Yesterday, I arrived in Wollongong under a moody sky. The sun was struggling to break up the dark clouds that hung low over the mountains, barely succeeding, a glimpse of blue sky here and there the only evidence of the effort. I’d be doing my bit to break up those clouds very shortly. Hurtling through them at over 200km/h ought to do it. They definitely looked scared. Oh no wait, that was me.
At the Stuart Park reception I was told that my paperwork from my last weekend was still valid. The jump had been abandoned at the last minute because of unsafe weather conditions. You know the kind of highly dangerous wind speeds that would result in us landing in the middle of the ocean somewhere closer to Fiji rather than safely back at Stuart Park? Yeah, those kinds of wind speeds. The rest of my group had arrived and were outside. All I needed to do was suit up and go. I uttered the well worn phrase of desperate commitment phobes everywhere; Aren’t we moving a little fast here? At least I was reunited with my MC Hammer parachute pants. I was also one step ahead of the safety briefing. Be a banana. Be a banana. Be a banana. Be a banana. Be a banana. Be a banana. Be a banana. I was all over this jumping out of a plane business.
We made our way to the bus that would take us to the airport where we would board the plane we were going to jump out of. Wait. Wait wait wait wait wait. “Hi, I’m Greg!” boomed a voice beside me. “I’ll be your tandem instructor”. Hi Greg, I’m Aisling, I’ll be your petrified instructee. Greg attempted to make polite chit chat. Where was I from? What was I doing in Sydney? Why was I here? Personally, I thought that last one was a little on the philosophical side to be asking when I was staring death in the face. “Oh you’re Irish? I love the Irish.” Fantastic, just remember how much you like us when it comes to pulling that parachute cord! We chatted a little more on the bus. When I say “chatted” I mean I interrogated Greg about his previous experience. “I’ve logged about 12 and a half thousand jumps, officially”. Well, that shut me up. I looked around the bus during a lull in the conversation. We could have been in a bad American prison movie, on a convict bus in jumpsuits and shackles, a sense of impending doom written on our faces. Clearly I wasn’t the only one feeling a knot of heady excitement and fear settling in my stomach. “So”, said one of the girls in front of me to her instructor, having heard Greg’s 12 and a half thousand tally, “how many times have you skydived?” “Oh, this will be my ninth time”, he deadpanned. Her eyes and mouth made perfect circles of surprise and an alarmed silence settled over the rest of the bus. “Just kidding”, he grinned, “about 9 thousand”. We all laughed at that one.
At the airport I saw the tiny plane that was taking us 14,000ft into the air. Greg managed to capture the expression on my face. They say a picture paints a thousand words.
We hopped on the plane with the propeller in full swing and I felt like an action super star. It was a twenty minute summit to 14,000ft. That’s about 2.6515 miles or 4.2672 kilometres. 12 of us got cosy on the plane and Greg again did a great job of distracting me. The flight was enjoyable in itself, the pretty scenery getting farther and farther away until trees became a blur of green, beside the blur of yellow sand and a great big blur of blue ocean. Let’s try and avoid that patch. We passed fluffy white clouds, Greg pointing to the odometer on his wrist and telling me a little bit about the distances we were reaching. He was calmly reiterating the instructions we received on the ground, interspersing them with his commentary on the scenery below. The man is truly a pro. I was only barely freaking out with an overwhelming sense of panic, acutely aware of my mortality and how I was about to dangle it in front of a funny skeleton holding a scythe and wearing a long black cloak. I was also terrifyingly excited.
“Aisling, this is where we’ll reach terminal velocity”, Greg said. A brief aside on terminal velocity for the physics novice. Terminal velocity occurs during free fall when a falling body experiences zero acceleration. As in, your plunging body can’t possibly go any faster through the air. This is about 200km per hour. I’m going to keep this PG folks but I’m pretty sure my thought process looked something like this: OH $$$****%^*%$%##@@#@##$%^. WHAT THE #$&*&&^%$(**^& AM I DOING? No time for that now. Greg had attached my harness to his; the red light was on at the door. It opened, then orange, then green. A blast of freezing air reached us as the jumpers at the front got into position. Then they were gone. Like just…gone. That fast. And suddenly I was moving forward, closer to the open door of an airplane that was 14,000ft above the ground. Another two bodies disappeared. Then another two. Then I was at the door, barely feeling the sub zero air on my skin. “Just swing your legs out over, Aisling”. Just do WHAT??? But something overrode all my instincts. BE A BANANA. My legs were dangling out of a plane and then I couldn’t see the door anymore. My heart skipped a beat. My brain tried to keep up. Air rushed at my face. Or my face rushed at air, rather. We spun round doing a somersault in the air and the plane was shooting away from us. We flipped round again and all I could see was white. BE A BANANA. Greg tapped my right shoulder and something in my brain told my arms that this was where they let go of my harness and spread out wide. We were flying. We were flying bananas. There was nothing around us. Nothing. Then my mouth wanted in on the action. I took a deep breath. This came out:
Breathe breathe breathe.
“WHAT THE !@#$%^&*())*&^%$#@!@#$%^&)(*&^%$#@#$%^&*()*&^%$#@#$%^& WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!”
My heart was making up for the beat it missed earlier by racing at approximately 700 times its normal speed. My mouth was dry. My brain had stopped trying to comprehend what was going on. It was an impossible feeling.
Then I felt a tug. Our parachute was out. We slowed as it unravelled and caught the wind. Breathe. I stopped screaming. Kind of. “Well, Aisling, welcome to my office. What do you think?” That. I gasped. That. Was. AWESOME. We veered right and left on the way down. “Hold this” Greg said and put a loop in my hand. “And this” he said putting a loop in my other hand. “And steer”. HA! Yeah sure, I’ll steer. No worries. The big green, yellow and blue blurs had become distinct shapes again. We were heading towards the earth. And suddenly it was just there. I held my legs up and we came in to land. Then we were on the ground. Safe, beautiful, steady, earthy ground. Greg unhooked the harness and helped me to my feet. My legs were unsteady. “How was it?” Greg beamed pointing a camera in my face. I was an inarticulate mess. A jumble of syllables came out of my mouth. Amazing, I managed. Awesome. That was…awesome. That was awesome.
What’s the deal?
GoDo crew member Aisling is taking one for the team and taking on the challenge of Dry July. This July, Aisling is going to show you how to have a good time for a whole month, without alcohol, GoDo-style. To reward her commitment to the cause, and keep her focused, we’re sending her on a bunch of activities to show you the stack of alternatives to sitting in a dingy pub this winter. And, because it’s such a great initiative, GoDo is donating the value of each activity Aisling embarks on in cash to the Dry July cause.