Last year’s birthday skydiving weekend was so full of thrills that I decided to edit this post down AND split it into two parts! Part two should be finished soon, stuffed with photos, and uploaded here by next weekend. Just for kicks, click here for this year’s low key birthday week. Admittedly, it’s hard to outdo yourself after you jump out of a plane!
|Skydive Oregon: Bro and sis walk away triumphantly from the drop zone|
Skydiving topped my list of birthday weekend adventures this year… and we squeezed in A LOT last weekend: rock wall climbing, hiking in the Columbia Gorge, go carts, laser tag, worshipping with our church family, a party, multiple coffee/lunch/dinner get togethers with friends, a Los Lobos concert, and taking a leap out of an airplane flying above 12,000 feet! By my math, this all added up to one adrenaline pumping time!
A few months ago, I had assembled a skydiving posse just large enough to score a group discount: my sister Summer and me, Andrew and Melissa, and Austin and Emily. Strangers to each other, they at least knew me and shared my thirst for thrills (but not necessarily my fear of heights).
Getting PsychedThe day before Austin’s and my birthday, the crew assembled at Skydive Oregon in Molalla for the big plunge. Kathy, Lena, and some other friends and family were ready to cheer for us near the drop zone.
On the ground, our instructor Terry led us through the motions and answered our questions. Dang it, flipping out of the plane wouldn’t be allowed. We had already signed a few novella-length liability waivers which suggested countless ways to usher in an untimely death/paralysis/dismemberment while skydiving, so what more did we have to lose?
An eternity seemed to pass as we waited for our plane to swing around to pick us up.
As our group marched across the taxiway to board the plane, a Skydive Oregon rep intercepted me by the fuselage to break the disappointing news: my video/camera guy wouldn’t be jumping with me to grab that sweet mid-air footage of my free fall.
A fleeting tinge of disappointment was almost immediately flushed away as I embraced the bigger picture: This was about to happen! This was happening!!
Words cannot express the paralyzing fear that gripped me as our plane slowly climbed to jumping altitude, between 12,000-13,000 feet. The boarding door was left wide open for a few minutes, revealing the grassy fields below us as they got smaller and smaller. Shutting the door subdued the outside noise but did nothing to erase that terrifying imagery from my mind. The agonizing anticipation, even dread, of facing my fear of heights would turn out to be the scariest part. Little did I know that the worst was almost behind us.
The moment of truth
Just below 13,000 feet, the boarding door slid open again. The camera person sitting in front of me disappeared into the light, followed by his seat mate. With Terry and our parachute strapped to my back, I was next.
We scooted up to the airplane door. I dangled my feet outside, curled my legs under the plane, and anticipated Terry’s final instructions.
Shockingly, there were none. No countdown, no dramatic pause, no moment of soul searching. Only our predetermined “go” signal… a quick pat on the shoulder. Without a second of hesitation, we fell away from the plane.
The initial drop was so intense that I forgot I was supposed to be scared. My stomach leaped into my throat as gravity yanked us downward. The cold air pummeled our faces and sucked the air out of my lungs. The sound was deafening.
That early sensation of free falling quickly faded into weightlessness. The most surprising part was how not scary it was. At all. Any fear I would’ve felt was overcome by exhilaration.
Granted, we were still plummeting to Earth at terminal velocity. Those tiny, grassy fields were getting bigger and bigger again at an alarmingly quick clip. But it was peaceful, almost euphoric. I never wanted it to end.
Terry deployed our parachute after a couple minutes, bringing our free fall to a screeching stop. It almost felt like we were being sucked back up into the sky. We could finally communicate without screaming, but there was no need for words. Looking around at the mountains, forests, and fields below left me speechless. And the view from above was magnificent.
So how far could I push this? At my request, Terry indulged me in some light tomfoolery as we drifted toward the ground. He knew the physical limits of our parachute, and I had absolute trust in his 20+ years of skydive instructor experience. We stayed within the rules, but I jumped at the chance to get a little more bang for my birthday buck.
Jumping out of a perfectly good plane: Summer (in the pink parachute) passes up her big brother (I’m just above her, in the yellow) because I just couldn’t resist some mid-air messing around.
As the ground drew closer, Terry advised me to prepare for a hard landing. It wasn’t so bad. In fact, our touchdown was much lighter than the brutal impact I absorbed in Jamaica years ago, while landing my parasail onto a private boat in Montego Bay.
My sister Summer, my friends, and I all walked away from the drop zone that morning with a new appreciation for being alive. I had tackled my fear of heights like never before, head on.
The other Garth scheduled to jump that day—yes, we met a random tall guy at Skydive Oregon who only made the cut for this blog because his name is Garth--had no idea what he was about to get into!
The after-party begins
Kathy, Lena, and the gang headed back into town for a “what in the name of Middle Earth did we just do?!” lunch at Jasper’s Café to decompress, followed by Austin’s and my obligatory free birthday coffees at Dutch Bros.
Amusingly enough, the barista asked if Austin and I were non-identical twin brothers. Not so much. Failing to notice how haggard I must have looked from my extreme lack of sleep, she then earnestly asked which one of us was older. Flattered, I was speechless. Austin is still in his early-20s.
The smile on my face only got bigger as I drove Austin and Emily home in the Jeep. The rush of skydiving was even more intense than I could’ve imagined. And my birthday weekend was just getting started!