March 20, 2018

Flashback: Diving the Sky Upon My 30th Birthday

In 2005, I had a MySpace account, a VCR, and a disposable film camera. I hadn't yet gotten my first pair of contact lenses.

In 2005, I turned 30 years old.

And for my 30th birthday, I decided to go skydiving.

It was my first real "landmark" birthday to celebrate. My "Sweet 16" was a non-event, and my 21st birthday came three years after I started drinking with any seriousness.

So, I wanted to do something really memorable for my 30th—and the craziest thing I could think of was to go skydiving.

But it wasn't the danger that made it crazy, nor the height, nor the speed. It was the fact that there was nothing about it that appealed to me.

I don't like heights. I get airsick in low-flying planes. And I hate the wind.

But I felt like I wanted to do something that I'd never done before that would somehow punctuate the three decades I'd spent on this planet (much of which was spent wasted cooped up doing nothing but waiting to get older).

So, off to East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania I went with friends in tow—some who would jump with me, and some who would spectate, eagerly awaiting my return to solid ground.

*All photos by Sky's the Limit Skydiving Center

When it came time to jump out of the plane, I didn't jump at all. Rather, with a hot guy strapped to my back, I merely scooted on my butt to the edge of the open hatch, crossed my arms over my chest as though I were already a corpse, and tipped forward.

And so began the free fall. I had to remember to keep my eyes open. After all, I'd worn my glasses under my goggles so I could see the Poconos below.

Pretty much the only thing they told me during the pre-jump "training" session was to wait for my tandem guide to tap me on the shoulder, and then to spread my arms out wide like a bird.

I had a hard time keeping my arms out, much less giving the "thumbs up" and the peace sign or the devil horns that the skydiving photographer tried to coax out of me for the photo package my friends had bought as a birthday gift.

I thought I would surely pass out up there, the wind knocked out of me and the atmosphere feeling thin (even if we had only climbed to an altitude of about 13,000 feet), but I managed to stay conscious the entire time—though I found the moment when my guide opened the parachute and we jolted from horizontal to vertical incredibly disorienting.

 It felt like something had gone horribly wrong until we righted ourselves and began the smooth sail down to the wide open field. This was the part I liked most—and those moments were definitively the genesis of my desire to go paragliding and parasailing.

When it came time to land, my guide instructed me to hold my legs straight out in front of me so I wouldn't break them upon landing and would slide down on my rear instead. For a moment, I kind of forgot I was essentially sitting in this hot guy's lap, and I just leaned back into him as he leapt up to guide the next jumper.

After lying on the ground for a few minutes, saying a few "Oh my Gods," I crawled up into a standing position that was no longer familiar to me. I wobbled along with my gear and my harness digging into my groin.

And in the end, I thought, "Well, I never have to do that again." (And, true to my word, I haven't done it again.)

Since that time, I've had a lot of other landmark birthday-caliber adventures without celebrating as many landmark birthdays.

In fact, when I turned 40, the craziest thing I could think to do was to go to Disneyland for the first time.

I turn 43 this year, and the Big 5-0 will be here before I know it. I wonder what kind of craziness I'll get to in about seven and a half years.

Maybe by then, I won't need my birthdays to be crazy anymore. Maybe by age 50, I will have had enough crazy in my life.

Related Posts:
Elegy for the Flightless Bird
Photo Essay: Taking Flight

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