"Everything you want is on the other side of fear."
That's what Will Smith said after describing a crazy, last minute decision to jump out of a fully functioning airplane. In his retelling of his personal jump story, he was out with friends the night before and they all decided that HELL YEAH they were going to be jumping out of a plane, because why not?
My decision wasn't that last minute or immediate.
I wanted to jump a year ago for my birthday, because why not? It wasn't necessarily at the top of my life list. It mostly came from writing an article about local adventures for adrenaline junkies on a San Diego site I write for. But there was so much else going on at the time, like packing up and moving and a nasty divorce and a shit ton of uncertainty that was taking too much of my mental space, which was filled with a pile of doubt and fear anyway, so jumping out of a plane was put out of my crowded mind, indefinitely.
Fast forward to March of this year, nearly a year after I originally wanted to jump. I called my doctor for a prescription update, but before I could get to that, she said "Hey, do you want to go skydiving with me?"
I paused for about half a second to scan my brain for random things that have happened in my life. This conversation safely fit into what is considered normal in my world, so I said, "Well, yeah. Now, can we talk about my iron?"
Dr. Diana Hoppe has been working on a program called Amazing Over 40. Her marketing guy, Lee, an avid skydiver, suggested a jump to share on her site. Later, when we were sipping on beers across the highway after our jump, Lee told me that he asked Diana if she knew anyone that would want to jump with her. "Of all the 1200 people and patients in her database, she said she only knew one person that would for sure do it: Sugar Jones."
Side Note: I love that people think I'm brave and/or crazy. It gives me more personal permission to be that brave crazy chick when I think I can't be. We can talk ourselves into some stupid arguments, but what people say about you (the people that matter, anyway) is probably more true than what that self-doubt monster in your head is saying to you. Sometimes, it's good to tap into those better beliefs by affirming that you are that person. THAT is what this jump was about.
A month later, we're on a plane, strapped to two guys that looked a bit like Maverick and Goose (I got Goose), Diana and I looking at each other with what I can only describe as "What the fuck did we do?" My mind was scanning all the research I'd done and I knew there was such a tiny chance of any danger, and yet the fear of falling out of a plane and not landing safely was nagging at the back of my mind. It's not normal to jump out of a safe plane, so naturally, my lizard brain kept saying,
"STOP! GO BACK! YOU CAN'T DO THIS!!!"
There was a lot of breathing in and out and singing songs really loud to keep our minds off of what was about to happen. We went from smiling and laughing to freaking out over and over as we climbed to 13,000 feet. I knew there was no going back. No way in hell was I going to be the one that came back to the ground in the plane. Nope. I was going out the door whether I wanted to or not. And that's the thing. I wanted to. I wanted to get past that experience and have that information in my head so that I could go back and enjoy it, knowing what to expect, should there ever be a next time.
When we got to altitude and the side door opened, I heard the girl who was closest to the door and first to jump say, "Are you fucking kidding me?" My inside voice responded with, "Thanks, bitch... that was helpful." I watched bodies disappear out the door, one tandem at a time, and then it was our turn. I grabbed the bar at the exit, not to hold myself in, but to move myself closer to the door. Goose gently smacked my hand, which wasn't going to be the first time on the jump. He was in charge and I needed to surrender and let him do his thing.
My legs suddenly were dangling out of the plane and the guy with the flying squirrel suit that had been randomly video taping me on the ground and in the air jumped out backwards in front of us to shoot the experience. A second later, we were out the door, dropping at 120MPH.
I arched my back as I'd been instructed to do when we were on the ground. I kept my eyes closed for the first five seconds, a move I'm still regretting, because I missed out on five seconds of what turned out to be the most amazing thing I've ever done. I could feel the gravity on my body as we apparently did a few flips. I felt the blood pumping up, then down, then up and down again. And then we weren't flipping anymore, so I opened my eyes to see which direction we ended at, upside down or downside up.
That's when I felt the feeling that I've been wanting to feel all my life.
I was flying.
HOLY SHIT, I WAS FLYING!!!
I spread my "wings" out and smiled... and then my mouth instantly dried up. 120MPH wind in your face is NOT attractive. Neither is trying to lick your mouth wet to get that lip back down. Nothing says "vane" like worrying about your pictures while you're falling to the ground. Who wants to look bat shit crazy in their jump pics? No matter how much I tried, sticking my tongue out into the wind and trying to lick my teeth probably looked crazier than just letting them be dry, so I stopped worrying about it and just went with the full-faced dry-gummed smile.
There were some moves that Goose did (his name is really Joe Semler) that made me a little nervous and I flinched and grabbed his arm, like it was somehow going to stop the falling-with-style, forgetting that we were both dropping together. He smacked my hand off again, probably because it was coming too close to important stuff, so I went back to flying, making a mental note to keep my hands off the pack on my next jump.
Yes, only seconds into this jump, I was planning to do it again. Because, as scary as it was and as much as my natural instincts were to grab something to make the falling stop, the rest of me was completely enjoying the experience. When the chute opened, I wasn't relieved. I was sad. I wanted to keep flying. I wanted to keep feeling that amazing feeling of zooming through the sky at terminal velocity. I wanted to keep feel so fucking alive!
But it's difficult to survive a landing at terminal velocity, so the crazy part of the ride ended, giving way to the sweeter part of the experience. We jumped just a few miles from the ocean on a bright, sunny day, so the view was as beautiful as you can imagine. Oh my god, to see the ocean glimmering from that height... I miss flying over the ocean in a little plane, but this was so. much. better.
Then we turned a little and we could see all the hills still blooming with flowers. I could see all my local landmarks. I was like a little kid pointing and squealing. "There's the Oceanside Pier! There's the skate park! There's the lagoon! Way over there are the Flower Fields!" And then we turned back to face the water and I was just overwhelmed with the beauty of it all.
Then... much too soon... we landed.
There are a few things that my research prior to the jump hadn't uncovered.
1: If you have any length of hair, it will tangle into teeny tiny knots that will take days to undo. If you're hair is too short to put into a proper ponytail like me, you're screwed. At least without a helmet, anyway. Just deal with the fun of picking knots apart before you accidentally run your hand through your hair and painfully pull a bunch of perfectly healthy hair out.
2: For the next several days, you will be overwhelmed with the desire to tell everyone you come across that you just jumped out of a plane. They'll all look at you like you're a crazy badass. Or maybe just crazy, but who cares? YOU know you're a badass and that's all that matters! And you'll FEEL like a badass. Every cell in your body is screaming it out. YOU. ARE. A. BADASS!!! Because you ARE! Because you faced some stupid fears and you jumped anyway!
3: You'll be so bored by everything for weeks after. EVERYTHING. People will talk about what they did and you'll be like, "Oh yeah..." but then you remember that not everyone is as badass as you, and just click back into the file of how it looked and felt to fly while you politely continue listening to their boring conversation about construction on their kitchen or where they're going to have brunch on Sunday.
4. Like any adrenaline junkie will tell you, you'll need a fix again real soon, so start setting aside some of your paycheck for another jump. Maybe your own chute. Possibly a flying squirrel suit like the guy taking the video. Definitely at least a helmet to avoid the dry teeth and knotted hair.
5. Eventually, life returns to normal and you stop telling EVERYBODY in your path about jumping out of a plane. That's when you go on line and remind yourself and them that you're still a badass, because it all seems like a distant memory, except for the fact that you're life is totally different now, because nothing seems scary anymore.
Everything you've ever wanted is on this side of fear... and now you are, too.