30 August 2009

"Sensory Overload"

One summer, some friends from work, my “significant other” and I decided that we were going to take parachute lessons. The real thing. None of this strapping yourself to the front of some manic 20-Something high on Red Bull. No, this was static-line jumping - where you throw your ass out of a plane while a tethered cord hopefully rips the chute out of the pack.

The course was great fun while we were taught what happens and what we do to avoid the worlds worst faceplant. The most fun was leaping around in harnesses practicing the “1 thousand, 2 thousand, 3 thousand, 4 thousand, 5 thousand LOOK CHECK” drill. I’m still relieved that the cutting strangulation of my nether regions did not prevent me from fathering children later in life.

So the time comes for the big jump. I’m not entirely sure what type of plane it was, but a Cessna seems fairly close. Six of us were all crammed on the floor in the back of one anyway – absolutely crapping ourselves at what was about to happen. The instructor explained to us that when our turn comes, we shimmy up to the open door, lean out and stand on the wheel before climbing out and hanging off the strut that holds up the wing. He also explained that if you get to the point of hanging out the door, then your butt would not be getting back in – supposedly it would be safer for him to push you the rest of the way out. Nice. Now, with a static-line jump, the rip-cord is tethered to the plane, so we didn’t actually have to remember to pull it – it’s coming out anyway. Unless it doesn’t come out – then we go to Plan B (reserve chute which we would have to activate ourselves).

The instructor had explained to us that the moment we leap will often cause a kind of “sensory overload”. Your whole body is reacting to a situation that is not generally in it’s best interests to be in. So he said that we can actually go blind momentarily with the adrenaline overload. I remember glancing over at my mates and we all had this knowing nod of “oh yeah, this is going to be good”.

So dangling from this strut, just as happy as you please, looking down thousands of feet below thinking WTF am I doing – I release my hands. Now at this point, I’m not sure if my eyes are closed tighter than the proverbial snapper’s you-know-what, but I can’t see a thing. I can hear myself yelling the “1 thousand, 2 thousand…” etc which was burned into our heads, but that’s it. I then "come to" becoming aware that I’m looking up at my chute fully inflated and thinking “I’m not plummeting to my death! – Nice one!”.

Yeah, the floaty bit heading back to Earth was awesome. Looking around, turning where I wanted, in charge of my own destiny in a way. It was fantastic, I even landed on my feet. The pure rush of adrenaline was incredible - it literally was one of those “glad to be alive” moments. I hadn't actually believed the instructor about going temporarily blind like that and thought "sensory overload" just sounded like he'd had too many Red Bulls. Wrong :-)

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