Saturday, October 2, 2010

Can you sing Happy Birthday at Terminal Velocity…?

In 1995 I decided that I would spend my birthdays in a new and memorable way every year.
It could be as simple as being at a concert or, as was the case in 1995,fulfilling a long time dream to spend my birthday in Nashville.
There has been one event that I have avoided, more out of fear than anything else.
It caused people to write letters to me, asking me not to do it. It even had my Mom asking to be informed post the jump…if it had been successful.
This sort of negative [albeit well meaning] concern caused me to postpone the event year after year.
The postponements were self-induced as my fear of heights almost over rode the input I was getting from family and friends.
However, when Sunday, 15th June 2008 dawned I could no longer put of the inevitable!
Being my 55th birthday I decided that it was as good a time as any to get this event out of the way.
What am I referring to? Skydiving, that’s what.
After a lot of self-motivation, I booked a Tandem jump with the Johannesburg Skydiving club. I had seen an article in the local newspaper where two of their reporters had undertaken this challenge, and both lived to tell the tale!
And their tales seemed awesome!
I had booked the event several weeks in advance and not a day went by with me not trying to think up excuses NOT to do the jump.
Sunday the 15th dawned clear and glorious. With an inner calm that I still cannot describe I set of for Carltonville.
As the km’s to club sped by I became more and more calm…not like me at all! I was also not very talkative, which by my standards means that I was not worried.
On arrival at the Drop Zone I met with Chris, who is probably on of South Africa’s top tandem masters. I thought that the briefing he would give would last for at least 20min…was I wrong.
It consisted of him telling me how we would hook up and then just hang on and have fun! The word “fun” was repeated more times than I can remember.
By this stage Hannes, the cameraman, had come over to introduce himself and to start filming the video that is presented to all first time tandem jumpers.
Time ticked by almost in slow motion…Chris arrived with a jump suit and the all-important harness.
11000ft…if you think that is high, then just think that Mt.Everest is about 26800ft.
JUMP TIME HAS ARRIVED!
Walking to the loading zone I was still extremely calm. I must admit that I wondered if death row inmates had the same calm feeling on their way to the execution chamber.
My mind knew what was about to happen, but it could not comprehend the magnitude of the event.
I must take a moment here to mention the plane…it is started early in the morning as does not switch off for the entire day! This means that take-off and landings are done as fast as possible!
So it meant a jog to the plane, load up and take off. No time for nerves.
Chris, Hannes and I were joined by a group of jumpers who were practising for the South African Nationals, a sort of skydiving Olympics!
The climb to 11000ft took longer than I expected but the friendly banter and a video camera in my face took my mind of what was about to happen.
Then it was time!
The door was opened and the first jumpers left the plane, so fast that it seemed as if they had never been with us.
Hannes moved past Chris and I and stepped out of the plane and onto the strut under the wing. We moved towards the door, placed our right feet on the step and fell into space!
For me the jump could have ended there, as this is the feeling that I replay over and over in my head.
On the ground Chris had told me what to expect, but there is really no way to describe the feeling of falling headfirst at 200km/ph.
I did keep my eyes open and before I realised it Hannes had popped into view, camera at the ready. While we had been falling I had been singing “Happy Birthday” to myself at the top of my voice.
When we reached 4000ft,Chris opened the canopy and it was like a reverse Bungi jump. We were jerked upwards as if we had been plucked from the sky by a giant hand.
Once the chute had opened I was allowed to remove my goggles and we floated earthwards.
Hot air ballooning is always portrayed as being silent, it’s not, as the burners have to be fired constantly. Under the canopy it is about as silent as it can be.
I was allowed to “steer” the canopy, under guidance of course.
The ground was now rushing towards us at a rather rapid rate.
And then it was over…the landing was so soft that I almost did not know we were on the ground. [To replicate the landing sensation, just jump up and land…it was as gentle as that!]
Would I do it again? I don’t think so.
Would I recommend it…MOST DEFINITELY!
So, been there and got the jump suit…but what do I do next year?
Did I really do it, you bet and I have witnesses and a video to prove it.

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