Then we got into this tiny little plane with one long bench seat on either side. We all sat facing the back, one leg on each side of the bench, and the plane took off and flew just like any other, albeit a lot more noisily. I was shaking so hard at this point that I could look down at my legs (through my jeans and garbage-man-looking jumpsuit) and see them trembling. But once we got above the clouds, I started remembering all the other plane flights I'd taken, all the other long, boring international voyages during which I'd thought, I wonder what it would feel like to sit on those clouds? I was about to find out.
Once we got to 10,000 feet, Chuck, who was tethered to my back, started tightening the straps and checking the buckles one last time. The guys closest to the (clear plastic roll-down) door shoved it open, bringing in a rush of cold air. Everyone pulled down their goggles, and all the other guys on our plane - all experienced solo jumpers - whooped and vaulted out like they'd been lassoed.
Then it was our turn. We slid down the bench till we were right by the door. Looking down, all I could see was a thick white blanket of clouds. My cameraman, Jeff, was clinging to the outside of the plane, awaiting Chuck's signal. I grasped the shoulder straps of my harness and watched Chuck's fingers flash in front of my goggles, three! two! one! Then we were out the door.
I shrieked. I am not a shrieker, but my throat hurt for the next half hour from that pitch. I heard myself for just a second, and then it died away as the winds came up to whip past us at over 120 miles an hour. My stomach gave one big swoop, like on the first downhill of a roller coaster, and then settled into the fall. I remembered to tuck my legs between Chuck's, we stablilized, and, amazingly, it started to be fun. Experimentally, I tried screaming again, but I couldn't hear myself over the wind. Jeff was falling across from us, waving at me and grinning. I grinned and laughed and gave two thumbs up. It was difficult to breathe, with air moving that fast, but I barely noticed, there was so much adrenaline charging through me.
We sped down through the clouds. It was cold; the air whipped my face and hands. All I could see was white. Then, suddenly, the clouds began to part. For a split second, I saw shapes through a white mist. Then, just as suddenly, the clouds were gone and we were flying high above the greens, blues, and browns of a Florida winter. Chuck pulled our rip cord, and our descent abruptly slowed. The wind ceased its roaring. Waving, Jeff fell away from us, pulling his own cord a couple thousand feet later.
"Whoa," I breathed, looking around. It was amazingly clear; I could see everything with no obscuring clouds or airplane window glass. "Where are we? I mean, which way are we looking?"
"Well, there's the airport," Chuck indicated, "so we're facing west."
It was closer than I would have thought; apparently a free fall takes you only about six seconds per thousand feet. Amazing.
We flew for a couple more minutes, and then Chuck asked, "Do you get airsick?"
"You puke easy?"
"...What are you gonna do?"
A minute later, he offered me the tethers. "Don't pull them; just extend your arms all the way up and hang on to them." I did, and I was controlling the parachute! A minute later, he said casually, "Hey - don't pull the right tether, but pull that left one all the way down to your waist." He put his hands up to guide me.
I did, and whoosh! We began to spin, the green-brown world rotating below us. I laughed at first, but after three revolutions or so, I told him to stop. Spinning made us descend faster, and I wanted to stay up as long as we could. We drifted along, floating this way and that, looking at everything below us.
All too soon, it was time to land. Suddenly, the field was right in front of us. "Pick your feet up," Chuck said, and I did. We landed softly on our bottoms, and two people rushed over to control and protect the parachute.
I said a last farewell to Jeff's camera, and went back over to my dad to see the footage he'd gotten. After a few minutes, Chuck asked what we were looking at. "We're on video," I said, and held it out for him to see.
"Yeah, but is it as good as this?" Jeff asked, holding out an 8x10.
Needless to say, the video was NOT as good as that. Wow. The scan looks kind of grainy, and it's cropped because it didn't pick up the clouds-and-sky background very well, but the original is beautiful - almost crystal clear, and you can see all the detail on the clouds below us. There's a whole CD full of pictures being mailed to me, plus a DVD, but for right now, that one is all I have. I'll show you more when I get them, assuming they're good.