadn’t fully caught up.
I’d also read, and heard, that the feeling of skydiving is indescribable. That’s also true!
It was a jumble of terror, with my brain lagging well behind my body in responding to the situation at hand; exhilaration during freefall, which is one of the strangest sensations I’ve ever experienced; and a deeply chill, relaxing float down under the canopy, having a conversation with Mike about the sights, and skydiving, and whatever else came to mind.
I’m so glad I did this
Skydiving is something I wasn’t sure I could do. I wanted to see if I could do it, so I did it.
I didn’t even want to do it, except in the abstract sense, until a couple of years ago. That was when I started hiking up mountains and learned to take considered risks around lethal drop-offs — and enjoyed it. Five years ago, I don’t think I could have gone skydiving.
It was like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. The adrenaline was insane. The mix of fear and excitement and anticipation and freedom and the wild rush of air at 180 mph and the knowledge that I was falling out of an airplane, towards the ground, faster than I’ve ever gone and higher than I’ve ever been before . . . is hard to put into words.
“Totally amazing” is probably as close as I can get. Two hours later, it still doesn’t seem entirely real. It doesn’t even sound real: “I fell two-and-a-half miles, but, thanks to some straps, buckles, rope, and a fancy piece of cloth, I didn’t die.”
If the opportunity arose, I would absolutely do it again. And I’d happily do it at Skydive Snohomish — they were awesome.
 Which, as a lifelong air traveler, was just one more moment of weirdness. (“THERE’S A HOLE IN THIS PLANE!”)
 Thirty minutes afterwards, I noticed that my teeth felt sore — I must have gritted them like crazy.
 In an “I’d like to do that someday” sense, I’d always been curious about skydiving.
I’ve rounded the horn on 2016 Hugo Awards finalist novels, wrapping up Naomi Novik‘s Uprooted on Sunday night. Seveneves was a 5/5 that roared through my brain, and The Fifth Season was a 5/5 that took a bit of time to get rolling, so I was curious to see if Uprooted would keep the streak alive.
Like Jemisin, Novik was new to me; the blurb suggested that Uprooted had a fairy-tale thing going, which didn’t sound awesome . . . but the first few pages grabbed me hard, and I bought it on the spot. I blazed through the book in just a few days, because Uprooted was awesome — a rich, textured yarn set in a world where fairy-tale logic and magic is real, which fully explores just what that would mean for its people.
(Apart from mentioning what’s in the blurb or within the first few pages, and a quote from around 16% of the way in, this post is spoiler-free.)
From a simple foundation
There’s an evil woods.
There’s a mysterious wizard who lives in a tower, and who demands one village girl every decade in tribute.
There’s a witch.
Bored yet? On the face of it, those things sound pretty dull.
But that’s the fairy-tale thing at work: Uprooted is built on a deceptively simple foundation. None of those ideas are new — but what Novik does with them is both novel and delightful.
What does it mean when a forest is evil? Not just dark and dreary and full of monsters, but actively — proactively — evil? And why would ordinary folks lives within a stone’s throw of its edge?
Given the prevalence of Forests of DoomTM in fantasy literature, I wouldn’t have expected there to be many interesting answers to those questions left unplumbed, but Novik does just that — and more.
The forest — the Wood — is truly creepy. It reminds me a lot of the Zone in Roadside Picnic: a place that operates on its own rules, unrelated to humanity’s, and which is incredibly dangerous.
Here’s one of my favorite examples, a throwaway bit from early on in the book:
Two years ago, an easterly wind had caught our friend Trina on the riverbank while she was doing some washing. She came back stumbling and sick, the clothing in her basket coated with a silver-grey pollen.
Because it’s the Wood, that breeze wasn’t errant or random, and because it’s the Wood, even just the fucking pollen is enough to wreck your shit.
Everything about Uprooted, from its remarkable protagonist and her allies to the way fairy-tale logic comes to make sense in the context of its setting, is that good. Novik delves deeply into each element, spinning things out and unfurling surprises as she goes.
The ending felt a bit rushed, but only a bit, and apart from that I loved everything about Uprooted. It’s a 5/5 for me — three for three among the Hugo finalist novels I’ve read so far. Uprooted is high on my list of favorite standalone, no-previous-experience-necessary fantasy novels.
Moar Hugos plz
Up next in my Hugo finalist reading, I think, will be The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass. I’m tired of steampunk, but I sampled it last night and was hooked inside the first few pages — much like Uprooted. As a Butcher fan, I expect this one to be a fun ride.