Hello?” Answers Rob.
“We’re going skydiving. You and me, this December.” I reply.
There’s a moment’s silence on the line, broken by a tentative, “OK”
One thing about Rob I’ve come to truly appreciate is that you can call him up and have the above conversation – verbatim. Rare is the character who is at the drop of a hat willing to face their deepest fears. Still rarer, are they who follow through, having been presented every opportunity to backpedal.
A crisp morning, not long thereafter, wishing to out-run our sense of impending doom, Rob and I decide it is better to arrive at the jump school early. Our reasoning is that it is better to acquaint ourselves with the area than it is to hang around this unpaved car park, choking down, yet another, delay-cigarette. With this, we set off on the path through the semi-wild thicket alongside the airport perimeter.
The laminated paper signs demarcating the path lead us to a clearing in which three seemingly semi-permanent structures sit. Initially, we are alarmed that our lives are in the hands of such a relaxed institution. However, this hints at their priorities. As extreme sportsmen, this will not be their first rodeo. This we find reassuring. As we make our way into the compound we are greeted, much to our surprise, with “Ah, you must be Rob and Luke, you’re just in time…”
“Hi, I’m Mike, I’ll be jumping with you today. Lets’ get you two into harnesses” the hearty man breezes on. Rob and I share a quizzical glance and shrug. Our notion of being early evaporates. Mike runs his welcoming routine. We weave from structure to structure making the obligatory small talk and labouring to recall the details required by our indemnity forms. It’s hard not to notice through all this that some of the basic math is not adding up. Two of us, one instructor. While getting us strapped up, a quick check of the chart informs Mike that Rob will be the lucky passenger strapped to his chest. Good for him. This however leaves me out of the loop. A quick safety brief is conducted and with that, we set off onto the airstrip.
As we are approaching the single-prop airplane, which will carry us up into the middle of nowhere, we watch the previous jumpers return to land; I silently question when to raise alarm about not having an instructor and/or this harness slipping off my shoulder. “In you go,” Mike cheerily signals to the aircraft. Dumfounded, I climb into the bare cavity, having said nothing.
Having dropped off his last passenger and picked up a refreshed skydiving pack, a man hops in and straddles me, shuffling in far closer than would be comfortable in day to day life. “I’m Jeff, we’ll be jumping together,” the wind-gnarled man introduces himself; at least that sorts the instructor issue. It is obvious at first glance that Jeff is all about skydiving. “Hi Jeff, I’m Luke.” I introduce myself as our cohorts pack in behind us.
With a collective cheer, we leave the ground and the arduous three and a half kilometer climb to nowhere begins. It’s at least 20 minutes of shallow breathing and forced chatter to break tense silences. Through all of this, it must be said, the only thing anchoring me in reality, even if only half so, is the rhythmic rising and falling of Jeff’s sternum on my back – I told you the fit was snug. During the ascent we learn many impressive facts, none more immediately impressive than the fact that Jeff’s altimeter seems to be broken, bearing the tell-tale yellowed glue of home repairs. Relying on a faith rarely found outside of doctrine, I dismiss this alarming news by rationalising that, at least from the looks of things, Jeff has an intuited sense of altitude and can probably guess distance-to-ground using the pressure on his ears. Given we are far beyond returning to the ground by plane at this point, it isn’t clear what my other options are. The plane leveling off signals that it will soon be time to disembark, that and Jeff telling me to sit in his lap. Thank god, I breathe a silent sigh of relief as Jeff tightens my harness and clips me to himself. This ties my fate to his. Altimeter aside, this is very reassuring.
The rush of sound and cold air that accompanies the door opening is a visceral announcement that foreplay is over, the time is now. Craning to look over my shoulder I see Rob struggling to fit out the door and shortly thereafter disappear. In a beat or two, I’m facing the same empty expanse. A ruffled blanket of white supports the dot that is my good friend below a vast blue dome. The only thing keeping Jeff and I from joining them is the aluminum step fixed between the fuselage and wing strut. This step, I might add, is no larger than the basic breakfast bowl. Jeff, being the good man that he is, grants my request to be the one to propel us into off into the pastel abyss. Once done, renders me so at the mercy of the panic, I fully forget myself and the safety measures the instructors diligently mentioned in passing. The result: a less than exemplary beginning to our free-fall. White-blue-white-blue… You get the picture. Thank goodness, Jeff proves our earlier assumptions of competence true and rights us by tucking my legs into the correct position using his – indeed not his first rodeo.
a few things stand out;
One, How long a minute is.
Two, the other-worldly beauty of earth above the clouds- if gods exist, they could not find a more beautiful residence.
Three, parachutes pull G’s, from zero all the way through to dizzying; not only that but you can get a portion of your chute underneath you at the zenith of one of those harness tightening loops. “You’re doing me fucking favours!” I find myself yelling to Jeff at some point during the fall, amongst other passion-fuelled and most times incoherent jibber-jabber – almost certainly just another day in the office for Jeff.
On our approach, it is difficult not to notice how small the landing space is. Jeff sets us down in it with an accuracy that must be seen to be believed. Once firmly on land, I’m so far up adrenaline creek that it’s not immediately clear how to receive Jeff’s handshake. What is clear, is that I now love him as an altar-boy loves Christ, a state of rapture inducive to further incomprehensible jibber-jabber. Now free of our bonds Rob and I wind our way between the same set of shacks thanking absolutely everybody, shooting shakas, and smiling frenetically at the crazy-eyed jumpers to be.
Hello?” Answers Rob.