Ever since I could speak, I’ve wanted to soar toward the moon.
But, as I got closer to my goal last Saturday — aboard a Caravan 208 airplane around 13,000 feet above Earth — I quickly realized my life’s aim really should’ve been to plummet from an aircraft while attached to a parachute. It’s a heck of a lot more fun, and more achievable, too.
My exhilarating drop from the heavens took place with Byron’s Bay Area Skydiving, the longest running and safest drop zone in the state.
The invigorating tandem fall — comprised of both roller coaster thrills on steroids, and peaceful, free-floating relaxation — is facilitated by attentive staff members and near-skin-tight equipment that wraps you in safety. All of the gear is secured before a certified skydiver is literally strapped to your back, guaranteeing you a safe ground arrival, even if the expert jumper’s directions happen to float into thin air during the process.
For me, my first jump was a literal breeze.
I was introduced to my tandem jumper — who I like to say doubled as my lifesaver — almost immediately after arriving at Bay Area Skydiving’s sprawling Falcon Way complex in Byron. His welcoming, calming and humorous approach eased my mind over my eventual 13,000-foot (or so) drop.
There was a brief waiting period prior to heading skyward, which turned out to be a relief. As my inner nerves churned, a walk around the complex and peek up into the sky revealed a pattern of parachute-shaped dots — actual human skydivers — drifting down safely. They offered me fresh, firsthand proof that humans can jump from planes and survive, all while having a blast.
If that dose of reality didn’t shock me into believing I would live, then a slew of notable facts picked up along the way certainly did the trick.
Bay Area Skydiving tears apart its airplane, a Cessna Caravan 208, at least once every 100 hours to guarantee that no unexpected “excitement” arises. Even more convincingly, I was told that vending machines kill more people yearly than the whole skydiving sport combined.
Just as my nerves settled down, my name was called for flight, momentarily thrusting me into a whirlwind of fright and excitement that was quickly calmed with a gust of reassurance from my aforementioned “lifesaver.”
A series of seatbelt-like straps were fastened to my upper body and just below my waist as a series of easy-to-understand verbal directions were hurled my way, with an opportunity to act them out to fortify my understanding.
After the distant sound of a plane drew my attention, I walked toward it, side-by-side with my co-jumper, who again verbally verified my physical and emotional well-being. As we climbed onboard, my soaring anticipation was matched only by the plane’s literal climb. I was calm, I swear ... at least on the outside!
As the plane’s modified door slid shut, there was no turning back. I was in for the drop of a lifetime, along with around 15 other skydivers and camera flyers.
Well above the ground, but still safely seated in the plane, my safety belts were rechecked, protective eyewear donned and even more straps were affixed to glue my expert and me into one. Between the two of us, at least half were feeling ready to fly (him, definitely).
At around the flight’s 20-minute mark, I could feel the anticipation rise as my fellow riders grew antsy and then scurried into jumping position. Seconds later, the door shot open. One, then two riders clung Spider-Man-like to the plane’s outer edge before dropping, their once full-sized bodies instantly growing faint as they whizzed downward.
Moments later, I was whisked to the plane’s open door, excitement overwhelming fear and panic, and then swelling into sheer wonder. All emotions were quickly lost; I was dropping too fast to think, too fast to easily describe the effect in words. But, just as I started grasping the enormity of the g-forces gripping every fiber of my being, a loud whoosh gave way to a bird-like feeling as the parachute mushroomed into position, and I calmly floated through the glorious Saturday afternoon air, absorbing the sight of miles and miles of barren landscapes and bodies of water below. It was, for me, the pinnacle of my 32-year existence. For those brief few minutes, life seemed to stop, to sound almost nonexistent, emotions paused, inner thoughts ceased, in what had to be a preview of heaven.
But all too soon, I had to have my wits about me.
Descending closer and closer to Earth and reality, I was instructed to keep my legs up as we zipped back to solid ground in a final, exhilarating rush, coming to a sliding stop on our backsides.
Safely back on the ground, energized and refreshed, I couldn’t help but wish for one thing: another jump. Luckily for me, I instantly got the next best thing: an almost immediate, moment-by-moment video montage of the experience, and an abundance of photos chronicling my heart-stopping dose of exhilaration, with a side of out-of-this-world relaxation, courtesy of a camera flyer.
Bay Area Skydiving is open to all comers 18 and older, which on this day included office workers, school teachers, techies, and at least one journalist. The facility offers tandem jumps with certified experts, skydiving lessons, and a number of opportunities for licensed jumpers.
The complex, located at 6901 Falcon Way in Byron, is open Wednesday through Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information or to book your jump, visit www.bayareaskydiving.com or call 925-634-7575.