Friday, September 30, 2011

Skydiving Duck V: Altitude! Altitude! Alltitude! (AFF 3, attempt 1))

I wanted to be extra prepared for my level three jump.  I studied till  I had the dive down cold:  Exit, circle of awareness, two practice pilot chute touches, circle of awareness, lock on (keep looking at the altimeter) at 6000 feet, wave off at 5000 feet, and pull.
Being prepared didn't keep my legs from shaking when I did my practice exits in the mock up door.  I knew most beginners were nervous, but this was silly.

 That being said, on the plane ride I was delighted that my fear level had gone down since the previous ride.  I was still scared, but it wasn't the vicious terror that tormented me earlier.  And for the first time, I exited without screaming.   It was almost fun.
At first things went great.  Soon the instructors let go and I was flying on my own.  Gosh, I thought.  I'm actually doing this.
Then came the stupid thoughts:
 I wasn't panicked, just distracted.  Even when the instructors grabbed me again I thought Gee, I guess I wasn't as stable as I thought I was...  ...oh !@$!  Altitude!  The parachute!
The instructor pulled for me.
I was livid.  How could I have been so stupid?
It was arguably the easiest, most obvious and most important move, and  I'd blown it.

My inner critic let me have it:

How on earth had I gotten distracted? 
I'll admit it's pretty weird up there.  An alien environment:
In retrospect, I should have dropped the chatter about whether or not I could breathe (now really!) and go back to the plan.  Arch.  Heading.  Altimeter.  Repeat.

Update: (Oct 2, 2011) I repeated level three.  Click here to find out what happened.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Skydiving Duck IV: Shakes on a Plane (AFF Level Two)

I'm high strung.  Like toy wound up too tight.  Seriously.   I jump when phones ring.  I start when someone taps me on the shoulder.  I was nearly arrested at a routine traffic stop because the police "could tell by looking at [me] that I was on amphetamines."  I wasn't!
I was the timid kid (and adult) who never wanted to try anything new because it was scary.
And now I'm taking skydiving lessons.  I'd passed my first AFF class a few weeks earlier.  It scared me silly, but I passed.
In prep for the second class I  learned (and practiced) relaxation exercises.  I was impressed with how calm they made me.   I couldn't wait to try them on the plane...!

...but when I got on the plane, they didn't  work.
.  As the altimeter slowly dialed up, I had a new top five list of heinous things that I suddenly loathed:
  • The sky
  • The wind
  • The noise the wind made
  • Airplanes
  • Jumping out of airplanes
What the hell was I doing?  I was as frightened as the guy in Scare Tactics when the Rat Monster jumps out.  Okay, I wasn't screaming or crying, but I was freaked!
And furious.
It wasn't like I'd never jumped out of a plane before.  I knew the dive routine and simple parachute skills.  I wasn't thinking stuff like "What if [this bad thing] happens!?" 
You Big Baby!? I thought..  Why are you scared?  You think that the Boogeyman is  waiting for you out the door??
I bet the problem was how the brain works.  The more evolved, articulate chunk of my brain knew what was going on and what to do.  But there's also the primitive, unconscious animal part of the brain.  "Frog Brain*," as I call the him, isn't that sharp..  And he has his finger on the panic button.   As far as he was concerned, not only was I way too close to a "cliff" but I was "crippled" with a heavy pack that made it hard to move.
"Danger alert!" he croaked  "Extreme vulnerability detected.  I repeat, extreme vulnerability!  Deliver an extra 50 cc's of stress hormone stat!"
Frog Brain really lost it when I left the plane. 

Thus my usual "scream like a girl" exit.
And then I lost Frog Brain.  I suddenly knew what I was doing:  Arch (stable body position), check the altimeter, practice touches (the handle of the pilot chute**) turn right, stop, turn left.  Hey, this was kinda fun.  Whooohoo!
Frog Brain stayed away.  I guess shortly after I fell off the "cliff" my situation was so alien  that he couldn't find anything on his ancient "These Things are Bad" list. 
In my original AFF jump the instructor activated the chute for me.   I was determined to do it myself.  What kind of skydiver can't even pull their own chute?   I reached back, grabbed it the handle, threw it and...
WHUMP! I jerked upright.  Hooray!  I did it...!
...wait.  Something was weird.  Why wasn't it opening up?
I caught the problem.  The lines were twisted.  In class they'd taught us to untwist by grabbing the risers, spreading them and kicking in the opposite direction.  It worked.   The chute opened.   Success!  
As for the landing, that was a semi-success.  At least it was a fun one.

Soon I learned I had passed the class.  The instructor wrote I was "very good" in the sky but "nervous" on the plane.   I'm looking forward to the day I can look back at this the latter and laugh.

As for Frog Brain, I'm still trying to figure out how to shut him up. He's a chump.

Click here to find out what happened when I tried AFF level 3...

*A good example of Frog Brain in action happens when you accidentally see a gruesome photo. You'll notice a jolt of shock before you're fully aware of what you're looking at. Before you think "Golly, it's a picture of [insert gory details here]," Frog Brain has sounded the alarm.

**The pilot chute is a cute mini parachute that you throw in the air to activate the main chute.