I have thought countless times of how to begin this blog, actually, I was thinking of it way before even doing the jump itself. It went through my mind many times, how I will start it, what the title should be, how many photos should I include, and what exactly to describe. Should I describe the night before?, or just the jump itself, should I talk about why I did it?, how I ended up doing it? the joy, the fear, so many things. This made me postpone writing the blog until now, even though I thought that I will be writing it right after landing just to keep the momentum. But I realized that it is a huge experience, and I needed much time just to comprehend it and be able to reflect on.
One question that kept popping up every time I’m thinking of skydiving, yes you guessed right, why?!, Why I have to do it?, and I say “have” because I almost felt that I’m obliged to do it. I have dreamed of skydiving since the first moment I knew that there is such a thing. The first time I saw someone throwing himself out of a plane; I thought it was some kind of a trick, however, afterward I knew it is real and normal people can do it.
A funny thing is that when I told my one of my colleagues in my organization that I’m going skydiving, he asked: “since you want to do this much, why didn’t you do it at back home!”. I sincerely laughed a moment and cried a lot for that question, and I simply answered that I’m from Gaza which simply means we don’t have any things of such kind, but you know; he was right asking the question as for normal Americans it is the normal thing to expect such things to be available for others.
Anyhow, I still didn’t answer the question “why?” and till this moment I don’t know quite frankly why, sometimes I think my fear of heights, which actually I am afraid of heights and I don’t know anybody who doesn’t. It feels like its natural to be afraid of heights. Another reason could be that I wanted to challenge myself, doing something only a few people could think of and fewer could actually do, or it could be just to feel exceptional. It could be many things, a strong dose of dopamine may be, a tendency for risk, having something interesting to talk about in the next GLL, could be all of these and could be none.
The one thing I’m sure of, is that I did something that I believed is very hard to do -turned out to be very easy, it doesn’t even require any physical effort- and I had at least one moment when I felt emptiness and fullness at the same time -don’t ask how-.
Most probably you are reading this blog just to know more about the details and feelings before, during and after, and don’t worry I’ll give you plenty of those.
I’ll tell the story as I usually tell my wife, who loves to know every single detail, and I will start by the night before. But I will give some context so you can have a good picture of the whole situation.
Since my second week here in SF bay area, I started looking for places to do my first skydiving jump, and I found many options close enough to the area I’m living in, almost 2-4 hours driving. Other than the prices, I found they were offering different altitudes for the jump, ranging from 12,000 ft to 18,000 ft., and after 5 minutes of reading, I found that it makes a huge difference in the actual time you will be flying, I mean the time you will spend in the air. It is formed of two things, the free fall, which is time after the actual jump till the parachute is opened, and the parachute flying time, which is -obviously- from the moment the parachute is opened till you hit the ground. And the thing you need to know is that the higher the altitude is, the longer time you’ll be spending up in the air, and the more time of free fall you will have. This was enough for me to make my decision, go for the highest altitude possible, which is 18,000 ft. according to the company, it is the world’s highest freefall skydiving (Satisfying).
I tried to have some company to do the jump with me, I talked to the fellow fellows and colleagues at work, some of them welcomed the idea, some were excited, and some were afraid, but none of them wanted to do it. One person, I found very excited about the idea, who has actually done it a few years back, and he encouraged me to do it, even if I had to do it alone, thanks a lot Kevin.
Since the place was two-hours driving from where I live, and since it was near Monterey Bay which I heard a lot about its beauty and magnificent scenes, I decided to go for a two-day trip to Monterey Bay and to do the jump on the third day.
On the night before the promised day, I packed my stuff, went through everything twice, read the instructions I received from the skydiving company just to make sure everything is alright. I had a great Thai dinner with two people I met at the hostel where I was staying and went to bed early to be able to wake up the next morning. And Of course, I couldn’t sleep well, not only because I was thinking of the jump, how it is going to feel, what If I got scared and didn’t do it, how it would feel when I’m free falling and lots of other things flying around in my mind, but also for the two people snoring heavily in the same hostel room.
That morning I woke up at 5:00 am, even when I knew that I have at least 3 more hours, but my mind was awake and I couldn’t go back to sleep no matter what I did. I had a nice warm shower, checked my bag again, called my wife, had my breakfast, checked out of the hostel, said bye to the beautiful Monterey Bay, and head to the skydiving company.
The first thing I saw when I got there, a big sign at the outdoor with big words on it saying: “Proceed at your own risk”, and I thought of the genius who came up with those very encouraging words!
At the gate, I met with a girl in her mid-20s, who turned out to be from Fiji but working in the US, and to my surprise, she came to do the jump alone, which made me feel a little bit relieved to know that I’m not the only lonely person here.
I went through tons of paperwork, just signing waivers and declarations that I’m fully aware of the dangers and possible consequences of skydiving and so on. Of course, I was signing here and there without even paying attention to the details of those papers as I said to my self, I’m already here and I’m not going back till I do it.
Half an hour later, I was standing on a scale for the company to make sure that I’m under the 220-pound weight limit, which I was lucky enough by 20 pounds less than that.
A few minutes later, a coach came in, gave some instructions and asked everyone to empty their pockets as well as their bladders before heading the waiting area. 15 minutes later, names were called for the ones who will start, and sadly I was in the second round of names, which meant that I had to wait two more hours.
It was the longest waiting time I had but enjoyed talking to a twin -a girl and a boy- who have done the jump twice, which made me ask them more questions about their experience and what made them do it not once but two times and coming to do it for the third time.
Finally, the moment has come, and the coach was shouting my name, put the harness on me, told me a few instructions and that was it. A moment later I was on the plane which was heading up very fast, I was feeling the pressure on my ears in a way I never felt before, which added more to my nervousness and made me very worried. All sorts of thoughts were racing in my mind, bad and good ones, although the bad ones were more dominating. While I was battling those thoughts, the instructor told me it is time, the jet door was open, I took a few steps forward -I never felt heavier- my heart was beating hard, felt a slight shiver in my hands, then it was there; the magnificent blue sky, with the horizon beyond, the beautiful beach meeting with the ocean, the heavy cold air rushing into my face. I even feel the same as I’m writing these lines right now like I’m doing it again.
It was a very brief moment when I stood at the door, or at least it felt so, that moment I felt everything, all the emotions of fear, excitement, joy came at once, then there was nothing, complete emptiness for a very short time, then it vanished when I felt myself falling.
The first thing I felt was as if I’m drowning, yes drowning, just like you feel submerged in water and you can’t breathe at all, I felt I was struggling to breathe, a moment later I found myself breathing normally, but with heavy cold air.
Actually, it wasn’t falling, rather it was flying, it is funny how the human mind works, I saw the earth coming up very slowly, so it didn’t feel like falling at all, even when I wasn’t standing on anything, it felt like laying on a cold mattress of air.
The 50 seconds I spent in free fall felt very short to absorb the experience, or at least for my mind to understand all things happening around so fast. Once the parachute opened, everything went silent, the rushing cold air stopped suddenly, I heard nothing but my self shouting “I did it, I can’t believe I did it”. The remaining 5 minutes I spent in the parachute was something totally different, calm and silent, where I could enjoy the scene and the horizon around me. The landing was very easy, all I had to do was to pull my legs and knees up.
Despite the urgent feeling to through up which I felt 10 minutes after landing, and despite my shaking body, I wanted and still want to do it again. I feel that this experience is full of emotions, and feelings that I have to go through at least once more to fully enjoy it.
Maybe you expect me to recommend it for everyone, but I think it is so tremendous that not everyone can do. I’m not referring to physical requirements because everyone can do it, but what I mean, is that such experience is emotionally charged and requires a strong heart and mind to think of it and handle the huge stress that comes with, but if you do it, I’m sure fear will never feel the same as before.