A Daring Proposal: jumping out of tiny airplanes

01Dec09

Waverly, Tennessee, USA

Whenever I become sick with the virus Uninterrupted-Routine, I have to do something dramatic to get my blood pumping again.  Faced with the prospect of a flightless summer, I decided a plane ride was necessary, even if I could not actually travel very far.  I convinced my hesitant mid-50s momma to suit up and [unofficially] celebrate my twentieth birthday by jumping out of airplanes.

We listened to John Mayer’s “Free Falling” as we snuck along winding roads towards the Waverly airport.  With every acre of pasture we passed, my resolution increased while my mother’s dwindled.  We curled around rusty convenience stores projecting our expectations on the endless yellow dotted line.

“I can’t believe I’m going to do this!”  My momma always underestimates her own daring.

“I can’t believe I haven’t done this yet!”  I always assumed I would weasel out of the “18 and above” rule; and, there I was already 20!

On the left appeared an entire farm of sunflowers who nodded their jaunty faces towards our old (now retired) Buick.  After a few more polka-dotted hillsides where the cows stood listlessly chewing their cud, a strip of lavish houses emerged leading us to one lone airstrip and a bit of gravel to park on.

With only one teeny plane (maximum 4 passengers), the skydivers must go in groups.  In other words, they make you wait.  Signing away your right to sue only takes a few minutes, even if you stop to consider the clause, “even if caused by the negligence of the instructors…” and decide to ask again about the company’s accident history.  Once satisfied, the assigned tandem instructor helps cinch you into a shockingly simple harness–the only thing keeping you hooked to the guy with a parachute while you tumble through 10,000 ft of atmosphere.  Wait some more.

Standing, goggles in hand, listen for the faint rumble of the plane’s engine overhead.  Squint into the sun searching for black specs.  Pretty soon, you will be one of those specs.

The waiting might increase anxiety for some (e.g. my momma); but, I felt restless.  My turn to crawl into the closet-sized passenger space came as the sun began to set, last jumpers of the day.  Four of us mashed into the tiny aircraft, hugging our knees to our chests.  As the plane ascended, my instructor rolled up the clear plastic door so we could feel the cold desperate rush of the wind.  We looked down at 3,000 ft.  5,000 ft.  So far up, yet only half way there.  I leaned to poke my head out of the doorway and the pilot gave a quick jerk in that direction, chortling as he warned “Now, you wouldn’t want to fall out just now, hun, you ain’t hooked up yet.”

The plane leveled off.  My instructor had to yell over the drone of the engine and the screaming wind:  “Get on my lap!”  If I weren’t focused on entrusting my life to this stranger, it may have been an awkward process.  I pulled down my goggles and began to scoot up his legs until my butt sat in his lap.  A few straps and carabiners later, he was asking me to swing my legs out the door.  I did.

There, sitting with my feet dangling above the world, the wind so cold and loud it tuned out my thoughts, I experienced a serenity more complete than any meditation or yoga could offer.

“Remember, on ‘3’ cross your arms and lean back!” I was about to let go.  Of everything.

“1!…”

I smiled.

“2!…”

I was ready.

The ‘3’ was lost in our giant somersault from the plane.  For ten seconds I was alive.  Freefall breaks physical, mental and emotional boundaries.  I was flying.  With my arms stretched out across the globe, I needed nothing but possessed everything.   A wave of ecstasy began in my toes and errupted as a violent “Hoo! Hoo!” carried away by the southerlies more quickly than I could holler again.

Too soon, with a backwards jolt, the flight became floating.  Swinging beneath the blue canopy, the entire landscape danced about me.  I even manned the ropes for a few minutes, gently swooping form left to right, as the glowing sun filled lakes and streams with glitter and kissed grassy hills goodnight.

We landed uneventfully, softly kicking up a little dust cloud.  The gal before me, though, had one more surprise.  Her googly-eyed boyfriend had an Old-Southern-Money sized diamond waiting for her in the landing zone.  (Congratulations, Alexis!)

Jumping out of tiny airplanes might deliver a rush of adrenaline, a shove towards self-actualization, or even a construction paper proposal.  Sounds like good options to me.

On returning home, I was as satisfied with the adventure as I was with all the nots–not dead, not regretful, not engaged.

Thank God!

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