For seven distracted days, I don't skip going in to work and I don't flake out on other obligations. A feeble attempt at life as usual.
Drilling the moves in my apartment. Or rather my best guess, since I don't know exactly what I'm in for. Up to six thousand feet of additional freefall, and I'll deploy the pilot chute. I have the mental picture of having to reach behind and open the Velcro'd flap, reach in and get the chute out, and throw it out. So I drill that...
This is the culmination of the nine-jump weekend, and the most unsettling thing about it is that Rick won't be there. I'll be under the meticulous eye of Bill, the drop zone operator - on the day when we're celebrating his 30th year in skydiving. A timid mid-week call was in order, to see if they'd rather I came in before the busy anniversary. Nope.
So I run through it over and over, picturing my legs out. But not too far out.
4 April. Easter Sunday.
It's an effort to concentrate in church. Especially with those south-facing windows.
Warm, and not a cloud in the sky. Driving down, I'm definitely not looking forward to this. I can always re-do it if I whiff - uh, not that kind of ultimate screwup. More likely I'll fail to meet expectations. Whatever they are. Well, I made it this far.
And like before, anticipation starts to build the last couple miles. Gonna jump again.
There's a good crowd. The wind is steady. I check in with Kathy, and she tells me Rick is here. Whew. Not that I'll cop any slack... but I think that Bill doesn't know first-hand what I can do. He hasn't been in the Cessna with me. (But I find out later I'm underestimating this gang. Rick updates Bill, who watches all parts of his domain, and the tandem masters are everywhere. For all I know there's a spy camera in the altimeter. Later, off the DZ I'm told, "You have no idea... what goes on behind the scenes.")
(Hey, at last (at least?) I've reached a place where I can be told about my deep and varied ignorance.)
So I head back to the student room. It han't changed any. There's another guy here, with his own gear. Refresher, after a few years' layoff. We both get the same handbook to read, and re-read...
And we do the same drills. Lo and behold, I haven't forgotten everything from a week ago. More good news - the pilot chute has the same kind of "handle" as the ripcord, so they'll be no fumbling with unseeable pouches and flaps. The twist here is that I can't keep the handle. Out with the idea of stashing the ripcord, in with the necessity of throwing the handle away.
"Nothing happens if you don't let it go," Rick says.
Trotting out to a Beechcraft King Air. Another "time-before-the-second". No wing strut, yay -
"How do I, uh, go out the door?" Remembering the students at Sebastian, practicing some exit or another. Could I whack my head on th-
"You dive." Huh? "Just like into water. That's why they call it skydiving."
I sit behind a four-way and in front of some tandems. In-betweener. Two weeks ago today, I was in the King Air, in front of Lodi Mike. If I do alright on this jump, I'll be jumpmastering myself from here on out. Mind-boggling.
A last rundown of things to do, as we go up, up, up to 13,000.
The door. Levelling off. Out with the four-way, scoot-waddle - and I'm at the door. We're way up, here. Hands on the door frame, a deep breath -
And more of a belly-flop than a dive.
By george, I'm way up here all by myself. No, there's Rick. Yes and no. I start to spin, arch rigidly, and stop turning. Gooooood.
He's just to the north, level with me. Grinning. I try to remember how to smile, but the altimeter needle is really moving along... Another turn - unintended - rrrrrr. I counteract that, and stabilize - whoa! Just under 4,000! A clumsy wave, and I pull the handle.
A very long second passes. Then another. Nothing. Uh-oh...
So I let go of the pilot chute, and cringe. Please oh please -
Opening shock. It's a good chute. A stunning chute.
It seems like the longest walk back to the packer's hangar, wherein lounges my doom.
I was kicking my legs just after I abandoned the plane.
Arching came and went, usually as I looked at the altimeter or fought a spin.
I got nailed on pulling a little late, and I really gotta relax more, in freefall...
"Where's your log book?" Filled up, thanks to you.
I head up to Manifest to buy a "real" one, and whip out the balky ATM card. Gonna get some jump tickets too - but do I need student tickets, in order to re-do that grad jump... or the usual tickets solo fun-jumpers buy?
"Did you pass?," Kathy asks.
I should probably know the answer to this. I wasn't told. Part of me expects she'd know before I did.
I wander back and find Rick. Mumble at him... Kathy doesn't know which tickets to sell me, did I pass or what. Real smooth.
I nod, and try to make a suave retreat.
Back I go, to get my tickets and get on the next load.
Bill passes by. "You need to relax." Enjoy it. That obvious, huh? I see no way Rick could've blabbed already. Does anything go unnoticed at this place...?
I gear up and try to imagine flinging myself into the sky without Rick watching. And it turns out he's doing a tandem on the same load. So I still have to behave myself. Works for me.
Something more like a dive, this time. No kicking. Arch more consistently. No 360-trauma. The altimeter rolls around to 4, and I wave, and pull -
And eventually let go of the freakin' handle. Whoomp - good canopy. But of course. You have to let go of the pilot chute each and every time. How many times am I gonna do this, I wonder. Pull, and wait, and finally remember to unclench my paw.
This time, I see other jumpers drifting around. All these canopies under me. When in doubt, turn right...
The next load is Rick-less, and that does feel weird.
Count, breathe, and dive/jump -
The goggles are blurry! And the altimeter is flopping over, away from my head.
I learn first-hand what "buffeting" is. If you picture me as a... very wide, upsidw-down 'U', rocking slightly on the curve of my belly, you'll get the gist of it. This means I'm not arching enough, and that my legs aren't out far enough to balance the air pressure on my arms.
I have to keep lifting the altimeter with my right hand, which isn't doing wonders for my stability. But I manage to level off for the last half-mile.
Wave off, pull... and throw that handle away, atta boy. Shock, and good canopy.
My last turn before the 300-foot level, where you commit to a final approach, leaves me too far south. Even so, I land closer to my intended target than I have all day.
And, blinking, I find that my right contact lens has escaped from my eye and is stuck to the inside of the goggles. Even if I can't see clearly, the show must go on.
I grouse about the floppy altimeter.
"You didn't arch enough," Rick says.
Yeah, sure, blame it on me...
Jump number one (tandem at Sebastian) -
Jump number two (tandem at Lodi) -
3 - 7 (starting static line) -
8 - 11 (finishing static line) -
12 - 14 - 15 - 17 - 18 - 22 - 23 - 29 - 30 - 34 - 35 - 40 - 41 - 48 - 49 - 58
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