Tuesday, April 28, 2009

LOCAL: Given To Fly

"A wave came crashing like a fist to the jaw
Delivered him wings, "Hey, look at him now"
Arms wide open with the sea as his floor
Oh, power, oh"

*Posted October 19, 2008*

This past weekend I experienced the greatest thrill in my very short lifetime, one I hope to experience again. For Mrs. Herb's birthday, we went to Grove City to go skydiving and it was out of this world. For anybody who wants to do something exhilarating, terrifying, intense, and moderately expensive, do this ASAP. Since I really don't feel like doing anything else for the site this week, I'm just going to give you a run through of this experience.

12:00 NOON

Melissa and I pull up to a little hangar-like building near Grove City Airport, and as we are pulling up, we see 4 people up in the sky, coming down in their parachutes. They seemed like they were going pretty damn fast, or at least faster than what the movies let you believe.

6:00 PM

Well, because their big plane was making funny noises, everyone had to be taken up in their little plane, so all appointments were pushed back. We ended up being the last ones to go for the day. After dressing us in flight gear and caps (the pictures didn't turn out), we were rushed down to the flight by our instructors. The best thing about this experience is that we only needed about a half hour of preparation before going up. We watched a video, and they gave us some pointers, but the instructors that we were attached to were going to be doing all the work.

Next, we cram into this really tiny plane. The next 20 minutes are spent climbing to 10,000 feet. I enjoyed the view from the cockpit and got to see some stunning scenery. Lakes, national parks, the Slippery Rock campus, the town of Grove City, it all looked amazing. But at the same time, as we keep circling up higher and higher, that feeling in the back of your head that is saying "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING!?!?" is getting louder and louder. The instructor starts to hook us in together and gives a few more pointers about whats happening. I really felt like I was in good hands.

This was taken right before the pilot opened the door. This is the height we jumped at.

6:30 PM

Showtime. My mind is racing like crazy. The pilot screams out "TWENTY SECONDS" and I feel like I'm about to storm the beach and save Private Ryan. He reaches across from me and pops the hatch. The cabin is hit by hurricane force winds and the instructor taps me on the back and says "Okay, stick your leg out on the ledge." If you know the feeling when you stick your hand out of a car window, multiply that by about a million. I felt like my leg could get ripped off. If that wasn't crazy enough, he then tells me to lean out of the plane. It's about 20 degrees windchill up their, but I seriously didn't feel it. I just looked down, 10,000 feet down, through the clouds, all the way to the distant fields below, but the feeling of panic went away. I felt ready and was determined to just have fun.




What a blast! The freefall is violent, noisy, windy, and the greatest part of the whole experience. I barely heard myself whooping and hollering, and I remember having the biggest smile on my face. As Hawk would say, "OOOOHHHHHHhhh what a rush!!!" I mostly looked out at the horizon and the setting sun. Just for kicks, my instructor was making us do some 360s, I just focused on breathing. The camera that I had lodged in my jumpsuit was creeping up towards the collar, but after the greatest 50 second roller coaster, the chute opens up and we slam on the brakes.

What a feeling of freedom and clarity! I'm up in the clouds a mile above the surface, and I have this feeling of weightlessness. The PJ song I quoted at the beginning of the article was playing in my head as I was floating in the sky. I had to wrestle the camera out from the suit (it had sunk down to my stomach during the braking), but I got some magnificent shots of the sunset. I regret taking a shitty disposable camera. I wanted so bad to share the views that I got to see, but the detail just isn't there. My instructor did some dips and lifts and turns and pointed out more cool sights. We turned around to see Melissa's parachute off in the distance. She was having just as much fun as I was.

We get closer and closer to the ground, and just like we practiced in the air, I get my knees and feet up and out in front of me, and we slide into the field on our ass. We were going pretty fast, but it doesn't hurt at all. When he unhooked me, my balance was off at first, but I remember just running and jumping up and down. While we were floating down, we got to see the sun set completely, and it was getting dark by the time Melissa hit the ground, so the pictures of her landing and not so great.

They drove us back to hangar, gave a beer to the birthday girl, and we also got some free t-shirts to make up for the wait. It was the coolest thing that I have ever done, and when I save up $240, I want to do it again. I'm thinking about getting a tattoo of a bird or something to commemorate this life-changing event. Every time I look at it, I want to remember the feeling I had when I was on top of the world. I may even include the words "given to fly." Unbelievable.

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