In case you haven't already heard me say it, graduating from AFF is perhaps more exciting and more awesome than graduating from college. First of all, it's the opposite with regards to the “what do I do now?” feeling. When you graduate AFF, you know EXACTLY what to do...go skydive! The sky is your limit, literally. :)
Saturday I got a late start up to the dropzone which turned out to be okay since it was a pretty busy morning of tandems. For all the hours I spend there, most of them are spent chatting and doing handstands and talking about jumping with anyone and everyone. And packing, when there's packing to be done.
It's always fun when a big group comes out to the hangar to cheer on a friend or family member. There's so much excitement in the air. I think that it's easy to forget just how thrilling that first jump can be, and how from the perspective of most of the population, a tandem skydive is extreme. Even with as few jumps as I have, I find myself separating my experiences from theirs'...and while yes, it is different to BE a skydiver than it is to go for a ride on a tandem rig, we're all getting to do something exhilarating and fun and exciting. That never changes. So I try to be as welcoming and open and non-elitist as possible at all times. :)
Anyways, back to AFF. Mom runs our loads, fitting in the students and the up jumpers (the non-tandems) around the tandem loads so that everyone gets a chance to fly. She figures out who's coming up when, who needs to be where when, and lets us know when our load is going to be. If I've learned one thing from G, it's to always be ready--physically AND mentally--for a jump. Sometimes it's only five minute's notice to manifest for your load if we're busy or something opens up.
We reviewed the dive plan for level 7, and then found out that A would be my instructor instead of G. A was an instructor of mine a few levels ago but not since I dropped to one instructor, so I had never jumped without G. G reads me well. He knows I need the pressure put on me a little bit, but that I have a tendency to be tense because I'm a perfectionist. A is much more mellow, which I think worked out perfectly come jump time. I knew and G knew that my struggle with this dive would be to relax and be confident, something I think was easier for me--for whatever reason--with A. G taught me SO MUCH that I was ready for the jump, and so having A there who is more relaxed just set me up for a good jump. Plus I wanted to do G proud. :)
All during the ride to altitude, I consciously held on to positive feelings and positive thoughts, acknowledging my fear--both of jumping itself and of getting it all wrong--but deciding that I was going to have a great jump no matter what. The pressure was off in a way, because I felt more confident of my skills as a skydiver, so even if I tanked like a rockstar I'd just get to jump again. Which is NEVER all bad. Who doesn't want more time in the sky?
The exit was great and I had no problems stabilizing. I launched into a backflip and recovered pretty well, if not a little flat. But I caught A's eyes, who motioned for me to arch harder which I did. Then it was time for turns, one in each direction, followed by a forward track, which I seem to be getting the hang of a little better. Wave off and pull and I knew so long as I didn't tank my landing pattern that it was a successful dive and I'd get to move on.
I have a terrible habit of ending up waaaaaaaay far away from the hangar and having to pretty much hike back across the field. More embarassing than anything else and it's definitely a matter of learning the altitudes for a pattern and manipulating the canopy for a good solid landing. Because if everything else goes wrong on a skydive, you really want the landing to be successful, right?
I took a short break and then almost immediately got ready for my last student jump, called a hop-n-pop. A hop-n-pop is when you exit at the altitude at which you'd usually wave off and pull to inflate your canopy, which is exactly what you do. They drop you at 4500 feet and you immediately stabilize and pull. It's to practice for an emergency exit. Mine went fine. G said it'd be scary, but I didn't find it particularly scary--I knew what I needed to do and I did it.
Since everyone else on the load was going to altitude, I got down a lot sooner than they did and started packing my canopy. As soon as A got down and confirmed the pass with D, D announced to the hangar that there was a new skydiver--me! I was immediately dogpiled on and hugged and congratulated profusely. Finishing the pack job was probably a good way for me to equalize a little before leaving (early--I had a baby shower to get to!). I view packing like I view belaying--a little bit boring, entirely necessary, and wonderfully therapeutic. It's physical, so I am moving, and it requires my attention, but I have a little bit of mental space to think and process as I pack. I love that.
I hugged my new “family” before I left, and as I got in the car to leave I literally had goosebumps I was so terribly excited. I didn't call my regular family or friends for the first few minutes of the drive. I wanted to settle into the reality on my own, and frankly, you could have told me I was nuts or silly or stupid or anything and I wouldn't have cared. I wanted to enjoy the feeling of accomplishing that goal as something that I had singularly fought for and desired and reached. Not to make anyone else happy--for once. :) And that's special to me.
I went to the baby shower (for a dear friend I haven't seen since her wedding last year!) and later hung out with J, S & R. We slacklined and went swimming and tried to learn to juggle in the dark. I got home a little after midnight and veritably crashed. Falling asleep as soon as I hit the pillow has not been a problem for me lately, that's for sure.
Sunday morning I got up and went to church (late) and taught my class (I have the three-year-olds...and they were all boys today) then headed out to the dropzone kind of on a whim. I should have stayed in town for a rehearsal, but I took a bye and called to make sure I could get on a load. As soon as I got up to the hangar, D was already rigging up a canopy for me to jump. I packed it in the quiet hangar and waited for my friends to drop out of the sky.
Once they were down we had a little bit of time to organize our load with who was doing what. It was decided we'd do a tracking dive--something pretty simple and fun for a first solo jump for me, especially on an unfamiliar rig.
I felt familiarly nervous as we climbed to altitude, but this time it had much less to do with how I'd perform and all to do with just getting on top of the power curve and being in control of my dive. The jump went pretty well, save for the fact that I tracked with the wind...which, since it was not particularly windy was okay, but could have put us too far south. Ah, well. It worked out fine. I was aware of the other jumpers flying beside me and it was really really really really really cool to just get to FLY with them. I think it was the first time I've smiled in freefall. We were close to each other, able to make eye contact. We flew. Like birds. Sigh.
The canopy I was flying was considerably smaller than the gigantic student rigs I've been flying and so it was a lot more dynamic especially with turns. I tried to get a good feel for the canopy well before it was time to set up for the landing pattern. The landing went all right, save for the fact that I landed a liiiiittle too hard, but still ran it out and stood it up. I might be a little stiff for a couple days, but no biggie. It's those last few feet of altitude that'll make all the difference, you know? It's all part of learning.
And the day just got better. I set the canopy up for the pack job and then went to pay D for the jump (not being a student is SO much cheaper!). He informed me that not only was he planning to just give me the main I had just jumped (was S's old canopy--a 170 square foot main) but that A (one of the pilots who also jumps) wanted to give me her container/harness and reserve. And I get to use her automatic activation device until her new rig comes in. I could have cried, if I was a crier. I was literally given an entire functioning rig. Now my expenses are going to be much more manageable--things like a jumpsuit and a helmet and goggles and altimeter. Expensive, still, but hey, I have a birthday coming up...*wink wink, nudge nudge*
I'm still totally flabbergasted by their generosity--they have no idea how much they have just blessed me, almost a stranger considering how long I've been jumping. So that brings my grand total to 10 jumps counting my tandem back in May...I think I can make 25 for an A license by my birthday in November, right?
It was a good weekend and I'm a little bit sad to be missing all next weekend since I'm going backpacking (for the first time!) but then school will start and schedules will change and it's only two weeks until my next free weekend...I promise not to wait that long to blog, even if it's just about ponies or dinosaurs or sharks or...please, leave a comment about your weekend or direct me to your blog if I don't read already! I'd love to hear about others' adventures. :)