Hands on your harness near your chest, knees bent, head back and chin up … then out the door to free fall more than a mile toward the Earth.
I’m not exactly sure how you spent your weekend, but I spent mine changing my life.
A month or so ago, Reuben Roach, Detective-Sergeant with the Norwich Police Department, suggested we get a large group together to go skydiving.
The large group dwindled down to a power trio. And when I say, ‘power,’ I mean I brought the powerful anxiety and unrealistic thoughts. Reuben and his friend and former law enforcement officer Van Miles brought the power of moving my thoughts away from nerves by talking about anything except jumping out of a plane while driving down.
Also on our adventure was Kearstin, deemed provider of entertainment in the vehicle, the keeper of all things important, and witness to all landings.
As we got closer to our destination, Skydive The Ranch in Gardiner, NY, I thought it finally hit me that I was going to jump out of a perfectly functional aircraft from 13,500 feet … for the fun of it.
Now you can even ask my mother, but I’m no adrenaline junkie. It’s never been my thing. I was embarrassingly old when I could ride a bike without training wheels. Anything that involved sports certainly didn't have my name attached while growing up.
But then it clicked. I can’t hit a baseball, I can’t catch a football, jump on a skateboard (let alone stand on one), or ski down a hill… but there is one thing I have always been able to do with ease, and that is fall.
So why not fall for what feels like eternity?
When we arrived, the owner of Skydive The Ranch, Joe, was incredibly friendly and automatically eased my mind a little, which was still racing.
There wasn’t too much time to think about what I was about to do, the next thing we did was sign in, sign the waivers to release and hold harmless (I’ve signed those before, no biggie), and then harness up.
I’m pretty sure I chugged two bottles of water while waiting, as my mouth gets dry when I’m nervous. I sat next to Kearstin on a bench, awaiting our turn.
Then, my instructor, Denes, came out and introduced himself. He was incredibly energetic, yet chill about everything. He explained what was going to happen, from A to Z, and adjusted my harness a little. Then he said, “Okay, I’m off to jump real quick, I’ll be back in about thirty.”
He made it seem like it was no big deal, and it eased my mind.
We spent the next few minutes chatting, and Reuben and Van’s instructors greeted them and they placed their harnesses on.
Reuben was no stranger to skydiving. “I first skydived in 2013 and I have been hooked ever since,” he said. “It was nothing like I had expected and I have found it to be a fun, addictive and exiting way to spend time with good people.”
I met Jim, who photographed and filmed my experience, and he worked to get me to smile even though I looked as though I was about to bust out into tears.
The next thing I knew, it was time to board the plane. I love flying, wanted to be a pilot when I was a kid. But I wasn’t so sure – still – about jumping out of one.
In the plane, it was warm, but not too warm. The weather Saturday was beautiful. I thought to myself, “What a beautiful day to change my life.”
Before I give my opinion on the actual jump itself, I wanted to allow Van to weigh in.
“As I stood at the door of the plane, every fiber of my being screamed, ‘don’t do it.’ But it was too late,” Van said. “I totally trusted my instructor. He had more than 5,000 jumps on record and was an expert and I knew I would be okay, but I it's still not an easy thing to do.”
Van continued, “As we left the plane, it felt similar to being dropped on a ride at the fair. It took my breath away and squeezed my entire soul. We did free fall for 7,000 feet and as we felt our speed kept increasing. My instructor spun us around a few times while we were falling. I didn't like that much. I was still a little panicked at that point and didn't need to be spun. The wind was screaming and ripping at my skin. When he opened the chute at about 6,000 feet it yanked us fairly hard and we immediately came to a much slower speed.”
“From that point, it was like floating,” said Van. “Even though we were still falling fairly fast, it didn't feel fast until we got almost to the ground. We were able to steer the chute and go in circles and go different directions by pulling on guide straps.”
Van added – which I agree with wholeheartedly – “It’s an experience that's very difficult to describe fully.”
He said, “It’s scary as hell, and thrilling and then a giant sense of relief when it's over. And then you want to do it again. About 10 minutes after we landed I realized that I couldn't stop smiling. I was pumped for the rest of the day.”
I jumped out prior to both Reuben and Van. It was just the seating order. I was so nervous and my mouth was incredibly dry.
Then, once I scooted to the open door, I thought to myself, “Breathe, you’re about to be as free as you can be.”
I grabbed my harness, made sure my knees were bent, leaned back, and out we went.
I will admit that I failed to take the advice of continuing to breathe, and for the first few seconds I held my breath. Not a wise choice, so I immediately corrected that. I had no idea how fast we were free falling, but I was told it was nearly 130 miles per hour toward the Earth. For more than a mile.
There is no way to explain how I felt other than simply free. It was a time of no mental interference, no obstruction, I felt liberated. Even though I was with Denes, I felt that I was as free as I could possibly be.
Yes, plummeting toward the Earth at a super high rate of speed, but on my own terms.
When it was time, I reached back, and pulled the cord for the parachute to open.
I grabbed the handles to spin around and rotate, and was able to see New York City, the Hudson River, and the Shawangunk Mountains.
Little ol’ Ashley, just hanging out in the sky, checking out the view.
I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.
All the nerves, the fear, the anxiety … gone. I would do that every single day of my life if I could.
The landing was smooth, and as I stood up I excitedly told the videographer Jim, “That was the best thing I’ve done in my entire life, I’m not kidding, I want to do this every day.”
And a huge thank you is extended to Skydive The Ranch, and every single employee I interacted with Saturday. You made my life changing experience that much more special.
Anyone wishing to experience something you’ll forget, and a feeling that I’m unable to put into words, visit skydivetheranch.com or find them on Facebook. Incredibly genuine people, and a wonderfully inviting atmosphere.
“I am hoping to organize a charity jump next August 2017 at Skydive the Ranch, where people from our community can jump in a big group together with the proceeds benefiting a local charity,” said Reuben.
Count me in, Reuben. Any time I can feel that free, I’m game.
Check out the video here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=kv83tI5teL8