"What a wonder life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner." Colette

Nov 5, 2018

Pack Your Own Parachute

Puff Diddy went skydiving for his birthday...good for him, my first thought, even though I'm not a fan in particular. COURAGE is what I really admire.  Imagine my disappointment to see he was in the arms of a professional and all he did was hang on for the ride. Anyone without a fear of heights can do that.

It takes a few lessons if you want to jump on your own; and even then they'll likely set you up with a static line to pull the parachute for you.  They did for me when I jumped out of a helicopter in the middle of the desert while in my 20's.

Ex-Man-1 and I were stationed at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Nothing around but cacti, sand, vultures and missile fragments.  So when I saw the ad in the Messenger: 3 skydiving lessons for $50, I jumped at the chance.

Me, three Navy guys and a male civilian.  After watching brutal films about what can happen if you don't pay attention we practiced in the gymnasium, jumping off a ladder on to a mat.

"When it's time to go, simply extend arms and legs and step out, and fly through the air."

Sounded pretty easy in the gym.  We learned how to land, too: when you see the ground coming up towards you, get into landing position: legs together, slightly bent, eyes forward; basically, hit, drop and roll, and try not to land on a Yucca.

That seemed pretty easy, too, except I didn't understand the ground coming-up part. The hard part was packing the white military parachute. All that silk; all those lines; better get it right, or else.

On my first jump I was the first one out.  We were supposed to use a plane from the local air base but gasoline prices curtailed that suddenly, so we used an Army helicopter instead.  Don't ask me how they got approval to use military equipment...they just did.

I still recall looking out of the open door as the chopper rose, my Jump Master sitting opposite; music from Apocalypse Now playing in my head.  All of a sudden he yells to me,

"Ready...set...GO!" His eyes bored a hole in my memory as the air sucked me out and I tumbled, screaming, round and round, until the static line gave me a jolt you can't imagine. Upright once more I thoroughly enjoyed floating above the birds, looking at the gorgeous Organ Mountains in the distance.  We newbies only jumped 3,000 feet, the standard time floating approx. 1,000 feet per minute.

Three minutes felt like an eternity, until suddenly, just like you've seen in the movies, the ground visibly does come racing towards you, or rather visa-versa. It was fascinating and I couldn't take my eyes off the ground, against the cardinal rule. I missed the cacti but landed hard on a mound, thrilled I survived without broken bones.

From someone on the ground I was told that I had been in the correct position for landing, but at the last moment I spread my legs to help brace against the landing, good luck. Banged up my lower leg but I couldn't wait to try it again.

As I was laying out my chute to repack it for the next jump, some nice fellow, seeing my confusion, offered to pack it for me.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" my instructor demanded. Do you want your life depending on someone else's ability?  Yeah, in that particular case I did because I can't tie a proper knot to save my life, but I finished up with a sheepish look. He taught me a valuable lesson that day which I've carried for 40 years:

I think this advice applies to women in particular, at least women of my age, who have relied on others (men) for so many things which apply directly to our own safety. I haven't had a partner for quite some time and this advice has plagued me, but I've had little choice.  Even if I had the money to pay for other's expertise, we must take responsibility for our safety whenever possible.  Wear the helmet, use the safety goggles, double-check your locks yourself; don't rely solely on Alexa, for heaven's sake.

My second jump was better, but because I knew what was coming I was more frightened. Once in the air I had little choice, since NOT jumping simply wasn't a consideration, like getting back on a horse. I heard shouts from the ground and people were frantically waving their arms. Jeez, what? First thing I looked for was a hole in my chute and then if I was about to land on something poisonous or explosive.  It turned out they were yelling to the other civilian from my class: his primary parachute didn't open and he was forced to use the smaller, emergency chute carried on our chests. 

The gasoline crunch caused the loss of the chopper, too; and I didn't have or want to pay the costly amount to join a private, off-base club. I figure 50 bucks was a bargain, then and now.

I highly recommend skydiving but not wuss-diving. It's like comparing climbing Mt. Everest with those rock-walls in sports clubs.
At least if you really want to challenge your limits and fears.

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