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Part of me is still skydiving

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[1], 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.[2]

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 clich├ęs 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.[3] 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 unbelievable. 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.

[1] Which, as a lifelong air traveler, was just one more moment of weirdness. (“THERE’S A HOLE IN THIS PLANE!”)

[2] Thirty minutes afterwards, I noticed that my teeth felt sore — I must have gritted them like crazy.

[3] In an “I’d like to do that someday” sense, I’d always been curious about skydiving.

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