“I don’t think I can do this.”
“Gravity will do most of the work. That and our guides who, being strapped to our falling behinds, are every bit as interested in a safe landing as we are.”
With those words we basically convinced ourselves to do something that the human mind was never designed to contemplate: step off a platform thousands of feet above the ground with only a thin blanket of nylon to slow our descent back to earth. But even that description puts things too cheerfully. We didn’t step off a platform. We tumbled off. Headfirst.
Falling out of an airplane wasn’t originally on our to-do list for Moab, Utah, or for anywhere really. There was a time when I figured I’d eventually go skydiving, but over the years that interest mostly faded. Shannon’s thinking on the matter pretty consistently fell in the neighborhood of “no freaking way.” She’d watch from the ground, thank you very much.
So how, then, did we find ourselves at 10,000 feet in a tiny single-engine propeller plane, each strapped bum to bollocks with a man we’d only met moments earlier? We’d say it’s all TripAdvisor’s fault, but the truth is that we were building toward that moment consistently, if unwittingly, for more than two solid years. Every new experience, every boundary pushed, every obstacle overcome during our travels brought us a step closer to the point where we had the courage to take this literal leap of faith.
And yet we still blame Trip Advisor.
A week before arriving in town, I consulted the internet for top things to do in the area. Skydive Moab featured prominently. Somewhat jokingly I showed the listing to Shannon, who surprised me by not squashing the possibility from the get-go. Over the following days we discussed the idea, drank a few beers, equivocated a lot, and drank some more.
The right place at the right time
We didn’t realize it initially, but the die had been cast. Neither one of us was going to be the one to scuttle this new adventure. There never really was any question. We were going skydiving.
Mostly we knew that we had simply arrived at the right place and the right time in our lives to take this particular leap. We’ve made a habit of consistently pushing ourselves toward new experiences, often with some trepidation beforehand. Always afterwards we’re delighted to have taken the risk.
For this particular adventure we had two requirements: we absolutely needed “top-notch” safety regulations – no third world skydiving for us – and we wanted incredible scenery to view on our way down. Those simple strictures excluded large portions of the world from consideration. As luck would have it, Moab fit the bill perfectly. We really couldn’t have asked for a better place to jump, but we still hadn’t officially committed.
The morning we departed for Moab we were still undecided. I thought we might reserve something later in the week. I wasn’t sure Shannon was going to skydive at all. It’s entirely possible we’d have dawdled and delayed long enough to miss the opportunity entirely. But then Shannon surprised me a second time. “Why don’t you make reservations for a jump tomorrow,” she said.
Wanting to beat Moab’s 106 degree afternoon heat, as well as limit the amount of time our butterflies had to persuade us to reconsider, we arranged for the first jump of the morning. After signing a bunch of papers explaining the complete stupidity of what we were planning to do (yes, we understand that jumping out of a plane is an unnatural act that may result in our death and dismemberment), we met our guides Aaron and Pat, each of whom claim more than 5,000 jumps apiece.
They fitted us with harnesses and gave us instructions that were blessedly brief—just three things to remember, which was a very good thing. Neither of us had any confidence we’d be able to do anything more complicated than piss ourselves while falling out of the airplane. Pat leaned in and quietly offered me a fourth piece of advice, one I vowed not to forget. “Do yourself a favor,” he said, “and make sure nothing is caught in the harness, if you know what I mean.” Indeed.
All mixed up: excited, nervous, sad and zen
Suited up, we folded ourselves into a plane so small that the four of us and the pilot filled the floor space to capacity. We made idle chit-chat and took in fabulous views of Southern Utah as we climbed to jumping elevation. On the ascent we were feeling naturally excited and nervous, but mostly we found ourselves surprisingly Zen.
On the advice of our guides the most nervous person went first, meaning Shannon did the initial jump. Their thinking is that it’s more unnerving to see someone else take the plunge than it is to lead the charge. And it’s true. Over my shoulder I watched as the door opened, my wife and her guide got into position, and then, without warning or fanfare, simply disappeared from the plane.
More than fear or dread, I had a flash of sadness. At that moment Shannon was plummeting toward the earth. Maybe something had gone wrong.
The melancholy vanished as fast as it appeared, replaced by excitement-fueled adrenalin. My guide and I slid backwards toward the open door, and I caught my first unobstructed glimpse of the world beyond the airplane. When I swung my legs outside onto a miniscule platform my mind emptied. The stray thoughts that normally accompany me every second of every day were gone. There was only the roaring wind, the horizon curving toward infinity, and the ground, impossibly far below.
I tried to say something for the camera, but the wind ripped the words from my mouth. Caught midsentence, I unexpectedly pitched forward and my world spun out of control. Glimpses of the ground and the sky and the sun flashed by in quick succession as we somersaulted from the plane. Pat somehow righted us, and I regained my bearings.
Terminal velocity, not what I expected
Rushing toward the earth at 120 miles per hour has none of the feelings you’d expect. There is no rollercoaster-like stomach flipping, no feeling of a sudden drop or even really a sense of acceleration. The sensation isn’t so much one of falling but of flying, high above some of the most breathtaking landscape on the planet.
Time stopped. The thirty seconds of our freefall went on for glorious ages. With arms outstretched we surfed the air. In complete control, Pat spun us in a circle so we could take in the 360-degree panorama. All too soon, a rough jolt wrenched us vertical as the parachute unfurled, gained purchase, and slowed our descent.
Compared to the rush of our initial drop, the gentle glide of an open parachute felt almost motionless. Looking down I could see my feet hovering thousands of feet above the ground, almost as if I were hanging from a stationary hook.
The best view in town
This slower, longer portion of the jump vindicated our decision to skydive in breathtaking Moab. Beneath my dangling feet stretched the unending acres of Canyonlands and Arches National Park and miles of meandering rivers all framed by three distinct mountain ranges gracing the horizon. I’m convinced there is no better way to see this wonderful area than dangling from a parachute.
After a thrilling and beautiful ride, Pat expertly guided us to the softest landing imaginable. “Stand up,” he simply said. I did, and it was over.
To our surprise, the best was yet to come. For the next several days we continued to walk on air, feeling both elated and proud. It turns out that having gone skydiving was a far greater rush than actually doing it.
In our deliberations over whether even to make a jump, Shannon confided that she “wanted to be the kind of person who jumps out of airplanes.” She is. We are. And now we always will be.