13,000 Feet

In Uncategorized on August 30, 2010 at 6:04 pm

On Sunday, August 8th, I jumped out of an airplane at 13,000 feet, fell through space at 120 mph for the shortest minute of my life, shot through double rainbows in the clouds, and managed not to get in the way as the guy strapped to my back brought us in for a safe landing.  Whoooo!

My father who art in Eagan surprised my stepmom, Diane, by bringing together all of the children and grandchildren in the family for a skydiving adventure to celebrate her 60th birthday.  As my brother Jordan put it, “It was super cool and we didn’t die.”

Preparing to Land

The level of anticipation is almost unbearable while waiting to skydive.  I told myself many soothing stories about how safe it is, and how there would be an expert running the business end of things while all I had to do was show up, and how the most dangerous part was probably the drive on I-94, but then there were an awful lot of forms to be signed and initialed, and there was a ten minute video to be viewed.  The film featured a man who was dominated by his beard, a kind of eastern mystic meets ZZ Top.  He passed on the zen like wisdom that once you choose to jump out of an airplane you are on your own, liability wise.

Although my lovely wife and children chose not to join in this adventure, I had the joy of spending time with my siblings and nieces while awaiting the jump.  Several of the kids got into some muddy mischief while our infants dozed under canopies, oblivious to the ridiculous lifestyle choices of their primary caregivers.  Watching the tandem jumpers land periodically was both reassuring and terrifying.  If they can do it, why can’t I?  Some of the more experienced skydivers displayed their skills by skating across the landing field as though on ice.  Show-offs.

I was on the third flight with my brother David and his wife Nikki, so far everyone had survived.  We took off and it was on, this was really happening.  I tried to calm my mind with some deep breathing techniques and was interrupted by a joke from my jumpmaster, Brian.  “It’s like the dog whose tail got run over said,” he yelled over the engine noise.  “It won’t be long now!”

It occurred to me that although I had seen many people wearing helmets, none of us were.  Apparently it was all or nothing.  Suddenly the door opened, the jumplights switched on, and my brother dared gravity to do its worst as he disappeared from view.  I swung my legs out and responded to Brian’s insistent slap on my shoulder by jumping out into nothing.

We were off, falling fast and raising our hands into the wind.  The jumpmaster directed our hands to turn left, then right, and as we approached terminal velocity the sensation was like that of flying as much as falling.  Abruptly, the parachute deployed, jerking me up in the harness and slowing us dramatically.

We floated above and through the cumulus with the distant cirrus overhead providing some perspective on how near to earth we really were.  After flying through the shadow of our own parachute surrounded by a double rainbow several times (we aimed for it using the hand straps as though it were a target), we were finally through the cloud cover and the earth took on its more familiar form.

The cars crawled like ants, the roads formed a perfect grid of fields, and a backyard pool was observed as we neared the airfield.  “Belongs to the guy who runs the bar in town,” Brian explained.  I knew which bar he meant, we had each received a free drink coupon as part of the experience.  At the last second, he directed me to land on my own feet, rather than relying solely on his, and my adrenaline surged once again.  I had done it!

One of the short term effects of skydiving is the sense of perspective it brings to fear.  Two days after the jump I was about to perform at a food co-op picnic in Gooseberry park, and the familiar pre-performance jitters started up.  “Shut up,” I told them, “you just jumped out of an airplane, and now you want to be nervous about playing guitar and juggling for a small group of exceptionally nice people?”

The perceived risks of both skydiving and creative performance are outweighed by the adrenaline rush and the feeling that comes after the fear.  You know the one.


  1. Holy Crap! Literally! I DO know the one – where you wish you had brought along a change of underwear. What a delightful recounting of an amazing adventure. I will keep your experience close to my heart when I put myself in future “fear zones.” Thanks!

  2. Why would anyone jump out of a perfectly good airplane?

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