"How did I come to throw myself out of a perfectly good airplane?" you ask..
Last July I was itching for some adventure. I had planned my second trip to visit my friend Reese, who lives on the Oregon coast. It was his birthday week, and I was debating on what to get him. After trolling the internet for ideas, and even asking him a few weeks prior, I still had not come to a decision. That's when I decided to find an activity for the two of us. Experiences have a lot more value to me than material things!
I checked Groupon for things to do in Oregon. For those who don't know Groupon is website where you find deals and discounts on literally ANYTHING, ANYWHERE- discounts on a tv, deals on 10 day vacation packages, or specials at a local restaurant. Check it out here: https://www.groupon.com/
Within 5 minutes of being on Groupon, BOOM!
There it was- exactly what I had been looking for- skydiving over Mount Hood, in Oregon. I was like "ahhh! Hell yes!!!" I checked out the ad for Skydive Eagle Creek. It was an amazing deal!
First things first, however. I needed to see how far it was from where he lived. Luckily it was only a couple of hours away so not too shabby. And who would mind a gorgeous drive through the mountainous, redwood filled forests of Oregon? Um...no one. We were both interested in skydiving, so I decided this was what we were going to do.
In the ad that they offered two different types of jumps: a tandem jump, from 18,000 feet, strapped to your jump master (instructor,) and a static line jump with a full 8 hour jump course, and jumping solo, anywhere from 2,000 ft to 4,000 feet. Learning and jumping solo would be a more exciting experience. I called Skydive Eagle Creek to verify scheduling on his actual birthday, and purchased the groupons.
Now came the hard part: waiting all week, while keeping the birthday activities a secret. Talk about rough!
The week went by quick enough, and finally the time to hop on my plane to Portland arrived. Once there, Reese came to pick me up from the airport. We were very excited to see the other, but after our hellos we got in the car for the two+ hour drive home.
I adore the drive. It gives us time to catch up, and the landscapes of Oregon are stunning. I wanted to tell him about skydiving so much it hurt. So I settled for telling him that I had an activity planned that would take up the whole day, and we had a drive. He was cool with it all.
I managed to make it five days without saying a word. Other than the occasional "dude I'm so excited." FINALLY it was the day of, and FINALLY I could share the excitement! He asked what we were doing, and I made him guess at first, but I finally told him. He was just as pumped as I was.
Finally we were headed to Skydive Eagle Creek.
I drove on the way, and the roads were a little daunting at first. I was used to the flatlands of the midwest, but I relaxed into it and enjoyed every last bit of it. It was a beautiful morning, with a great forecast for the day, no rain. It was incredible; the sunshine, the trees, the winding roads. I had a cup of coffee, good music, and one of my favorite people. It was a phenomenal start to the day.
After a pit stop and a couple wrong turns, we were finally there. The gravel road was a little hidden but you could see the huge machine sheds used as hangers from the road. As we pulled in, two huge Rottweilers come trotting up to the car, taking care to not get to close. I parked by the other cars next to the machine shed. I got out and greeted the dogs, and then we headed over to meet the group of people we were about to spend the entire day with.
I immediately felt at home in the chill environment. While walking up, I was taken aback by the scenery. The grass airfield was smack dab in the middle of nowhere, the skylines filled with mountains. It was an extraordinary view.
We met the owner and pilot, Ralph, an old and spunky war vet. Then we met his daughter-in-law Jill, who had scheduled us, and his son Sonny, our skydiving trainer for the day. There were three other people there for the adventure.
Who goes Skydiving?
There was Garrett, a guy about my age, who seemed to be on the same level of geeked as we were. He was with an older gentleman, Sean, who was marking this off on his bucket list. Then there was Frank, a much older gentleman, about 80 yrs old. Yes, I said 80 years old. You can trust that I was a little concerned about him.
Everyone was so down to earth. I knew it was going to be a great experience. After introductions, we completed our waivers, and then were moving on to learn how to jump!
We started out watching videos in what they called the training room. The videos looked like they were shot in the eighties: big hair, neon colors, and all. All jokes aside, they were filled with a lot of significant information for our jump. They went over, in a nutshell, what we would be practicing and reviewing for the rest of the day.
It explained the different types of jumps, tandem and static line. For the static line jump that we were doing, a jump master would be with us, but we would jump solo. We would be connected to a static line that pulled our parachute after we dropped so many feet.
Once the videos were done Sonny asked a few questions, and had us pick out jumper suits from the piles of equipment in the corner.
We were about to go outside and roll around in the grass.
We practiced our PLF, or parachute landing fall. a technique used to minimize injury during rough landings. The PLF distributes the landing shock along feet, calves, thighs, hip and shoulder. Next, we practiced the same thing, jumping from a raised platform. We also practiced climbing out of a grounded plane, to better understand how to do so. We practiced everything for a good chunk of time, and we were at it for about 8 hours.
We went over different pictures of tangled parachutes. We were strapped into harnesses. We laid on the ground practicing our exit arch. All the while, Sonny gave us tips on how we were doing, and thorough explanations of every detail. He reviewed how and what to do , and stressed the importance of the lessons being taught. We were definitely in good hands.
Throughout the day we took breaks and stopped for a lunch. Afterwards, we got right back to it. We had a great time while learning, and we laughed a lot. Before we knew it the time was upon us. They notified Ralph we were ready.
We went over some details one last time and it was time to suit up.
This was it!
The moment we had practiced for all day had arrived. The entire group was buzzing with excitement, all of us psyching each other up. Our chutes were selected according to our weights. We all suited up, laced our shoes, and picked out helmets. I chose a ridiculous pink one. I was so ready.
As if my adrenaline wasn't already pumping, good old Ralph decided I would go first.
Though we had already gone over the different parts of the chute such as the emergency chute and our altimeter, we went over it again as they strapped me up. The plane was ready to go, it was time.
Reese and I walked out to the little jumper plane. He got in first sitting with his back to the pilot seat, then our jump master Mike next, climbing in next to Reese facing the front to better instruct me. Ralph climbed into the pilot seat, then I climbed in sitting next to him on my knees holding onto the "dashboard" of the plane.
The jump master hooked up my static line. I did my check, we were all ready to go. The plane crawled down to one end of the field to the runway, and we started for takeoff. My heart entered my throat. I was about to do this. I was about to jump out of a plane.
We were off the ground, no turning back now.
It took what seemed like an eternity to get up to where we needed to be. They made a round about, and asked if I could see the airfield. At first I couldn't, so I said no. Then I noticed the road we had discussed flying up and down, before making our way back to the field for our landing in the pea pit. They asked again, so I just said yes. I would figure it out.
They opened the door. I was terrified, excited, and determined. As we approached the jump zone the jump master hollered "out," which was my cue to climb out and dangle from the plane. I started to get up but the pilot yelled "no" too soon. This racked my nerves a bit and made me shaky. I sat back down for what seemed like maybe a minute, only to be told out again.
I got up, and climbed out, inching my hands across the bar. I allowed the wind to hold up the weight of my body, making sure to watch the jump master for my signal.
He yelled "go" and I did.
Letting go was so surreal.
I had a moment of "Holy shit I'm falling". My mind went completely blank. Instead of holding my exit arch like I had practiced all day, I kicked and swam up until just before my chute came out. The wits that had decided to leave, came back. My chute was deployed. I did my checks, looked down and figured out where I was.
Everything was all good.
Mike came in over the radio loud and clear giving you directions on which way to bank and when to start heading in a different direction. We were told to focus on what was below us, but let me tell you what it was hard.
The view made me tear up. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
This was the closest I would ever get to flying, in that moment I envied the bird.
The feeling is indescribable to those who have not experienced it. It was beautiful, freeing, moving, inspiring.
Everything it could have been it was.
I followed Sonny's instructions as he watched from the ground, banking to come down a line of trees, and then snaking back and forth to lose some altitude before I made my landing. As I got closer to the point of landing he hollered for me to flare my chute at fifteen feet, like we had gone over in class.
For this part I managed to remember my training. The landing was a little hard because I landed on the ground instead of the aimed for pea pit.
I had done it!
I had been terrified and still pushed through. I felt incredible, like I could conquer the world. I gathered up my chute in the manner we had been instructed, and walked back to the group. I watched Reese make his jump as I made my way. He remembered every last bit of training and nailed it. I was so proud.
As I watched, I hoped his flight was as awe-inspiring for him as mine was for me.
As I came upon the group, everyone was cheering. I responded back with some yells of triumph too. Everyone commented on how I had done. They said I looked great, and were eager to know how the experience was. They would all soon see.
Soon after, Reese made his landing. The cheering ensued all over again. The plane landed for the next group, and the whole process began again, until everyone had jumped. Everyone cheered for each person with every landing.
Frank was the last of us to jump. Most of the group was concerned about his jump. Sonny radioed from the ground, but it was as if Frank couldn't hear him. We were all worried, with Frank clearly not following any instructions. But eventually he landed safe and sound.
We later talked to Frank and he told us in his soft, old man voice. "I know he's a little upset, but I took my hearing aid out before I jumped."
I had to stifle a laugh. He told us he had parachuted when he was in the war. This whole time we had been worried for Franks safety, but he totally had it handled.
The day was coming to an end. It had been absolutely incredible.
We stripped off our gear, all of us excitedly talking, and putting things away. We were each given a skydiving booklet for record of our first jump! Ralph and Sonny discussed our jumps with each of us. They gave us praise, and constructive criticism, on our first jump from an airplane. As I approached, I knew I had swum, instead of holding my arch. Like the good instructor Sonny was, he asked what I had done. I said, "Oh I totally swam."
We both laughed about it. He told me I needed serious work with it. He was right.
One day I intend to skydive again, and do it right.
We sat around, talked, laughed, exchanged Facebook accounts. Once everyone had their booklet, I asked Ralph for information on places near home that I could go skydiving. Reese and I went to his office in the hanger, to get the information. It was clear the man was ready to relax in his office. I thanked him very much for the information, and for having us out for the day. Ralph proceeded to tell me that I could have anything with that smile. I told you he was spunky. It was too funny.
We sat with the rest of the group for a while. You could still feel that buzz of excitement in everyone. Sunny told us that if we ever came again to bring a tent, and that we could camp out. In that moment I wished we had. The family at Skydive Eagle Creek made us feel welcome, and at home, from the get go. Good vibes all around.
As we sat there, thanking each other for the time we had shared that day, the older gentleman, Sean, told us his story. He had been in a serious accident, that caused him to lose his memory. Sean had to relearn his whole life: his family, how to eat, and how to walk. As he revealed the heart of his bucket list, I was in complete awe.
As he talked about this I got goosebumps all over my body. This moved my soul in an indescribable way.
Sean had pushed through something that others would deem impossible. He was living his life. He was going on adventures of a lifetime. It was an inspiring reality check on life perspective. I am unbelievably grateful for the opportunity to share a bucket list moment with him. I hope that his story inspires you as well. You can do anything.
We said our goodbyes, and we left. The drive home was equally beautiful as the first, with the sunset and views. The entire day was unlike any other I'll ever have again. Perfect in its own way. The lessons, and the smiles, and the people. It's an experience that I will always have.
This is why I value experiences over material things. I could not buy any of that magnificent day in a store.
Find what you are passionate about. Try new things. Go out and experience life. Skydiving may not be your thing, but something is and its waiting for you.
If skydiving is your thing, and you're in the Portland, Oregon, or surrounding areas, I would suggest Skydive Eagle Creek for a friendly fun time.