Walking into a convenience store in Stonewall, Texas, I managed to bang my hand on a display shelf. It was not a big deal, just needed a Band-Aid to keep it from leaking. But as I patched it up, I reflected that it was by far the worst injury I’d had that day. Which is not really significant unless you know that, at the time, I was on my way home from Fentress, Texas, where I had voluntarily jumped out of a perfectly functioning aircraft while it was almost two miles AGL. That’s Above Ground Level, for you people who have enough sense not to exit airplanes AGL.
This all started when I asked my eighteen-year-old son, Paden, what he wanted to do this summer, in the way of entertainment. He thought about it, and decided he’d like to go skydiving. His mother immediately put her foot down. On my neck. But a few weeks later, in a weak moment, she agreed to let him go. I still don’t know how that happened.
Since Paden was going skydiving, I figured I had to go, too. It was not my idea, but there was no question that if anything went wrong I would get the blame. So I figured if the plane crashed or something, I would be better off if I was on it at the time.
Then we found out that my friend, Johnny Fleming, and his son, Lex, also wanted to go skydiving. Lex is living in San Marcos, and he found Sky Dive San Marcos for us, which is located, logically, in Fentress. So there you go.
And then a fellow named Jake Steele, from Minnesota, who is currently working in Mason, decided to go with us. And then my other son, Courtland, who is also living in San Marcos, decided he wanted to go, too. That didn’t make my wife any happier, but by then it was too late for her to back out of the deal.
At the entrance to Sky Dive San Marcos there is a crashed plane, and a sign that says ‘There is no such thing as a perfectly good airplane.’ I think most of us would demur that any airplane capable of a reasonably safe landing is perfectly good enough, but if you’re in the business of dropping your passengers off in mid-flight, it never hurts to remind them there are no guarantees.
While we waited for our turn to defy death, we watched others float serenely into the drop zone, which is right next to the main building. Some of the skydivers floated serenely down while screaming hysterically, but they seemed to be enjoying themselves. I planned to do some screaming, myself, so I noted things like pitch and volume, for future reference.
Our instructors made us put on jump suits, and carefully fitted our harnesses, and explained to us exactly what we were required to do when we exited the aircraft. As if we might, through some miracle, remember anything they said. Then we tromped out and boarded the plane, which is affectionately named ‘Old Maid.’
We straddled long benches, and I noticed a sign in the front of the fuselage that said ‘All passengers must wear seatbelts at all times.’ There weren’t any seatbelts. I don’t think it mattered to anyone.
My instructor, Connie Krusi, was a very nice lady who had already made 9,297 previous successful tandem parachute jumps as a professional. You might think I was consoled by that. You would be wrong. I figured she was pushing her luck, but I was pretty much committed, so I didn’t say anything.
Actually, Connie treated me the same way I treat people, especially kids, when I’m coaching them on their first rappel. She talked to me, told me what was going on, and tried to keep my mind off the fact that what I was about to do was probably the least intelligent act of my life. She portrayed jumping out of an airplane as about as dangerous as brushing my teeth, only more fun. She was trying to keep me from thinking I was about to die. Bless her heart.
After about five minutes we were at 10,000 feet, and someone opened the big jump door. Paden went just before me, with his eyes closed and a big grin on his face. Or maybe it was a grimace. It was definitely a facial expression.
When Connie and I got to the door, I looked down at the ground, way down there, and had a ruh-roh moment. But it’s sort of like when you pass your exit ramp on the interstate, and you realize that, like it or not, you’re going for a ride.
We rolled out of the plane and within about five second we were falling at 120 miles per hour toward certain, immediate, and irreversible death, should Connie have mistakenly strapped on her dirty laundry instead of a parachute. But I didn’t have time to worry about that, because falling through the air is, basically, a lot of fun. It’s sort of what I expect flying is like, except the only real direction you can go is down.
The only problem was the wind. I could feel the skin on my face trying to hide in the back of my head. My ears were tapping against one another back there somewhere, and my hairline had retreated about six inches. I tried to keep my mouth shut lest the wind take my face clean off.
After about 30 seconds Connie pulled the cord, and her laundry spilled out and we stared to float gracefully toward the ground. Well, she floated gracefully. I kind of hung there. But she showed me how to steer the chute and we spent about five minutes going back and forth until we finally zeroed in on the drop zone. We hit the ground about as hard as you would if you jumped off your ottoman to the carpet. The boys all landed fine, too, so it was safe for me to go home.
Skydiving is definitely a once in a lifetime experience, unless you do it twice. I highly (no pun intended) recommend Connie if you decide to visit Sky Dive San Marcos.
But if you do decide to try skydiving, watch out for the display shelf at that convenience store in Stonewall. Those edges are sharp . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who always wears clean underwear, like his mother taught him, just in case he’s in an accident. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org