Jumping from Planes

July 20, 2013

_Before you read, pick a tune to set the mood! _
The “I see the entire world and it’s beautiful” experience: The cinematic, “I’m like Superman!” experience: The magical experience: The “I’m the literal embodiment of Dan Reynolds on the Continued Silence EP cover” experience: The “my life is a Disney movie” experience: The blog theme experience:
The hangar was dusty red with a residential address curling down the east side. A packet of pamphlets screamed, “FREE: TAKE ONE!” in a box near the door and above us, the whir of an airplane beat against the sky.

I think I imagined that a hangar would be like an enormous tin can split in half and shoved in the ground with wide open space inside. This one, however, had a lobby, and it was filled with photographs of people drifting like rag dolls in the clouds, parachutists falling into Farmington Bay while the sunset spread a blanket of fire across the waves beneath them. I think I decided then that I wanted to get photographs.

We exited the lobby into what was closer to the hangar I’d imagined. A big, wide area with metal beams and a carpeted cement floor. Clouds were painted on the walls, suits and harnesses hung like dead men on the south end, and collected in this hangar were some of the most interesting people I’ve ever seen.

They’d run in with a helmet beneath one arm and a crumpled parachute beneath the other. Grimy hair dangling in curls to their shoulders, put up in tight ponytails. Jaws as close to chiseled as I’ve seen them. Bodies toned, tattoos winding their way up legs and arms and necks. Cut-off shorts dripping frayed edges toward their Vans.

I suddenly felt weirdly at home. I never realized that skydiving had a culture, but it does, and that culture is eerily similar to rock climbing culture. These guys were climbers of sky and air.

Anyway, I got strapped into my harness, placed in a dorky hat, and then I proceeded to pace and pace and pace across the floor.

I don’t do stuff like this. At least, I don’t think people think I do stuff like this. I am often timid, and, according to the book I haven’t been able to shut up about that I am reading right now, highly-reactive, which means that my body reacts to situations where risk is involved and I am extremely cautious in said situations.

So essentially, I was freaking out a little.

I soon met my photographer, who shoved his camera into my face when I was unprepared for it, and then I met George, my tandem instructor. George was great. I trusted my life to George (literally), so we kind of bonded. We almost missed our plane together, but otherwise, we were on top of things.

George and I preparing for takeoff. He’s all like, “My 500th jump! Yeah!” and I’m all like, “Save me. Pleeeeaase.” 

So now we’re in the plane. We’re taking off. The plane lurches, and I get that DC/New York churn in my stomach as I am reminded of how my body feels about airplanes. We begin climbing. They say, “It will take 25 minutes to get to the drop point,” and I’m thinking, “Twenty five minutes? That’s forever long.”

Ha. Haha. Oh no, it isn’t.

George taught me what to do, how to breathe, how to jump, and meanwhile, I’m clutching my stomach and looking out the window and FREAKING. OUT.

Sign of my nerves: the strange faces I kept making at the camera. 

Ogden started overwhelming and then it got smaller and then it got smaller and then it got even smaller, until I couldn’t distinguish houses from warehouses. I was looking at Google Maps sky view. The plane started veering towards the mountains, and I was both stunned and sick to my stomach. Flying over mountains has got to be the most amazing experience ever. Utah mountains are lined with lots of heavy limestone streaks in them, and this one was no different. It was like I was staring at a massive body with its spine sticking out. The trees rushed past us and I could see little valleys hidden in the mountain range. It was incredible.

Then the light next to the door flashed red for “stand by” and the guy next to me was being pushed towards the gate. My photographer was lifting the gate and the temperature plummeted in the plane. The air got sucked out and I immediately stopped breathing. I started repeating, “Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no.”

Prepping for the jump. 

“Don’t worry. It will be great,” George kept shouting. “Just arch your body upward, relax, hold on to the loops. And when we jump, crouch down like a pitcher, put your feet halfway off of the plane floor, and I’ll swing you out, in, and then out and we’ll jump.”

The plane suddenly felt incredibly small. I kept repeating in my head, “Is it too late to change my mind?” And then we were being pushed towards the gate. The tandem guide in front of us counted to three, and when he and his guy jumped, they didn’t go straight out. Their bodies got sucked out like they were in a vortex. Like, they got torn out of the plane.

At this point, I was having a near panic attack. My face says, “I’m about to steal that child’s cookies, and I ain’t even sorry,” but my mind was saying, “Ari! What are you doing? ARI. STOP.”

We were at the door. My photographer had crawled out before us and was hanging on the side like a crazy person. When I got to that door, I was resigned to it. “This is it. I am jumping out of an airplane,” I thought to myself. “No going back. Just down.”

Beneath me, the land looked like a jigsaw puzzle of white squares and curled lines. It was breathtaking. Quite literally. I was practically heaving.

“It’s impossible to not smile,” George had said earlier that day. I didn’t believe him one bit. But when I was perched on the edge of that airplane, staring at the entire world beneath me, my entire soul understood. I would tell him later, “I can’t imagine that doing this every day gets old.” And he responded, “Nope. It never gets old.”

Soon he was counting. One, push out, two, push in, three. And then we were jumping. 

We were ripped from that plane so fast, I could barely process what was going on. 12,000 feet of air was suddenly smashing against us and we were twirling like tops. I saw Ogden rotate at least 20 times beneath me. I experienced plummeting, and I could not stop laughing. My lips were morphing on my face in the rush.

It got kind of crazy when my right contact started flapping against my eye. Ugggghhh. I should have invested in lasik for my birthday. [:

But guys, it was . . . beyond words. We free fell at 120 miles per hour. And it was exhilarating.

Cue Salvador Dali/chicken arms. I was so tense. 

Pretty soon the shoot was coming out. I was keenly disappointed that we weren’t still free-falling. Because I’m insane.

When we jumped, the air smashed against us. When George let the shoot out, the wind seemed to be in our guts, it was so powerful. It pushed us upward with maximum force until my harness straps were tightening into my skin. And then we drifted like that over Ogden. That was the worst part physically. My stomach was a mess, folding and jumping all over itself.

But that moment was beautiful. We were dangling over the entire world.

George did some corkscrews downward, and I could not stop laughing. We were both dying. It was SO fun. The tarmac was spinning in circles and I was laughing so hard that I could have passed out from laughing. 

And then we were prepping for landing. 

Just like that, it was over. I realized afterward that I could barely remember anything. The adrenaline wiped out nearly everything. My ears popped so hard, it felt like an explosion. And I forgot almost everything George told me to do. 

But it was incredible. 

The man who met us on the tarmac said, “We’ve got a birth certificate for ya in the hangar, because today, you have been reborn.” 

The “birth certificate” says:

“Ogden Skydiving Center hereby presents greeting to all who shall read this diploma and certificate of training on this day 7-19-2013. Arianna Rees successfully completed the prescribed ground school, passed all written and practical tests as applicable, and professionally executed a parachute jump from an altitude of 12,000 feet. By doing so, Arianna accomplished what only a handful dare to dream and what only an elite few successfully complete!”

I was quite humbled by the whole experience. I skydived. I jumped out of a plane and fell through the sky. Amazing. 

Why did I do this? I did this because literally three days after saying I would, I was invited to. I’ve done what everyone always says they will and never do. And I learned valuable lessons from it. 

  1. I can do what I think I cannot do. 

  2. Jumping is the hard part. Flying is the reward. 

  3. Skydiving is not frightening. Our perceived limitations are what frighten us. 

  4. Life is pretty darn incredible. 

Would I do this again? Absolutely. 

_Exclusive footage of me being a brain-dead flyer! _

My Name’s Ari, and I’m Human
Imagine Dragons