Banking and skydiving.

Occasionally, cool things happen.

This past Friday, we packed up some camping equipment, filled a cooler with the necessities (cheeses, fruit, beer, wine, etc.) and headed off to a drop zone a little east of St. Augustine for the holiday weekend.

Camping for me is always the best prescription for stress.  The act itself somehow offers an odd type of permission to ‘let your hair down’.  Or better yet, not to wash it at all.  While camping, I don’t tend to really care about shaving, body odor or matching clothes.  What you see is what you get.  Just letting go of the attachment to image sometimes helps ease us into a better position for gaining perspective on what is truly important.  (For those wondering, I do continue however, to brush my teeth.  Just saying.)

We arrived Friday night, set up camp and relaxed for the rest of the evening watching the sunset while having a couple drinks.  Saturday’s sun woke me up by engulfing my entire body in a cocoon of warmth that helped melt away the rest of the tension my body was holding on to.

I rolled around for a few minutes trying to decided if I was still tired, if anything ached in my body, if I needed to pee and to figure out where the dog and Brian were.  I unzipped the tent and looked around to get a gauge on what was happening at the DZ and what time it was.  Right about then I heard a noise above me that sounded like a flag being aggressively toyed with by the wind.  I looked up in just enough time to see Brian float over the tent below his parachute, maneuvering his way back to land.

I spent the rest of Saturday watching skydivers through binoculars, taking photographs of random shit and reading.

We discovered that the ‘Putnam County Blue Crab Festival’ was happening at the same time we would be in the area so of course we needed to attend and eat a little seafood.  We got there a little late as everything started closing up but we were still able to have some crab (Im not yet convinced it was ‘blue’ crab), eat a funnel cake and watch the locals frolic.  I could post an entire blog on the frolicing Putnam County residents at a local festival but will refrain and just say that I am very happy to reside in a more cultured and populated zip code.

We headed back to the DZ after the festival with not much more excitement than a drink and sleep.

Sunday morning came and we headed out early to spend part of the the day at the beach and get some sun.  Another prescription that can melt away any stress for me is breathing some ocean air deep into my lungs and exhaling all the heavy, negative crap we allow ourselves to ingest everyday.  The ocean always makes me question my own grandeur and puts me back in my place.  Saturday was no exception.  I was able to let go of some of the negative vibes I had been allowing my being to absorb and reset my outlook to be focused on more positive energy.

We arrived back to the drop zone, got ourselves settled and hung out for a while in the hanger socializing with the other skydivers.  I had expressed some interest in going up in the plane to be an observer and watch everyone jump when we had first gotten to the DZ and since Brian had decided to jump that afternoon, he asked if I was still interested.  Before I knew it, I was signing a waiver and boarding the plane in the co-pilots seat.

Once everyone was in the plane, the pilot got us rolling down the runway approaching 80 mph.  We lifted off the ground and began our ascent to 13,500 feet as the trees below us slowly became merely a green brush stroke.  The scenery from a plane always amazes me.  Or maybe the scenery is more of a medium to gain an amazing perspective on life.  Like staring at the ocean.  You begin to feel how small you are and how insignificant our problems really are in the grand scheme of life.

As I was gazing off to the right of the plane and trying to gauge where I was, the pilot came over my headset and said, “Alright, its all you!”.

As I was thinking, “Whats all me?”, I turned to the pilot only to see he had taken his hands off the steering mechanism of the plane.  I kind of cracked a smirk that said, “Ha ha.  Thats funny.” and began to turn away again when he came back over the headset and said “You’d better grab it!”.  He was totally going to let me steer the plane.  I reached out and grabbed the yoke and looked to him for more direction.  He told me how to keep the plane level by watching a gauge on the dash.

The yoke had a slight shutter to it as it responded to the air that was passing over and under the wings.  The pilot told me that the sensation I was feeling is actually built into the mechanism so the pilot can become better connected to the feel of the aircraft.  He then told me to bank the aircraft ten degrees to the right and showed me what that looked like on the gauge.  I banked the plane and held it steady for a time until he asked me to level it off again.  Then banked to the left.  Then level.  Then right. Then level.

It was at this point he said we were just about at altitude for the skydivers to make their jumps.  I noticed only then that they had opened the door in the back a little bit to circulate some air in the hot cabin.  As I was enjoying the view in the now level plane, the pilot came on the headset and barked back at the skydivers, “Go! Go! Go!”.

I looked back in enough time to see Brian exit the aircraft with the rest of the load following.  As each person jumped off the plane, the craft got lighter and lighter until there was no one left.

The pilot said, “Is everyone out?”.  I didn’t even finish the word “Yes!” before the nose to the plane was facing the ground and we started plummeting toward the earth.  The pressure in my ears was incredibly intense during the quick descent but the ride completely made up for it.  Spiraling around the skydivers offered an amazing observation of their jump, sort of unifying the vehicle and the jumpers by stopping time for a moment.

We landed the plane at the same time the skydivers were delicately touching ground and pulled around to greet them by the hanger.  As we exited the plane I thanked the pilot repeatedly until he started laughing at me.

The experience for him was completely different than mine.  He has built a career over a lifetime out of piloting planes and enjoys sharing that with others.  Perhaps even getting a rise out of unsuspecting observers as he orders them to grab the yoke and take his plane to altitude.

The experience for me was something else.  It was an experience in trust and in play that was encrusted in reckless abandon.  An off chance experience that I get to take with me for the rest of my journey.

I don’t think the pilot knew exactly what he did for me on that Sunday but I changed a little bit from that flight.  A piece of me is now a little freer.   A little lighter.  A little less rigid.

Perhaps a little more confident to bank 10 degrees to the right and laugh in the face of my fears before leveling off again and enjoying the rest of my flight.

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