The sky is overcast, but it seems as though the blue skies are trying to come through. I look at the weather forecast on three different websites. It looks like a 50-50 shot of being able to jump. I call Bo, and he leaves it up to me. I truly think it will break up. I decide that even if it clears for at least one jump it would be worth it for me to go. After an early breakfast, I hug my grandpa, and am off to Jefferson. I get to the drop zone, and the skies are still the same. The sunlight is trying to peek through, but the clouds are holding their ground. There are people everywhere waiting for jumps. I let manifest know what my intentions are, and I just relax and hang out with everyone and wait. Jordan, Jason, and Milan already have resumed their epic battle of Bimini ring, and Jordan talks me into drawing a leader board on the hook post. Now it is official and we have 10 levels of becoming a “ringmaster”. These guys are great, and I love their spirit. Pilot Jim and Pilot Jeff are in a huddle, and after a few hours it seems as though we are going to start jumping! They start prepping for the first tandem loads. This is my cue. Get ready!
Because of the late start, and everyone being so far behind, manifest offers me a chance to get another solo jump in, as they are limited on room in the airplanes. I ask Bo, and he says that it would be fine. I am all for it! I gather my rig, and my gear, and I begin on my paper work. I watch the canopies come in and pay attention to their landing patterns. This is going to be so sweet! The sky is blue, and the clouds are breaking up nicely. I see my name on a load, and I will be up with Jon and Tim with their tandem students. I will exit at 10500′ in between the two of them and just solo free fall, focusing on my circle of awareness, and relaxing the entire time. I am ready to go with my rig on and gear checks complete. We walk out to the plane, and it is skydive time!
I sit in the rear of the plane next to Tim, facing forward for once. It is a new perspective for me, and I enjoy the ride. I converse with the tandem students, who are on their second and third tandem jumps. I tell them they should definitely go through an AFF class, and they would love it. They ask me what level I am on, ask me if I am nervous. I am not at all nervous, but very animated, and looking forward to my solo free fall. I soak up the good energy and picture my skydive on the way up. I am completely relaxed and enjoy the plane ride tremendously. I think to myself how cool it would be to just go for a ride in one with out jumping out for a change. But then I snap back to reality, and remind myself how much of a thrill it is to jump out! The plane quickly reaches our altitude, and we are ready to rearrange in the plane. I listen to Jon give his student directions. I watch Tim do the same. They have a rhythmical routine, and are very mindful in every single action. They carefully inform their students exactly what to do, and when to do it. I sit up onto my knees and am careful to protect my pilot chute handle as I turn. I do a gear check of my own, being ever so cautious and mindful of everything that I am doing as well. I check my handles in order of use, feel my pin, and then check my straps. I look on my shoulders and inspect my three ring routing, and see that they are routed properly, and my RSL is hooked up. I ask Tim to check my reserve pin, and he does so quickly and effectively. It is time for Jon and his student to exit the aircraft. Jon opens the door, and spots out for a short moment. He instructs his student to step out, and they are gone!
I move forward towards the door in enough time to look down and watch them back flipping a few rotations through the air! I smile and then look down at the drop zone and count to five. I look back at Tim, waiting for his cue to step out. He nods, and I move quickly out the door, and hold my place on the peg for check in. I wait about 10 seconds and Tim nods. I shout “check in, Horizon, up, down…” and then I am off in free fall. I look up as I leave the airplane, and can see it flying away as I begin my free fall. I am free! All alone, and flying solo! I do a circle of awareness, and adjust my body to earth position, and correct my heading. I look out at the horizon, and look all around me. I look down and notice how everything seems to be suspended in the moment. I watch my altimeter move steadily, and slowly. I say to myself as it drops, “eight thousand, seven thousand…. man, this does take forever.” I adjust my legs, and really feel the difference in the free fall. I look straight down and am amazed at how long this free fall seems to be lasting! The perception of the ground seems to be coming closer and closer as I near my pull altitude. I watch my altitude drop the final 1500′ and wave off and pull at 4000′! The parachute that I packed comes open nice and evenly! I am so thrilled that I don’t have to cutaway my first packed parachute!!
Under canopy I hold into the wind, and watch Tim and the other student deploy their chute way above me. I look to the south and can see Jon and his student flying their pattern. I hold for a while, and once that I see it is clear to enter my final landing pattern; I make my way towards the target. I can hear Jordan on the radios, as he is guiding me in for landing. He says I am a little high, and need to do an S-turn. I am trying to maneuver the landing pattern as much as possible, and get frustrated when I can’t seem to picture what it is that I should be doing. The winds are always so different from one jump to the next, and just when I think I have things figured out, the wind changes. I trust Jordan to get me where I need to be, while at the same time paying extra attention to the cues he is giving me. I enter my final landing leg, and am clear for landing on my own. I wait, wait, wait, and neck, and flare. I slide in like stealing home base. I quickly hop up and finish deflating my canopy. I didn’t have a stand up landing, but I didn’t have to PLF eitehr, and I will take it! I gather my parachute canopy and walk back to the hangar.
Jordan debriefs me on my landing pattern, and tells me that I was doing a small turn to adjust my heading as I was landing. This stuff is so confusing because the last time I had to do PLF, I was supposed to correct my canopy and didn’t. I guess that I will just have to practice more, and the only way to improve is to listen to their advice, and make safe mistakes. I know that I can do this, and am looking forward to the day that I can make it to the target without any help from anyone! I ask if I can pack the chute, as it’s only fair; I jumped it, I can pack it! I check in with manifest and try to get on another load before I have to leave. They are so backlogged with tandem jumpers that were delayed from the morning due to the weather hold. It will be over 3 hours before I can jump again. I make the decision to call it a day. I pack up, say my goodbyes and head for home. I have tears in my eyes leaving the drop zone. Although I am exhausted, I am looking forward to coming back as soon as possible. I love this place and everyone that is a part of it.
On the drive home it hits me. I have approximately ten possible days of jumping left. The weather must be absolutely cooperative, and I must budget accordingly to be able to pay for these remaining jumps. I have to plan this very carefully and be very aggressive towards getting time in the air. It seems very overwhelming at this point, but the blue sky in my windshield gives me hope. I truly believe this can be done, and the unmistakable smile on my heart is proof.