Skydiving is something that J and I were both interested in. Not something we needed to do, but something that we knew we'd enjoy given the right circumstances. LivingSocial's 50% off the DC Skydiving Center provided such an opportunity.
On a beautifully warm and clear Saturday morning, J and I were joined by three other intrepid souls and drove to what looked like a farm outside of Warrenton, Va. We had all imagined a small airstrip, but instead found rusted tractors and half-built sheds at the end of a dirt road. As we trudged through the field in search of the skydiving center, doubt began to creep into our minds.
I don't want to disparage the DC Skydiving Center or paint a picture that they were not qualified or took safety less seriously than they should, because at no time did any of us feel like we were not in good hands. We were. But as far as first impressions go, this was, well, interesting.
Consider that the two planes were taking off and landing in a field. And not a particularly flat one. Consider that people were being swapped out of planes in order to save about 80 lbs. 80 lbs. will make or break an airplane? Really? Consider that one of the tandem "instructors" was a recreational skydiver (if over 6000 jumps can be considered recreational) that everyone seemed to have just met. Consider that I was strapped to a guy who, in lieu of English or really any spoken communication at all, just kept giving me the thumbs up sign.
Putting all those things aside, this was a well run, professional operation. They realized the risks and emphasized safety, while also enjoying the experience with us. And how was the experience? In a word, wow!
For those of you who have not hurled yourself to the Earth only attached to some stranger with a large handkerchief, let me give you some details. After some basic instructions and safety precautions, you are suited up in a onesie that makes you look like either an astronaut or a 70's disco star, depending on pattern, color, and fit. You are then sardined into one of these flying tin cans that have been stripped of every non-essential item along with your tandem partner, another tandem pair, and the pilot. For those counting at home, that's 5 people in the space of a 2-person backpacking tent. For those with calmer nerves, the flight is beautiful, though rickety. After climbing to around 11,000+ ft., the first tandem pair opens the door, sits on the edge, and rolls out into the great blue yonder. The sardines in the back of the tin can then must scoot their connected asses to the door and do the same.
You don't have much time to process everything, but no matter how calm you are, there's no preparing you for those first moments as you tumble out of the plane. It is somewhere between exhilarating and heart stopping... and by far the best part. Unfortunately, this phase ends quickly as you assume the more controlled free fall position and enjoy the gorgeous scenery while experiencing a very comfortable, floating sensation. Thankfully, there is no rollercoaster stomach-in-your-throat feeling.
All too soon (they say after 45 seconds and at 5,000 ft.), the parachute is pulled and you are yanked up. Immediately, the wind stops and all is quiet. And beautiful. And calm... until your mute tandem partner loosens the harness and you feel like all is lost. Dude, I appreciate you prioritizing comfort and all, but a heads up, or even your patented thumbs up, would be nice!
There was a lot of disagreement in our group over how long it took to get down to the ground once the parachute opens but I'd say it was 5+ minutes. Me being me, I enjoyed getting to steer the 'chute, and by "steer" I mean yank one end hard and corkscrew as fast as I could. As you approach, your tandem partner takes the controls and glides in for a nice, comfortable landing on your grass-stained butt. You are quickly unharnessed and attempt to walk - most wobble - to your friends with a goofy grin and no words. Really, your brain cannot produce words, just a smile. Maybe that explains my tandem partner?
In the next couple of hours, your brain catches up and you can't stop reliving the whole experience as you process the gallons of adrenaline coursing through your body. Now, a week later, my pulse quickens and that grin returns as I write this. Would I do it again? Oh, yeah!
B summed up the thrill of skydiving perfectly and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I admit to being really skeptical when we arrived at DC Skydiving Center, but somehow they made me feel safe and relatively calm even when bumping along a grassy field in a very wobbly airplane. I don't like taking off and landing in the biggest, smoothest planes, so needless to say I was pretty freaked out by the flying tin can. However, when you're sitting on the lap of a dude you've never met, you just figure out a way to suck it up. By the time we reached jumping altitude, I was more than ready to get out of the plane. I was sitting about an inch from the door that they opened and the rush of the wind and adrenaline was unlike anything I've ever felt before. As we rolled out of the plane I was completely silent. No "woo!" or shriek or even gasp. Just stunned silence.
When my tandem instructor pulled the chute, I finally let a "woo" escape and asked him how my form was. Always the worrier, I was concerned that with all of the adrenaline I'd forget the instructions to "arch, arch, arch!" but apparently I was an A+ student. As we floated to the ground, I took the time to look around at the scenery and jumped at the chance to pull the cords to spin us in circles. It was a beautiful feeling to glide in relative silence to the Earth below. After a smooth landing, I skipped and cartwheeled back to the waiting area and pondered how soon I could return to do it again.