There's something about hanging out at the dropzone from before when my coffee even kicks in until the hunger pains that signal dinnertime that makes it hard to return to everything else. There's a rhythm there that is easy to settle into, and an energy that makes it difficult to leave.
I went up early Sunday morning knowing I was going to spend all day, and spend all day I did. We were set with upwards of a dozen tandems, which means that our little Cessna 182 gets a workout. Also the main packer gets a workout, but that's another story. :) Packing tandems will get you strong and VERY good at sleeping bag and tent packing. Heck, packing canopies at all will get you good at those things.
Midmorning I had a lovely talk laying under the non-running plane in the back with one of the instructors. We talked about life and work and jumping and relationships and family, and I only got up once it started to ache to be in the same place for so long. Some hullaballo commenced, mostly headstands and dangerous maneuvers of that sort, chatting a little with the occasional talkative tandem. I like talking to tandems because it wasn't that long ago I was there.
I have an appreciation for the rhythm of the loads, because it seems to fall right into how I prefer my attention be broken up. It takes about 20 minutes to complete a cycle, which factors in the climb up to altitude, the jump & then flying a canopy down to the ground. I'm pretty consistently able to focus on an activity in about 20-minute chunks. Works out nicely, don't you think?
Come about 2 or 3 in the afternoon we were able to figure out how I'd fit my jumps. The tandems were all gone for the day and then it was time for AFF jumpers (of whom there were two--me and one other) and up jumpers to get some altitude. The other student would do his level 4, then I'd do my level 3 and if that went well I could do my level 4.
Level 3 is a stability jump. The idea is by this point you're supposed to be learning to control your body on your own in freefall, and for this level you essentially just have to hold steady without anyone holding onto you. It can go really well or it can be where you get stuck repeating a level. If you pass, you graduate to one instructor instead of two. On all the other levels, you have a myriad of objectives to complete, a series of sequences, but on this jump it's all about preventing turns or bobbles or wiggles. Which is harder than it sounds! A knee dropped by an inch is all it takes to throw off your entire body and send you turning! But bodies are cool things because if you let them do what they're supposed to and stop THINKING so hard, they figure it out. You just DO it. You know, like Nike.
So somehow my body figured out how to skydive in there somewhere and while it was nowhere near a perfect jump, it was a great jump and I learned a LOT about flying. Then it was time for level 4, at which you learn to turn and fly forward to dock (read: connect) with your instructor. My level 4 jump was also a fun load because I got to go up with two of my favorite jumpers! We're kind of the “new generation” at our dz, so it's fun to hang out with them. I took them climbing last week which was a total blast. S is currently the only other girl on the dz, so I like spending time with her. We'll have a couple more come fall, which'll be good too! J was the other jumper on my load, and he took video. I was worried about being distracted, but because of the nature of the dive I didn't even really notice him. And it was nice to have the video to review on the ground later. (No, I didn't keep it. What for?)
On the level 4 I completely screwed up one of the turns but I learned from it and figured it out for the second one. It's really insane what you can learn in 30 seconds of freefall, and how many hours of contemplation it feeds in the days following. I literally woke up this morning and involuntarily my brain switched to skydiving. From the exit to the landing pattern it's all a learning experience in which you can be nowhere else. I can't fit in my brain thoughts of anything BUT the immediate moment while jumping. And I like that.
I got to go off-radio (you wear a 2-way for under canopy until your instructor decides you don't need it I guess) for jump 4, which was a little nervy. But really, I didn't need it. At that point I had shown I could safely--not perfectly--land a parachute and understand what I was doing. I dread the day I have any kind of malfunction and have to troubleshoot, but that's part of it, and I'll take that risk.
After the last jump I watched S pack a student rig and my instructor offered to let me finish packing his wingsuit rig. Um, no pressure right? It's not like he'd like to keep his almost-20-years-without-a-cutaway record. I finished the pack job with HEAVY supervision. I like packing though. I like the idea of having an understanding and control of more variables of the jump.
After the last load of the day we packed up and headed out to eat Mexican food...yum. And for one of the first times in my life I wan't the only goofy one at the table, willing to be silly and loud and imaginative and happy. I have yet to meet a skydiver with a pervasively negative disposition. Yes, people get frustrated at the dz. Bad jumps happen, whatever. But at the end of the day, we jumped. We lived and played and learned.
And I am learning so much about myself...what motivates me, what worries me, what teaches me. I leave the dz at the end of the day WORKED. I wake up the next day WORKED (I swear it, skydiving is great for the thigh/butt/lower back muscles). My poor bank account even gets worked. :) I love it all, though. It's funny, I have a hard time spending time with groups of friends who aren't jumpers after being with jumpers all day. I can't settle. I feel out of place and simultaneously exhausted and revved up.
The funny thing is, I get the feeling that from the outside looking in, the perception of all of this is an amalgamation of people thinking I'm nuts and being inspired, two things I didn't anticipate. For ONCE I have chosen activities that make me unspeakably excited and happy and I have a hard time caring what someone else thinks. Yeah, skydiving sounds all well and good and everyone wants to do the quintessential tandem dive on their “To Do Before I Die” list but if you do it over and over? People think you've got a screw loose. Maybe I have got a screw loose, but that's besides the point. I'm still a baby skydiver anyways. Still just a student. Maybe I'll have more to say when I've got more jumps, but by then you'll all be tired of my rambling about jumping anyways. :)
Suffice it to say, I really love to jump. It scares the bejeezus out of me but it is uniquely wonderful. I can't wait for the next one.