So, Trish, what'd you do today?
Thanks for asking. I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane at 10,000 feet.
You did what?! You've got to tell me all about this!
No problem. Allow me to begin at the beginning...
"Dan" picked me up at 11:30 a.m. to go to the skydiving place. On the way, I suggested to Dan that we yell "WOO" when we're flying through the air, like Ricky Bobby and his friend on "Talladega Nights." Dan thought that would be fun since we're always yelling "Woo" in the car and stuff anyway. We drove the approximate 45 minutes to the drop zone, got out of the car, and walked in through the hangar because the front door had a sign on it that said, "Please use side door due to fresh wax." So, we entered the place and found the registration office. The young woman behind the counter gave each of us a packet of materials with instructions on how to fill them out. The packet was a binding legal document where we had to initial after just about every paragraph saying that we understood what was going on. The whole thing basically said that we assume all the responsibility should we fall to our deaths or otherwise be injured. "If you sue, you will NOT win," basically. So, we did those, and went to the counter to have them looked over by the same woman who gave them to us. She asked to see our IDs, and then signed the papers as a witness that we were actually the people who signed our papers.
So, after we got the legal business out of the way, we walked out to the lobby to wait for the tandem master to take us downstairs to begin the mandatory class. After a few minutes, "David" came out and talked to us for a few minutes before leading us downstairs to the classroom. The class consisted of a video of a man with a VERY long "Moses" type beard, and then "David" spoke to us about the chutes and what we needed to do. After the video, David was talking to us as he explained the procedures and asked us if we had any questions or anything. The place I skydived at is a "teaching" place, so they encourage you to be a part of what's going on. When you exit the plane, you have your hands holding on to your harness. Then your tandem master does some things and pats you on the head. Then you do a "HAT" check. You look at the Horizon to make sure you're belly to the ground, you check your Altimeter, which is a wristwatch looking thing with numbers that tells you your altitude, and then the tandem master gives you a Thumbs up. After the thumbs up, you put your arms in a "lazy W" position so as to stabilize yourself as you continue your freefall. As soon as you put your arms in the "lazy W" position, you do a practice throw out where you reach back and grab the golf ball that you pull to get the parachute to deploy. Then you go back to the "Lazy W" and do one more practice throw out. Then, you have fun. You're supposed to check your altimeter every 5 seconds or so, and when you hit 6,500 feet, you lock in on that so when the altitude reads 5,500 feet, you can give a big wave off, reach back, and pull the rip cord. He also explained toggle maneuvers and the different types of landing. You can do "sit down" landings which are the safest way to land a tandem jump. A sit down landing is where you and the tandem master put your legs up and slide in on your butts. The other way is the stand up landing where the student puts her legs up and the tandem master lands you and you put your feet down at the end to stabilize you. After he told us the procedure, some people asked some questions and Dan asked about the weather. They said they hadn't been up yet because the clouds were too low, although they were broken, which means that the sky could potentially clear up enough to allow us to get up there. After the class and questions, we went upstairs to see what the weather was doing.
Well, the sky was still cloudy, so "Dan" and I were talking to "David" about what might happen. He said that the sky could clear up, but he didn't want to be responsible for us wasting our whole day if we ended up not being able to go up. So, he told us about rainchecks, where you can get a raincheck to come back without having to pay again, so long as you come back within a year. So, Dan and I thought we would go to lunch and see if it cleared up. So, we got some rainchecks, gave them Dan's cell number, and then we began to leave. When we stepped outside from the hangar, we noticed that the sun was out, so we decided to stay. Just then, we saw a few corporate types walking across the runway to an awaiting plane. So, Dan and I sat on a bench and watched their plane take off. Then we went to the other side of the hangar where David was hanging out talking to a few of our fellow tandem students. Another guy whom we shall name "Sparky" was there and was talking to us. It was funny because he was talking to us and he seemed really knowledgeable when he said, "They believe every word I'm saying. I guess I should tell them I'm just a part of the groundscrew!" That was a joke. At that point, there was a PA announcement for "David" to report to the lobby. So, off he went.
A few minutes later, David returned and said that the clouds had broken up enough that they thought we'd be able to go up in a few minutes, so we headed toward the hangar again. Some of us used the restroom really quick, and then we all met up in the hangar again. We put all of the stuff in our pockets into a holding area because they recommend that so your stuff doesn't go flying out of your pockets. David recommended that we wear jumpsuits in order to prevent grass stains in case we had to do sit down landings because sit down landings are the safest way for tandem jumpers to land. So, Dan put a red one on and I put a green one on. Then the rest of the tandem masters started showing up. Dan got "Sparky" and I was teamed up with a guy we shall call "Steve." Steve wasn't there yet, so David helped me into my harness. Then Steve showed up. Steve has bleached blond hair, is only about 3 inches taller than I am, (I'm about 5'5") and he's a really cool guy. He looked like a surfer with no place to surf. Steve introduced himself to me and said, "My usual job is videographer, but I've seen this done enough times that I think I can do it." That was a joke. I laughed and played along. I said, "Just make sure you put a chute in your pack so when we pull the cord your video equipment doesn't go flying out." He said that would be a good idea. Then, he got me all tightened down and safe. He got me hooked up with some safety goggles that fit over my glasses. We then went through the procedures we'd learned in the class. After that, Dan and I were standing around talking waiting to board the plane.
After a few minutes, Steve came to get me and he said it was time to get in the plane. I think the plane can hold up to 23 people in the passenger part. But, there are no seats. You go in and sit between your tandem master's legs and then another tandem master sits in between yours (on busy days) and so forth. Steve and I were about the 2nd team on the plane. So, we were talking and he said, "You know Trish, I think I'm forgetting something." Hehe. Trying to freak me out. So, we're sitting toward the cockpit because the door to jump out of is on the other end. I had a tandem master and a fellow tandem jumper named Ben to my right, with Dan and his tandem master right in front of me. There was another "couple" to Dan's right, and then I think 2 solo divers and two videographers in front of them. I said to Steve, "In the classroom instruction, David said 'No' sounds like 'Go.' I just want to make sure I do NOT land in this plane!" Steve replied, "Ha, you must know our pilot!" I looked into the cockpit and the pilot was a young lady who looked to be about my age (23). I thought that was awesome. Steve said, "Don't worry, we'll get you out of the plane." So, I was happy.
Once we all had our seatbelts on, we started going. I've never been in an airplane before, so I was excited about that. I was looking out the window, in part to keep from getting sick from not being able to see, and in part because I wanted to know what that kind of altitude looked like. It seemed like the ascent was crazy steep because I was actually looking down at the people in front of me. At 2000 feet, the door came open and the tandem masters released the seatbelts. They then went over the procedures again to make sure we had it pretty much figured out. At 5,500 feet, we then made sure our altimeters were in sync. Then Steve told me that O'hare had put an altitude halt on us so we could only go to 10,000 feet. O'hare can do that because the area from which I skydived is in the "final approach" stages for both Midway and O'hare. I was slightly bummed that we wouldn't get to 13,000 feet, but safety first. About that point, we got to our knees and the tandem masters strapped us all in and tightened everything up. They double-checked everything and made sure we were good to go. When we got to 10k feet, I saw people start to exit. Dan and his tandem master were the first tandem jumpers to exit, I think. The videographers were hanging on outside the plane, waiting for the people they were to video. Those people went, and then Steve told me, "Ok, it's time to get up. Shift your weight to your left and put your right foot out." So, we then got up and Steve practically carried me to the door. (Not because I was chicken, but because he said it's pretty difficult to move when you're strapped so tightly to someone else). On our way up to the front, I made the sign of the cross somewhat subconsciously, as a remembrance of my baptism and of the fact that I am ALWAYS in God's hands. We got to the door and I thought, "WHAT AM I DOING!?" But I didn't really even think about backing down. Steve told me to put my toes over the edge. He also told me that we were going to wait a few seconds before exiting the plane in order to give the previous jumpers a minute to get distance from us. Here I was, standing on a precipice!
Steve said into my ear, "Grab your harness and arch, and I'll do the rest." So, I grabbed my harness, arched, and next thing I know, I'm rollling in mid air, looking up at the plane, and thinking, "Oh, look, there's the plane. Bye Plane!" So, we got belly to the Earth and Steve patted me on the head in order for me to do the HAT check. I did that, and did the "lazy W," and then the practice throw outs. But then, I totally forgot to keep my eye on the altimeter. I was looking down and yelling "WOO!" I was SO excited! It was exhilarating! I was going between yelling "WOO" and laughing. Then I saw Steve give me the hand signal for "check your altimeter." I looked, and it said 6k feet, so I locked in on it, and I THINK I gave the big wave. Then I reached back and yanked the rip cord.
Let me tell you something! Boy was I glad I went to the bathroom before going up! When I pulled the cord, the harness dug in a bit and if I had been full, I would have probably peed my pants, or jumpsuit, if you will. But, I didn't. As soon as the canopy opened, my legs kicked out and I could hear again. I was laughing like crazy and I yelled "WOO" a couple more times so Dan could hear. Then Steve was talking to me some and I was like, "This is SO awesome!" The view was absolutely spectacular. The clouds off on the horizon were awesome, seeing other skydivers in flight was sweet, and the view of Illinois' vast cornfields was even cool. Steve handed me my part of the toggles (the things that are used to steer) and explained again how they worked. If you want to go right, you pull the right toggle. The harder you pull it, the faster you turn. Same thing for the left. So, I pretty much had my hands on it for show, because I was afraid I'd wreck us or something. Steve took us on a few quick turns, and explained the landing by first pointing out the landing zone. It was a big patch of grass right by the office. There is a runway with the name of the business that helps you locate exactly WHICH patch of grass you should aim for. He then explained the mechanics of landing. Pull both toggles in succession from 1-shoulder, 2-chest, 3-all the way. Pulling them all the way gets you to really slow down in forward motion. He also said he would tell me which landing we would use when we got closer. As we descended a little further, to maybe 400 feet or so, he said, "Do you see that guy in the tie dyed shirt? We're going to try to land next to him." So, I was like, "Ok." Steve brought us in and I think I "helped" him land and he told me that we'd do a stand up landing, so I needed to put my feet out. We came in, I put my feet out, and we landed so softly that it was like coming down off of a ladder. AND, we landed RIGHT next to the tie dyed guy. It was suhweet!
The whole thing was just amazing! I wish I'd opted to spend the extra money and get the video, but I'm too cheap. Although I did find some cool videos of first time jumps on YouTube.com. If you have time, you might want to check them out. They're awesome! I will probably be talking about this for the rest of my life! If you've read this far, thank you for sharing in my day. If you have any questions, fire away!