Those of you who regularly stop by here will know that nothing scares me more than heights. Ms B, in contrast, who is normally the chicken in our relationship, is fearless when it comes to heights. During our trip to the Atlas mountains two years ago Ms B did the second half of a climbing tour we had booked on her own, because I chickened out and walked back to the valley. When we did some canyoning in Porto last year, the only reason why I finished the tour, is, because there was no other way of getting back to the starting point.
Why go skydiving then, you might ask. Good question. I always wanted to do it, despite my fear of heights. It’s one of those things I needed to get out of my system, tick off my list, just like bungee jumping (which I did as part of a crazy team-building trip with some start-up company colleagues near Lake Como in 1999).
A friend of ours joined us on the day, and the three of us arrived at the airfield in Chatteris, near the market town of March, Cambridge (about 35mins by train from Cambridge, then another 12mins by cab to the airfield, 30mins or more later during the day, because of common traffic congestions; if you’re coming from London, it’s roughly 2h 30mins by car or 1h 15mins by train from King’s Cross, then the cab ride) as the third party at around 7am, half an hour before the gates opened.
By 7:30am there were already more than fifteen parties with some 35 jumpers and many additional visitors who joined just to cheer their friends. So I was glad that I was in front of the queue with only three jumpers ahead of me. Apparently it can take all day before you jump, if you arrive later during the day.
The instructors were all fabulous and very friendly, patient, and encouraging, despite their tough looks (many ex-military guys among them, I’m guessing) clearly experienced in dealing with petrified first-timers like myself. I was briefly introduced to my instructor, Chris, a super-relaxed dude with 11,523 safe jumps to his name. Then the safety briefing and a short training session started, and at 8:30am I was standing next to the airfield in my overall, harness, and soft leather helmet, waiting to be joined by Chris and led to the airplane.
All photos up to here taken by either BSqB or North London Skydiving, but (c) BSqB, all following photos (c) North London Skydiving and from their archives
I was pleased I had remembered to pack my spare set of glasses, because the plastic cover they strip around your head to cover them would not have gone down well with my usual set of relatively pricey glasses).
By 9am the plane was up in the air circling towards the 15,000ft jump altitude. As soon as we were on the plane, Chris sat behind me and connected himself to my harness. About 15 minutes later, the door to my right hand side was opened. Chris asked me to turn to the right, let my feet dangle from the airplane and then pull my feet up under it, just as I had been trained to do. It all felt so surreal I completely forgot to continue to be scared.
A few seconds later we jumped. The adrenaline rush is unreal!!! The acceleration is absolutely mental. It was the best adrenaline rush I’ve ever had (with bungee jumping and Queenstown’s Shotover Creek speedboat ride a close second and third). When I was bungee jumping I was so terrified I couldn’t enjoy it properly. It’s so freaky when you’re falling towards a few rocks. Freefalling instead is great fun. You’re way above the clouds, so far from the ground. It’s not over in 2 or 3 seconds, but lasts some 35 to 40 seconds, giving you time to enjoy the zero gravity and the enormous speed of roughly 200km/h.
When Chris finally opened the parachute, we both got a pretty good shaking, but that’s all part of the fun. The gentle glide down to the ground was very pleasant and peaceful. You’re much lower to the ground than before, but the views are still amazing.
I had to lose 3.5kg in order to meet the maximum weight restriction of 101kg (incl. clothes). Still being rather heavy, I was expecting the landing to be rough. However the guys on the ground and Chris did a great job and we landed soft as a feather.
I’m thinking about getting myself a licence and doing this kind of thing solo and more often. The chicken in me tries to hold me back, but hey, I’m not going to let a chicken tell me what to do.
Looking for more adventurous things to do? Why don’t you check out our posts about our trips to the Sahara, to the North Pole (well, Spitsbergen, roughly 1,000km away from the Pole), or our trip to Porto, where we went rock-climbing (not even talking about the canyoning mentioned earlier on), off-roading, and exploring Roman mines. Do also feel welcome to check out our buddy Noel’s post on paragliding in Chengdu, China.