Why Jump Out Of a Perfectly Good Airplane?
Because I can.
My first job in Seattle wasn’t much of a job. The “owner” was a slacking greedy man who had no business sense. He published a free distribution magazine that made no money. I was his only employee, hired to take up the position left by the previous girl who “left suddenly”. I now know why she left, but during those two months I was able experience a lot of Seattle, including the opportunity to jump out of a plane on a static line in exchange for writing about the experience. The jump took place at Skydive Kapowsin, in Orting, Washington in August of 1995. This is what I wrote based on that experience.
The sun was bright in my face as I drove down the busy highway. My tired eyes searched for the road signs that would take me to my final destination, anxious that I might miss one of them on the unfamiliar road. As one road led to another, they became more rural. I traded I-5 for I-405, and then back onto narrower and narrower roads. Glancing down at my watch I saw that I was early, having given myself twice as much time as needed since I had no idea how far it was and in case I got lost. I stopped for breakfast at a small roadside café when I knew how far I was from my destination. My mind was far from what I was about to do in a matter of hours. The less I thought about it the more I would remain calm. After all, who contemplates the first time they jump out of an airplane at 3000’? I left the café and continued up the winding road.
The rest of the ride was uneventful, except for the beauty of the surrounding landscape. When I found the airstrip I was surprised by how small it was. The building itself seemed quiet and unobtrusive. Was this where it was to happen, with all of these trees around??? I parked my motorcycle and walked around the corner of the building. Bustling with activity, I saw that the building was mostly a large open garage with many people crawling around on multicolored parachutes scattered on the floor. So these are the people responsible for packing the ‘chute so that I survive this ordeal. I greeted a woman close to me and introduced myself. She was pleasant – and busy. As I still had 20 minutes before the class started, I stood and watched the activity around me. There are so many people here! Are they all going to jump today? As the ‘chutes on the floor were rolled into neat little bundles, others replaced them. More people were appearing from their cars until there were probably two dozen standing outside of the garage. I talked with some of them and we joked about the upcoming jump, trying to make light of the situation we had each gotten ourselves into.
At ten o’clock one of the owners, Jessie, called us all to gather around her and welcomed us to Kapowsin. She then introduced us to our Jumpmaster, Dave Basinger. Dave was a pleasant man with a quick sense of humor that helped put the group at ease. He took his time and introduced us to the parachute, explaining to us the different parts and functions. Seems basic enough. Then the real class learning began…
A group of 15, larger than usual, went out behind the building to begin our instruction. Dave was very thorough in every detail, making sure that each of us performed each exercise to his satisfaction. Will I really remember this when I jump out of a plane? And do I look as silly as I feel? The instructions included the proper stance after exit and the actual departure from the plane, as well as an emergency roll if you come down hard on your landing. The group was jovial, and sincere in their efforts to learn. Failure to learn this is more threatening than failing a math test. After the physical exercises we took a short walk over to the landing field. This is our target zone, where we want to aim for. There would be someone with a radio who would guide us to this spot, ensuring that we didn’t make it to the trees that bordered one side and the houses on the other. The class then took a short break before resuming the lessons. During the break we watched other, more experienced, skydivers land in the field outside the door. We “ooohhhhed” and “ahhhhed” at their talent, and made small insecure claims of a similar ability. It doesn’t look that hard to land where you want. This should be a snap!
After the break, Dave took us into a small room and gave us a grave look. This is it. He began by telling us that, have no doubt about it, you can die from participating in this sport. People have fallen from heights and died, or were lucky enough to have only fractured their legs or suffer a mild head injury. Compressed vertebrate, broken legs, sprained ankles; the list went on. Dave went on to add the list of parachute malfunctions and their rate of probability. Probability? It only takes once! Twisted risers, folded canopies, broken lines, static line incorrectly hooked up; another list of death. Was I really going to put myself through this for no real reason?
Then Dave brought out a harness and hooked it to the ceiling. We took turns climbing into it and practicing how to untangle those tangles that can be undone and pulling the reserve cord. Dave said that twisted risers were common, but easily untwisted. Yeah. Sure. After each one of us had performed the required maneuvers to his satisfaction (some had to do it more than others), we were ready to jump. It wasn’t too late. I could write about what all skydiving involved from here. I didn’t have to jump out of plane. Did I?
There were only two other women in the class and we quickly banded together. They had nominated me as their third person, as each plane could take three jumpers at a time. And then they were gracious enough to offer to let me jump first. Gee. Thanks. It was about 20 minutes before the plane was ready to take us up and we used the time to prepare ourselves and get suited up. If you don’t think about what you’re about to do, then your stomach doesn’t play with your breakfast. Packs were chosen based on our size and weight. The packs were generally 35 lbs, which can seem like a lot if you’re just standing around in it. We were each given helmets and a one-way radio so that we could hear commands given to us for the landing spot. The Jumpmaster (which in our case was Dave) did a final check on the equipment that we had on. Better late than never. Our departure was announced and we trudged out to the plane. Since I was the first to jump out, I would be the last one in. The Cessna was small, holding the three jumpers, the Jumpmaster and the pilot. Since I love flying, I had no qualms over the size (or lack thereof) of the plane. As we took off I put the jump out of my mind and watched the ground drop away and Mt. Rainier rise up in the distance. Then Dave attached my static line and my mind was brought back immediately to where I was and what I was about to do. Am I nuts?!? I have to admit that one of the jumpers seemed much more nervous than I, and part of my calm reactions were out of consideration of putting her mind at ease. Kind of like putting on a brave face. But then Dave opened the door and told me to swing my feet out. This is it. The platform seems much smaller up here. I reached out with my left hand and grabbed the wing support. It seemed much further out than it was in practice. My feet managed to find the tiny platform, and Dave asked if I could see the target zone. I looked, and nodded affirmation. He then told me to stand out on the platform as I watched the ground drift 3,000’ below me. I reached across with my right hand and grabbed the wing support. I then pulled myself upright and was soon standing in an 80 mph wind. This is ok. So far. Then I stepped over to the outer edge of the platform so that my right foot was floating over nothingness. I hoped my foot didn’t slip out from under me and thought of how I’m supposed to stand from the lesson. Then I heard Dave’s voice from inside the plane: “Go!” Is he nuts? I looked at him and then down at the indistinct landscape below me. I am to let go of this support and just fall? I hate heights. Knowing that I couldn’t just stand out here, and that they were all waiting for me to was what finally did it. Now or never! And so I let go, stepped to the side and tried to arch like I was taught. But things happen quickly and before I knew it, I had passed the six count and should be checking my parachute for tangles. The ‘chute will be just fine. After all, I’m young and immortal, right? I looked up and to my amazement saw that the risers were twisted. Quick! Pull them apart and kick! The ‘chute righted itself after my fury of motion, and then I grabbed the brakes to gain control. I heard a voice on the radio, asking me to turn right to acknowledge her. I did as told, and then took the time to actually look around. It’s so quiet, like sitting…a couple of thousand feet above the earth! This is beautiful! Mt. Rainier was glistening to the south, the sun sparkling on the snow covered peaks. All around were lakes and ponds, reflecting the blue sky above me. Deep green belts of trees clothed the mountains and hillsides. Fluffy clouds slid by, trailing their shadows on the golden/green landscape below. I looked around for the target before actually finding it. The voice on the radio kept asking me to turn left or right, and I somewhat resented this intrusion on such a calm and beautiful time. Let me enjoy the quiet and solitude of the moment. But I needed the guidance of her experience so that I would land where I was supposed to, and not the deep green spires of the forest below.
I looked some more, marveling at what I was doing and what I was seeing. This is too good to be true! There’s my shadow, gliding over the field…. I was watching the earth below my feet. Odd, how one’s feet look when dangling over nothing like this. Then I realized that the directions I was receiving pertained to my landing. It’s almost over – so soon. Too soon. I approached the target spot into the wind and was glad for the radio assistance that I was getting. There is no depth perception; I have no idea how far up I am! Then I heard the quick command “Flare! Flare! Flare!” I pulled both toggles and braked hard. The ground came rushing up to greet me, but not quite as fast now. I tried for the graceful landing, but fell on my backside instead. So much for grace and finesse. I stood up and reached for the parachute, eager to gather it up before it pulled me along the ground. The risers keep getting in my way. How frustrating! It looked so easy… I finally get it all together and walk over to Jessie, who was the voice at the other end of the radio. She was now guiding my jumpmates down to earth, giving individual instructions on their direction and approach. I watched them come in and land softly on the long grass. I wondered if I looked as graceful as they did? Together we walked back to the building, recounting our experience, initial fears and glorious delights now that we had landed successfully.
Would I jump again? Sure, but I can’t say that I’m addicted to it.