I wrote “Now” on my hand. At first I was going to write “because” but I didn’t like the implication that word brought that I should explain myself. “Now” seemed like a better fit. It was all about the moment – the one that spurred me to drop the coin to do this crazy stunt and the fact that I was there waiting to jump out of an airplane at 15,000 feet. I was about to skydive in Wanaka, New Zealand, all because when I picked up the brochure at an i-site (tourist center), I was literally moved to tears. To, me it was a sign though the thought of skydiving had never crossed my mind before.
My first words as I toppled out of the plane were “oh crap” (I didn’t even swear!) – then it was “I’m here,” or “here I am.” The latter sounds more like me, but I like the sentiment of the former better. Surrendering complete control. The freefall was more enjoyable than the parachute part. The transition from freefall to parachute was the most peaceful. A sudden change of rush to quiet. We did it.
I do mean “we”. My guide – a crazy Brazilian – was perfect. Enough humor to keep me distracted. We joked about wishing we had drinks out of coconuts with little umbrellas on the flight up. He pretended he was blind when he called out my name on the ground, his hands reaching before him flailing about: “Kris? Where is Kris?”. We bonded as he said it was his first time skydiving too so we were in this together.
The humor dissipated when we took off. Replaced by lots of body contact on the ride up for support and comfort. A brief shoulder massage. Holding my hand. Nothing flirty or sexual: just letting me know this was all going to be fine – great even. I was nervous and he probably felt it. I think I was actually feeling fear for the first time in a while. True fear – not the sort of fear that I get when I am not sure what is going to happen, but really everything is going to be fine. It was true fear when I thought about the fact that I was going to jump out of the damn plane from this height. We were only at 5,000 feet at the time. I stopped thinking about what was going to happen and just looked out the window. My guide rested his hand on my leg. At 10,000 feet they gave us oxygen masks. And just like you hear on more traditional flights, my guide helped me with mine first before putting his own on.
We were the last ones out. I got to/had to watch all other others – a Chinese woman, three German gals and a Japanese man (all decades younger than me) go first. One moment they were there, the next, gone. Completely gone. Now my turn. My guide didn’t give me enough time to think. We scooted down the seat, leaned over the side and push! We were gone too. Now.
The whole experience lasted a little longer than I wished once the parachute was engaged (in a weird sort of way I wished the freefall part could have gone on forever). I forgot I am not the greatest with landings on big airplanes – what made me think that landing with only a parachute was going to be smoother? That dizzy, unsettling feeling consumed me but all my months of breathing practice did me well. Soft belly, pushing out on the inhale.
The views were amazing. So much to look at. Almost too much. Two amazing lakes. A river. Mountains. Fields. So much beauty (is it OK to say I am growing a little weary of it here in New Zealand? When I shared this admission with my friend Doug he laughed and said he often refers to the feeling as his “beautometer is broken.”). Still, I tried to take in the 360 degrees of wondrous views in while my left ear seared in pain. My guide yelled for me to pop my ears by holding my nose, closing my mouth and blowing. It helped for a little bit.
We landed without any fanfare – the ground just kept getting closer and closer until his feet touched. Mine were dutifully kept up to make sure his were the ones that hit first. We detached and I headed off, the adventure over so suddenly. I was shaky, but fine. Different. No adrenaline rush – no shit grin on my face. Feeling unsettled – physically like I do after a long plane ride. I had no idea what my emotions were; no way could I describe what was going on in my head (was anything?). So many staff asking me how it went. I forgot to get the “after” picture. I wonder what I looked like. Stunned. Confused? Probably not great, given the number of people who checked in on me. Or maybe it was because I was clearly nervous before, showing up an hour early and once or twice checking in to see if they missed me. Yeah, I was a bit neurotic.
I couldn’t linger long because it was already late afternoon and I needed to get over a mountain pass before dark – the road closed before dusk because of landslide concerns that were heightened after a Canadian couple lost their lives trying to cross at night. So, I pretty much had to leave the skydiving site at the airport sooner rather than later. A herd of deer ran past on the other side of the road as I headed toward my car. I’m sure it was a sign of some sort, but I haven’t been able to figure it out.
As I stared my journey to Franz Joseph I felt the change. I felt more confident. More powerful in a proud way – not a power-tripping way. I felt OK and comfortable with the way things are right now. Secure in my relationship. OK with my plans as they stand. At peace with myself.
The new me encountered her first challenge: Despite making great time, a large blinking construction sign warned that the upcoming road was closed. I debated on turning back, but I kept on going. I figured the worst thing that could happen was that I would get stuck at the closure in some tiny little town. And then the worst thing there would be I would have to sleep in the car (just like Wyoming!). I was really OK with that, and I went ahead. Three other cars did not, obeying the electronic sign and turning around.
An hour in – an hour of scenery that was once again breathtaking. Glaciers. The stark contrast of the smooth blue sky and textural volcanoes. The water that is pure turquoise in the center, slightly green around the edges. I didn’t stop (I think I am done taking photos of mountains and water), but I was happy that I was taking it all in – even though the winding, climbing road over the mountains was a bit hectic. But the road was open! So I kept on going. I passed the two spots where the rocks had simply given way, flattening everything in their path. No longer blocking anything, still it was clear who had the power and control around here. Nothing human. And I was OK with that.