MELISSA JAHNKE: MY JOURNEY TO BECOMING A SKYDIVER AFF LEVEL 6

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

August 9, 2014 AFF 6

What beautiful events happened this week at the drop zone. Ninety-year-old Dorothy made her first tandem skydive for her birthday! And an amazing individual who was battling cerebral palsy also made a tandem skydive. I mean, how absolutely inspiring! I am in awe by there brave rebellion to society’s restrictions that outline what we should and shouldn’t do with our lives. I had only been home a few days, and was already feeling the good vibes, and just knew this coming weekend would be a good one!

Finally it was Saturday. I was on high anxiety when the time clock clicked one, and it was time for me to run out that door at work and head for my favorite coordinates. I was packed and ready to go, and made sure set the cruise control to prevent any potential for a speeding ticket. I had been watching the weather trends all day, and knew it would be an awesome day for a jump! Nearly 3 hours later, I turned onto Airport Road and looked toward the sky to see the tandem canopies coming down. I felt my heart beat faster, and a warm fuzzy feeling engulfed me. I pulled the car over to watch their landing patterns, and once they landed I continued on to the hangar.

I collected my hugs, and was so happy to be back. The place was hopping and I could tell that they had another remarkable day of jumping. I gave my hugs and said my hellos. It felt so nice to be back! I was ready to get in the air, so I checked in with Alex, paid on my account, and started to plan my next skydive. I would be jumping with Jordan, and was totally pumped! I was on a mission to “not suck” on my “Saturday evening” icebreaker jump for once. I wanted to over come the anxiety hurdle and kick some butt in the sky! We went through our jump plan, and this jump I would be doing more forward movement, and turns. I did my gear checks and got my things together for the skydive. I love being ready, with everything together before it is a scramble. Together, Jordan and I planned canopy flight patterns, and reviewed emergency contingencies. I was feeling confident and very ready to get up there. I leave myself room to mentally prepare for the jump, and although it’s hot with all the gear on, it gives me the extra time to transition, and get used to moving with all that stuff on!

I am happy to see that I am on a jump load with a fellow AFF student from my class, Joe! He told me he was already on level 16! I told him what I where I was on my AFF, and he was totally supportive and excited for me and what was to come as he had just done it all. Jake would be his coach. Another very talented jumper, Chris filled the last spot, and of course Jordan and I. We walked out to the plane, and did gear checks. I felt the pin and could feel that the cloth loop was securely to the bottom of the pin. I felt my handles in order of use, main, cutaway and reserve. I felt and tugged on my straps, first legs, and then chest. Then I looked at the three rings, making sure that they were routed properly, and made the “snowman”. I made sure the cable was securely stowed through the cloth loop, and made sure that my reserve static line was hooked up and in place. I had my helmet on, altimeter at zero, tested my radios, and had goggles hung around my neck.

I boarded first, and covered my main handle, and sat down and slid into my place. I buckled my safety belt. Jordan followed, then Chris, then Joe, and last was Jake. Jake shut the door, and we were off. Jim, our pilot ran the entire run way and at then pulled up harder than usual! It was so much fun! And we all cheered and gave each other high fives! I was on the “cool kid bus”, and I hoped that their “coolness” was rubbing off on me! The aura was so positive, and I just loved the fact that I wasn’t nearly as nervous to jump!

The late afternoon sun is getting lower in the sky, and a beautiful glow throughout the air was just indescribable. I watched out the windows, and kept thinking to myself how cool this was, and how blessed I felt. I loved seeing the sun reflect off the lakes, rivers and streams. It was peacefully motivating. Jordan quizzed me on hand signals and had me describe my jump plan.

I was to perform a clean stable exit, circle of awareness, and do one slow PRCP. Then I was to move forward for a dock. Then I would check altitude, repeat circle of awareness and move forward for another dock. Lastly there should be time for a turn or two, and then a wave off and pull at 5,000′. I was so excited!

We reached altitude, and it was time to get rearranged for climb out. I put my goggles and helmet on and moved onto my knees behind the pilot seat. I was trying to relax and envision a perfect jump, and at the same time trying to just “be” in the moment and enjoy this outstanding journey. They yelled “door”, and Jake opened it up. The plane got noisy and windy, and cooled right down. Door opening is a bitter sweet for me. It is something I am consciously working on overcoming. I instantly lose the comfortable feeling of a nice peaceful plane ride, and go immediately to “game face”. I try to swallow my butterflies, and breath deep, and try to convince myself that I am not scared, but excited instead! I lift my goggles to allow for them to clear. I look out and see Jake and Joe climb out on the strut. Joe counts down and I see him “check in, horizon, up down”… and they are off.

The plane adjusts a bit, and then Jordan gives me the signal to move ahead. I stick my head out the door and try to see where they are at so I can begin to better judge the wait sequence, but I can’t see them. I can see the drop zone as we are to the south east of it this time. It looks so neat from 12,500′! Jordan gives me the cue up to climb out, and I carefully and cleanly do so. I balance on my slightly bent left leg, and hang on to the strut. I take a deep breath, and look at the horizon. I turn to look at Jordan and smile. I shout, “check in” and he gives me thumbs up. I then look forward and yell “horizon, up, down, off” and let go and arch. I am in freefall!

I take a deep breath and think to myself, “Heading, altitude, breathe, body” and do my circle of awareness. I do a slow practice ripcord pull, easy and steady. I check my altitude, and then begin to slowly move forward toward Jordan. I try to stay relaxed and keep my heading with slow corrections. I am able to move forward and got really close to him! I smile and give thumbs up! I seem slightly lower than Jordan and I could see him give me signals. I check my altitude and there is a glare in my eyes. My goggles are refracting so much sunlight, and I can’t see the altitude on my altimeter. I know that the last time I saw it I was approaching 6,500′ and I was to pull at 5,000′. I take no chance, and calmly wave off and pull my pilot chute. There is a perfect stable, steerable, and square canopy overhead. I check my altitude and see 6,000′. I pulled early, but didn’t regret doing so because I would rather be safe than sorry.

I turn the canopy so that I am holding where I need to be, and try to rearrange myself in the harness. I do some flares and try to find the sweet spot for landing. I look down and see Jordan’s canopy and try to watch his pattern. I try some turns and figure eights. I love flying the canopy and love they way it sounds flying in the wind. I hear Bo on the radios, and he tells me he was not going to talk to me unless I needed assistance. I hold over the river, and play with the canopy, and feel the difference in the different turns. I try to spiral down ward, first left, then pause, and then to the right and can really feel myself accelerate the longer I hold the turn. The contrast from free fall to being under canopy is so magical. It is peaceful, and the sky is so gentle. I absorb as much as I take in, and continue to my planned landing pattern. I turn in to follow the taxi way as planned, and perform slight corrections. I get to the final turn and hear Bo telling me to envision the landing, and get the big picture. I look up, and wait for flare. At just the right moment, I flare and stand up!

Bo is sitting on the golf cart, waiting to give Jordan a ride. I collect my canopy, and walk over. They both are puzzled as to why I pulled early, and I explain to them I couldn’t see my altimeter, and the last number I saw was 6400′ and didn’t want to risk breaking my hard deck. They tell me I did the right thing! Never, ever under any circumstance continue to freefall if you loose altitude awareness.

We watch the video of my skydive, and Jordan debriefs me. I had a good jump, and can tell that I have improved. There is still much to work on. I have slight buffeting that is getting a little better on each jump, but I need to relax, and be more aware of my entire body. It felt so good to get a good Saturday jump on the book. I was super pumped for what the next day had in store.

I get help packing my chute, and Jenny Buck over sees me. I am getting better at packing and plan to jump this rig tomorrow. After I finish, Jenny and I decide to run to the grocery store to buy a birthday cake for Laura. After all, it’s her birthday and we are “family”. And what’s a birthday without some cake? On our way back, I can see the sun setting, and as we pull in at the drop zone, I jump out of the car and run to the airplanes with my phone like a little kid. I flop to my belly, and start taking pictures of the spectacular sunset with the plane showing off for me in front of that beautiful sky! I capture some great shots, and then go sit out back with the gang.

We all talk about our skydives from the day, and listen to Bo tell stories about how he and Alex started the drop zone. We enjoy pizza and wings, and each other’s good company. I bask in the twilight with these awesome people and just feel so at peace in this place. I love every second that I get to spend here, and just try to plant as much as possible into my memory for when I am not there. Everyone is so wonderful, and I enjoy the diversity that they bring to my life!

Bo and Alex let me set up my tent on the packing area in the hangar. I am thrilled to be sleeping in the hangar with the planes again. This place is so comfortable to me. I love everything about being here, and am excited to be able to hang out here over night. With a big day of jumping ahead, it is an early to bed night. Everyone has left, and I nestle in and doze off in a blissful state.

August 10, 2014 AFF 6(x2)

I awake early and notice the sky getting lighter through the sunlights in the hangar. I get up and stretch, and go for my morning walk down the taxiway, and out to the target landing area. The air is so fresh, and clean. The sound of birds singing, and crickets chirping fill the air. It is a wonderful peaceful feeling, and I just feel so alive. The sun is already beginning to rise, but I can’t see it as a thin, low layer of clouds is blocking it from me. I look up and see beautiful blue sky, along with light clouds in the same pattern of the bottom of the ocean floor.

I think to myself the parallel between water and air, and how they react in much of the same characteristics. I am excited to see what the day brings, so I walk over to the wind streamers and feel the winds blowing ever so slightly from the north. It appears as though our landing patterns will be similar to the evening before. I meditate for a while, and envision myself in free fall. I envision my landing pattern, and final approach. I walk back to the hangar with a smile on my face, and pack up my things and get cleaned up for the day.

It isn’t long and I hear Alex pull up. She asks how I slept, and I showed her my pictures from the morning walk. She is such a neat person, and I look up to her so much. The woman is extremely organized and handles pressure in a remarkable fashion. She begins to busy herself, and prepare for the very busy day ahead. I look up at the target area and see Bo driving his vehicle “off road” to the hangar. Alex says, “oh that’s Bo, he always does that!” I laugh to myself. There is much to learn from them both, and I love their spirit. The phone is already ringing, and the energy is good. I run to town and get some breakfast and supplies for the day, then its back to the hangar for some skydiving.

Bo helps me to work on my body position, and helps me realize a few minor adjustments to help me stabilize in free fall. He gives me some pointers to work on that will correct my buffeting. There are tandem students already showing up, ready for their skydives. Alex informs me I will be jumping with Jordan again. I am so excited! I grab my gear and begin planning my jump with him. We discuss yesterdays skydive, and although I passed the level, I still felt it was necessary to repeat the same jump to solidify my forward motion, and turns before beginning moving onto tracking on the next level. Jordan agrees that it is a good idea, and we begin to plan the jump. We cover some emergency procedures, and body positioning. Jordan has me lie on the trainer and run through the entire jump from exit, describing what I am doing as I do it. This is wonderful as it gets me in the mindset, and helps me to visualize my skydive. Afterwards I check my gear, and pick out another jump suit that fits a little more snug, as the one I had been using was too big and creating too much drag. Instead of the pretty teal one, I will be sporting a red and purple jumpsuit.

I turn in my paper work, and before I know it, we are on a load. I will be jumping with Jordan, and our load consists of another first time tandem student, Milan, and Laura doing their video. We suit up and perform gear checks again. We walk out to the plane and before we load, I do another gear check. I feel the pin, and bridle, handles in order of use, pull on my straps, and check the routing on my three rings. RSL is attached, and I am good to go. I strap my helmet on, and cover my main handle, and get into my normal spot behind the pilot. I buckle up and wait for everyone else to load, and just like that it seems we are lifting off the ground. We all cheer and holler, high fives, and fist bumps. I think to myself, “this is just so cool!”

Jordan and I will be last to exit. I am excited to watch this first time jumper, and think to myself all the emotion that is going through his head. I talk to him, and give encouragement and discover it actually helps me to be more confident in my skydive. They are to exit at 10,500′ and I watch them prepare for their exit. Laura is all smiles and gets ready to video this jump. I watch Milan carefully instruct his student how to turn around on his knees, and what to expect next. He meticulously hooks up the tandem harness to his, and I watch him very carefully and thoughtfully tighten up. He helps to tighten the students goggles and they are ready. Laura yells, “door” and the door come open. I didn’t feel as nervous this time with the door opening, and remember thinking to myself, “one day, I will be in Laura’s place, opening that door, and getting ready to shoot video for a first timer..” I watch in awe. Laura exits onto the wing, and hangs, waiting for tandem student and Milan to exit. They do so in a quick fashion, and whoosh, they are gone!

Pilot Jim banks the plane slightly while at the same time reaching over for the door, and closes it with such little effort. I can see he has done this so many times before. We still are climbing another 2000′. Jordan checks the front of my gear, and then has me turn around to face forward on my knees. I do another full gear check, and have him check my reserve pin. I inch forward toward the door, and look out the window. I watch the instruments and wait for the signal. I hear the plane engines lower in pitch, and I know its coming. I look back at Jordan and he asks me if I want to open the door. I shake my head, “no”. He smiles and points to the door and says. “open the door!”. Well, I guess at this point I figure, what the hell, lets get this out of the way.

The only way to overcome fear is to face it. I grab the door handle, give it a turn and push the door open! It was awesome!! I look out and feel the wind on my hand and think to myself, “well, that was nothing to be scared of!” I look down and spot what and where it is that we are referencing our jump. I point to the target, and watch as we slowly move past it. Jordan taps me on my shoulder, and I smile and begin to climb out.

I balance on my slightly bent left leg, hang onto the strut, look out at the horizon, and take a deep breath. I love this moment! I look left to see Jordan, and yell “check in”. He nods and smiles “yes”. Then I look forward. I shout, “horizon, up, down, off… ” and we are in free fall. I can see the plane leaving my sight for a split second, and then find a heading. I do my circle of awareness. Jordan motions for me to move forward towards him. I straighten my legs, try to maintain heading, and I dock! We release, and I check altitude. He motions for me to turn right, and I do, quickly and almost effortlessly. Then he motions for me to turn left, and I do the same!

I love these turns!! We approach 6,000′ and I hold my heading and prepare for deployment. I wave off and pull my pilot chute! I watch Jordan zip past me as my main is opening, and I watch him fall for a moment. I maintained heading on my deployment!!! I look up and see a perfect square, stable, and steerable canopy flying brightly. I turn myself into the wind, and hold. I adjust my leg straps, and then I practice some landing flares.

I hold a similar pattern to the last one, as the winds are nearly the same. I watch Jordan as he flies his canopy downward more aggressively, and I think to myself how cool those guys can fly! Its like they are birds, and they do it so effortlessly, and make it look so easy! I check my altitude, and compare the checkpoints on the ground. I hear Bo’s voice in my head saying “is this where I should be now?” I look at my altitude, and double check my pattern. I practice more flares and turns. It is a little bumpy over the river, but I ride it out arms all the way up. It doesn’t bother me to bounce around, and I love the way it feels to fly. I turn in for my final approach, and Jordan gives me instruction over the radios. A few minor corrections, and I wait for the turn into the cross wind, and then watch for my 30 degree angle. Then I turn into the wind and arms all the way up. Jordan says I am clear for landing, and I look up and get the big picture. I wait until I am about 8ft off the ground and I flare. I feel the canopy pick up a little, and I hold it, and am set down. I flared a touch too early, but I still managed to stand up.

I gather my parachute, and hitch a ride on the golf cart with Jordan. I take off my gear, and everyone is eager to hear how my jump went. I am smiling so big, I say to myself, “this keeps getting better and better!” Jordan debriefs me on my jump, and we begin to plan for AFF 7, tracking!

New to the Melissa Jahnke series? Read about her journey or pick up from where you left off here:

AFF Level I
AFF Level II
AFF Level III
AFF Level III part 2
AFF Level IV
AFF Level V

A lady smiles while in free fall during a tandem skydive.

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