Knock, knock, knockin on heaven’s door
31st of December 2009.
‘A’ and I had driven 531 km (plus a three hour ferry ride between Picton and Wellington) from Kaikura to Taupo in a single day. We had even braved a terribly lonely and scary drive past Mount Doom (of Lord of the Rings fame) on the Desert Road in the twilight, just so that we could get to Taupo by the last day of the year.
That’s where I was going to achieve one of my bucket list goals of skydiving.
It was something I had dreamt of doing for a very long time, and what better place to live it, than in New Zealand, the global capital of extreme sports?
The thoroughly random reason we had picked Taupo was thanks to a waitress in Auckland. On our first afternoon in NZ, on overhearing a conversation over pizza, our waitress had remarked that she’d heard that Lake Taupo was a beautiful location for skydiving. And that comment, kind of set the rough framework for our let’s-see-where-our-mood-takes-us driving vacation.
After some much needed sleep, we arrived at Skydive Taupo late in the morning.
A was being a trooper and was along to provide me moral support. He was very sure he wanted his feet planted firmly on terra firma.
The guy behind the counter tried to encourage him to try it too, saying it was lots of fun and very safe. It didn’t help that one of his legs was bandaged and he was going around on crutches. A’s confidence took a bit of a hit.
Then, they brought out the forms. We had to sign a waiver. A’s confidence wavered a bit more.
We then went out to see the plane. It was pink!
By this time A couldn’t take it anymore, and said “Kan, you SURE you want to jump out of that?”
So much for moral support!
But I was sure… well, kind of.
We geared up and listened to instructions. They showed us a video of a terrified looking skydiver (Nice marketing!)
Very nervous now.
‘Keep it together’ (Said the brave voices in my head)
We took some pics before boarding the plane… A and I hanging on to each other in a parting embrace.
‘Smile. You want to look confident in the photos.’
My tandem jumper, Steve, was going to film the whole thing and asked for my preferences for the video. Being a camera-shy person at the best of times, I wasn’t going to have him interview me in this state. So I told him, audio off at all times.
The plane took off, and everyone was engaging in friendly banter.
I was just keeping my fingers crossed and praying for strength.
‘You managed to run off a cliff. You can do this.’
Nope, I wasn’t having visions of the parachute not opening. Strangely that thought hadn’t crossed my mind.
I was thinking about the one-minute free-fall.
I don’t hate heights. I just don’t like the feeling you get when you are falling.
I was imagining the sensation that you get on a roller coaster when it is plunging down a near vertical slope – you know, when your stomach, heart and lungs squish together and are left behind by your body? Would I be able to survive that for almost sixty seconds?
The pink plane reached 15,000 feet.
The first skydivers moved to the edge of the door and jumped. PLUMMETED is more like it.
‘Oh….My….God’ (Said the not-so-brave voices in my head)
You know, when you see other people’s skydiving videos, you never appreciate the speed at which they fall. It is typically filmed by their tandem jumper or another videographer who jumps with them – so all you see is them suspended in mid air, the only suggestion of motion being the wild (and unattractive) flapping of their lips and facial skin.
Let me tell you that 200 kmph looks a LOT different from a plane.
Especially when you are about to do it yourself.
‘No, no, you’ll be jumping from 12,000 feet. That will be a lot easier’.
U-huh. The 12,000 feet jumpers fell like rocks too.
I thought about just refusing to go ahead.
‘It will be so embarrassing to tell everyone that you couldn’t do it after all.’
You see, I had told all my friends and colleagues about my skydiving plans. I had done so believing that putting this goal out there, would subdue any impulses to chicken out at the last minute. After all, what’s a few minutes of terror compared to everlasting humiliation?
‘Screw that! I don’t care what other people think. Most of them wouldn’t have the guts to even attempt to do this in the first place.’
We edged closer to the opening. Just one jumper ahead of me.
‘Can you really live with not having experienced this? Just stop thinking about it and do it!’
We were sitting on the edge now. No turning back from here.
Steve gave me some instructions. I leaned back my head on his shoulder (As per his instructions).
And he jumped.
I really don’t remember the next ten seconds… must have blanked out. (I saw in the video later that I touched my hand on my forehead – an admonishing gesture of “what have I done!”)
Then I started to take in what was happening…
The gorgeous blue lake was sparkling in the sun.
Mount Doom looked beautiful in the daylight.
The ground was far, far away.
But I was not falling.
I was floating.
‘This is what it feels like.
I am Jonathan Livingston Seagull!!!’
I started screaming with exhilaration.
Steve (in an inspired move!) decided to ignore my earlier instructions and switch on the audio recording.
“Wohoooo… this is awesome”, I say in the video.
Then the minute was over and we shot back up as he released the parachute.
Slowly we floated back down towards the ground.
And then, with a teeny tiny stomach flip, we landed.