I finally felt my first taste of fear as the door opened and the first people started jumping out of the plane. Everything is on a tight schedule, so for example, the camera people will rush to the ground after you've stopped your freefall so that they can be suited for the next load. This means that when the door opens at 13,000 feet everyone starts jumping out very fast, which also serves to give you less time to think and be afraid before being essentially shoved out the door yourself. I was the last one in line to jump.
My instructor had a bit of a rough personality, and he made sure I got to the door quicker than I was really comfortable with. Leading up to the experience, I hadn't been afraid and couldn't imagine myself being afraid at the time, but of course, when I stood in front of the open door and looked at the abyss, I finally understood what I was about to do.
The first thing I saw when I jumped out of the plane, juxtaposed with total disorientation and a struggle in the back of my mind to make sure I was getting into the correct posture, was the plane diving fast and away at a terrifying 45 degree angle to the ground. They are definitely on a tight schedule. The freefall was listening to the enormous and defiant world scream at me and take away my right to breathe. They had said below (in their spiel to get me to have my jump recorded) that the sensory overload of freefall was such that you wouldn't remember most of it, which I didn't believe, because I operate under the assumption that I have perfect memory. There is some truth to it after all, but I do know that the video would never have captured the experience to any level worth a $100 VHS.
All too soon there was a jerking motion, and I felt lifted into a standing position. Clouds cast large, sharply defined shadows over swathes of land, and nearly every rich suburban house had a pool. There's a removed sensation in parachuting, like you're still watching from behind something. Tiny houses beneath feet do not feel a mile below, they only seem like toy houses that I'm somehow not applying any pressure to. When I spoke, my voice sounded different than I'd ever heard it, and I remarked to the instructor that the air was something completely different than normal air.
It was present, palpable, somehow richer. The difference between oxygen and void was made clear to me, and I felt protected by something more than physical. C.S. Lewis would understand what I mean.
I landed gently, and met up with Jake and Ace, who like me were all smiles. If you even think you might like it, even if you think it could be very scary, you should go for it. It will be scary, no doubt, but you might be surprised at how many things don't scare you after all. It was fantastic. Those 10 minutes in the air were the closest I have ever come to seeing Earth at its most brutal and majestic. I could have had no less a visceral bond with nature if I had spent an evening in the body of a wild jackal.
Then I ate a greasy burger and fries at a Friendly's, came home and maxed the air conditioning, stripped down to boxers, lounged with my brand new DS lite, plugged in my laptop, sat down at my second computer, and wrote this while chatting with friends around the globe and feeling queasy from eating awful food. What was I talking about? Mother Nature? Who's that? The only parent I have is America.