Skydiving At The Ranch
by Sarah Skye
"Ready, Set, Arch!" Youre gone, and youll
be back for more! I recently had my first experience at doing
something I thought Id never do. Yes, I jumped out of an
airplane on my rather long lunch break from work this past Friday.
Some of the construction crew at a job site I work on informed
me they were about to go skydiving at The Ranch in Gardiner,
New York, and I was asked to come along. Well, it sure beats
going around the corner for a deli sandwich and an iced tea.
This was something I vowed to myself that I would do before I
died, and preferably not immediately before I died. My quest
was not to fulfill a need for adrenaline rushes like most rock
climbers, auto race car drivers or bungee chord jumpers. Rather,
it was to conquer my absolute biggest fear: airplanes and heights.
Im one of the least likely people to ever decide
to actually do such a thing. That is why I had to do it, right
then and there. If it was a planned activity, I surely would
have not slept for the month prior to the event, bitten off all
my nails, and bailed out at the last moment. To be invited and
go through with it on an impulse was the only way I was to have
a chance at following through with this utterly insane encounter.
So, shortly after my group of 12 colleagues and their friends
drove around the corner to The Ranch, I followed suit. Entering
the gates, ornamented with an airplane propeller, I realized
that I was totally bonkers. How could I possibly jump out of
an airplane at 13000 feet when I wouldnt even go on the
childrens rides at the Ulster County Fair? The merry-go-round
was about the extent of my bravery. I parked my car and went
over to the tented pavilion where instructors were preparing
their parachutes for their next
jump. A group of soon-to-be daredevils was putting on jumpsuits
for their "trip." Behind the office area, outside,
were my pals all receiving the training session. Standing around
in a semi-circle, faces alert and eyes showing a sense of excitement
mixed with apprehension, stood my "group."
Leading the training session was a large, military-like,
teddy bear of a fella, explaining to our group what was to take
place once we were on the plane. Apparently, I had already missed
the video portion of the training session, which I saw once the
big fella completed his instructions. Each of us in the group
had to go through the arm and hand signal motions the instructor
was guiding us through. We then placed ourselves on a dolly on
the ground showing we understood the "arch" position,
which we would be positioned in when we jumped out of the plane.
When my turn came up, all I could think of as he said, "keep
your thighs up higher and arch your head back farther,"
was that I must be out of my mind.
A few times, I asked passing instructors where I was to
pay for my adventure. They kept advising me not to pay until
just before I get on the plane, in the event I backed out of
the deal. Logically, all I could figure was that they must know
better. They have probably seen many people back out and they
didnt want the cash-return flow dilemma.
It was then my and another late-comers turn to view
the instructional video. The Ranch employees obviously made the
video, rather than a professional video editor. That gave it
a homey feel. It was filled with a lot of humor (as I guess youve
got to have one if plan to partake in such a sport) as well as
dire seriousness about the risks involved in skydiving. To put
it mildly, they drove the point home. While we were watching
the video, we were filling out forms which they explain on the
video are essentially "signing your life away." While
initialing here and there that I realize this sport could result
in serious injury, even death, I watched the video of other first-time
divers jumping out of a plane.
Now realize, the first time you jump, you are not merely
placed on a plane with a parachute attached to your back, trying
to remember the instructions at your session. Rather, your first
jump is a tandem jump. This means you have a licensed, trained,
professional instructor who has a parachute on his or her back,
and they are strapped to your back. Its sort of like being
a baby kangaroo, and you are tucked safely into the instructors
pouch until they land you tenderly to the ground. And that they
do, I promise you.
It was drizzling the day of our jump, so there were a few
delays in getting each plane in the air. The reason being, when
it drizzles where we stand on the ground, when you are dropping
out of airplane at 200 m.p.h., the little drizzles feel more
like little ice chunks pelting your skin. The rain also, obviously,
dampens the canopy of the parachutes, and they take a while to
dry. Lastly, if you hired a videographer to jump out with you
and your instructor so they could video your pale, care-worn
face, the rain drops are not user-friendly to their camera equipment.
Another consequence of the rain was that we were unable to climb
to the proposed 13,500 feet height, due to cloud cover. Rather,
we elevated to 9,000 feet. This meant we would be unable to "freefall"
for more than 15 seconds since the parachute had to be released
at 6,000 feet. Gee, I can only freefall for 15 seconds rather
than 35 seconds. Well, I surely couldnt have a heart attack
in only 15 seconds, so it was a blessing to me. Others were somewhat
disappointed as they wanted a longer fall. Spare me, or so I
thought. Now I know what they were talking about.
Fortunately, each plane load did get a chance to eventually
go up, and my group was divided into three plane loads. I was,
thanks to my tardiness, scheduled to go down on the third plane,
allowing me to see my other pals go up before me, so I could
confirm my intentions based on their reactions.
The longer I waited, the less nervous I was. I got a chance
to speak with several of the instructors. They told tales about
their experiences, which included totals of over 1000 jumps.
I discussed, with other first-time jumpers, their fears. I discovered
that three of the passengers on my plane were celebrating their
birthdays. Finally, the first plane of my group went up. It was
an incredible experience watching what appeared to be flecks
of color in the sky eventually become a gorgeous display of tandem
jumpers exhibiting their resplendent parachute canopies, willowing
toward the ground, safely. The look of pure exhilaration on their
faces and hearing them shout "I did it!" was highly
inspirational. I was pretty sure I would do it.
After the second plane containing members of my group streamed
out of the sky, I was actually starting to get psyched. In this
plane, there were some seasoned jumpers who came down solo and
performed a few awe-inspiring stunts. By then, I was already
in my jumpsuit. My money was clenched in my clammy palms. My
instructor had been doing back-to-back tandem jumps with first-time
divers, so I hadnt yet consulted with him. When he came
down, he came straight over to me, confidently, and asked if
I was ready to practice. Fortunately, he had an extremely nurturing
quality about him. He was not much taller than me, which lessened
my concern that I would have the big fella, who ran the tutorial
earlier on, strapped to my back while descending 200 m.p.h. out
of an airplane.
My instructor, Gino, had been jumping since 1983. Thats
sixteen years experience, and it showed. He led me through the
motions at the training section, which lessened my concern greatly.
I dont believe I absorbed too much of what I heard earlier,
due to my panic-stricken stature. His encouraging and gentle
instruction relieved my anxiety greatly. Once I had my harness
on, and the plane was in its take-off position, I was then allowed
to pay the fee. I guess there was no turning back now.
Gino, paternally led me to the plane, asking me if I was
all right and reassuring me that I was going to do a great job.
He informed me that women are usually better divers because they
dont tense up as much mid-flight, allowing them to enjoy
the ride more. All I could think was, "Ha! Little do you
know!" While aboard the plane, which is a huge fear of mine
in itself, I was actually fairly relaxed and became pumped up
to do this amazing feat. I looked out the window and saw the
beautiful Hudson Valley region on a misty day, the gray modulations
allowing the deeper greens to stand out more. It was quite beautiful.
There were two rows of passengers, each with an instructor
strapped to their back. We sat in a position such that each group
of tandem jumpers sat between our legs in front of us. Of course,
I had the big fella from earlier placed in front of me with his
sheer weight well-nigh crushing my knee joints against the airplane
walls, but that didnt matter much. It took my mind off
the oncoming expectation.
Browsing at some of my co-passengers' faces, I saw some
who looked sober and calm, others who couldnt stop smiling
the broadest, nervous smile they could muster, and those who
looked quite earnest in their quest for the thrill of a lifetime.
Observing the others, with Gino behind me asking every few moments
how I was doing, allowed me to take my mind off the endeavor
All of a sudden, we reached our destined elevation. Gino
told me to stand up in a crouched position. I got instant cotton-mouth.
People started jumping out of the plane! Immediately before me,
my pal, Brian, from work carefully followed instruction and poof!
He was gone. Gino guided me to the door exclaiming, "put
your toes off the edge of the plane" and my initial reaction
was to take my hands off my harness and reach up to the door.
That was simply NOT permitted. So I summoned every bit of will
to keep my hands before me, secured to my harness, and place
my toes off the edge of the plane. We were instructed to keep
our eyes on the wing of the plane, to avoid looking down, which
I gladly did. Just as Gino started saying, "ready, set
the pilot yelled "wait!" as he was going to turn around
the plane for better direction. Gino pulled me back in and told
me to wait until the plane turned around. OK, so the point of
placing your toes over the edge of a plane at 9,000 feet in the
air was going to have to be repeated. I thought I was going to
be sick. In addition, my gams were already shaking from nerves.
I had to stand in a crouched position with Gino bearing weight
on my back, causing my thighs to want to buckle. I kept telling
myself, "You could do it!"
OK, it was again time to stick my toes over the edge of
the plane. I REALLY wanted to put my hands out, and my hand actually
left my harness for a second, but I realized it was too late.
Once again, I approached the edge of the plane, kept my eyes
on the right wing of the plane, Gino said, "Ready, set,
ARCH!" And we were gone. Dropping approximately 200 m.p.h.,
there is no way to describe in words what that felt like. The
drizzling rain pelted my cheeks, as they warned, but it was a
nice distraction. I had to remember to breathe through my nose,
because your body wants to trick you into thinking you cant.
Remember, YOU CAN! Just calmly decide to breathe through your
nose. Gino tapped my shoulders, which was a signal that I could
take my hands off the harness and put them out by my ears. It
was like forming a "W" to get the sensation that we
are flying. Guess what, we were! The next step was for me to
check his parachute release cord. Since our jump was for a short
time, he let me know he was going to do it this time so I could
just relax and enjoy the ride.
For the ten or fifteen seconds we were free falling, I
realized that I was totally safe. I concentrated a bit on telling
my body everything was OK. I remembered to breathe through my
nose. My cotton mouth got relief since the rain dampened my lips.
I tried to absorb all I could of this memory since others who
came down warned that they couldnt even remember the fall.
It was an amazing, exhilarating, liberating experience, and it
wasnt even over yet.
Before I knew it, Gino warned that he was about to pull
the cord. Swoop! We went from 200 m.p.h., to 0 m.p.h., instantly.
Now, that was a lovely feeling. The first word out of my mouth
was, not surprisingly, "WOW!" I was fortunate that
Gino took me on quite a lengthy parachute ride. He was careful
to gently maneuver our chute in different directions, allowing
me to take in the views below. He instructed me to step on his
feet. This allowed my body to rise just enough to pull the harness
from my groin area down to my knees so that I was cradled in
the harness like a swing seat. It was an incredibly comfortable
position, and allowed me to sit back and thoroughly enjoy the
rest of the ride.
To the left of me was Mohonk Mountain House. Below was
the landing strip. Speckled here and there were all the lovely
little homes I passed by on ground level every day in my automobile.
To the right was the field of apple trees, bursting with their
splendid harvest. I was in heaven! All I could think of at this
point was, "Please, dont let us come down, I dont
want this to end!"
Gino practiced with me how to land by instructing me to
put my legs together and straight out in a 90 degree angle from
my body. Every time we practiced, the parachute would come to
a stop, thereby prolonging our air time. I could have done that
all day. Gino realized I was comfortable enough for him to swing
the parachute around in a 360 degree turn, slowly, allowing a
panoramic view of the area. I never wanted to come down.
Soon enough, it was time to land. I followed his instruction
when he told me to put my legs out. Just as he positioned us
precisely on the soft gravel landing circle, he yelled, "And
Too late. I wasnt expecting to stand. Skillfully, Gino
skimmed aloft with our canopy collapsing above. Ooops, I made
a mistake, but no one was hurt.
Well, I didnt kiss the ground. I thought I was only
going to do this ONCE, if I even did it at all. NO WAY!!!! There
is no such thing as once in this sport. I was hooked! I would
have gotten right on that plane and jumped again, if it were
not for the cost. Now, for a gal who is terrified of planes,
heights, falling, amusement park rides, and the like, to want
to jump right back on the plane and off it again, tells you something.
You MUST do this!
Since Ive landed, I have called almost everyone I
know and convinced them they MUST return to The Ranch with me
within the next month to tandem jump. My brothers wedding
present will be two tickets for him and his fiancé. My
boyfriends birthday present will be a ticket for same.
My longtime friend from Brooklyn is coming up to try it. Gather
a group of ten or more and your ticket price is reduced. Gather
20 in your group, and one jumps FREE! Bring along an extra $70
and get a videotape of your jump. I wish I had it to watch over
and over again. In a way, its a good thing I dont
have it, as it would only frustrate me each passing day I wasnt
in the air.
Trust me, if I could do it and love it to the extent that
I do, YOU can too!
No one is more of a chicken than I, and this little chicken is
growing her wings
See you at The Ranch!
You can reach The Ranch by calling (914)255-4033 for prices
and group discounts. You can also get CERTIFIED if you can follow
the calendar required which informs you how often you have to
jump, rates for same, and which levels you need to accomplish.
Once you reach a certain point, you can dive for as little as
$13 a pop! You should also consider becoming an instructor so
you could actually get PAID for taking other virgin jumpers down
in tandem. Or, be a videographer, flipping around the jumpers
with a camera strapped to your forehead, documenting others
Also, please check out their website http://www.ranchskydive.com