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. 


Felicia Stevenson said...

Your animations are really great. I love how you're sticking with the sky diving thing even though you're terrified. Most people would have quit already, so good on you!

Valerie said...

I love your sense of humor. Love it. :)

Linda Davick said...

I love these illustrations. And the story is just too much.

"The lines were twisted:" ARE YOU KIDDING ME???????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wolf River Joe said...

Thanks. That made my day.
So many people ask "What's it like?" You have told the story better than anyone I've seen before. Words just don't cut it, but you dpn't just use words.

And Linda - Yes the lines get twisted. Just like kids spinning up the chains on a swing. It's not that unusual and isn't a big problem.

Namowal said...
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Namowal said...
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Namowal said...

(deleted earlier posts due to formatting bloopers)

Thanks, Felicia and Valerie! :D

Hi Linda,
Minor line twists are sorta like noticing you're shoe is untied when you're walking. You need to fix it, but it's easy to do.

Thanks Wolf River,
As for twisting the swings, you mean like this?
I need to go back in time and explain to my first grade teacher that fooling around on the swings would, in fact come in handy.

MikeJD said...

Another triumph, both in the air and on the page! It goes without saying that your drawings are cool, but your narrative is also great - I was genuinely anxious reading the first part ('please God let her do well!')

I'm starting to think this blog should be required reading for newbie jumpers, since a little humour goes a long way when it comes to recognising and overcoming your fears :).

Special congrats for saving your own life this time! Personally I hate line twists, but then I'm jumping a vicious little canopy that likes to spiral towards the ground at the least provocation. Those nice big student parachutes usually shrug 'em off with just a little input - which you provided.

Oh, and my favourite picture in this post is the wound-too-tight toy. :)

Namowal said...

Thanks Mike JD.
I think you have a point about humor helping to overcome fears (I rely on funny eBooks and comedians so I can drive to the drop zone without freaking out.)

I'd been a bit nervous about getting a line twist, because I heard they were common and I had trouble imagining exactly how to kick one out. But like you said, the supersized student chute untwisted like a charm.

As for the toy picture, I almost left it out because it seemed out of place. Glad you got a kick out of it. Thanks again!

Mike Healy said...

I can't get enough of these! They just keep getting funnier. I love the wind-up-toy drawing, and the speaced-out parachute. When I was scrolling that one down, I was half-expecting for something to be on the end, but there wasn't...very cool trick, unless it wasn't planned that way.

Namowal said...

Thanks, Mike H. :)

If someone had told me a few months ago that my summer posts would be about parachute lessons, I'd have laughed in their face...

Anonymous said...

The artistry is fantastic, I love the awkward panicking duck vs. the cool swoopy looking instructor types. The incompetent drooling parachute with line twists was hilarious. The door monster was great. You need to submit to Parachutist magazine for monthly publication. I'm sure there are a few people out there who can relate, and you might make some jump $$$ doing it!

Namowal said...

Thanks, Anon,
If I keep at this and earn my A license, maybe I will submit some 'toons to "Parachutist." With only a few lessons under my belt (as of this writing,) I still feel like I'm not a "real" skydiver... ...yet. Then again, that sky I've dropped into felt (and sounded) rather real... :)

James Williams said...

Mate, what you're going through is perfectly normal - I know because I've gone through it in the last year. The "THIS IS THE MOST TERRIFIED I'VE EVER BEEN IN MY ENTIRE LIFE!" went away for me after a half dozen jumps. There's still nerves, it's a dangerous thing we do, but they're well eclipsed by the excitement. Keep the story coming.

Namowal said...

I'm looking forward to when my brain will ratchet down the "HOLY @^(&ing $#!@!!!!" reaction and settle for cautious nervousness.

MikeJD said...

Soooooo... any word on Level 3? I'm eager for the next instalment! :)

Namowal said...

Mike JD:
Yep, level 3 is scheduled Sunday morning (weather permitting). It's funny how my pre-jump fears evolve with each jump:

For level 1, I dreaded the freefall. For level 2, I dreaded the exit. For level 3, I'm dreading the plane ride! (Well, I'm still nervous about everything else too :) )

Pile Girl said...

Boy, that frog brain! I know him well.

Namowal said...

Pile Girl,
Frog Brain needs an off switch! :)