By Nick Pritchard
For my dad’s 60th birthday I decided to take him skydiving. A little recon (several not-so-subtle hints following his 59th) revealed that jumping from a plane at 14,500 feet was at the top of his Bucket List. I didn’t ever bother to ask what else was on the list. All I knew was that I would leapfrog my older brothers in inheritance order if I followed through in taking him skydiving.
In hindsight, I probably should have probed further.
I should have defaulted to his regular birthday gift of a new Civil War book that he would never read.
This was the first of several mistakes.
I can honestly say that jumping from a plane was never and would never be on my Bucket List. The idea of jumping from a plane had always been intriguing to me, but at some point along the way I had decided that it would never materialize – mostly because the mere thought of jumping from a plane successfully caused my stomach to turn in knots. My Bucket List more closely resembles a wish list for a genie (of the Robin Williams variety):
Purchase or subdue an island (and its inhabitants) and become a benevolent dictator. I’d like to think that I could buck the trend of absolute power corrupting absolutely, but really, as long as I was in power and avoiding coups it would be all the same to me.
Drive from Chicago to Chile. The genie part of this would be getting enough money and munitions to successfully navigate through Central America.
Get 50 yard line tickets to watch Ole Miss play in the national championship. The genie part here is pretty self-explanatory and would likely require using a number, if not all, of my wishes.
Given the malnourished and deformed state of my Bucket List, I figured that skydiving would be a good thing to add and then quickly cross off of the list. This feels like a cheap way to create a Bucket List, but the truth is that my list will always be a sham until one of the above three occurs.
The weeks and days leading up to the event were very exciting. Dad and I would send articles back and forth about people who had successfully survived a skydive without a parachute (more than I would have expected). Admittedly, this was a bit morbid, but we both had reached the same conclusion that surviving a skydive without the chute deploying would garner some great publicity. Plus, we both agreed that if the chute failed to deploy our tandem partner would have to become our crash cushion. That seemed like, at least in our estimation, a pretty reasonable tradeoff for a 300 dollar excursion. Suffice to say, we were both excited to jump.
Our skydiving appointment was at 9:00 AM and we arrived at 8:30. Time was my enemy. I don’t know when the idea of jumping out of a plane became a terrifying thought, but it did. I remember being absolutely terrified when we were getting harnessed up, but my girlfriend recalls me sounding terrified much earlier than that. I guess the only important take away was this: nothing had happened yet and I knew I had made a huge mistake.
It wasn’t even 9:00 and I had completely psyched myself out of the jump.
Foolishness can probably be defined as going through with a decision you know you will regret when you have ample time to reconsider. This is where I found myself. Proving that I was foolish was one of the main reasons I did not back out before we got on the plane. With such a positive view of the impending jump what could have gone wrong?
1. The plane we used to go skydiving was not the traditional jump-out-of-the-side plane. Instead, we boarded the type of plane where you walk off a ramp at the rear of the plane. The flight was unsettling for a few reasons. First, the plane looked too old and the pilot too young. I was told several times that both were fit to fly and several times I respectfully rejected such claims. Second, we took off with the ramp lowered. This was probably my biggest undoing. The only thing keeping me from falling out of the plane was a very old and frayed lap seat belt that was connected to a very old plane flown by a very young pilot. I was going to die. Third, I think my dad could sense that I knew I was going to die and started to circle me like shark. It started out with him laughing while he asked how I was doing. At some point it turned into him informing me every 1,000 feet of how high we were and then laughing at me. Eventually he just laughed at me.
2. I am not exactly sure how they pair the tandem jumpers with the people that pay to jump out of a plane. I can say with some certainty that they don’t pair people based on height. I had about a solid foot on my tandem partner (Lance). Besides feeling like I was giving a very large child a piggy back ride, the process of getting out of the plane left me tired and sore. I essentially duck walked us right off the back of the plane. It bothers me that I had to do all of the work. There I said it.
3. I am a pansy. My stomach gets upset easily and I don’t enjoy amusement park rides that spin me about a million times before the ride is over. If you had told me before the jump that doing turns while chute was deployed would leave me praying to throw up I would have immediately started looking for another biography of Robert E. Lee. I wasn’t prepared for the sharp turns (or just turns in general) once the chute was deployed. It looks so peaceful in all the videos. Reality or Lance had a different story to tell. It seemed that the more I would groan in displeasure the more sharply Lance would turn the parachute. I’m probably making this last part up.
Being alive and the parachute opening were great personal developments for me during this whole experience. The problem, however, was that I was decidedly miserable for the majority of the time.
I could not wait to never skydive again.
With about 100 feet to go Lance told me that in a few seconds he was going to ask me to pull my knees as close to my chest as possible. I suppose this was to make up for the ridiculous height disparity between the two of us. With about 30 feet to go Lance told me to pick up my knees. Wanting this ride to be over as soon and as painlessly as possible I complied like a champion. It was pretty much at this point (me being a perfectly positioned cannon ball) that I heard the two words you never want to hear from your tandem partner:
Thankfully I didn’t have much time to analyze what this meant. Instead of gracefully gliding in like everyone else in the group (and every YouTube video I had watched) we fell the last 20 feet without much aid from the parachute.
The issue of having an undersized man/oversized child on my back reared its ugly head one last time.
There was no possible way for him to land first. What did land first was my tailbone. The rest of the landing was a blur because I am fairly certain that the first thing that landed for him was his chin….on my head. A few sore weeks later and I am still paying for my terrible decisions. This lesson will likely stick better than most.
I guess perspective is key on how you want to look back on an experience, here is mine:
I hated that whole day.
Every second of it.
Would never do it again.
That said, I have successfully placed a completed item on my Bucket List and helped my dad cross something off his. This is something my brothers have not done. (Nick crosses another completed item on his list). Finally, this experience has allowed me the opportunity to gain nationwide recognition on OutKickTheCoverage.
(Yeah, sure. I’ll add this as a completed item on the list as well).