2017-01-01 / ReBooted

Flying High

Jill Gleeson

I was 13,500 feet up in the wild blue yonder when I half-fell, half-rolled out of the airplane, pushed forward into nothingness by the flame-haired guy named Tater strapped to my back. I don’t know what I was expecting — something slower, quieter, less forceful than the feeling of being shot out of the world’s most powerful cannon. No, even that doesn’t really do justice to the intensity of the experience. When my body left the noisy little propeller plane stuffed with about a dozen or so deeply nervous Skydive Delmarva clients and their tandem instructors, it was as if my world had exploded.

Light and sound — a great roaring cacophony — immediately assaulted me. And pressure. I was plunging toward the ground at 120 miles per hour. My ears were popping, my eyes were bulging, and my mouth, opened wide in an endless silent scream, felt like it might at any minute slide over my entire face, then my skull and finally my body, unzipping me from my skeleton.

It was awesome.

My mind was in full meltdown mode, desperately trying to process an event so counterintuitive it had jammed every circuit. That primal, self-protective instinct each of us has buried deep, a leftover from the days when scary things with big teeth tried to eat us daily, had taken control. My body, flooded with adrenaline, was trying to figure out whether fight or flight was the best option to save itself. As I was currently hurtling with the speed of a runaway train toward earth, neither seemed especially promising.

At the same time, somewhere in some little fold in my brain, I dimly understood that I had actually chosen to leave the plane. That there was a big guy strapped to my back with a parachute strapped to his back that was going to deploy at any moment. I was okay, that little fold told me. I wasn’t going to die. My body, which felt like it might at any moment spontaneously implode thanks to the force of the freefall, wasn’t paying attention. It wanted out, away, gone from this situation.

After 60 seconds Tater pulled the ripcord. We were yanked hard up into the sky before we began drifting, at what seemed like an almost leisurely pace, downward. The pressure eased. My feet stopped kicking helplessly at the 6,000 feet of air below me. I could hear again. In fact, I could hear myself screaming over and over what my grandmother used to refer to as “the fire truck word.”

I closed my mouth, so dry my lips stuck to my teeth, and cautiously peered between my shoes. The view was incredible. Skydive Delmarva is located in Western Sussex County, Delaware, and below me, spread out like a great green quilt, were farmlands and forest. Through them meandered rivers; little towns dotted the landscape here and there. In the distance I could see the silvery glint of the Chesapeake Bay. It was magnificent.

I’d heard that Skydive Delmarva is one of the country’s most popular places to jump. In warm weather the fallow pastures surrounding the little airfield are often filled with RVs housing people who come from hundreds of miles away to jump with the company. Even Navy jumpers make the trip from Annapolis to train at Skydive Delmarva. I couldn’t quite picture Tater, with his laidback style and laconic voice, gruff from smoking, giving pointers to military paratroopers. But he was good at his job; he made me feel safe, as safe as I could falling from a plane.

After about five minutes Tater zeroed in on the landing area. The closer we came to the ground, the faster we seemed to go. But we stuck our landing and on the way back to the hanger Tater told me I was a natural. I smiled at him, thinking how impossibly high 13,500 feet had seemed when I stepped out of that plane. I was also thinking that Aconcagua, the mountain in Argentina I’ll be climbing at the year’s end, is almost 10,000 feet higher than that. •SCM

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Jill Gleeson is getting set for the biggest adventure of her life. Follow her journey at

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