My instructor showed me his altimeter. It read a little over 14,000 ft. He signaled that it was time to walk towards the door. I was walking towards the open door of an aeroplane for the first time in my life; my instructor for the the 5,026th time! I glanced at the ground far below. I had dreaded this moment for a few days and expected it to be the scariest part of the jump. But today things were happening in a hurry and after seeing two of my colleagues jump in front of me without a whimper, I seemed composed. The instructor did a quick countdown and thrusted me into the open skies. Thank God, I didn't have to make a decision!
Barelling down at 120 miles per hour, the one thing I remember the most is the wind trying to fill my mouth and tear my cheeks apart. It was a very weird feeling. We were dropping approximately 1,000 ft every 6 seconds, and we were supposed to drop for about 7,000 ft. My instructor did a great job of showing me his altimeter every few seconds to tell me our exact distance to the ground. At some point during the 50 second free fall, the wind made it into my plastic goggles and knocked out one of my lenses. Thankfully, I was still able to witness the fall with the lens in my right eye. The weightlessness was definitely a very unique experience.
After a short but memorable free fall, the instructor signalled to me to prepare for the opening of the parachute. I was anticipating a severe pull on my shoulders, but the open parachute signaled a welcome relief. Slowed down, I could now soak in the beauty of this flat terrain. It being a very clear day, I could distinctly see the green fields, the oak trees and the automobiles on various roads. At some point my instructor encouraged me to yank the cords and do some spins. A few spins later, I was dizzy and ready to just fly gently and appreciate the beauty beneath. The landing was well rehearsed and definitely much softer than what I imagined. Overall the experience of skydiving was very memorable, and not even close to terrifying. If it were cheaper, I would do it over and over again, but for now it remains in my memory as 1 more Check Mark.
Everyone goes through their life with a bucket list - a series of Check Marks. These wish lists come in different forms. For some, they pertain to adventure, pushing the body to physical limit. For others it might be as simple as visiting an oft coveted place. Sometimes I wonder why people have such a list? Is it to prove to oneself that we can be successful in achieving our dreams? Or is it just another way to prove others of one's mettle? At the end of the day, if these Check Marks make you a better person and give you a better perspective in life, then it probably couldn't have been bad.
On a personal note, this year has been a series of some thick Check Marks for me - Half Marathon, Skydiving and in 3 weeks time, I plan to do another big Check Mark - hiking up Mt. Whitney over a 22 mile trek. I am not as concerned about the strenuous hike as I am of the altitude sickness and camping at 12,300 ft. The relentlessly flat landscape of Houston offers no opportunity for high altitude acclimatization. The closest preparation for this trip has been climbing 60 floors on the StairMaster at the local 24 Hour fitness. While not tiring myself to death, I would also have to watch out for black bears who might kill me for a granola bar.
But the biggest and most challenging Check Mark of the life will begin in a few months time, the Fall of 2009.