I book skydiving a solid month before my Australian adventure, mostly so I am forced to pay my credit card bill before leaving for my trip and therefore would have to swallow the fact that I willingly threw away hundreds of dollars in the event that I decide to wimp out. I receive two different confirmation emails after clicking the "purchase" button. Both of them remind me of the astronomical amount of money I've invested in voluntarily ending my life and the second email says ... wait, what's that word?
WTF is a heli-skydive? Am I jumping out of a HELICOPTER? Cue frantic attempts at contacting the skydive company. After two emails go unanswered, I resort to Twitter, Facebook and lastly a phone call that tells me I have a wrong number. I. Am. Panicking. Skydive Australia, you're on my list.
The problem is, I've never been in a helicopter. One "first" for the day (that first being shaking hands with death) is about all I can handle at a time. I realize that it really doesn't matter what aircraft I choose. Helicopter, plane, hovercraft or flying pig: I'm still free-falling at 14,000 feet toward my own demise. By choice. But still. A girl can only handle so much. Planes, I understand. We go way back. Helicopters ... I just ... no.
I eventually hear back from Skydive Australia (it really didn't take that long; I'm just a paranoid freak), and, just my luck, they don't have a plane anymore. Just two helicopters. Two "firsts" it is.
My skydive adventure begins at 6:40 a.m. outside a Holiday Inn in Kings Cross, where random drunkards are still piggyback riding through the streets and slurring karaoke songs. A small van pulls up to take us to the jump site. Our driver, the quintessential Aussie who would make a career out of skydiving, ushers my friend, Julia, and I into the van along with six strangers. We arrive at the jump site an hour later without incident and confirm our bookings, then I slip away to the bathroom to ward off the possibility of peeing on my tandem jumper when he hurls me out of a helicopter.
Also, yes. I brought Safari Sam with me for support. No, he didn't really help calm my nerves.
I return from the bathroom to hear my name being yelled repeatedly. I've been here for approximately 10 minutes, but it's time to get dressed for my jump. Oh, and by the way, I'm going in the first load.
Philippe, my tandem jumper, busily goes about strapping me into a harness and sliding pants up my legs. I'm about to be sitting in his lap, so there's no room or time for modesty. Philippe leaves just as quickly as he appeared and Julia and I mill around for a few minutes taking pictures. Next thing I know, everyone is circled up for our "orientation." I use the term "orientation" loosely, because our instruction on how not to die while skydiving lasts about three seconds:
"OK guys. So when you're up there, your guide is going to step out and stand on the helicopter's railing, so you'll just be dangling up there."
(Did he just say I'll be "dangling up there?" How can he refer to a human dangling 14,000 feet in the air with such ease? I'm sorry?)
"When you jump, throw your head back, hold onto your harness and arch your back. Like this. Your guide will hit you on the shoulder when it's safe for you to throw your arms out. Let's practice."
(We practice once. It takes one second.)
"Aright good. The main thing you need to focus on is your landing. When your guide tells you, lift your legs up at the knee, like this, and you'll just slide onto the ground. Let's practice."
(Another one second practice.)
"OK great! You guys are ready! Let's go! Rebecca, Cameron and Julia: you're up first!"
WHAT IS GOING ON? I HAVE BEEN IN THIS PLACE FOR ALL OF A MILLISECOND. I WAS PLANNING ON HAVING HOURS OF TRAINING AND MENTAL PREP TIME.
My mental stream of thought is now a succession of words that I can't type because my parents read this blog. You can probably fill in the blanks. Here's the face I make when Philippe asks if I'm ready:
Aaaaaaand we're walking.
I shall now refer to choppers as chompers, because all I can think as I'm walking toward this thing is that it looks like it is wants to eat me alive.
We get one last 15-second crash course on what to do during the jump. I use the term "crash course" purposefully here because I'm pretty sure that's what my body is about to do into the ground. Do I feel prepared? Negative.
Philippe crawls into the chomper first and invites me to join him. I'm nestled in a corner with walls all around me. Wait, we have to fit four more bodies in here? No worries, we'll just leave everyone else with their limbs randomly hanging from the chomper. No need to close that door. Nah. Unnecessary.
WHAT HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO?!
Loud noises. Lots of dust. Oooooooh my goodness I'm not on the ground anymore. Can you tell I'm thrilled?
When terrified, I'm incapable of looking genuinely happy. I'll try my hardest and even think I've succeeded, but film never lies. My terrified smile is either open-mouthed and donkey-like, or straight up psychotic. Also, I just really don't know what to do with my hands (a common problem when I'm being photographed). Please see below.
It's so lovely that I almost forget, just for a second, why I'm hovering thousands of feet in the air. Then Cameron, who looks like he might hurl at any moment, disappears. He's there one second, and then he's just gone. I'm no longer thinking about the pretty things below me. I'm thinking about how those pretty things are going to consume me when my body slams into them. CAMERON PROBABLY JUST DIED, YOU GUYS.
Julia is about to leave me.
Don't do it, Julia! Don't do it! My mental sanity can't handle ...
Am I dreaming? Did I decide to try some extreme drug and this is some sort of drug-induced delusion? Surely I'm not ACTUALLY allowing myself to be guided toward the open door of a chomper and out into the open air, where I've been instructed my body is just going to DANGLE? Surely that's not happening.
OH MY GOSH THAT'S WHAT IS HAPPENING.
Philippe tells me to smile, and this happens. If I made this face on the ground, I assume I would immediately be locked up in a mental institution or a penitentiary. Whichever was closest. In the air, however, it's quite appropriate. And pretty much sums up my mental state in the seconds before I fling myself out of a helicopter. Complete hysteria.
I'M GOING TO DIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
Philippe is now slapping me in the shoulder to tell me to throw my arms out and enjoy the ride. Don't bother me, Philippe! I'm trying to savor my last dying breaths! And I need to use those last breaths to say goodbye to all the happy things down there on that planet!
Hold on, is that Philippe hitting me? Maybe I'll put my arms out. Just for a second.
Um ... this is kind of fantastic.
THIS IS THE GREATEST THING EVER!!!!!!
Now all I can do is laugh ...
And laugh ...
And laugh ...
But it's not a normal laugh. It's a maniacal laugh. And the maniacal laugh will continue until my feet are back where they belong: planted on solid ground.
Next, the parachute goes.
And I take the most attractive photo of my life.
Well that was fun. But now, if you'll excuse me, I'll return to my crazy cackling.
If this amazingness could just never end, that would be great. And here are two rare photos when I only look like a semi-crazy.
Oh hey, just driving a parachute. Clearly I'm a natural.
Philippe stays entertained by hamming for the camera so he doesn't have to think about the fact that he's latched onto a cackling crazy.
Hey ground! I'm coming your way and I'm NOT going to die!
Alright so I know I said the cackling would cease upon my landing, but I can't stop. This is all just too wonderful. Can't. Stop.
High five for being alive! (And for bad rhymes.)
One of the greatest decisions I've ever made. One of the coolest things I've ever done. One big lump of awesome. The. End.