Friday, December 30, 2011

Skydiving Duck: Solo Two (Adrenaline Boogaloo)

 Skydiving seems  cool, but I still get second thoughts on the drive to the drop zone.  What was I getting myself into?  This was for bold, adventure seeking types, not me.  I had no business getting on that plane.
The ride to altitude wasn't the torture it was in my earlier jumps, but it wasn't a merry-go-round ride either.  A primitive part of my brain still sounded the alarm: "Oh noes!  People are falling off this thing!  And you're in line to do the same!"
Oddly, standing in the doorway wasn't as scary is it used to be.  The exit was another story.
   "!@#!!" I thought "I'm falling out of a $%!&^@ airplane!  Holy *&%#!!"  Those first few seconds are just overwhelmingly weird.   Unnerving.  I'm falling, yet I'm so high that the ground doesn't zoom up.
I feel like Alice in Wonderland when she tumbles down the rabbit hole.

Experienced jumpers tell me this part eventually becomes great fun.  Will this ever be the case for me?  When?
 It still takes me about ten or fifteen seconds to quit flopping around and get stable.  I suspect the comparative lack of air resistance might have something to do with it, plus the fact that I'm not relaxed as I should be.
Then I was stable.  Hooray!
I tried to breathe deep and slow as I kept my eye on the view and the altimeter.  See?  I told myself.  You can do this.  Soon it was time to open the parachute.

I'm surprised (and a bit disappointed) that I'm still super frazzled after the parachute deploys.     What's wrong with you?  I thought,  Why are you so rattled?     You're a big baby!
Big baby or not, I was getting better at controlling the canopy.  I practiced my flares at different speeds and kept nagging myself to fly safely:  Look at the windsock!  Where's it pointing?  Look for the other jumpers.  See anyone?  What are they doing?  Hey!  Look before you make those turns!
Then came landing time.  One of my instructors once suggested the best time to flare is a second or two after you think it's time to flare.  I'm in no position to recommend this for everyone*, but it seems to work for me.
And what was this...?
Was I actually going to have my first stand up landing!?
I touched down, held the flare, was about to stand up when...
...I tipped over.  Whoops.
Maybe next time!

*for flakes, sake, I'm just a student. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Skydiving Duck: Solo Time!

The sun was out. The winds were down. Time for my first solo.
My inner critic played dirty.  He split into two and heckled me from different angles:

 Compared to the AFF jumps, things were simple.  No routines, no exit practice in the mock-up.
I felt like a kid riding the bike without training wheels when I grabbed the rental parachute and put it on by myself.  Within  a half hour I was at altitude, in the doorway, looking down.
Okay, there's the airport.  No clouds--Holy geez! am I really doing this!?--no planes, no peeps.  One, two, three, go!

The first few seconds out are still a bit overwhelming...
...then there I was- back in the alternate universe of freefall.  I rolled over by mistake but righted myself.  Then I played "watch the altimeter and practice your turns."
The chute opened without trouble and soon I was in my landing pattern.  Would I flare too high?  Too low?

I know I'm supposed to flare when I get about ten to fifteen feet above the ground, but it's hard to measure when it's zooming at me like a freight train.
Toggles up, toggles up, I thought, mimicking  what had squawked through the radio on my earlier jumps, not yet, not yet, feet together...  I could see individual weeds zipping by ...Flare half way... all the way, hold it... 
I planned a PLF but when my feet hit the ground they slid like I'd landed on a Slip 'n' Slide.  I came to rest gently on my back (I'll have to ask an instructor how to prevent that, since a less gentle landing like that would be trouble).
My solo wasn't fearless or flawless, but I'd done it.  I couldn't believe it.
Traditionally you're supposed to bring beer after your first skydive solo. I bought a bunch of it.  My instructors had earned it: If they could teach a high-strung, easily frightened, pain-in the-neck student like me how to do this, they can teach anyone.  

To find out what happened on my second solo, click here

Friday, December 02, 2011

Skydiving Duck: AFF Level 8

Weather and car maintenance had kept me grounded for a few weeks, but now the sun had returned.  Time to do  AFF level 8.   Could I really do all those stunts in the dive plan?  And what was this nonsense about diving head first out the door?  I didn't like diving into a pool.  How was I going to dive out of a plane?
I kept my breathing slow on ride to altitude.   Compared to my earlier jumps, I was relatively at ease...
The door seemed less threatening.  It was just... ...a door.  Outside was a view.   I was still nervous, but it wasn't unpleasant.
Then I was in the doorway.  Could I really do this?  The dive exit?  The tricks?  This was crazy!  What was I doing here?

Ready, set, go!
The dreaded dive (okay, it was more like a cartwheel-dive hybrid) was easy!  I didn't even flop around.  In retrospect, I thought "Well of course it was easy!  When you're in freefall your whole body is outside.  Who cares what part goes out first!?"
As for the dive tasks, here's how I graded myself.
  • Front Loop: A-
  • Barrel Roll: B- (crude and awkward.  Yahtzee Dice Roll is more like it)
  • 360 degree turns: C (I rushed these, body position could be better)
  • Docking onto instructor: A- (nobody got hurt)
  • Turn and Track: C- (It was close to pull altitude so I cut it short.  Better to pull on time than to track neatly into the ground.)
  • Canopy Landing B- (Who flared too high?  Tsk. Tsk.)
 The instructor signed my log book.  I'd passed level eight and was cleared to solo!
Me?  Solo?  I thought.  I couldn't do that.  I'd mess it up.  I'm not the kind of person who can...
Then I remembered those "I couldn't do that" thoughts aren't necessarily true...

Bonus Video:
I didn't tape my dive, but a tandem student sitting next to me had  her jump recorded, and you can see me leave the plane  (blue suit,  with the yellow helmet).  I'm only there for a few seconds, then the action returns to the tandem student.

(To see what happened when I tried my first solo, click here)