Good evening- this seemed the best way to promote this.
*update- 18/9/10* Woah- that was Awesome!! As a background, I’m nervous of heights, but flying (being from the Isle of Man) is as normal as getting a bus.
Before you get bored reading this: Thanks for a life-changing weekend to everyone at Tilstock (www.theparachutecentre.com), StoneChase for being there for the gig after (that’s a whole different blog to follow though!), JG for arranging everything, Paul for keeping me alive, Trish for varying degrees of support (from ‘supportive’ to ‘not supportive in any way’!), and Hannah. I’ll remember everything about this weekend for as long as I can remember my own name.
Friday night, I had some trouble sleeping- I was in the Tilstock DropZone’s bunk room with 5 other people, and I think excitement was getting the better of me. I remember being wide awake at 0300, and again at half past.
When 0715 came around and I was awake again, I decided to cut my losses and get up. Quick cuppa, followed by a wander over the registration at 0800. Forms were completed and signed, and I was the first registered of the day. It’s a crisp clear morning.
It was a busy day at Tilstock and as 0830 came round another 10 or so tandem jumpees had arrived and signed in. That was when the first six of us were called through for the ten-minute training and briefing. It transpired that I was going to be on the first flight up, at 0900 so I was strapped into my harness and outside to ‘the pen’. Just then the very reverend JohnnyG emerged, and strolled across the grass in his jumpsuit, parachute kit in hand, and disappears into the packing room. Yes, the TopGun theme tune was playing in my head…
Then, Paul (one of the jumpers there, and the man I will shortly be clipped onto) shouts “Come on, Johnny!” A few times and out he runs again, strapped in and ready to go. By some quirk of fate (and some over-indulgence the night before by one of the guys!) JG is to be the Jumpmaster for this drop… This will surely lead to sarcasm on the plane journey, but it’s a good thing!
The seven of us (three tandem jumpers, three people to be clipped to, and JG) clamber into the plane, get clipped onto our people, and start to taxi. We get to the grass runway, pause while the air traffic control stuff is cleared, and we are “wheels off” at 10 seconds past 0900. We climb and climb, and the nervous energy starts to build… At 5,000ft, JG remarks to everyone that I’m not looking nervous enough. You, sir, are not helping!
I’m not really nervous. I know how prepared these people are, but that’s just a generalisation. The main thing that removes the nerves is that JG has nearly 200 solo jumps. That’s a guy I actually know who does this frequently, and is fine afterwards (99% of the time!), and the thought just pours oil on the nervy waters.
From 6,000ft, just above the Welsh border we can see the mouth of the Mersey, the Mersey windfarm, and most of Cheshire, but not quite the Isle of Man.
The climb is a bit of blur from there to 10,000ft, but JG and Paul’s altimeters both show the height, and the pilot shouts “2 miles”. Seconds later, “1 mile”, and JG opens the aeroplane door. He gets a big thumbs up, and he jumps out. That is the strangest thing I have ever seen first hand.
The first tandem goes, then the second, then it’s my turn. Paul shuffles me over to the door, and he sits on the edge. This means that I am not inside the aircraft anymore. This is now the strangest thing I have seen first hand- I’m in the air but not in a plane. I can see my feet, and then what I think must be the ground… I get into the position, and he shouts “ready… Go”.
Neither of us are in the aircraft. The only thing between me and the fields I can see below me is air. It’s like looking at Google Earth… Paul taps my shoulder and I get into the freefall position, like you’d see on tele: arms out in a “don’t shoot” position, my legs crossed behind me, in between his knees. It feels like 5 seconds of just falling, but in reality it’s over 30. It’s just breathtaking and wonderous, you can’t help but look around in wonder at the earth below you. I find out later we were falling at approaching 170mph, and that’s hard to grasp!
Paul deploys the parachute, and we slow suddenly, but it doesn’t really jerk us as I expected. We can talk (shout) to each other now. He brings us under control, loosens the harness between us slightly and I reach up to grab my steering toggles. I pull gently to the right and we turn that way. Ace! I’m actually flying, although I do get reminded to stop steering or we’ll just go round in circles. Same again left. Frickin sweet!! Few more turns and sweeps follow as we cross the A41.
As we descend, he points out landmarks around the dropzone- the truckstop we drove past, the hangars across the road, the packing shed, the signon room…
One pass over the packing room, and we turn for landing. I can see that JG has already landed and gathered his ‘chute in. Paul says we’ll try and land next to him, but then swears and says “if he’d stop moving…”. I then get into the landing position, and we swoop over the field and slide to a stop.
The three of us walk back to the packing shed together. Well, they walk… I try and keep up on legs that are apparently made of tissue paper!
That, my friends is a parachute jump. I’ve missed out the bits I was rubbish at (drop position, freefall position, steering, and landing), but that is how I’d like to remember it! Thank you very much indeed to everyone who has sponsored me- with Zurich’s help we’ve raised nearly £500.
If any of you have the chance, or the urge to do this, I have two words of advice. Do it.
This was a frankly “goes to 11” weekend, and for many reasons I don’t really want to go back to the Island- that is very rare.
However: I repeat… Do it! Personally, I reckon I’m now likely to save up and go back for more.
*update- 15/9/10* My great and glorious employers Zurich have very kindly agreed to match any sponsorship I raise up to £200. The even better news is that I’ve just reached a total of £210. So technically that’s £410. Thanks to everyone who has pledged so far.
This coming Saturday, 18th September 2010, I’ll be jumping out of a plane at 10,000 feet with a man strapped to me.
All common sense is telling me that there are less crazy things to do, but I blame JohnnyG (slap bass, biker, snowboarder, all-round adrenaline junkie…)
So, I’ve had a think- given that I’ll need a stiff Jack Daniels afterwards, I’ll be raising money for the Isle of Man Alcohol Advisory Service (reg charity 275, http://www.alcoholadvisoryservice.co.uk)
If you’re reading this, you’ll have my contact details either through Twitter or facebook- contact me with a pledge on either of those- I’ll add you to the list and we’ll sort the cash when I get back.
I’ll update this page on Saturday with some form of story if I can string words together…