The smell of New Zealand’s own Monteith’s Golden Lager filled the Skywagon propeller airplane as it sat docile on the dirt runway of ‘Skydive New Zealand.’ Poised for takeoff in the shadow of the South Island’s most breathtaking landscape, I couldn’t help but ask myself, how the hell did I get here?
I am petrified of heights and have never felt comfortable in an airplane. I’m not sure if the nausea was being caused by my impending dance with terminal velocity, or the sting of a hangover from my attempt to drown my fears in dark lagers and pale ales at Franz Josef pub the night before
Bryan, my travelling buddy at the time, was absolutely dead set on jumping out of a plane in New Zealand. Weeks ahead of this trip, he would talk of the jump, but I never thought I would do it. A week away, there was a sudden twinge of fear when I realized, “Dear mother of Jesus, I’m going to fall from a perfectly good airplane.” Could I really say no? He was skydiving, so I had no choice. What was I going to do, wait for him to parachute down and hear how life-changing it was?
Pinching myself didn’t wake me from my nightmare. I really was tucked into a tiny airplane with my friend; strapped to someone I had just met who was soon to have my life in his hands. My mind was slowly lowering me into a pit of despair with thoughts like “If you die or are maimed horrifically, we aren’t responsible…” and whether or not I should have actually worn an adult diaper instead of just joking about it.
My jumpmaster, and obvious old pro, sensed my feelings like a savant. Or maybe he could feel the sweat pouring off me, hear the faint ramblings of semi-accurate Catholic prayers or smell the brewery that was seeping from my pores. Either way, he immediately started reassuring me that this was about to be the best experience of my life. He had jumped successfully over five thousand times, and had already jumped twice that day. I wasn’t out of the woods yet, but that calmed my nerves, until the takeoff.
This time, it must have been my slow rocking that alerted him, as my accurately titled jumpmaster came to my psyche’s rescue yet again. He started pointing out the landscape below us, and it wasn’t until then that I realized how phenomenally beautiful the country of New Zealand was and my good fortune to be able to experience a place so awe-inspiring.
The plane glided directly above the Fox Glacier and soared next to Mt. Cook, New Zealand’s tallest peak. To the west was the teal blue expanse of the Tasman Sea, and the land was dotted with lakes, lined with rivers, and covered in lush tropical rainforest.
I was jolted from a daydream of living in Middle Earth by the sound of the wind rushing into the plane as the door opened. The point of no return had finally arrived and I immediately regretted my decision, but had succumbed to my fate. Like someone suffering Patty Hurst Syndrome, I was a passenger in my own body, unable to stop the unnatural motion of dangling from the midsection of a stranger at 12,000 ft.
Unfortunately for me, the next moments are completely documented from a camera on the wing, and a majority of the pictures could potentially keep me from running for president if they were to ever surface on the Internet. Snapshot after snapshot captured the unmistakable look of sheer terror on my face, and even in a still photo, you can sense there was whimpering.
In one miraculous shot I was able to channel my inner Patrick Swayze, and look confidently in the face of oncoming danger. The image is now my computer background, Facebook picture, and will eventually be framed in the part of my house with the most foot traffic. It’ll be the perfect conversation starter for when I return from my great adventure Down Under, and if anyone asks — jumping out of the plane was my idea. I have the picture to prove it.