So yesterday was my birthday, denizens. How old did I turn? Well…let’s put it this way: Captain Janeway and her crew once discovered a planet that housed several people, including Amelia Earhart, who all disappeared in a particular year. The name of the episode in which Janeway made this discovery was how old I turned (yes, I’m going to make you work for this, and, yes, it’s going to be in a thoroughly geeky way).
Speaking of flying (Amelia Earhart segue, FTW!), I spent part of my birthday morning in a plane. I then spent part of my birthday morning plunging out of that plane, falling at approximately 120 mph toward the ground 2.5 miles below me. While strapped securely and snugly to a rather lovely man named Mario.
I’m very thankful that Mario was so delightful because Mario and I became very close. You’ll see what I mean in a moment.
First, here’s me, properly suited up, rigged, and boasting a bad-ass “Danger” sign on my back:
I had requested a special “BAMF” sign since it was my birthday, but all they had were these signs. I made do. Besides, the Danger sign was way better than the little hat they made us all wear, which reminded me of the line that Jimmy Doogan says to the umpire who tried to correct Doogan when he was yelling at Evelyn Gardner for missing the cut-off:
Second cinematic reference…buckle your seat belts, it’s just going to get geekier…
So, to give you an idea of how high up we were, this was our plane at the halfway mark to our ascent. We circled at this altitude to let some solo students jump. Apparently, you have to jump a certain number of times from the halfway mark before you can do any solo jumps from 13,500 feet. That little cross-shaped speck? That’s our plane:
Finally, we reach our altitude and I’m second in line to dive. We hunker down and kind of duck-walk to the door because: A) Mario and I are now properly attached to each other, and B) the plane was not big enough to allow us to stand up. Here’s a shot of me looking down at the ground before Mario put my head back in the safety position. I love looking out the windows of planes as we fly places. I could have stood at the edge of the plane’s door, just staring down at the earth for hours…
But that wasn’t the point of this adventure. And so it was 1…2…3…and away we go! Take a look at Mario in this shot. I might have wanted “BAMF” for my sign, but Mario actually is a BAMF. He’s been a tandem instructor for 16 years now, and he’s done this particular move more than 6,000 times. He was awesome in every sense of the word:
Those first few seconds are astonishing and breathtaking and completely disorienting, as you watch earth and sky trade places several times while you tumble away from the plane:
But then you right yourself (or rather Mario rights you both) and you regain your senses enough to be able to flash your “gang” signs for the camera:
I told you it was just going to get geekier.
You know what draws my attention more than the scenery in this shot? The fact that my shoelace is untied!
But I hadn’t realized this fact at this point in the jump…probably because I was too busy having my breath stolen away from me every single second we were falling by glorious vistas like this:
I just love this shot. You can be King of the World all you want, Leo. Mario and me? We’re way above all that:
Did I mention that in addition to being totally bad-ass, Mario was also supremely silly?
Also, I would like to point out that, yes, I do realize that wind rushing past my face at 120 mph makes me look like an extra from the Twilight Zone episode “Eye of the Beholder.” There’s really nothing I can do about that. I just wanted to acknowledge my awareness of this fact. And now that I have pointed this out to you, you cannot unsee the comparison. You’re welcome.
Meanwhile, Mario is still silly:
But he’s still fully aware of where we are in our descent and totally in control. It’s at this point, he’s checked his altimeter and he’s now getting ready to signal me that I should pull the release to deploy our parachute. But not before I finish giving a final thumbs-up:
And…boom. I’m now aware of the fact that my shoelace has come untied. Yes, it does drive me a little crazy the rest of the way down:
Actually, all I do is keep my one foot under the shoe that is untied so that it doesn’t have the chance to come loose, and then I spend the next several minutes having a great chat with Mario and getting to steer the parachute a little before Mario treats me to a few awesome spins and swoops over absolutely gorgeous landscape. As much as I loved the adrenaline rush of the freefall, I think this was my favorite part of the jump. It was so serene, so beautiful, so unbelievable.
And here we near our final destination. I love how this photo makes it look like we’re leaving a contrail behind us:
Mario gives me excellent instructions right up to the end and we have a perfect landing…
…and a groovy birthday hug!
And, to wrap it all up, I receive a certificate of achievement and the LARGEST bumper sticker I think I’ve ever owned:
This was, by far, the most amazing birthday gift I have ever received, and a million “thank yous” would cover only the first second of this fantastic journey. I have wanted to skydive for many years. Now that I’ve finally done it? I would do it again in a heartbeat. It is incomparable in exhilaration and in beauty. I would also highly recommend Skydive Orange if you are anywhere near Virginia and feel the need to plunge out of a plane while harnessed to someone as awesome as Mario. Every single instructor I met there was astounding and totally adept and totally professional…while still being totally silly and totally groovy. None of them was as astounding as Mario though. He rocked. And if you do decide to do this, and you’d like documented proof that you did, I highly recommend Christian for your photography and videography needs. He’s the brave soul who hung onto the side of the plane and jumped with Mario and me, to get every moment of my momentous descent. He rocked, too.
And when you’re finished? Get thee to a winery. There are several around Orange, Virginia, including my absolute favorite, Keswick Vineyards, which provided both the refreshment and the scenery for this perfect ending to a perfect morning: