Lach’s first law of living deep: if you can’t think about it at terminal velocity, it’s probably not that important.
“Don’t hold onto my hands. I need my hands to deploy the parachute. If you hold onto my hands, I will bite your ear off”.
Pradeep’s feedback style is tough but fair. After all, at 220 kph free fall, there’s not a lot of time for drawn out explanations. That little nugget of advice capped off my briefing.
“Okay, I just have one question about…”
“Don’t worry. I will be telling you twice more in the plane”.
Worried? Who said I was worried? Skydiving is statistically safer than driving, right? That’s why they make you sign a waiver explaining that in the highly unlikely event of total catastrophic failure—it’s your own damn business. But, in the immortal words of Clint Eastwood:
If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster.
There would be time enough for shopping later. Right now I needed to get suited up. My jump master picked out a harness and helped me into it. I’m kind of hazy on the discussion at this point. My engineer brain was busy studying the stitching and wondering what kind of quality assurance process these things go through. For all the remarkable technology that would be employed to lift us to 13,000 feet and bring us safely back to earth, my life was basically going to depend on this buckle.
Now Pradeep informs me I have to pay him a 500 Baht “McDonnalds tax” for weighting in over 95 KG (95.13 to be precise). Wasn’t quite sure as to the rationale behind this levy—perhaps he had to go borrow a bigger canopy from a friend—but I know better than to argue with the guy who’s responsible for securing my harness to the parachute rig. As he would latter remind me, in his New Deli accent:
“You don’t have a parachute. I have a parachute. You are connected to me”.
Technically I guess I can tell people I jumped out of a plane without a parachute and lived. Fortunately, I had a veteran, Indian jumper strapped to my back serving a similar purpose: keeping me from getting killed.
The plane, which is obviously purpose built for these brief diving excursions, looks like something out of an Indiana Jones movie (sans chickens and Hong Kong gangsters). It’s literally just a cockpit and a three foot wide cargo hold.
Seven of us pile into this tiny space: 2 jump masters, 2 videographers, 2 hapless newbs, and 1 soloist.
Oddly, this is the least nervous I’ve ever been in a plane. I’m no stranger to the air, but I usually get just a little bit edgy during take off. This time though I hardly even notice the ground falling away. Maybe it’s the lack of ceremony. Usually they’d be teaching us how to buckle our seat belts right about now. This time, there aren’t any.
In a few minutes we’re at 5,000 feet. Pradeep is clipping my harness to his own and explaining this is the altitude which we will deploy at. I’m busy watching Pradeep to make sure there are no screw-ups in the wardrobe department.
“What do you do back in Australia?”
Most people aren’t savvy with the whole digital nomad thing, so I go with the short version.
“I work online. Computer stuff.”
So Pradeep tells me a little about his own background. He has a Masters in Business Administration and a Ph.D in Knowledge Management. He spent 7 years in the IT industry, where he managed a team of 70 for IBM. A life he left behind long ago.
“And this is better?”, I ask, as if I needed to.
“This is better”.
I’ll say. Now he travels the world jumping out of air planes and getting paid to do it. He’s a nomad himself, only he’s traded in his laptop for a jumpsuit.
Even though the gigs apparently don’t pay that well, Pradeep says he can earn enough in two months to live in Thailand for a whole year (must be all the hamburgling). How come you never hear about these gigs at career day?
At 13,000 feet, the pilot levels out and drops the throttle back. The plane dips suddenly before settling into its cruising altitude causing a momentary sensation of weightlessness and a round of giddy laughter. A taste of things to come?
Then, just like that, it’s on.
The fuselage door slides open.
The solo jumper, who has been crammed up in the back of the cabin between the two videographers, now clambers over us to the door, and with just a brief moment of nervous hesitation, flops out of the cabin, and is gone.
Arash, my Iranian comrade, who has been getting increasingly nervous during the ascent is next up. And then, it’s my turn…
Marika, my camera man swings out onto a ledge under the wing, and squats there, ready to capture the first moments of our jump. He seems totally cool about what I think must be the scariest job of all.
Pradeep and I shuffle our way to the door and I sit with my legs dangling out. I had expected this moment to be nerve wracking, but it’s all happening too quickly for that.
I remember I’m supposed to wave for the camera before we go, but Pradeep is already yanking my head back and rocking us forward to signal to Marika we’re about to go.
We tumble out of the cabin turning summersaults, and while falling on my back, I glimpse the plane receding into the heavens. It seems to hover there, stationary. A few fleeting moments of total suspension, before we roll back over the face the earth, and Pradeep deploys the stabiliser.
The wind resistance picks up fast. We are buffeted from below by the atmosphere as it gives way. But it doesn’t feel like falling. It feels like floating in the updraft of a stadium-sized hair dryer.
Marika, who has assumed a more aerodynamic posture, is closing on us. He swoops by and holds his position steady just inches from my fingertips, capturing the action.
What surprised me most about sky diving is the total absence of fear. When I jumped from a bungee platform a few weeks ago, the rush was tremendous. The giddying sensations of free fall hit hard and fast.
I had expected 13,000 vertical feet to take the experience to a new level. A stomach churning, adrenaline overload. Strangely, it was closer to meditation.
Once you exit that aircraft, your mind is as clear as the blue sky above. You can’t think of anything, except the present moment.
Pradeep had told me in his repeated briefings to bend into a bannana shape and tuck my feet all the way back “up his arse”.
I totally forgot to do that.
He told me to keep my head craned up and look at the sky.
I totally forgot to do that.
I also forgot about renewing my visa, about the hundred thousand dollar train wreck I totally have to rescue before Monday morning, and about figuring out how the hell I’m going to get home.
These are just a few examples of the myriad things about which I cared zero.
And you know what?
It didn’t matter.
Nothing mattered except the present moment.
You have no conception of how high you are, how fast you’re going. You’re barely even aware that you’re falling. The only evidence that you’re moving at all is the increasingly tempestuous flow of air over your body. Other than that, it’s like being in suspended animation in the truest sense of the word.
It takes just 60 seconds to cover 8,000 feet of vertical distance. At 5,000 feet, Pradeep deploys the canopy and within a few seconds our rapid decent is arrested. The world is calm again as we gently spiral our way to the landing zone. There’s still no fear, but midway though the canopy ride I begin to feel a bit queazy, which, unfortunately diminished my appreciation of the splendid views.
No matter. Another challenge off the awesome list, and another fear well and truly smashed.
By the way, if there are troubles in your life that are weighing you down, 13,000 feet is a great way to get some much needed perspective on them. Everyone should do it at least once.
Oh, and if you feel like doing your skydive experience in Thailand, get in touch with the good people at Thai Sky Adventures. They rock.
Hey! Where’s the movie?
Sorry peeps. There is a movie, but I’ve had to hold it back because YouTube (“the man”) doesn’t like my choice of soundtrack #thingsIWishIKnewBeforeSpendingThreeHoursUploadingTheThing. Soundtrack has been pulled for retoodling and I’ll repost the video, in all its rock-and-roll glory real soon. Hey—that’s another great reason to subscribe via RSS or Email!
In the meantime, enjoy the gallery!