Journal Entry: RTW Day 10 – Wanaka

Two days of rain and missed skydiving appointments later, Julie and I finally woke up to a beautiful sunny day in Wanaka.

We had called Skydive Wanaka the previous day after deciding to abandon our trip to Te Anau, and booked a 15,000’ jump for 10am.

We had butterflies in our stomach for breakfast, and decided not to eat or drink anything until after hurtling directly towards our beautiful round planet at 200km/h for over a minute (thanks gravity!).

We drove to the Wanaka airport (9km outside of the centre of town) and arrived at 9:30am, nice and early to mentally prepare ourselves for our most wallet-lightening activity yet (not counting our trip from T. to NZ in the first place).

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We were graced with the opportunity to sit around their airstrip-side lounge and snap off useless pic after useless pic,

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(including a couple of me sneezing, compliments of Julie’s artistic intuition and quick shutter finger response)

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after which we filled out all the usual forms and releases (no, they would not be responsible if we broke a leg, stubbed our toe, died, etc…), watched their terrible promotional/instructional video, and shelled out $628NZD.

After we’d paid up, we were allowed to stand on the ‘other side’ of the little wire fence separating the sane, money conscious life lovers, from the now broke, whack job death thrill seekers.

Yay!

As we awaited our imminent doom, we had time to dress up like idiots champs (for our protection I surmise), take more pictures (of us dressing up like idiots champs [is anyone sick of my strikethroughs yet?;)]), and to watch flight after flight of like minded folks go up slowly, and come down quickly (yes, we took more pictures of that too).

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By the time our turn came (closer to 11am), we had already witnessed enough people come back safe and smiling that we decided that we had made the right decision and that we weren’t crazy after all.

Having paid 199$NZD extra to ensure all our favourite moments were captured on film digital media (the jump alone was 429$NZD), we were being dogged by our personal cameramen as we finished suiting up and got on the plane.

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The flight up would take around 20 minutes we were told, during which time we could enjoy the beautiful scenery below.

As we got higher, we could see NZs largest mountains (Aoraki/Mt. Cook, …) peeking through the clouds beyond the horizon, and all kinds of beautiful lakes, rivers, farmlands and other mountains in our immediate vicinity.

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During the flight up, I was surprisingly calm, I suppose because I had already accepted my fate and was counting on the fact that my instructor had a strong will to live.

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Julie seemed pretty calm too, and resigned to whatever fate lay ahead.

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At about 10,000’, our instructors advised us to don our oxygen masks, and shortly thereafter to put on our hat and gloves (it was pretty cold at this point, and only going to get colder).

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There were 5 jumpers on the plane, each with an instructor and 4 of us with our own cameraman, so including the pilot, there were 15 souls aboard in total.

2 of the jumpers only paid for a trip to 12,000’, so without much ado (at least for those of us in the back…Well, front actually, because we were all seated facing backwards along 2 benches that ran the length of the plane benches and loaded in according to the order in which we would be jumping out) the side of the plane opened up, and out they went.

After another 5 minutes or so, we took off the oxygen masks (darn… I was just starting to enjoy the fix;), put on our goggles, had our harnesses checked and cinched tight one last time (in case someone had forgotten to attach one of the harnesses…?) and were reminded about the ‘freefall position’.

Then Julie jumped out from 15,000’.

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Bam, just like that she was gone.

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I scooted forward (backward?) along the bench and before I knew it my legs were hanging out in free space, the rest of my body not far behind, held to the plane by 4 little metal clasps that connected me to my tandem who was now mostly outside of the plane himself.

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My cameraman had somehow positioned himself outside the plane looking in, so I had to smile (grimace?) for his camera(s) as my tandem detached himself from his seat and we began to plummet.

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The word ‘jump’ does not really fit into what we did.

I would more readily compare it to tipping or sliding off of a chair but with no floor below you with which to steady yourself.

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By the time I’d put these thoughts together, it was already days after though, because at the time there were really just no thoughts going through my head at all.

Just wind.

Lots, and lots of wind.

The first couple hundred meters were literally freefall, as we tumbled around in slow motion, not once escaping the clutches of gravity.

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To right ourselves so we were facing the earth, my tandem released a small (1m around?) balloon chute that allowed him to steer with his arms and legs during the fall, and he henceforth controlled our descent, so it wasn’t completely ‘free’, although I’d never have known it from where I was spread-eagled heading straight down.

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The goggles helped keep my eyes from drying out (I spent weeks getting properly fitting contact lenses for this moment alone, so I’m glad I could actually see), but I couldn’t even breathe.

The air was literally forcing itself into my lungs such that the normal activity of these involuntary muscles was completely overridden by the steadfast onslaught of good ol’ atmosphere getting shoved down my windpipe.

Closing my mouth wasn’t an option, because I would then have suffocated.

I’m glad there were no swarms of gnats or tsetse flies about, as that would have made for a less than satisfactory late breakfast.

Come to think about it, I’m actually quite glad we didn’t run into any murders of crows, or flocks of pigeons, because I really do prefer chicken to sky-pest.

Anyhoo, back to the moment at hand:

There are really no words to describe falling out of a plane, and as cliché as it sounds, it really was over before I had any chance to absorb what was happening.

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When the main chute was pulled (I’m told that the minimum legal height requirement to cease freefall is about 5,000’)

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I had only a brief moment to appreciate the dispelling of my fears that my tandem would pass out and not be able to pull the chute before my groin and surrounding area was forcibly separated from the rest of my torso.

The most excruciating pain I’ve ever felt shot through my legs and rump region as the harness tightened to bear my full 195lb load.

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Our descent had now slowed to a leisurely pace, and the wind had subsided so it was actually very quiet and calm, definitely quiet enough for my tandem to hear me force out a muted moan something like “ohhhh, my legs…”.

He told me to sit back and lift my legs up in front of me as high as possible so I was sitting in the harness more comfortably, and this helped somewhat, but the damage was done, and the harness was too tight, not something I was about to consider loosening when we were still 4,000’ above the ground, suspended by little more than 4 little metal clips.

Let that be a lesson to all you future skyfallers: make sure the leg straps on your harness are not too tight before you take off…

I was truly heartbroken that I was unable to fully appreciate the calm and beautiful journey back to earth due to the pain in my crotchal region.

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A few minutes later, my instructor made a nice easy landing (just like it looked like in the training video!), and we had our feet back on sweet sweet earth.

At this point I’d like to take a moment to thank Jerry, my instructor, for his fantastic attitude and for making this the experience of a lifetime.

I’d also like to thank Ingemar for his incredible video and photos, without which this post (and my future memories of this incredible event) would not fully exist.

Oh, and there’s the little matter of them getting me back alive…

We got out of our suits, and as we waited for our 200$ video to be ‘edited’ (I use that term loosely, as it was really just a bunch of rough cuts of gopro hero 2 videos mashed together with some copyrighted music overlaid, along with an absolutely horrendous ‘intro’ that Skydive Wanaka felt the need to insert at the beginning of it), we milled around the gift shop re-living the already fading memories we’d just made.

“Adam, here is your video!” the clerk said as she handed me the usb stick.

“Just plug it into the DVD player over at one of those TVs and you can screen it.”

I did just that, and after the completion of said ridiculous intro, there I was on the silver screen, walking and talking (do I really sound like that?:p), getting into a plane, smiling and yelling a lot (thank god they silenced that part), falling out of a plane, and landing again on the ground, all in less than 5 minutes.

My palms were sweating as I watched, because to see it again, from the perspective of the third-party camera man, was literally worth every New Zealand penny even though the resolution/quality of the video was horrendous (I was especially disgruntled because I was expecting as-advertised HD video).

Nonetheless, having a watchable memory of this experience far outweighed having it stored only in my very shoddy memory vault.

After Julie got her video (her camera guy was not as good as mine, so I ended up with a far superior product), we watched them again on her laptop and the footage looked stellar in glorious 720p HD.

Perhaps they had their TVs hooked up to the DVD players via the composite analog signal path or some n00b mistake and should have used HDMI or Component, but either way, even though it looked quite miserable on their TVs, it turned out to be HD when views elsewhere.

That was the perfect ending to an incredible experience, and I was happy.

It was over an hour past high noon, and my long neglected stomach on the other hand was onto the dessert course of eating itself (yay ulcers!), so it was definitely time to head back to our hostel and refuel.

After lunch, we drove to a nearby conservation area and went hiking for the rest of the afternoon.

The path took us up a little ‘hill’ (they called it Mount Iron)

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covered in bunnies, and we got to see tons of the little critters

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and the millions of little bunny $hits everywhere as we made our ascent.

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The top was very nice, and we took a bunch of pictures of the surrounding area now that we were able to enjoy it from the comfort of having our feet planted firmly in the ground.

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We were able to unwind nicely from the events of the morning, and by the time we completed our descent, the sun was sinking along the western horizon, bathing the picturesque town of Wanaka in a beautiful glow (ok that was cheese, but I’m having trouble finishing this post since the skydiving was so epic and really there are no words that can describe it… efffff… ok, here, just watch the video).

Oh, and we saw big pinecones.

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