I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Going skydiving today

Yes, it's been a month since I last went skydiving. Although we have had a day here and there with blue skies, it's not been on a weekend, until today. This picture was taken years ago in Arizona when I was vacationing at a skydiving boogie. I'm over there on the lower left (purple, white helmet) and Smart Guy is the white one behind me, barely visible. It was an organized skydive, meaning that the sequence and placement of each participant was predetermined.

When I was making frequent skydives, five or six a day at these events, the scariest part of each jump was performance anxiety. Since you have all those other people all paying for their own ticket, everyone wants the jump to be successful; i.e., to complete what we set out to do. I trusted my gear and was quite familiar with the entire process, but I was never sure that I would not screw up in some way that would make me feel like I let them all down. Everyone felt the same.

One problem that happened often was misjudging the distance to the formation, which must build from the inside out. If you were on the outside, like we were, it was a frequent occurrence that someone might approach too quickly and "go low" -- be unable to slow down and approach carefully in order to take your grip. Then you would just sail past the formation and look up at it helplessly. It is a fragile formation and any forward momentum when you dock can be seen on the video camera as a ripple moves through from one side to the other. The cameraman who took this picture also is wearing a video camera.

After the skydive, we would all meet in the main hangar and debrief. Other skydivers not on the dive who were finishing packing or waiting for their load would also gather around. If I made a mistake, it would be shown over and over on the huge video screen while my burning cheeks flamed away. This would happen to each of us whose performance was not as planned, and you hoped that no comments would be directed your way. Since we were doing this for fun, we would be given a chance to go up on another skydive and try again. It was always exciting to learn how to correct a mistake and put it into practice.

But many skydivers are very competitive and want to make jumps with people who are much better than the rest of us. They knew who they were and stayed out of the organized jumps, which would take anyone who gave a ticket to the organizer. If someone screwed up repeatedly, the organizer would take him or her aside and suggest joining another group that would be making easier skydives. After a few days, you knew where you belonged. Year after year, I would see my fellow skydivers showing up at the Christmas boogie in Arizona, for instance, and we would happily jump together. A group of jumpers from the UK are in this picture and were regular fun jumpers. We looked for each other every year, and I only see them on Facebook these days. My boogie days are behind me.

Today my anxiety is not about performance, but about getting current again. When I haven't made a jump in awhile, I review in my mind all my emergency techniques and mentally picture myself opening my parachute and flying it in a landing pattern to the ground. I know that my friend Linny will organize an easy skydive because none of us is terribly current, with the weather having been  uncooperative for so long. Butterflies and mental review are my friends. The 75-mile drive to Snohomish and back on the freeway are also nerve wracking, and I pay close attention to my speed and the drivers around me. But I do it, because I know the payoff is a day well spent playing in the sunshine with my friends, doing something I know how to do well, even if it has been awhile. After 4,000+ jumps, it's a familiar environment.

And today, Linda Myers, who has the blog "Thoughts of a Bag Lady in Waiting" will be driving to Snohomish from a nearby city to watch. I've never met her in person, but I feel like I know her. She retired from her job a year ago and has been going through her bucket list, with plenty of travel and helping to build a Habitat for Humanity home in New Orleans. She posted her plans for today on Facebook so I know I'll see her for sure. I'm looking forward to it and I'm making sure I don't forget to take my camera.

So that's the news from Bellingham, where all the men are good-looking, all the women are strong, and all the children are above average. (That's a ripoff from Garrison Keillor, for those of you who wonder where the heck THAT came from!)

20 comments:

Mel said...

Hope you have a great time and zero performance anxiety! What's the appropriate wish - smooth sailing? Clear skies? Safe travels? Whatever it is, I wish it for you.

Linda Myers said...

Linda will be leaving home in about an hour to head for Snohomish. It's a beautiful day for a drive and to watch DJan jump out of a perfectly good airplane!

gigihawaii said...

Great! I know you will have a wonderful time in wonderful weather. Hope all goes well, DJan. Enjoy the day!

CrazyCris said...

Sounds like you've got a great Sunday planned, have fun DJan!!!

Rita said...

Have fun jumping out of a plane! I'd be freaking out, but you have fun. I know you'll have a good time meeting a blogger friend. How cool is that?! I hope the weather is nice and your time goes slowly. ;)

Anonymous said...

Have a great jump. There was a time I would have but that time has passed.
Please tell Linda that since the blogger mess, I can no longer comment on her blog and I know I am not the only one.
If she will change her comment settings to "full page", those like me will be able to comment again. Or if she will allow anonymous like you do, then I could comment that way. Thanks.
Arkansas Patti

Linda Myers said...

DJan, I read this post, reset my comment settings, and sent Arkansas Patti an email letting her know.

Gigi said...

Although I can't picture myself jumping out of a perfectly good plane - I hope you had a great time! And enjoyed meeting a blogger-buddy!

DJan said...

Yep, it was a great day today! More on my other blog tomorrow...

Far Side of Fifty said...

I hope you had a fun day and are basking in the memories of good jumps this evening:)

Anonymous said...

So glad you had a great day. I admire your energy. I went for a bike ride and had to come home and take a nap!
#1 Nana aka Jann

TechnoBabe said...

A good place to learn to work with other people would be in the sky.

You are so full of life and your adventures spill over to me, so thanks.

Friko said...

Skydiving sounds not at all scary the way you talk about it. I can imagine that soaring in the blue sky must be totally exhilarating, but I'd still be scared.

I'll stay on terra firma. In fact, definitely on terra firma, with my hands deep in the soil.

Enjoy your sport.

Donna B said...

Hope you had a great day and the weather cooperated... but I emailed you this morning, to tell you I used your forest picture with one of my poems... on DTPOOL and still no answer from you... Please let me hear from you so I don't worry...

Anonymous said...

So happy for you that you got a sunny day for sailing in the sky.
Lind Reeder

Robert the Skeptic said...

I always sucked at relative work, the combination of my (then) rotund belly and my slick suit, I fell faster than everyone else; and I would backslide, a problem I never really got a handle on.

I keep thinking I should do a jump for old times sake, and since I survived my heart surgery. I still have my jumpsuit, altimeter and goggle. Whaddya think?

Nancy said...

I'm sure you did well. I cannot imagine you doing anything half-way.

Grandmother said...

You sure have my admiration! The thought of it gives me the heebie- jeebies! Have a great time and say Hi to Linda.

Bragger said...

Part of me is intensely jealous. I haven't jumped since 1994, and I still look skyward every time I hear a small plane. But I wasn't very good at it..... So it's probably best that I stopped. I love reading your stories about it, though!

lavajoe said...

Hey DJan, "Smart Guy" pointed me to your blogs. I have read a number if your posts, and many parts of them resonate with my own experiences. I am sure I'll follow your posts from now on, and you've inspired me to start another blog (my others have gone dormant), perhaps with a skydiving focus. Although I have recounted the story of my first jump to many people, I've never (well, that I remember now) put it in writing - might be a fun thing to do (and if I do, remember that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery).