I tried to play it cool. I'd joked over the past few days that I planned to fast before our jump — you know — to keep the britches clean. Others had joked back, asking, "Why would you want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane?" It's certainly a decision that seems to defy any reasonable survival instinct.
Sitting in a hangar at Walterboro, S.C.,'s not-quite-international airport, I began to wish I really had fasted. Did I really need — or even want — to do this?
I'd been asked to be in a bachelor auction months before, to raise money for Windwood Farms home for children in Awendaw. With a face made for print news, I'd thought, "What would make me a prime catch at this event?" Something ballsy... so I rang up Skydive Walterboro, and they answered the call. Weeks later, after being "purchased" by friend and fellow City Paper employee Meredith Perdue, there we were, along with our buddy Josh Dybzinski (CP production manager).
They seemed stoked. My internal organs were trembling. Immediately after arriving, four parachutes descended from the sky. The very first to land hit the ground harder than I'd have guessed was prudent. He crumbled and didn't get up. "Ummm...?" I muttered and looked to my friends. A couple guys ran out to the skydiver, while another found a golf cart to retrieve him. He'd rolled his ankle, but was in good spirits as they loaded him on to the cart.
It was time to sign our release forms. "Skydiving is a dangerous sport," it reads. "There is a potential for injury." Yes, yes, apparently. I signed away in a daze, wishing someone would slip me a mickey.
Meredith offered to go first and be videotaped (watch her fall on City Paper TV!), a decision I was fine with. Mike Clemmons, a retired school teacher who now skydives for extra money on the weekends, strapped her into her harness. "Your tandem master is Nick," he said to her. "He's been okay since the last incident. The medication seems to be working. Of course, he couldn't take it this morning. They said not to take it with alcohol."
The mood lightened. Meredith took off into the sky. I sat on the couch and practiced my yoga breathing.
Still a half a mile in the air, we could hear Meredith whooping it up. She landed with an expletive, an "awesome!" and a thrilled look on her face.
And suddenly it was time. They strapped me up, and I was partnered with yuk-yukster Mike. Josh was with the aforementioned (sober) Nick. They gave us the rundown on how to fall and told us how to position ourselves: "Wrap your feet up behind you so they're on my butt."
The tiny plane seemed to predate my 1972 Volkswagen. As we taxied down the runway, I asked that question. "1955," Mike answered. I noticed the pilot was also wearing a parachute, and thought about how many times my car has broken down on the side of the road and required me to crawl underneath and tinker around. Difficult to do at 10,000 feet...
With the engine growling, conversation was difficult. After a few moments nervously discussing algebra, (the subject of Mike's former occupation), our tandem masters closed their eyes to take a quick nap (just another day's work), and I stared out the window as the flying V-Dub made its way two miles into the sky.
Once Mike woke up, everything happened quickly. I turned around to face the pilot, kneeling while Mike attached himself to my back. The door of the plane opened, and Josh and Nick fell into the sky. I swung my legs out and dangled my (bare) feet into the blue beyond for a moment, then leaned forward and fell toward Earth.
It's as free as I've ever felt. We tumbled, and for a moment I fell backwards, staring up into the sky. Then we rolled, turning somersaults as we neared terminal velocity. After a few turns, we leveled out and fell belly first. My arms were out and my feet were as tucked around behind me as far as they would reach. I felt like a bird. A bird that just got shot by a 12-gauge, mind you, but a bird nonetheless. The horizon grew.
As soon as the fall had begun, it was over. I felt a sharp tug through my body as the parachute opened, and we began our float to the ground. We pulled hard on one side, then the other, turning ourselves in tight, vertigo-inducing circles. It was the amusement park swing ride from hell, and far more invigorating. Minutes later, the ground approached, more quickly than I'd expected. We pulled down together to slow the descent and managed to land on our feet, moments before Josh and Nick touched down beside us, entangling everyone involved in the ropes of their chute.
We freed ourselves and smiled goofily as Meredith took pictures. "Is that the most fun you've ever had with a man strapped on your back?" asked Mike. "The only," I replied.