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Archive for May 4th, 2010

Something very funny happens to you when you hit a milestone birthday. Oh, I don’t mean 16, 18 or 21. Those aren’t milestones. They’re more like inchpebbles. No, the milestones I’m talking about are the ones where you are still young enough to wreak havoc, but old enough to look thoroughly silly while doing it. I admit my close personal losses have both forced and inspired me to reevaluate life. Among my many healing strategies? I created a “40 things to do before I die” list. That’s what I called it before the movie starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson made a cleverer name popular…the “Bucket List”.

I have completed only a few of the items in this list like taking voice lessons, learning new languages and travelling to cool places like Paris and Rome. I’ve also engaged in other activities which required throwing caution to the wind. For example, I ziplined above the canopies across the Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica and climbed to the summit of one of the pyramids in Teotihuacan, Mexico. So when a good friend of mine asked what was on the list that I most wanted to do for my birthday, I told her.

Jump out of a plane.

Say what?

Yes, I chose jumping out of a plane. That seemed like the appropriate way to commemorate my milestone. Being the wonderful friend that she is, she thoroughly, albeit very reluctantly, engaged in painstakingly extensive research in finding a place with a solid reputation. She’s really very good at that. Not that if left to my own devices I would have settled for some “dive” – (some puns you just have to go with it). Tapping into my inner daredevil didn’t involve finding a guy with a hacking cough about to pilot a dilapidated single engine crop duster while reeking of cheap whiskey after a long night of binging. I am bold, not reckless. All of my adventurous escapades have been carefully supervised and well thought out … a calculated assumption of risk. I’ve lived and played in various neighborhoods where going to the corner store for bread and milk is an assumption of risk. Just crossing the street in midtown is an assumption of risk. I assume risk every day of my life. I mean, I do have a normal healthy fear of dying, but it is somewhat mitigated by my utter dread of not living. And I have every intention on arriving at the proverbial “Pearly Gates” in a 1965 Red Candy Metallic Ford Mustang convertible blasting Black-Eyed Peas while swerving to a screeching halt just as I reach the celestial cul-de-sac.

My friend’s research brought us to Sky Dive The Ranch which had been featured in an NBC Today Show segment about a 70-year-old man fulfilling his own bucket list. I thought, at least I’m NOT 70! I proceeded to download the real scary part of the process…the 7-page agreement/waiver…and began reading the contract possibly drafted by Stephen King’s attorney. It read:

Agreement, Page 1, Article 1 “The participant knows and understands that skydiving, parachuting and all aspects of aviation associated with these activities present risks of permanent catastrophic injuries, disfigurement, or DEATH. The participant understands the scope, nature, and extent of the risks and voluntarily chooses to incur such risks.” Initial Here…. Here…and Here.  (This sentence appears about 2 more times within the 7 pages.)

Fact Sheet Acknowledgements, Page 3 “All phases of skydiving, aviation, and related activities are dangerous and can result in serious injury and can be fatal” Initial Here….Here….and Here.

Page 3 – answer the following questions:

  1. “Do you realize that you can DIE as a result of your participation in any phase of skydiving, aviation, and related activities?  Yes    No.”   I check “Yes”.
  2. “Do you realize that minor and major injuries can result from your participation in any phase of skydiving, aviation, and related activities? Yes   No.”   I check “Yes”.
  3. “Are you willing to risk your life while participating in skydiving, aviation, and related activities? Yes  No.”   I check “Yes”.
  4. Are you interested in pursuing skydiving as a hobby? Yes  No.”  I look for the “OH, HELLS NO.  Didn’t you just finish telling me this stuff is dangerous?????” but then checked “No”.

Once all the paperwork is initialed, signed, dated, witnessed and notarized (just kidding, they didn’t require it get notarized, but they didn’t discourage it either), we were off to experience my new adventure. I was confident all would go without a hitch, but just in case left notes around my house in my handwriting absolving of all guilt the parties that encouraged me and indicating which of my family members inherit my collection of dried-out fountain pens and rusty paper clips.

Of course, my good friend, who grudgingly supported this “wackadoodle” endeavor (her words exactly) accompanied me “just to watch” and absorbed all my apprehension in an anxiety-ridden rant when she discovered the existence of a culture of aficionados who regularly jump out of planes for kicks. “Did you know this?” she asks me in genuine shock at this outrageous notion. I check “yes”.

Andre teaches me how to free fall

As for me, given the circumstances, I was quite calm. They suited me up in some Day-Glo outfit and metal harnesses and then introduced me to Andre, a Tandem Pilot Instructor of Russian descent. I don’t have much luck with Russian men. They usually look at me and say “Olga. That is Russian name. I have ex-wife with name Olga.” And then they look at me either with deep longing or homicidal intensity. Andre seemed disinterested in my name and began spewing out instructions on what to expect and what is expected of me during the jump, but in my head I heard the teacher in a Charlie Brown cartoon. Okay, maybe he was making me a little nervous.

The "Hummingbird"

Adam was my videographer/photographer. I called him a hummingbird because of the way he scooted in and out of my vantage point during my dive. My friend was informed he was one of the best “swoopers” in the business. Swooper? I looked it up.

“Swoopers make high speed dives towards the earth. Swooping is a sport where parachutists jump from an aircraft or launch themselves from a fixed object and fly high performance parachutes through courses set up over the ground, water or down a mountain. Swoopers exceed speeds of over 90mph during a swoop.”

Okay, then.

After the lesson we made our way inside the plane where Andre attached himself to me and became my best friend for the next few minutes. The ride up was uneventful though I struck up a conversation with a few jumpers who expressed shock at my milestone birthday. “Why, you don’t look a day over …..” I was enjoying the complements whether they were sincere or not. I didn’t care. I was about to jump out of a plane.

One by one, the other jumpers exited the plane until Andre, Adam and I we were the only ones left. After that it gets fuzzy. I wasn’t sure if I was concerned about what was about to happen, or concerned about not being concerned about what was about to happen. All I know is that within seconds, I was looking at the panorama that was the earth below unencumbered by an unfolded tray table and inches of scratched glass.

I won’t even begin to describe the sensation other than to say it was AWESOME! Yes, enough to make me go back to question 4 and change my answer. I did feel as if I was flying to which Adam, the swooping hummingbird, replied I was, but I know I really wasn’t. To say someone is “flying” would suggest a certain amount of control I knew I didn’t possess. An eagle flies. A hawk flies. A falcon flies. A well-trained pilot navigating an aircraft which may or may not include the name Eagle, Hawk or Falcon, flies. I was not flying. I was, as Woody told Buzz Lightyear in the movie “Toy Story” FALLING … with style!”

Click to see the video.

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