Friday, December 28, 2012


People always whine about their "bucket list" - things to do before they die.  I'm among these whiny whiners—if you are sitting by me at a cocktail party, chances are good that you will hear me moaning about not going to the Taj Mahal or never throwing someone through a plate-glass window in a bar fight.  However, I am proud to announce that I actually knocked something off the bucket list: I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane at 10,000 feet.
I've always wanted to parachute at least once—well, I say "always", but really it was ever since watching "Band of Brothers" and watching the Allies jump out of the airplanes over Normandy.  Hey, D-Day looks cool!  Well, not the whole "getting shot at by Nazis" but the other part looked pretty cool.
I got the Christmas gift of skydiving so we were off to Sin City Skydiving in Las Vegas.
We met up with the van at Bally's and signed our 14-page waiver.  It says
Good times.  All aboard! 
Sin City Skydiving is located about 40 minutes outside of Las Vegas, right next to what looked at a Nevada Corrections Center.   Made sense—our chain gang of six people on the bus were quiet and somewhat remorseful as we rolled off the highway and past the prison.  We stopped at the rinky-dinky airport.  I expected to see a warden standing there, chewing tobacco and explaining to us that we weren't in "the world" anymore. 
I have to pull out the full disclaimer: this was a tandem jump, which means that some dude is doing all the work while I am just hanging there like a baby kangaroo at the zoo.  Which, by the way, is fine by me.  A couple people have said "doesn't it bother you to be strapped on to a dude"?  Not in the slightest.  For me, this is the only circumstance in Las Vegas where fully-clothed, big, strong guy is WAY better than little bikini lady. 
Sin City Skydiving was awesome—I used my joke for the one hundredth time on these guys and they pretended to laugh.  (The joke was "my Christmas gift is jumping out of an airplane, and my girlfriend's Christmas gift is throwing me out of the airplane.  The joke killed at tourists at Caesar's Palace, the Bellagio, and the hot dog guy outside of Bill's Gambling Hall.)
There were six of us total, but only four of us were jumping.  The other two were "watchers", standing there and worrying.  If you ever want to second-guess yourself, listen to these people.  They are coming up with all sorts of logical and completely rational reasons why I am in idiot.  Don't listen Wiebe!  You are the man! 
Two people jump in one plane ride, and I was in the second group.  So I had a half hour to sit on a couch, listen to Iron Maiden and watch a guy fold a parachute.  Dude knew how to pack a chute.  It was like a reverse clown car.  Big chute, little chute, littler pack.  I need this guy on vacation to pack my suitcase.  Unfortunately, my girlfriend became my caddy, and I used my nervous energy to constantly inquire about the status of my ballcap, wallet, ballcap, and wallet.  Do you have my wallet?  WHERE'S MY WALLET?  I switched gears at one point and asked about the passport.  Do you have my passport?  WHERE IS IT?  (It was back at the hotel and was encouraged to take a walk around the building.)
Finally the plane landed, everyone popped inside the building looking happy and I was teamed up with Mike, also known as the guy who knew what the hell was going on.  All hail Mike!  I put on a green jumpsuit, which instantly made me feel like an astronaut.  I did wonder, however, why Mike was wearing the helmet but I was not.  Oh well.  Details!  I was told a bunch of stuff but I stopped paying attention after "terminal velocity of 130 miles per hour".  I guess that if at that point we needed a helmet, I would just bend with the knees and everything would be fine.
I strutted out to the airplane, which is really just a glorified go-kart with wings.  They have removed all the seats and covered the screws with duct tape, so it looks like the result of me trying to make an airplane in the back yard.  We crawled in to the back and a little plastic rickity door closed.  This thing was rattling and shaking as we took off.  I loved it!  It was also really loud—the quarter-inch of PVC door doesn't really soundproof the engine.
It was an awesome 20-minute airplane ride up to 10,000 feet.  I was sitting in-between Mike's legs facing away from him.  I could feel him tugging at ropes and levers and pullies, checking that everything was okay.  I am a big fan of this.  Keep tugging.  You do what you need to do.  He pointed out some cool sights like the MGM Grand in the distance and a really neat solar farm near the California border.  Wow!  I was okay with the describing, but I needed to feel some tugging.  Keep checking! 
Twenty minutes is just long enough to lull you into a false sense of security.  Hey, it's just a plane ride!  I was looking around, enjoying life, and wondering when drinks were going to be served.  Mike ordered me to sit right on him and he linked us together super tight.  People will ask me "wasn't that weird?"
Well, he opened the door and everything changed.  Suddenly my legs were dangling outside of the aircraft and I was looking out at the world.  It was freezing, incredibly loud and windy.  So was it weird that I was tethered to Mike?  Hell no!  At this point I was ready to crawl inside his belly button if it was allowed.      
We rolled out the door and plummeted to Earth.  The free fall was about 30 seconds and it was absolutely ridiculous.  My adreneline gland was squeezed like a peasant hand-washing laundry.  We reached terminal velocity and I screamed but no sound came out.  I am pretty sure that bending my knees would not have saved me at this point. 
The chute opened and suddenly everything was calm.  It felt like we weren't even falling!  It was really quiet (we could use regular speaking voices) and Mike asked me if we wanted to do some spins and like an idiot I said hell yes! 
We were spinning in circles right above a highway and some power lines and loving every second of it.  We approached the landing zone and Mike instructed me to lift my legs, because we were going to land on my bum.  Well... yeah, I don't actually have a bum.  I'm what's medically known as "puny" or "wimpy".  So at the last minute I timed it just right so I scraped the ground with my feet and kind of sat / stumbled onto the ground.  About five seconds later the other jumper (a lovely lady from New York) landed in the other part of the landing area.  We were alive, we were alive! 
I totally recommend these guys if you are in the Las Vegas area and want to do something ridiculously fun and exciting.  The whole trip was about three to four hours (round trip including the drive) and it was worth every penny!