Saturday, 21 May 2011

A fleeting trip through heaven (or, the day I learnt that skydiving disagrees with me)

I made a (fleeting) visit to heaven today. Or through heaven, I should say. Not my heaven, which resembles a cross between Disneyland and Munchkinland, has multicoloured buttons growing on trees, and Dominoes pizza and cheesy pop music on tap. No, this was the heaven from the Philadelphia cheese adverts (minus the middle aged angels and dodgy pasta dishes).

I did a skydive, and coming back to earth at lightning speed, catching sight of the clouds below me, I thought, just for as second, that I had actually died of fright/shock/excitement. By all accounts, I looked like I had too, when I touched back down on earth.

The skydive had been planned for over a year, but had been cancelled numerous times due to the great British weather. Five times, myself and 2 friends had made the journey from York to Hibaldstow, only to sit in the portakabins for a few hours before giving up on the drizzly conditions of the day and heading home. No surprise then that setting off this morning we were not feeling too positive about today being the day.

On arriving however, we were pleasantly surprised to find that there was no one waiting in front of us, the conditions were acceptable, and we were whisked off to our briefing immediately. At this point we were still not too excited as we had had the briefing a few times before, without fruition. It was when we finally got round to putting the fabulously flattering onesies and wedgie-inducing harnesses on that things began to look up. And it was all a blur from then on.

As the plane wheels left the runway, the only thought going round my head was “there’s only one way I’m getting back down to earth, and I don’t think I fancy it anymore.”  No choice though. I was in the socially awkward position of being strapped to the front of a man who I had only met 10 minutes previously (and who, if I’m being completely honest, certainly hadn’t brushed his teeth this morning).

Just as I was thinking “this is about high enough, can we go now?” the instructor showed me his altometer reading. 1000ft. Only another 14,000ft to climb then.

Learning from the adventures of Bridget Jones, I think we all breathed a sigh of relief on not seeing a single farmyard creature in sight as we looked back down to earth. Then, just as I was beginning to relax and enjoy Lincolnshire’s finest views, I felt the ominous tap on my shoulder and the plane door opened.

The first few seconds of freefall were amazing. It was like that falling feeling you get when you’re asleep sometimes, and then you feel the thud and wake up. But the thud never came. A few seconds in I realised that my eyes were so tightly screwed shut I was missing out on the view. Opening them up I was shocked how much I really could see through the mist of the clouds.  I had expected good views, of course I had, I was 15,000ft above the Earth (and falling fast), but I could see the whole way along the coast from Grimsby and the Humber Bridge. What I couldn’t see, however, was Rachel, who had jumped out of the plane only a few seconds before me yet had already disappeared from sight, and that was when I realised how fast I was moving towards the very very solid ground below me.

Then came an intense pain, like I have never felt before, in my ears. I thought my eardrums had burst, honest to God I did. I think I screamed, but, as they say, in space no one can hear you scream. Not even you. Then I realised, I had my eyes screwed tightly shut again, this time from the pain. I forced myself to open them and take in the views as I, quite literally, fell through a cloud. At some point, the man on my back deployed the parachute (it worked, so that was one less thing to worry about from this point onwards), and we stopped moving so fast. I think my ears stopped hurting at this point. I could now see the countryside properly, make out individual roads and fields, lorries even. Then he handed me the parachute straps and I was steering (probably a good thing he’d never seen my driving or he would have thought twice). I felt like Philip at the beginning of Beavers Towers, a most bizarre feeling. Then he took the straps back and asked me if I like rollercoasters, and next thing I know, I’m spinning about all over the place. That combined with the realisation of how close the earth now was, made me feel incredibly nauseous. All I could think at this point was, “what is the etiquette of vomiting mid air? Does such etiquette even exist?” Closer and closer we got to the ground, me still feeling nauseous, until we were close to landing (how close, I have no idea, it was all a blur), at which point I had what can only be described as a strong desire to pass out. I needed to sit down, that I knew, and I began willing the whole thing to end.

I don’t remember landing to be honest. I just remember looking down and seeing a crowd of people below me, and next thing I know I’m back on earth, the man on my back is detaching me from himself, and  I could finally sit down. Alice started coming towards me, took one look at me and headed towards the finally-landed (first to jump, last to land, light as a feather-when she registered, they told her she’s be up there ‘til next week) Rachel instead. She later told me I looked as pale as anything and thought she’d better leave me alone.

I soon recovered and we all regrouped, not feeling quite how we expected to. We had expected to be on a natural adrenaline high after the skydive, but actually we were in a bit of a stunned lull. And that is how I have remained for the rest of the day.

Would I do it again? Many people have since asked me. And the honest answer is no. I know this sounds negative, but when I signed up for it, I knew that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I am glad that I did it though.

On another note... I think my ears are still blocked with cloud :-/

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