So, today was our final day in New Zealand and it got started off with an early start. After John and Jennie couldn’t secure an Uber, I was happy to serve as the 5 am airport shuttle from the AirBNB to the Queenstown airport. It was the 2nd time we’d been there in 24 hours and would be the first of three trips there throughout the course of our day.
<<Long post warning>>
I guess there’s no real way to jump into this post—so we’ll just throw this picture out there and then go from there.
If you don’t want to read my mental recap of what happened, here a few things worth clicking on; Will Smith describing sky-diving (this helped me sign up, this is what the guy showed me when I was waffling as to whether or not I’d go) and our 3+ minute video documenting my trip down. That said, I think you may get a laugh or two from this one…
Debbie has been talking about sky-diving in Queenstown since we put together the itinerary. Also since that day, I’d been saying that there was limited chance that was going to be OK as what was I supposed to do if something were to happen to her with seven weeks left to go (note: she did not pressure me into this, just wanted to go herself). Fast forward to our hike up Rob Roy Glacier the other day and I was thinking that I didn’t want to be the reason why she couldn’t do something she really wanted to do, and I also didn’t really want to be the person to make her do something alone.
I’d told her a few days ago that I was considering going sky-diving and she was super excited by the mere prospect of something I’d for so long sworn off. We walked by one of the I-sites (information centers) and started chatting with a fellow in there about activities and we got a pamphlet about the potential jump. I mulled it over during lunch and decided that we’d do it on Monday AM (this was about 2-3 days ago). The only people that knew were John & Jennie (sorry mothers) but we did communicate with our brothers this AM just before we arrived.
The whole experience was surreal. If you’ve never seen this video by Will Smith talking about it, I’d highly recommend it. We showed up to the company office around 8:30 and I’m not even sure how I was able to get down breakfast. I was so anxious yet excited, nervous yet thrilled, by what we were about to do. We signed our life away and had the safety demonstration before boarding the bus for a 30-minute ride to the jump zone (our second trip to the Queenstown airport). We arrived and got an orientation to the complex—the zone where we could hang out, the coffee shop, and most importantly, the landing area where you could watch the divers as they came in.
It was maybe about 30 minutes or so after we’d been there and the first divers started to make their way down. I got exceptionally nervous as the first tandem landed and the dive-master asked the participant how it was/if he wanted to go again and the guy was like no chance in hell. It was actually funny but a nervous funny.
The anxiety was building as we waited and waited for our group to be called (we were #5 and they were on #2 by the time we go there). The numbers continued to increase and finally group 5 had arrived. I wasn’t as nervous as I was expecting, a simple text to Brian to let him know I’d be going up soon and there we were—jump-suit, harness, 1950s style NFL helmet, goggles, and the like and we were all suited up.
Ricky came over to introduce himself to me and told me he’d be taking me down. We confirmed my name and that we were jumping from 12,000 feet. I made a joke about making sure that we came back down alright as I really wanted to experience the subsequent 7 weeks of my trip/my life/etc. and he laughed and said that we’d have no issue. Everyone finally had all their gear on and we made our way outside for the second safety briefing. Of the 8 jumpers on the plane, only 2 had English as their native language (aka the Honeymeyers) and the guide was struggling to get everyone to understand the proper positions for “take-off” and “landing,” but some demonstrations certainly did the trick.
The plane pulled up and there we had it—we boarded and I no longer had any control. We boarded the plane by jump order and we were sitting on this big cushion squished all together, rotating between amateur sky-diver and professional tandem-master. Ricky was making small-talk with me as I’m sure he could since my nerves yet my breathing, by reasons which I do not know, remained rather steady and constant.
As we ascended there were many moments when I was wondering what in the heck I’d signed up for. I’d seen everyone come down safely that morning but I looked out the window and we were 12,000 feet up in the air and there was only one way down (for me). The light in the cabin turned to standby yellow and I knew that I was in trouble. The door opened shortly thereafter and I knew that we were the 4th to jump. I waited to see what the first person would look like and assessed whether or not I’d have a heart-attack up in the air or find a way to pull a Les Miles and eat some grass when we landed.
Before I could process anything else, the door closed and the light went off. Now my mind was racing…what was wrong. Did something happen? Were we not jumping anymore? I leaned back to Ricky (we were now strapped in, he was in control of me and my life) and asked what happened. He said that since we’re so close to Queenstown airport we have to follow their guidance of when we can and cannot go and there was a plane approaching so instead we were going to 15,000 feet (we had signed up for 12k).
I laughed. I said Ricky, c’mon, what’s really going on and he assured me that he wasn’t screwing with me at all but we were really going up even higher. Higher for 1-minute of free fall instead of 40 seconds. Higher above 12,000 feet and now we needed oxygen since the plane was not pressured. Higher, the highest they let you jump off of a plane in the ADVENTURE CAPITAL OF THE WORLD for my first sky-dive ever.
Debbie couldn’t hear me when I tried to tell her what was happening but now my heart raced even faster. We quickly reached 15,000 feet and this process started again, the yellow light, the door opened, the green light, and then it started. The first person was launched out of the plane and then maybe another 20 seconds had gone by and you could hear the scream from the second person. Then the third person went and it was the same and then it was my turn.
I said to myself things that I cannot type for you all to read. We scooted to the edge and I was expecting this countdown—1, 2, and 3—instead; I got a make sure you’re in the right position. I assumed the “banana position” as they call it—then I was expecting my countdown. Nope. Ricky decided it was time for us to go.
He launched us out of the airplane and we began our hurl down towards the ground. It was a feeling unlike any other. For the first 5 seconds, granted they felt like hours, we were tumbling and spinning helplessly downward and I was thinking I cannot believe I’ve flown nearly 1,000 times and this is the plane that’s going to kill me. Then, all of a sudden, we stabilized. Ricky tapped me on my shoulder and I let go of my death-grip on the harness and spread the hands out and we were flying.
The one-minute of free-fall felt like eternity but in a very positive way. You just felt like you were on a ride—there you had it, looking out in every direction and seeing mountains, feeling this strange upwards facing wind pressure that made it hard to breathe because you were feeling a mixed bag of emotions—laughter, fear, happiness, bliss, concern, confusion, and so many more. The fall was beautiful—you can’t see it from the pictures or video but it was truly the most peaceful thing I’ve ever experienced. We spun, we high-fived, we pointed, he was a great guide throughout our descent from 15,000 to 5,000 feet in just under 60 seconds.
Then Ricky opened up the parachute when we hit 5,000 feet. This may have been the most painful part of the process. I’ve worn many harnesses over the course of the past few weeks and all of our adventure activities and let me tell you that when a parachute opens when you free-fall, the harness gets pulled up very high, very fast.
After getting over that initial uneasy feeling, the parachute experience was equally as blissful until Ricky said that he was just going to unclip me. Amidst my enjoyment from the moment, I turned around and said woah woah woah, you’re going to unclip me? No, we’re going to stay here together. He laughed and was like no, its not what it sounds like, but I can understand how it sounds—just need to loosen a few things. BOOM. BOOM. Two very loud clicks and I realized I was still clipped in and all was good.
The turning of the parachute the first time was another scary moment. With each pull of the right and/or left hand, Ricky pulled the parachute very quickly down. It took maybe 2-3 times of him maneuvering our path for me to get comfortable with how we were going to get down. The scenery continued to be breathtaking. Ricky pointed out the various sights and sounds and before I knew it, it was time to pull up the legs and prepare for landing.
While we came in pretty hot, Ricky, as he did from start to finish, guided us in as we glided across the ground and landed in a seated position. Debbie had just landed right beside me so we were able to embrace on the ground and take a photo to document the crazy moment that had just happened. This was something she was so excited to do and I was so happy to be able to experience it with her.
We went back into the hangar and got out of our gear and texted John/Brian that we were OK. We waited about 15 minutes or so for them to add all of the photos/videos to the flash-drive and watched the video and flipped through the nearly 200 photos that Ricky had taken for us.
Given that we hadn’t told our mothers about it, we took a screenshot from the computer and sent it over to them and the reactions were fairly entertaining. From the OMG to the I can’t believe it to the is this fake, each was fairly entertaining.
What they didn’t know was that this was entirely unplanned until 3 days ago. That said, I wished we’d planned it earlier. It was without a doubt the most fun I’ve had on the trip thus far and far exceeded any and all expectations of what the experience would entail. Sure, it was scary but all that was scary was the hype leading up to it. By the time you got on the plane and the door opened, you don’t have time to process what’s happening. Next thing you know you’re being thrust off of the edge of the plane through the door and falling and then it hits you—you’ll be OK and now it’s time to enjoy the ride. -;./
Speaking of rides, we made our way back into town and grabbed lunch at the same spot as yesterday since we’d loved it. We made a few phone calls and then collected our belongings before heading back to the Queenstown airport for the third time today, returning the rental car that we’d driven for the last 2 weeks (less the one that we had exchanged) and boarded up the plane for our final 2 days in Sydney.
What a way to go out from New Zealand…we certainly saved the best for last 😉