Jumping jitters

As a junior in college feeling the pressure of an intense course load and approaching midterms, the annual urge to do something that would take my mind off it all came like clockwork. Weekend socializing and late-night monument tours just were not cutting it for me anymore. A friend and I sat down one day to brainstorm. We decided upon our adventure: skydiving.

A quick Google search and a telephone call confirmed a place called Skydive Maryland as the closest and most affordable place to go tandem skydiving in the D.C. area, about an hour away in Ridgely, Md. The going student rate was $199, a little pricey, but worth paying for trusting your life to a professional and jumping out of a plane.

The drive itself was an adventure. We drove through endless miles of farmland, and the only car we did see had a license plate saying “YEEEHA!”

After reaching the Ridgely Airpark and being greeted by the most friendly and easygoing faces in Maryland, we signed away all rights to sue in case of injury or death – doubts flying through our heads. We were strapped down, given instructions on how to arch our bodies after we “exited the aircraft,” and then watched the other small three-passenger airplanes take off while waiting for our turn.

Bob Gleaton, one of the instructors who had been skydiving since 1985, told us stories to calm us down.

“It’s such a perfect day! You’ll be so high up and the air is clear enough for you that you may even see Philadelphia!” he said. That did not really calm us down.

“I do about 12 jumps a day. You have nothing to be scared about,” he said. That calmed us down somewhat.

Then, “You go about 120 miles per hour, and it’s for about 60 seconds and then 10 minutes of really gentle parachuting. It’s beautiful!” Hearing those numbers made us jittery again.

“Well if you can’t handle it you can always go hang-gliding!” he said with a laugh, pointing to the hang-gliders on the other side of the grassy field and the people crowding around it. It looked tempting, but we strengthened our resolve to do what we came to do.

I let my friend go first and watched her climb into the aircraft. Twenty minutes later I watched her bright magenta parachute appear in the sky and took pictures as she and her instructor, Gleaton, glided towards me for a gentle touchdown on the field.

“Oh my God!” she said breathlessly, “That was crazy!”

Then it was my turn. My instructor and I tucked ourselves into the small passenger space of the plane, and we took off. I glanced at the altimeter strapped to my wrist, reading almost 10,000 feet, when my instructor started strapping himself to me and made sure my body was secured to his gear. The view outside the windows was breathtaking; I could clearly see the sparkling Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, D.C. and New Jersey, two miles below. Then, he opened the door.

I scooted to the edge of the door, hoping that I was very securely strapped to the professional behind me, and looked down at the miniature world below. The howling wind was slapping my body and my heart was pumping. Then my instructor shouted, “Three.two.”

And all of a sudden, I wasn’t scared anymore.

For information about Skydive Maryland, call 410-634-9222 or 443-735-9140. You can also visit their website at skydivemaryland.aero.

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