Monday, August 31, 2015

Epic Adventures: Sky Diving

Joel and I had always wanted to go sky diving. For some reason we just kept missing the opportunities that seemed to come up. We have many friends who have enjoyed a good jump out over the fields of South Carolina, but that just didn't seem quite like how we wanted to experience this wonderment for the first time. We waited for the right moment.

This moment made itself available when we adventured to New Zealand. We were camping the South Island, slowly making our way around it in a giant looping road trip. We read many reviews and decided that we were going to lose our sky diving virginity in the most epic jump available to humans. Well, truth be told, this was the second most epic jump available to humans. The best, most amazing skydive location in the world allows you to leap out over Mt. Kilimanjaro. Since we weren't planning to visit there, the second best because our first best option. 

We chose a company called Skydive Franz because it had incredible reviews. Our jump would allow us to leap out of our plane at 12,000, 16,000, or 18,000 feet above the immense Franz Joseph Glacier on the back of Mt. Cook. From this leap into the heavens, we would see the glacier, the mountains, the rain forest with the Tasman river flowing through it into the Tasman sea. All of this would be our view as we topple to the earth. 

Since we were newbies, we did not feel like we needed to spend extra money on jumping at 18,000 feet. Any jump would be a epic leap for our systems at this point, so we chose the 12,000 foot jump. We were taken in a bus from the small national park town of Franz Joseph, to a field where this company kept their planes. 

We were suited up and were given a 5 minute instruction course by one of the tandem guides. In NZ, they apparently don't feel the need to teach loads of jumpers how to jump when really you are just going to be strapped to a professional who will land you safely. It looked like all we needed to remember to do was tuck at the right time and spread out a the right time. Seemed simple enough.

People were taken up in groups of 5 or 6 (with the additions of their tandems and photographers). The planes were incredibly tiny. There was only sitting and squashing room for everyone who went up in them. Each jumper had a tandem professional that they were strapped to, awkwardly sitting in that person's lap during the plane right as we gained altitude. I counted that in our tiny plane there were 11 people. I was strapped to a young guy named Zack. When I first laid eyes on him I prayed that I would not be jumping with him. I did the thing that I get so mad at people for doing- I judged him because he looked really young. Turns out, Zack has jumped over 500 times which truly was half of what the other jumpers had done in their life times. I thought 500 times was pretty dang good so I was comforted. 

He gave me a little tour from the air as we made our way higher and higher into the clouds. While he talked, he was strapping me to him. I was amazed that he could do this while I was half sitting on him, squashed in the plane. Joel was strapped to a fierce, short Welshman who had boasted jumping nearly 5,000 times in his life. He too was being strapped in as I was. 

Zack kept checking his watch which wasn't telling time at all, it was revealing the altitude. Then suddenly, he slide open the door and told me to swing my legs out. This was the moment were I was thinking, "Oh shit. I just chose to do this. I am doing this. I am doing it." Zack was sitting on the ledge of the door, holding on the sides while I was hanging off his chest into the vast sky around us. I felt like I was breathing under a waterfall. Then, in a flash, we were falling. 

I kept trying to breath easily but the air was rushing into my lungs and I had the thought that I was swallowing the earth. Our camera-man who was filming our premier jumps was literally swimming through the air talking to me and waving for me to look more excited. I could not stop looking at the scenery around me and feeling the sensation of falling, REALLY falling. We fell for 75 seconds before Zack pulled the cord which sent us flying back up into the air like we were nothing but a kite on a string.

For 5 more minutes, we floated, easily and slowly towards the earth. Zack showed me how to spin and flip and continued to tell me about the landscape around me that was growing larger and larger. He was so good that when we landed, we landed on our feet like we had just raced a sprint and came to a sudden stop. 

When I hit the ground, it occurred to me that Joel was already there. He jumped after me but landed before me. I ran up to him to find out what he thought and he just kept saying, "We flipped upside down. He flipped me out of the plane." I told him that was impossible, but Joel maintained that he saw his feet go over his head when they jumped out. 

Later that night, watching our jump videos, I was amazed that Joel's story was true. His guide did flip him out of the plane and sent him whirling to the earth in a spiral of stunts and wheelies that sped up his journey while also giving him a great ride. 

Did we enjoy the experience?

As soon as we both landed we admitted that our first thoughts were, "Let's do that again." I would have paid every bit of that price again and again to experience this as much as the guys we were strapped to. It was awesome!

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