Slow ride, take it easy

Yesterday Toby, the instructor who took me on my first two tandems, had his first parachute malfunction. The lines developed some tension knots, so the canopy wouldn't fully inflate. In Toby's 1,488 jumps, it was his first problem ever.

He cutaway that parachute, which involves pulling a handle to release the lines and fabric and everything off your back. (It's not physically cutting anything at all.) And then he went to his reserve parachute -- the backup, which is also worn on the jumper's back.

The thing was, Toby was doing a tandem at the time.

I could vomit just thinking about it. I honestly don't think I would be a skydiver today if there had been a problem on my very first jump. I'm too much a believer in signs from the universe, and that would seem to be a giant, flashing, neon one: STAY THE HELL ON THE GROUND.

Plus, I can't imagine how Toby felt -- encountering a major problem and trying to save his own life -- and all the while, some big sack of a person is hanging off the front of him. What responsibility. What a horrible situation.

I beat Toby to a reserve ride. My malfunction happened last September on my 204th jump.

My parachute deploys using a throw-out method. That means when it's time to deploy (around 3,000 feet or so), I throw a little hackey sack into the wind. The hackey sack is attached to a pilot chute, what looks like a mini-parachute. The pilot chute catches air and lifts a pin out of a loop on my back. That opens the container. Simultaneously, a bag comes out of the container and the lines of the parachute pop out of some rubber bands, which had been securing them to the bag. When all the lines are out, the actual parachute comes out of the bag and inflates.

That whole process takes about 3 or 4 seconds, about 700 feet.

My problem happened when I tossed that little hackey sack into the wind and nothing happened.

You know those Road Runner cartoons where Wile E. Coyote runs off a cliff and finds himself in freefall? And then he holds up a little sign that says "Uh-oh" before plunging to his doom? That's exactly what I felt like.

I can't think of a worse feeling than deploying your parachute, expecting a parachute and getting no parachute. I just kept falling and falling, I didn't slow down even a little bit. I've had nightmares about that feeling ever since then.

I pulled my cutaway handle, which removes the cables that hold the parachute together with the container. I watched all this very expensive, life-saving gear float away from me. And then I deployed my reserve, which is the most wonderful, beautiful, sexy parachute I've ever seen. I would totally marry it.

I was only about 5 seconds from hitting the ground.

I know the whole experience couldn't have lasted more then a few seconds, but I really think the laws of time and physics completely shifted for me, for just a few moments. In this horrible emergency situation, I thought about my options -- which weren't many. I thought about my gear. I remembered the fun jump I had just had. I wondered if anyone was watching me. I thought about the expense of getting a reserve repacked.

And the whole time, there was a song on constant loop in my head -- the song that had been playing on the plane just before exit.

"Slow Ride," by Foghat.

So mostly, I thought, "FOR FUCK'S SAKE, DON'T LET ME DIE TO FOGHAT."
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By Blogger Brian Griffin, at 6:50 PM  

Dude, Foghat Rules!    

By Blogger Eileen, at 9:06 PM  

I always thought I would die while a Beatles song was playing. At first I thought that would be very cool, but now I get nervous every time I listen to them. I keep thinking, "Is this when I go?"    

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