by Peter Nelson 

Then, while you’re hanging onto that door frame for dear life, you hear the most horrid words you’ve ever heard: “Gimme a cut.”  The jump master’s telling the pilot to cut our airspeed to the minimum the plane can do while remaining aloft — down to about 80 MPH.  That reduces the blast the jumper feels when he … when he … when he leaves the plane.

Leaves the plane?  Why on earth would he leave the plane?

And what’s the dumbest thing you can do at this point?  That’s right.  Look down!!  At that little green world sooooo very far away.  Look at all those snug little green mountains, those cute little toy cars, those little stick figures dancing around, all safe and happy.  Lucky devils.  Is that an ambulance over there?  Don’t think about that.  Don’t think about that voracious wind trying to suck you out of this horrid little plane!  Don’t think …

(And me who’s never liked heights, right?  I’m from the prairies, after all.  I get a nosebleed riding an elevator to the third floor!)

Then comes the worst moment of your soon-to-be-unnaturally-shortened life.  You hear the engine throttling back.  It’s a bit quieter, except for that bloody damned ceaseless wind.  Nobody speaks.  The jump master doesn’t say a word.  You just feel this gentle hand laid on your shoulder.  It doesn’t push, it just sits there.  But it seems to weigh a ton.

And unfortunately, you know JUST what it means.

… and you fall forward, out of the plane … only semi-conscious …

8

(On a good jump — and this sure wasn’t one! — you’d be in what’s called a “stable spread”.  Arms and legs spread as wide as you can get them, and your back arched so you fall stomach-first towards the earth.  In this position, you’re falling at only about 120 MPH.  Only?  If you bring your arms to your sides and move your feet shoulder-width apart, you’re in a “full delta”.  Now you’re falling headfirst.  At 200 MPH!  For the “max track” position, you scrunch up so your body forms an elongated N.  This position gives you forward speed.  The max track and full delta are used for “relative work” — when you jump with other people, and you want to pass batons or make a star formation or play pinball or something.)

First thing I noticed when I sort of returned to consciousness was a blue haze, then a green haze, then blue, then green, etc.  That means you’re spinning, a very good way to get wrapped up in your static line.  Not a good plan.  But then suddenly your chute opens!  It’s quite a serious shock, a very jarring stop that loosens the fillings in your teeth, but, hey, that’s better than the alternative, right?

Then you look down.

At the most amazingly awesome sight you will ever, ever, ever see!

This gorgeous, glorious, green and golden, perfect little scenic world in miniature.  When you were in bed when you were little, did you ever pull your knees up to make mountains under the covers?  That’s exactly what it looks like — this far-off little fantasy world.  The Chugach Mountains look like the backdrop for a perfectly lovely model train layout.

And you just hang there, suspended, for for-bloody-ever.  There’s no sense of falling now, not much wind even, because you’re traveling with it.  I screamed, for the first time in my life, but not from fear.  With joy!  It was absolutely the most pumped I’ve ever been!  I never, ever wanted to come down.

But I did.  I wasn’t on target, but I was a lot closer than the other guys.  Mike came down on the roof of a house, breaking his foot.  Bill came down in a tree in the suburbs.  Me, my helmet got torn off by the wind, but I came down within 200 yards of the drop zone target, so I guess you could say my jump was the best.

Or should we say the luckiest?