Sunday 23 January 2011

The Jump

I've been thinking for a while now that I'd quite like to do something big and bold at the end of this trip to remember for ever. One fat, sweet cherry on top of the rich, sickly cake. As the end drew closer, I realised I didn't need to make that kind of gesture; the adventure itself has been enough. The journey, the people, the places, they don't need some cheap gimmick to make them memorable or special.

But I did it anyway.

It was only ever going to be one thing really: jumping out of an aeroplane. It's something I've always wanted to do, but doubted I ever would. And mainly, because when push comes to shove, when the chips are down, the fat lady sings, at the end of the day, when all the cliches have run out, I am a giant, incurable chicken.

So for years the seed lay dormant in my mind. A few months ago, when I started thinking about the gesture, it began to germinate. It would have to be New Zealand, I figured. As it got closer, I started to talk myself out of it, but as I got further south I realised it might just happen. This morning I woke in Wanaka (emphasis on the second "a"), opened the curtains and thought today was probably as good a day as any.

Later, over breakfast, I began talking myself out of it. There are some lovely hikes round here. Apparently Queenstown is a better place for it. You need a few more clouds. What a load of bollocks. I knew deep down it was today, or never.

Strangely, I became less scared once I'd decided to do it. The ball was rolling. The seed had sprouted and was soaring sunwards. I went for a walk, ate, steadied myself. The drive out to the airport; getting ready; the reading and signing the waiver; the notes about gas expanding at altitude; the extra, precautionary visit to the bathroom; the jumpsuit, the locker. The harness. All that was just a blur.

Thumbs up = still not soiled myself

The guy making the DVD sticks the camera in your face and asks stupid questions, and on reflection, I look surprisingly composed, and like my answers: "I'm more worried about shitting myself than jumping out of the plane," before reminding my mum where I left the will. At 12,000 feet a few cheapskates jump out, and we keep going, with oxygen masks to help. At 15,000, people shuffle along the rails to the open door, and plunge, one by one, into the sky. I can't believe I'm not nervous, but really, it is a fait accompli by now, and there is nothing to be gained by fear.

Out, and a twist

The shock as you fall out, twist over and plummet is immense. But it's not scary, just exhilarating. The sixty seconds of freefall, when you drop 10,000 feet (1.9 miles) is insane but strangely serene. When the chute opens and you feel like you're being yanked up, a new, settling sensation replaces it, and you pop your ears, do a few tricks, and drift slowly down to the ground, which you meet by skidding along it on your arse.

Don't ask. He does this ten times a day...

The view from above

Landing. That's me with the pink chute...

I'm writing this and I still feel slightly desensitised. It was, or at least should have been, scary. And I should have shat myself with fear. But I didn't. Something in me enclosed the whole experience, cocooned it with some withdrawal of emotion. Shortly, I think I will come out of that mode, and in the brief moments, now even, when I think about it, I kind of want to clench my fists, shout "Yeah" and "Awesome" and "Whoooohoooooo FUCK YEAAAAAHHHH," but to be honest, I think I probably did enough of that earlier.

I was right you know - I didn't need to do it. But I'm bloody glad I did.

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