A guy should really buy you a stiff drink before he pulls you onto his lap and straps on a harness.
That’s what I’m thinking a few minutes before jumping out of a perfectly good plane. I don’t say it, because let’s face it, though I may have four points of 1500-pound web and metal connection to Tyler, the instructor, I don’t really know him well enough to be quite that…forward. Despite the fact that I am also sitting on his lap, and in addition to my ass, my life is in his hands.
Moments later he leans forward, taps the pilot on the shoulder, and hollers into my ear, “you ready?”
Fear has prevented me from changing the expression on my face from the frozen smile I had when we took off, so I nod. At this point, I’ve made the live-or-die decision to go ahead with this business. Matters are really out of my hands on the whole ‘parachute opening’ thing. Now, I’m worried about puking during the jump, which would be fine for me because I’m wearing goggles, and on the bottom, but I’m sure that wouldn’t work out well for Tyler.
Things you don’t think about in advance: of course the plane door opens upward, like on a DeLorean. Otherwise, in 120 knots-per-hour it would come smashing back on my legs, which are now dangling out the hole in the plane’s hull. I’m trying to rest them, ladylike, on the step above the landing gear, but they are just blowing to the side, so I leave it be.
“Chest out,” Tyler says into my ear. “Lean forward,” almost like he’s teaching me to dive. And just like learning to dive, the anticipation is the worst part. With a little lean and a slight push, we’re gone.
There is a moment of tumble, of inertia and movement, and then there: below me is a postcard of wine country. It’s chilly and windy. My mouth is open; when I gave velocity a smirk, it took a gaping grin and pulled all the moisture from my tongue and teeth. I kick my legs out behind me, trying to hit Tyler in the butt just like I was instructed, and let my arms fly out at my sides. The fall is free and gleeful, and loud with the rush of sky blowing past my ears. You can’t help but yelp, or yip, or yahoo, and so I do. Freely, and gleefully. The fear is left back on the plane with the pilot, coming in for a safe landing on the little air strip far below us.
Then Tyler taps my shoulder again, and again asks, “you ready?” and with that, there is a tug. I hear a flap of fabric against the wind, the sound of a luffing sail, and then the chute snaps taut above us and things become quiet. The vineyards line up below for inspection, organizing the hills into orderly view. Tuscan mansions, wine valley bungalows, trailers and the makeshift labor camps of early pickers speckle the landscape.
Tyler gives me a choice between being still and doing some loops and turns. “Loops and turns,” I shout back in the wind. “Loops and turns!” After two turns, I shout again, “actually, no loops and turns!” I (or more like Tyler) narrowly escape the puking scenario and we return to our graceful float, featherlike. We watch the earth rise to meet us for a five-minute eternity. And then, “lift your feet in front of you,” and here the ground is, right in front of the hangar from which we took off, landing pad of a lifetime, and we walk right in.