Monday, August 27, 2007

Skydiving - Fly like a bird!

Well, finally I did it. Fulfilled a long-standing dream that I had. When I first used to think about it, I used to wonder if I would ever be able to do it. Lots of questions swirled through my mind. Would I be able to take the plunge? Would it be like others have recounted? Adrenalin rush in the beginning, calmness in between, and then back on terra firma with all it's usual stark realities and finally ends with a pain in your neck, b*tt or whichever organ you highly prefer?
Sounds like how many people describe marriage..or love.

Hahahaha, I found that funny!

What I really did was an equally, if not more, crazy nutcase thing.
I SKYDIVED!!
skydived? Now, is that a word? Isn't it skydove? That sounds more like some low-cost airline! Kingfisher, Indigo, Skydove...fits perfect, what say?
Who cares. I just got sucked into 14500 feet of blood-pumping gravity. And wasn't it amazing. No, incredible. No, awesome. Well, I can't find a word to describe it (though if you ask my mom and dad, they would easily describe it a "perfectly idiotic suicide attempt"). No prizes for guessing if I asked their permission before taking the plunge! :D

It all started off with me checking out random skydiving videos on youtube. And on an impulse, started checking on skydiving near Memphis. Generally, Memphis has very little to offer to a person like me. So wanted to try something different. Found a place called West Tennessee Skydiving, rated one of the best in the country run by a person called Mike Mullins. I threw the idea across the table to my two colleagues who also showed as much enthusiasm as me (and one of them was even married, which I found all the more amazing!).
We called up the drop zone and fixed up Sunday morning for the daredevilry. So on the bright and sunny Sunday morning we set off to test how far our hearts would jump up the windpipe and reach the mouth. Incidentally, on the way, we passed the biggest Indian temple in Memphis. So we stopped there and prayed to the God of Skydiving, Hanuman, for his blessings and continued to Somerville to the drop zone.

Free...free falling!
That says it all!

(click on the thumbnails for bigger images)
We reached at almost noon. The sun was blazing hot but we knew that the weather up above the clouds would be much colder than that. So we met up with Mike who led us to a room with a small TV and handed us legal forms that we needed to fill. The video was basically an explanation of the risks involved with skydiving and ensuring that we understood the risks before deciding on it. The video had a very uncanny resemblance to the Dharma Initiative videos (LOST series fans will know what I'm talking about :-D) with a long-bearded lawyer giving a discourse.

Terminal Velocity! Gonna be my speed :)
The legal video :O

The forms basically stated that I am solely responsible for this suicidal mission and no one but me is responsible if anything untoward happens. I guess signing the forms itself psyches out most people. There are like some 25 places we need to put our initials stating agreement to various clauses. And a place for emergency contact in case of accident! So finally, after wading through the signatures, we paid the fees (heh heh, reminds me of the one liner - Free fall is no way near free! It costs the sky!)
I opted for the video and still snaps shooting which I later was glad I took. I was the only one shot with a Digital Rebel XTi, while other had to do with still cameras :D
Yeah yeah, I know, I was geeky enough to notice the camera model through all the excitement and nervousness.
My jump instructor was Mark Gerlach, an affable, chilled out Aussie. So he was the one whom I was entrusting my life with for the next half hour. He, as expected, tried to make light of it and keep us in good cheer. And succeeded at it with me as well. I immediately felt completely safe hading over my safety into his hands.
He ran us through the arch mechanism, stepping of the plane process. It was a general fun atmosphere in the hangar where all the jump instructors were hanging out joking and ribbing each other.

Sajnaaaa hai mujheyyy..udne ke liye :))
Goin' up, baby!

We were given out jumpsuits which, at first, looked like factory overalls (the blue reminded me of our Ramaiah workshop uniform :-D), but once the harness equipment was provided, we looked like characters straight out of Top Gun, minus the helmets! Was a good feeling.
Joe was my camera buddy who was going to film and snap me throughout my jump and we took some customary interviews prior to the flight. Both Mark and Joe immediately put me at ease with the whole jump thing. Strangely, as expected, I didn't feel any nervousness once I was all decked up.

So we all filed into the small Cessna plane piloted by Mike himself. As we took off and the foliage on dear earth became tinier and tinier, I wondered my usual wonder "WTH am I setting out to do?". But the constant chatter from Mark kept me in sane spirits still.

No Fear!?!
14500 feet, and we're there!

At 14500 feet, about 3miles up from the ground (just realised 14500 feet is 4419 metres! half the height of Mount Everest! whoooo!), we were way above fluffy clouds which were laid out below us like huge cotton puffs inviting to lay comfortably on it. But the mood was anything but comfort inside of the plane. The plane suddenly jolted and stood still, and we were almost floating inside of the plane. First, few solo jumpers took off. From our group, the order was Arun, Deepak and finally, myself.
Finally, it was my turn. When I stepped on the ledge, looking down to the green earth far, far below, my WTH turned into a full WTF. If someone connected a turbine to my heart at that moment, it would have been enough to provide electricity for Bangalore for a day. But there was no going back now. I gave a huge whoop of joy posing to the camera and set off. The first few seconds.....INCREDIBLE. Any trace of fear or nervousness just vanished. It was just pure rush at terminal velocity!

Here we go, NOW! Suuiiciide!
The first few seconds. Time stops still!

We just kept hurtling down, all submitted to sucky gravity. We kept going and going, the best being going right through the clouds. No feeling of comfort pillows anymore. The misty coldness of the clouds felt so damn fresh! The freshest air I could breathe. It was pure adrenalin! The wind was making my cheek jowls flail around and I was having a hard time trying to put up a grin for Joe who was right in front of me with the cameras.
And was I loving it!! I was a bird! Now I know why birds sing. Cause, they can fly! And right now, I was flying too. As someone said, if sitting in an airplane is flying, then sitting in a boat is swimming!! One has to sky dive to know what flying means.


Across the clouds I see my shadow fly...
Inside Cloud Number 9 :D

After a minute of exhilarating free fall, Mark yanked the ripcord and we were violently jerked up when the parachute opened up. Mark very sweetly whispered into my ear (Actually he was shouting full throttle, but at 15mph winds 2 miles up in the sky, everything sounds like sweet nothings) that the parachute thankfully looked good and let me control the parachute all round the place. We floated for quite some time taking in the beautiful scenery from a bird's eye view. He told me I was his 4999th jump. That's a pretty cool number.



I believe I can fly!
60 seconds of free fall and 2 thumbs up!

Then it was time to land. Mark made an almost perfect landing. And finally back on terra firma. But the adrenalin rush was still intact.

Now this seems something which I would really love to do again, maybe go solo sometime and check out the feeling! Wonder when that's gonna happen. I cross my fingers for that.

For those around Tennessee, check out skydivekingair.com. They were great, cordial, friendly people willing to answer any question you may have and keep you at ease.

And finally, here's the video of the jump. Can rival any action movie for all the thrills! :D

"Gravity isn't just a good idea. It's the LAW!"
"Football, baseball..most sports require one ball to play. Skydiving needs both!"
-- seen on a cotton tshirt, West Tennessee skydiving, circa 2007

4 comments:

unjun said...

gutsy!! though i'd really like to think that i might accomplish a deed as dangerous as this...... feeling sick while just watching your video is not a very comforting feeling ;) (i have vertigo). congratulations... may u have many more successful skydives :)

Prasad A Chodavarapu said...

You write very well, Prashanth. I enjoyed reading the blog as well as watching your sky dive on you tube.

cheers
chap

Prashanth said...

@unjun:
At the moment of jump, the excitement just overwhelms any fear factor there might be. That is the most exhilarating part of it. A must-try, I would say.

@chap:
Thanks, Chap. Really encouraging.
It was a great experience to do the jump. You should try it, too :)

Ashley said...

Mark took me for my first dive last Saturday, 10.18.08 ! Oh man.. you're right! It's SO incredible up there! I'm hoping to go back and train for my solo license soon and I'm crossing my fingers for Mark to train me! Your photos are AWESOME! I got goosebumps looking at yours because I was remembering my jump from 14,500' ! :)

-Ashley