Falling from the sky

July 22, 2013


LAS VEGAS – The man behind me tapped my shoulder.

“Just out of curiosity, how much do you weigh?” he shouted.

Normally, this would be an unusual thing for a man to ask another stranger. But at the moment, we were climbing high above the Nevada desert in a roaring, single-engine cargo plane and it was strangely fitting.

But I couldn’t help thinking, shouldn’t we have covered this already?

See, the man behind me wasn’t just any stranger. He was strapped to me, and I was strapped to him, and we were both wedged onto a long plastic bench shouting over the noise of the engine. In a moment, he was planning to throw himself out a plane’s door, and bring me with him.

My weight was a timely matter, my jumping instructor told me, since if I weighed anything more than 120 kilograms it meant the parachute couldn’t hold the two of us and we’d plummet to our deaths in tandem. This is not the way I figured it would all end, with a goateed American named Axle strapped to my back.

How did I get here, I wondered. It was all kind of fuzzy now. I had awoken that morning with the usual clear-headedness that accompanies a Las Vegas bachelor party, and had somehow been talked into jumping from a plane.

Skydiving, they called it, which makes it sound so much more graceful and controlled than what it really is — falling helplessly 4,500 metres toward the desert floor and hoping that a giant canvas umbrella stuffed into a backpack will save your life.

Sure, let’s do it, I’d said, and regretted it immediately.

Next thing I knew, I was bumping along in a van to a small airport outside of the city, and reading a waiver that explained there was nothing to worry about, since there’s only about 30 deaths a year in the U.S. from skydiving.

Just my luck to be one of those 30, I thought, as I nervously signed a contract promising not to sue the company, the pilot, the instructors or anybody else in the event of my untimely death.

The trainers ran us through a crash course in jumping by practising on a leather stool, which seemed to downplay the gravity of the situation. Soon, 16 of us walked out onto the tarmac, piled into the plane and took off down the runway.

I was the last to jump. I watched my three buddies slide awkwardly toward the open door with a large man strapped to their backs, and vanish from sight. I thought about clinging to something, but realized there was nothing to hold onto.

Finally, it was my turn. I had no choice. I hung my legs out the open door of the plane and tried not to look down. Then off we went, and I realized I was staring straight downward, falling at 190 km/h. I fell without making a sound, frozen with terror.

Then, for about 10 seconds, I began to realize I was actually OK. Maybe I wasn’t going to die today. I started thinking, I’m doing it! I’m the greatest adventurer there ever was! Up yours, gravity!

That’s about the time our parachute opened, slamming the brakes on our descent and yanking my family jewels upward in a way they’ve never been yanked before. That’s also the same moment we started spinning in circles like a one-armed house fly, and my stomach woke up from its nap and began to protest. Angrily.

As we drifted down toward the ground, waves of nausea were rising up in my chest, threatening to rain down the remnants of an Egg McMuffin on everyone standing below.

The landing zone grew closer and closer, and I focused on my breathing like some kind of moron who failed Lamaze class, offering a weak thumbs-up to my instructor.

By the time we finally hit the ground, my stomach was doing full back flips and promising to not only send up breakfast, but supper, lunch and everything else I’d put down there in the last 24 hours. I stumbled into the hangar a pale-faced, sweaty mess.

Skydiving? Sure, I did it. I survived, even. But the next time someone asks me if I want to go jump out of a plane, I’m going to find something to cling to and not let go. Way, way down here on the ground.

One Response to Falling from the sky

  1. Frank on August 7, 2013 at 10:04 am

    It was the best adventure ever, and sorry that i talked you into this one! ;-)

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