Sunday, November 8, 2015


I've never really even wanted to go skydiving.  I never wrote it off completely, but it was never a bucket list item for me.  But life is what happens when you're busy making other plans...

Allow me to elaborate.

Martin and some dude friends planned a camping trip, no girls allowed like they were the Little Rascals or something.  So my camping widow friend Kim and I decided to go whale watching in Hervey Bay, home of the best whales in Australia, about four hours north of Brisbane.  A few months ago at work I won a free night stay at the Choice Hotels property of my choice anywhere in Australia.  With no real travel plans on the horizon, and whale season rapidly coming to an end, I thought whale watching + free hotel night was the perfect ladies only activity for us.  Little did I know the hotel would be super amazing!

Mind you I could have gotten a room at a dingy Econolodge with my winnings but what I got was a two bedroom suite!  The hotel (Oceans Resort) used to be a Peppers, which those who live in Australia will understand to mean fancy!

Our room was booked (and not cancel-able) and we were all set to go until, oh no!  The whale watching company called and told us that the whales had dried up (migrated south) and we would not be whale watching after all.  We had to find a backup plan.

Hervey Bay survives, as far as I can tell, solely on the whale watching trade.  There aren't a whole lot of activities to do in town, so we had to search deep down to find something to do to replace the whales.

Why not skydive then?!

Literally and figuratively
When discussing our [limited] options Kim mentioned that skydiving was on her 2015 To Do list but she hadn't done it yet.  "But you wouldn't want to do that" she wrote it off.  Seeing this as a both challenge and a personal insult to my integrity I said "Hang on, don't write me off so quickly".  From there it devolved into a game of "I'll do it if you do it".  Literally 15 minutes later we had called, booked and paid the deposit.  With virtually no thinking or planning we were doing this thing!

I think this was the key to our success, just biting the bullet and doing it without much thought.  If we dwelled on the decision I'm not sure if we would have had the cojones to go through with it!

So for 24 hours we sat on the knowledge that we were going to willingly jump out of a moving airplane, and we didn't tell anyone!  That was part of the fun, keeping this crazy secret from everyone until the deed was done.  This conveniently didn't raise any expectations, in the unlikely event that we chickened out and didn't go through with it.  It also kept the "Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit what are we doing?!" talk contained between just the two of us.

But go through with it we did!  Both of us, me first.  I knew that if I had to witness her go first my chances of chickening out would raise substantially.  I remind you that in my first year here I totally chickened out of abseiling (in North America known as repelling) down a 56 foot (18 meter) cliff face.  I was all geared up and psyched to go but made one fatal mistake: I looked down.  I saw what I was in for and my body quite literally almost shut down.  My vision started fading out and I was not far from passing out.  Not far at all.

If I can't walk down a cliff then how can I jump out of a moving airplane?!  I asked myself this several times, and eventually found the answer.

The answer is named Pete
He's sky dived at least 4,500 times
At least I'm pretty sure his name was Pete.  In doing my "how to prepare to skydive" research online I read that you will immediately forget the name of the person you're tandem jumping with, no matter how many times you hear their name.  This is so true!  How funny.  I called him Pete to his face, so I damn well hope that was his name.

When we got to the airport a pair of perky, young, blonde Dutch backpackers were packing up to leave.  This being smack in the middle of the backpacker route, in my nervousness and pre-terror, I kept repeating "But we're middle aged!  How can we do this? We're not 19 year old backpackers - we're middle aged!"  For the record, we're mid-30's.  And the dudes said that there have been multiple people in their 80's who've done it, to which I replied, "Yeah, well, they're at the end of the line anyway!"

In addition to my middle age jokes I kept asking if they've ever been peed, pooped or barfed on by a diver before.  After repeated questioning they admitted that they had indeed been barfed on, but never peed or pooped on (small consolation, I guess).  I was mainly concerned about passing out cold (see: abseiling and near loss of consciousness, above) but also thought it was a distinct possibility that I pee all over myself and, due to close proximity, Pete.  I'm not going to lie, I packed an extra pair of underwear for the weekend...just in case.

Despite being middle aged and possibly incontinent we harnessed up, asked ourselves "WTF are we doing?!" one last time and headed out (er...up).

Before moving forward let me apologize for the pictures you're about to see.  Pete wore a GoPro on his wrist and filmed the entire event from start to finish, and these pictures are screen shots of that video.  I've put quite a bit of effort into selecting the least blurry stills, but when you're rapidly careening towards earth the ride tends to get a bit bumpy, and a bumpy ride isn't conducive to crystal clear photographs.

This airplane is the tiniest little thing I've ever laid eyes on, much less ridden in.  It's a Cessna 182 and it did not have seats!  Well, it had one, for the pilot.  Pete and I and Kim and her dude Darryl sat on the floor in the back, which has less surface area than an Astrovan.

The funny thing about this whole experience is that everything feels like it went much quicker than the times they quoted.  They said the ride up would take 20 minutes.  It felt like 10 minutes, max.  Once that time was up some wild and crazy shit was about to go down!

First, the view:

Hervey Bay
Fraser Island
This right here is one of the many reasons this whole thing was worth it.  We were just about on top of Fraser Island, which we have seen before from a more reasonable angle, and the views were stunning.  The water is just indescribable.

We enjoyed the views for a bit as we cruised to our altitude of 12,000 feet (3,657 meters).  That's 2.2 miles (3.5 km)!!!  It's worth noting that clouds are at 7,000 feet.  We were well above the clouds!

Then...dun dun dun...the door opened.  And shit got really, really real.

We had been instructed where to put our feet (dangling out the door) and how to position our head and arms.  The second that door opened, possibly even before, I shut my eyes.  Tight!  You know how centipedes curl up into a little ball when they're threatened?  That's a pretty accurate representation of my reaction.  I knew that if I looked it would be a lot more painful, so I just shut myself - every orifice, every muscle, every single cell in my body - right up.  Which really came in handy for me to no pee (or worse) my pants.

I did what I was supposed to do with my head and arms as that fit in with my centipede pose, but as far as I was concerned I was an amputee.  I didn't move my legs at all, as I was supposed to, so Pete did what Pete does best and he did all the work for me.

Pete jumped.

I just happened to be strapped to him when he did it.

Pete and his precious American cargo tumble out of the airplane at 12,000 feet and do a few flips before stabilizing face down.  I don't even notice because my eyes are clenched shut.  But after a few seconds I open them up.

And I take a look at the turquoise water below, and realize I didn't die and think, "This really does feel like flying, not falling".

Then I crack the only smile of the 45 second free fall, because it just feels so much more natural to clench my lips tight like an angry nun.

I remember that I do, in fact, have limbs so spread my arms out as instructed.  Face flapping starts and increases to a hilarious level.  Arm fat flaps, too, because one indignity is simply not enough.

And then the parachute comes out (not that I remembered such a thing existed) and I express gratitude for being alive.

And then the pain sets in.  OMG, people, I cannot stress the importance of appropriate attire enough!  I wore shorts that were not too short for everyday wear but were definitely too short for skydiving.  The leg straps of my harness were directly on my skin which resulted in some serious crotch pain during and after, but I have nobody to blame for that but myself.

Side note: I don't recommend males attempt this if they ever wish to reproduce.

The transition from free fall to gliding on a parachute is unexpectedly violent (or maybe rough is the right word, especially for the ill clad like myself).  It's simple physics considering you're traveling at 120 miles per hour (200 km), then nearly come to a complete stop, suddenly.  My weight was being held up by the skin of my upper thighs, and I have a lot of weight to hold.  Ouch!

The goggles come off because they're not needed anymore, and it's time to enjoy the view.  I saw a pod of dolphins and what I think was a giant sea turtle, and there's a lot of scenery to take in.  It's easier to concentrate on the expanse of the ocean or the coastline of Fraser Island than to focus on one thing.

Not Kim or I, but one of our initiated brethren
It feels ridiculously soon, but the ground rapidly approaches and it is far easier to remember what to do now than it was up there.

Your feet touch down, the parachute flops down behind you and a high five simply will not do.  This occasion calls for a hug!

It's over, and you lived.  I lived!  I did it!

The fear and anticipation of the 24 hours between booking and jumping were far worse than the actual event.  I don't know how I would've handled the exit from the airplane with my eyes open but I do know the following things:
  1. I never in a million years thought I would do it
  2. I didn't chicken out and went through with it
  3. I survived it
  4. I enjoyed it
  5. I would do it again
  6. I am so proud of myself
  7. I feel superior to people who have not done it
Ha!  That last one makes me an asshole but it's true (at least for now while the emotions are still running high).  I feel like there are two groups of people in this world, those who have done it and those who have not.  I am a doer!

Our hotel was quite close to the landing point so we got to see some other doers doing their thing.  It was insane how high up they (we!) start from!

Tiny speck visible towards top left

I will quit teasing now and get to the good stuff.  Enjoy my wild and crazy adventure!

I will leave you with one last, crazy thought: The number of airplanes I've taken off in is not equal to the number of planes I have landed in.


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