Monday, February 18, 2008

Skydiving in Switzerland

One of the coolest and craziest things I've ever done was skydiving in Interlaken, Switzerland last May. This decision to jump out of an airplane didn't come overnight. It was the result of a gradual increase, through baby steps, in becoming more adventurous and daring. The truth is, I don't even like roller coasters. I haven't been on one since I was in the 6th grade, but of course now I'm starting to think I should just try it again.

During my time in Spain I'd decided that I was going to travel through Switzerland, and having heard great things and seen some awesome pictures from Interlaken from my buddy Justin, I decided that it was time for me to test out my air legs and see if I could fly. I thought to myself, what the hell, if there's one place in the world to do it, it's Switzerland. Sure, it's going to be twice the cost of back home, but I get to jump in one of the most beautiful sceneries in the world. And as an added bonus, you gotta trust the Swiss. They're so efficient and safe. If I would up dying, at least I had a good run living in Europe.

Once I started telling my friends I was going to do it, there was no turning back. I couldn't just back down, it would hurt my pride too much. Even months before going, however, I'd suddenly realize that I truly meant to do it, and my heart would start racing. As the time came closer I thought about it less and less. I was supposed to be traveling with my friend, but because he ran out of money, I was all alone. I wasn't too happy with that, but I think it gave me some thicker skin in the days before the jump. The day before I jumped I signed up for it at the hostel, Balmer's Herberge, I thought to myself that I just signed my life away.

Balmer's was one of two hostels in the town, and had the only bar in the town. That night was the Soccer championship game and the bar had a buy 1, get 1 free deal on beer. I only meant to have a couple of drinks, but of course things progressed and I wound up getting drunk. When I woke up with a hangover and realized I'd soon be jumping out of a plane, I wasn't too thrilled, to say the least. I went downstairs and started to watch "Team America: World Police," with some other guys in the common room. As the movie went on we all realized that we'd be jumping together, and joked about it together. The movie relaxed us and got us loose. We forgot that we were skydiving in just a few minutes. At noon a woman entered the room and called for the skydivers. We all stood up eagerly, now awake, and said, "Let's go jump out of plane."

On the way to the air strip we signed waivers and listened to Green Day, maybe to pump us up. But as we pulled into the hangar, "Good Riddance" played. Now with the eerily cynical music in our heads we suited up and tried to stay loose. Surprisingly, we only had a 2 minute tutorial on what to do and what not to do. The bulk of the work would be done by the tandem jumpers, who had at least 4000 jumps each. I was assigned to go in the third and last jump, so I had to wait around anxiously while the other guys and girls went up and came down.

Waiting was probably the longest hour of my life. By the time it was my turn to go I just wanted to get it over with already. I figured if 6 people just survived, I'll be fine. I even volunteered to jump out first. Paired up with Hans, I felt like I was in good hands. We sat next to the door and crammed into the smallest plane I've ever been in. Flying up we saw the mountains, some still snow capped, the lakes, a beautiful emerald green color that I'd never seen before and haven't since, and the farms and fields down below. It was too nice to be worried. It was a perfect sunny day, a really great day to fall from the sky. On the way up my mouth was going completely dry and I was fighting my anxiety. Still, the sights were so nice that I was just relaxed and at ease. Then Hans opened the door.

Doors are supposed to stay shut on planes, and when the cold air suddenly rushes in and you realize and you're 2 inches from falling 11,000 feet, you start to get nervous, no matter what. My heart started pounding and as I leaned over the door I thought I must be nuts. No backing out now though--no guts, no glory. But then we had to close the door and circle around because some paragliders were in our path. Now I had another minute to think about what was down there, and yeah, I was getting nervous again. So back on track now with the door open again, Hans dangled my feet over the edge and rocked my head back on his shoulder like a friend consoling me, and then he pushed me off the plane.

To say what happened next is to say what happens when you're born, because it happens so fast and it's all new that you can't process it, you can't even understand it. It's a blur, but a lucid blur. Up was down and the plane was falling away as we went up, then the plane was floating up and we sped towards the Earth. The effects of gravity were pushing on my chest and making it hard to breath, but I did what most people do and opened my mouth as wide as possible, gasping for air, trying to scream but not even able to. Instant dry mouth followed. All I could think, if I could think of anything, was "Oh shit, shit shit, just fell out of a plane, shit. AHHHHH." All of the veins in my throat and face pulsated and tried to explode. And yeah, there was that falling feeling in the stomach. My face flapped in the wind, and then suddenly we hit free fall and it cleared up.

Once we started floating, seemingly hovering in the air, it was the most thrilling and awesome experience I've ever had. Imagine if you were a satellite looking down at Earth, only you had the best graphics any satellite could ever have, plus all the reality of it. We were blowing by the wind so fast that all I could hear was a deafening roar, and it was at this point that I wondered if I tied my shoes on tightly enough. It wasn't even cold anymore, there were just so many things going on and there was such a sensory overload that I could only scream in pure joy and excitement. My heart was pounding furiously and angrily, apparently upset that it wasn't given proper notice of such an adrenaline rush.

Before I knew it we were deploying the parachute and gently strolling back to the ground. As we were getting settled, Hans yelled that he was going to loosen up the straps. I slipped a little before being caught, and I think if I hadn't just experienced the free fall I would have freaked out, but I was still alive, and that was the most thrilling part. To outsmart death and still be enjoying the ride. I could see cows, which looks anorexic from way up, and all the fields, the lakes, the mountains, everything. My head was on a swivel, constantly looking at everything, totally aware of the limited time. My adrenaline was pumping hard, and I told Hans that it was the best high or buzz I'd ever had, and it was true. They should ween drug addicts off by having them skydive.

On the land we came in fast, dropping hundreds of feet in a matter of seconds, cruising in for an ass-slide landing right back where we started. Absolutely thrilled and amazed that I'd done it, I spent the next few hours riding an adrenaline rush and enjoying an irremovable smile, one of the side effects of adventure. It just goes to show, you might not think you have it in you, but once you start traveling and opening up new doors, you'll try things you never thought were possible. And you might even live to tell about it.

1 comment:

Sunshine said...

oh man Jon, I would of loved to go with you to Switzerland. After reading this article and then seeing your picture I am definitely jealous. I am very happy that you had such a great experience, hopefully sometime soon I will go to Switzerland and you can show me around or tell me the tricks of the country! Skydiving is on my checklist to do very soon, it seems like an absolute blast!