I’m standing there, a virgin, not knowing for sure if I am doing it right, not sure where to put my hands and hoping to hell that I am looking at the right thing. First times can be unnerving.
Ever since the boys told me how to do it I’ve been practicing. Thinking of how you hold the bead of open sights on your mark when hunting, remembering how that feels, when you know your target is perfectly lined up, be it an empty, a sage-rat or that elusive buck. I stand in the door of the plane, or squat rather, holding the bead, in this case a rivet on the lip of the door, steady on the ground below. The target is a lovely swath of bright green grass that someone has carefully mowed the letters B E E R into. Parallel to this a long white roof top and just south a swoop pond for all the glory hounds.
After me, #2 ‘guy’ out of the plane, (one of the two RW fliers,) then the rest of the the 18 person load consisting of a bunch of rowdy, ragtag freeflyers in crayon colored gear. With 22 jumps and just off student status the kid first out the door is just trying a few jumps on his own, (in this case that means, everyone thinks he might be scary as hell to jump with so he’s on his own for now.)
I left my boyfriend, his brother (the other pilot) and their parents on the ground. Having just over a hundred jumps up to now, I am going up to show off…except I’m not good enough at freeflying to jump with a group this big. One or two at a time so far. Freefliers go out the door last, they fall faster than us bellyfliers. This is how I come to be sitting in the open door of a Twin Otter at almost 13,000 feet on the last load of the day. Spotting The Sunset load.
My cross hairs are currently lined up north, across the street, from the DZ and B E E R but I can see her. The pilot has flipped the switch and hit the breaks. The green light is on telling me, “Go”. This “Go” means he’s ready when I am. I’m not as nervous as I thought I would be spotting my first load, I got this.
“Hey, what’s your name?” the kid with 22 jumps looks over and answers but I’ve forgotten it already, “Hi, okay. I’m getting out right behind you. Stay the fuck away from me and watch the line. I want you to make sure you know where the hell the rest of us are before you track off and deploy.”
Hmm…probably too stern…he nods his head like I just beat him with a stick. Skydivers have a lot of testosterone, too often, recklessly seek out adrenaline and push limits. It’s one of their best and worst traits. I no longer use kid gloves with the guys…even though, so far it’s been chicks who freak me out the most. I’ll be nice to him when we aren’t flying a hundred and fifty miles an hours towards the ground.
I look down at my rivet steadying myself on the door frame, still dirt. The flaps are down and the winds aloft are scooting so it seems like it takes forever…truth is I am (all of us are) impatient, we want to get out that door! Stoner Pete is the first freeflyer on the bench and he leans over, checks out my perch.
Reaching over, he grabs his helmet and yells out, you’re good, go ahead.
I still only see dirt under my rivet but what the hell do I know. I’m a virgin. The light is green. My altimeter says 12.7. The excitement is starting to bubble inside me. I turn to the kid.
“Go” I yell and I stand up grabbing hold of the bar on the outside of the plane just above the door. I hope I look as awesome as I feel right now. No boyfriend, no handholding, totally just spotted my first load…righteous babe. I am going to barrel roll out the door like a Boss. Out goes the kid. I give a few second count and tuck and roll out the door. (I saw this once on another jump, haven’t seen any of the ladies do it yet and I am testing out my new moves with no friends around…you know, in case I knock out my front tooth with my knee…)
Plane-belly, ground, plane-belly, ground, plane-belly and arch. Instantly the tumble stops and I have the biggest grin on my face. Altimeter says 11.5 perfect. I check my column, the smile falls away, pretty sure I am screwed. I could be wrong but there is still no B E E R green glory under me. instead I still see only the 80 acre dirt field directly below! Damn it! I should have known better than to trust someone called ‘Stoner Pete’. That guy never has to spot loads, he is always freeflying and last out of the plane…he has no clue.
I look over to the new jumper, we are around 10K feet and he is tracking like he will make it back to the DZ…geez, he’s going to fly into electrical wires, the road or another skydiver…awesome…I have to think. I scanned around, thinking for a few minutes…actually a few seconds. it’s really only about a minute of freefall and I make up my mind quickly.
The winds aloft are pretty fast and I’ve actually been pushed back to the forested edge of the field. I’m around 7.5 K feet now and the kid is over dirt. I see him look over at me. I wave off, turn, and track a bit then deploy hoping he does the same, there is no way we are getting out of walking back to the DZ. It didn’t suck being in the saddle at 4K feet, I have a slow lazy parachute, I needed the extra altitude to get away from the trees and out into the plowed field.
I am light, I can stay under canopy for a while. Once an instructor drove several blocks to subway then back after she jumped with me and landed first. Then she walked back onto the field, sandwich in hand, to watch me stick my landing. Thankful, for the moment, that this allows me some grace today in landing safely clear of rotors from the trees and trees in general. Thankful for all the skydiving stories I have sat on the edge of my seat listening to.
The kid did deploy when he saw me wave off. He’s on the ground grabbing up the fabric of his rented gear, I am three hundred feet from touch down, the sun just nodding off behind the coastal mountain range and a bright red glow on the horizon and I see him. A black Chevy full-sized pickup truck, headlights on, coming to my rescue! It’s the other pilot, the boyfriend’s brother, come to rescue a maiden in distress.
“Follow me” I yell to the kid who just did his 23rd jump and already has landed off DZ…looser! (Says the crazy girl jumper who just sent him out the door over no man’s land instead of the DZ.) I’ve just barely landed and I am off to show my appreciation that someone likes me enough to send out a rescue party…all the way across the street from the DZ. (Truthfully it would have sucked to walk the 500 to 700 yards with a deployed parachute over my shoulder … made even harder knowing everyone would have already cracked open their frosty beverage while I was kicking rocks…)
I fling open the passenger door and the backdoor of the truck, the kid climbs in and exchanges niceties with our rescuer.
“I freaking love you Goochie! Thanks for coming to get us.”
He’s smiling and looks pleased with himself.
“Is that your first time landing off DZ?”
“Yes.” is all I say.
He cracks up laughing.
“Fucking Pete,” he says and I know he’s already heard how Pete told us to go. I smile, relieved that I am not entirely to blame for this folly…
“Well, you know what happens on your first.”
I do. “Well, it’s his first too.” Like a little kid pointing the finger…
“That’s why I picked you both up, so you could both buy the beer…”