As Eunie had booked me into the Hides Hotel in Cairns for two nights to recuperate from jet lag before going home to Madang, I found myself with a perfectly good day at hand and nothing to do.
I’d seen the movie The Bucket List on the plane. As I wandered around Cairns afoot, I was thinking of all the things I’ve never gotten around to doing. I also speculated on how many chances I have left to do them.
There was a precise moment when the universe jiggled a little (Hmmm. What’s that about? I thought.) My eyeballs locked onto a gaudy sign.
Yes! It’s going to be skydiving today!
I stood outside a few moments wondering what I was getting into. A nice young lady inside gave me the scoop. I quickly decided that I had to decide and pulled out the plastic. The store is orderly, comforting, and just a tiny bit scary – all that ferocious looking black and chrome strappy stuff hanging all about. Looks a little S&M. Inside the Skydive Cairns store:
All of the gearing-up and instruction is done at the store. This is probably a good idea, since it disconnects you physically from the scene of the crime against nature that you are about to commit. It allows you to think rationally and pay attention to your instructions. Still, someone is bound to start thinking too much:
When everybody looks like a character from Mad Max, we’re herded out to the van for a short ride to a small airport. And, we see a most unusual aeroplane:
It’s a purpose-built skydiving plane by Pacific Aerospace in New Zealand – the Cresco. It has a huge turbine engine, big fat wings, and it climbs like a terrified spider monkey. We ascended to 14,000 feet in only about seven minutes. It’s a tight fit in the cabin.
My Tandem Master, Theresa, sits behind me. As we neared our jump altitude, Theresa began tightening up the four straps that held us together. I mean those straps were tight, man. If I held my breath, I could feel her breathing. I know what you’re thinking! The answer is yes, it does feel pretty cool. I tried to breath calmly and evenly so Theresa would know what a brave soul I am. Here I am trying to stay cool:
When the moment comes, it’s almost over before it starts. You and your Tandem Master are straddling a big foam cushiony thing that runs the length of the cabin. There is one each for the two lines of jumpers. You are vigorously scooted forward by your Tandem Master (few choices left at this point) and spun around to face the door. Your feet go on the step, as instructed. Then you cross your arms in front of you and lay your head back on the shoulder of your Tandem Master. The next thing you know, you’re hurled forward and it’s too late to change your mind. This seems to be a good way to stop people from bolting at the last moment. As you can see, I cheated a little. I really wanted the full experience:
What comes next, if you have not experienced it, will probably come as a surprise. At that altitude, there’s really no feeling of falling at all. It’s more like you’re hanging from something (a nice young lady, in this case – no problem there) and staring at a giant picture of the ground being slowly brought closer. All the while there’s this strong blast of refreshingly cool air bathing your whole body. I thought it would be a big adrenaline rush. For me it was just mesmerising. As we’d say in the 60’s, it was a stone gas, man.
Here’s Theresa and I just starting the sixty-second freefall:
Our cameraperson was yet another astonishingly cute young lady (how DO Australians produce so many of them?) named Elisha. She was busy taking photos of us. I have a disk full and videos also. It costs extra, but what good is it if you don’t have the pictures?
I was so enraptured by the sight of the ground slowly rising to embrace me that Theresa had to keep reminding me to look up at the camera. This is your typical ‘old dude goes skydiving’ shot, but it makes me giggle like a schoolgirl to see myself in it:
As with all good things, the freefall eventually ends with a jolt. I think it would be nice if the Tandem Master would say something like, “Okay, I’m going to pop the chute now and your body is going to feel like it’s being drawn and quartered.” It didn’t happen. It was just BANG and you go from 200KPH to about 20 in about one second. It’s not entirely unpleasant. I just think one might enjoy it more if one knew when it was coming. In all fairness, Theresa may have told me – I might not have heard. There was some serious rewiring being done in my brain.
Then the other cool part of skydiving begins. Floating like a feather. I was amazed at the amount of precision control the chute allows. Theresa let me pull the handles to turn us one way or the other or speed up and slow down. We did some very tight fast spins that were over mercifully soon. They were fun and not scary at all, but I didn’t want to lose my lunch.
The landing was not at all what I expected. In the shop, Theresa made me demonstrate several times that I could reach down and grab my leg (one at a time, of course), grasp it behind the knee, and hold it straight out in front of me. I thought, “Hmmm . . . She’s going to do a little running landing while I’m keeping my legs safely up out of the way. How very clever.”
As you can see, that is not the case. We both had our feet out in front and landed flat on our bums. I was a little anxious for the last few seconds as the ground seemed to be coming up pretty fast. At the last moment Theresa did something with the controls and we simply plopped down in the grass:
Safe on the ground, it takes a few minutes for the silly, giddy feeling to die down a little. Here I am feeling silly and giddy:
Though I had an excellent experience and would recommend it to anyone in reasonably fit condition, I have noticed one lingering, ominous side effect – I now want to do it every day.