By James F. Finn
The months of September and October have been filled with travel and adventure — more stories to come from those adventures soon. For now, the subject of my latest Finnding is the breathtaking view from 10,000 feet in the sky and subsequent dive to the bottom.
Every adrenaline junky or risk taker has this activity on their bucket list. Contrary to popular belief, skydiving fatalities in the United States are at a record low. In fact, United States Parachute Association reported only 24 fatalities out of the estimated 3.2 million annual jumps in 2014. This can be attributed to advancements in technology and strict safety standards.
In celebration of my buddy Paul’s belated birthday, we decided to take a day trip out to Maryland to get our fix of danger. Go karting failed to satisfy the itch, so we decided to take an impromptu trip to Skydive Baltimore (66 miles north of DC).
The build-up to the jump includes several perfectly timed gut check moments before the plane door opens. It begins with a clipboard of papers listing all of the possible perils of your adventure and what your jump school is and is not liable for. Once you’ve finished reading the fine print and signed your name on the dotted line, your fate lies in the hands of your jump instructor. Be sure to go to the bathroom before you are strapped into the safety harness, otherwise you might tick off your instructor who will have to re-inspect you for safety (luckily I took care of that before harnessing up). The little Cessna plane that flies you up is a compact plane that can fit roughly five people (pilot, two students and two instructors).
I was the first to jump from the aircraft and was posted up against the flight console next to the pilot. As I gazed out the window, the farms and houses began to look like little toy homes on a diorama. The Chesapeake Bay was in full view as the aircraft made loops around the fields. As the plane gained altitude, small bouts of turbulence lightly rocked the aircraft. Another brief gut check had me asking one more question, “What the hell did I really just sign up for?” After that question popped into my head, I fell back on my yoga training, took several deep breaths and “turned off” my brain. By the time it was time to jump, the 10,000 foot drop no longer phased me. My instructor reminded me of the exiting procedures. I faced the console, he strapped my harness to his and opened the door. The wind was loud and the buzzing of the propeller was audible.
My last memory before going into free fall was placing my foot on the platform, taking a breath, crossing my arms to my chest (as instructed) and falling sideways towards the Earth. Once I leapt off the platform, my instructor tapped my shoulder two times to lightly kick both feet towards my butt and fall. From there, the details are still fuzzy. Perhaps the video will address potential questions. Once the canopy opened, my brain came back online and a mix of sheer terror and euphoria overtook me. Some happy expletives were most likely recited.
From there on, it was smooth sailing down. As I began to brace my legs for the landing, I had the option to brace and land on my butt or brace, let the feet touch the ground and walk. My instructor recommended the latter and damn did my feet take a slight beating. I see how many jumpers sustain broken legs or hips if they land incorrectly.
Nonetheless, Paul and I got our adrenaline for the afternoon. We all need that shot of risk in our lives. A bit of fear is healthy. However, the first step towards euphoria is to jump out of that perfectly good airplane on a cool, autumn day at 120 MPH.