Towards the end of April, I began to work with another charity called AgeConcern – this time raising money for the elderly in need as I took up the opportunity of a lifetime and a lifetime goal – swimming in the clouds.
An early morning journey from Harrow to Chatteris took just over an hour and we arrived at the North London Parachute Centre right on schedule. I went to the registration trailer and signed up. Half an hour later, we had some training and watched a video that showed the experience. Noticing that I wasn’t the only “first timer” there washed away some nerves. It was a calm anticipation.
It was my turn. I put on the straps and looked like a real skydiver for the first time in my life, although I felt the pain of the straps tied so hard in the most awkward of places. As I met my photographer and instructor, we entered the plane and filed in. We sat toboggan style in two rows, facing the back of the plane. I was on the side of the door and a few people back from it. We all got in and the plane began its taxi along the runway. We lined up and took off. That was a powerful plane. I love taking off and I had never experienced one like this. I could see the ground going away and down through the open door. That was great. As we reached about 10,000 feet or so, the instructor began to hook up to me and run through the first of 3 safety checks. My mind was still on what was happening at the moment, no time to think about anything else. We finished with the prep work and went up on our knees.
As I put my legs under the plane and my head back, I was instructed to keep my hands crossed to my chest and to look at the engine of the plane. The photographer had left the plane and BOOM – we left the plane too. By the time I could understand where I was, I was trying to smile for the cameraman in front of me whilst flying into the ice. When we reached our jump height we descended from a sitting position. I was the first to go, but all the nerves had been wiped out, as the instructor was so friendly that you couldn’t possibly have any nerves. We jumped out into the clouds and instantly I was in a whole different world. There was a guy going solo, and another with a video camera attached to his helmet. As I watched they jumped out and within a second were swallowed by the clouds around them. It was a magnificent sight and I was in heaven. It was worth the whole thing just to witness that. Words cannot describe how exhilarating it was.
Many sensations hit me at once. All of them were beautiful. I will recount them as I remember them. The first thing I was aware of were the clouds and we were engulfed in them and that sensation of falling, (which felt more like floating in the wind) it was like diving into a lake, but instead of hitting the water, it was just wind and this moist white vapour. As my body stabilized I regained my equilibrium. I ran through my checks that I had been going over and over before the jump. And when I was done, the sky opened up and we were through the clouds. Houses were little dots. And I could see forever through the sporadic openings in the clouds. It was rather cloudy and so I could not see continuously but it didn’t matter. I had tunnel vision and I would look at one spot, then move my eyes to another.
I checked my altimeter, coming up on 4000 feet, which is the altitude at which the instructor pulled the cord. The parachute opened and it felt like I went from falling to being pulled upward. I melted into my harness and let out a sigh of bliss. I had never felt such wonderful sensations in my life. I didn’t have a tense muscle in my body. I must say I was surprised. I had expected it to be the adrenaline rush of all time, although that’s not what I was out for.
I was looking for the feeling of total release and complete peace. I found it over 10,000 feet in the air. I looked down on the world and it was beautiful. I was flying. No plane, no fake wings, no propulsion system, just gliding on the wind with no cares or worries. My instructor took us through a few turns, adjusting our coarse. I can compare this to a roller coaster. But a roller coaster is violent compared to this. It’s just gliding. I felt it in my stomach as it tickled a little. It was also a rush and very exhilarating. As we got closer to the ground my instructor taught me how to make a landing. We glided in. One minute we were fast approaching the ground and then we were gently sliding on our butts. It was very fun. It was like sitting, not falling, on a slide, and then sliding a couple of feet. It was a great flight and a great landing. When I left, I looked outside and up to the clouds. A big smile went across my face and even though I was looking up at the clouds I was seeing them below me again. And I felt that floating peaceful feeling all over again. I don’t think I’ll ever look at the sky quite the same way again… I’ve been there.