You Did What?
You’ll have to forgive me as I’m still in a little bit of shock after falling 14,000 feet from the sky. I usually spend a lot of time explaining to people how I spend hours hiking up 14,000 foot mountains – not three minutes falling 14,000 feet. My friend, Gabe gently passed along the idea to me and a few others during a farewell celebration for one of our mutual friends in April. At that point, I was beyond exhausted from the numerous guests at work yelling at me over anything and everything and COVID in general. I of course said, “I’m in” without hesitation for sanity purposes. It has been off and on my bucket list, but I knew I wanted to find someone to do this with if I ever decided to go through with it.
Time went by, and Gabe and I couldn’t find a date to work. I heard the words, “We’ll have to put it off until 2022.” No, no, no, no! I informed him that I was prepared to do this alone which was not my first choice. I needed to take this jump for myself and due to me feeling trapped from the isolation over the past year of work and home only while watching my co-workers get sick. Gabe was actually taken aback somewhat as I don’t think he thought I was serious and also the fact that he was hoping to get a group of people to do this. I finally had to say, “Gabe, I’ve lost my mind, and I have to do this. I’m tired of being walked over, and I’m done living in fear. If we wait around for a group, we’re never going to get this done.” Without hesitation, July 31st was marked on our calendars.
July 31st quickly arrived, and we met up at the airport with Falcon Skydiving during a severe flash flood watch. Every now and again, there was hope that the instructors could sneak in a few jumps, so we watched the training video and filled out the liability forms. While I’m usually the kind of person that enjoys trying new things and traveling the world, skydiving has always been a “maybe”. The video with the woman screaming wasn’t helping me at that particular moment, and the thought of sneaking out the door thanks to our backrow seats was tempting. Sadly, the weather didn’t clear up, and Gabe and I rescheduled for August 14th.
Of course the second attempt seemed to arrive even more quickly and my pump-me-up music of OneRepublic was not as effective. I even attempted the emergency, “Eye of the Tiger” with no luck. While a part of me was excited, another part of me was extremely disappointed to see the sun shining with a 0% chance of rain or snow. Come on! I’m jumping 14,000 feet from a plane. I have every right to be nervous.
Around 4:00 p.m. CST, Gabe and I got into our harnesses and climbed up a short ladder into the plane. Inside, there were two ledges for us to sit on – one leg on each side of the ledge. I’ve heard some people talk about the dreadful airplane ride up, but I actually enjoyed that part. It wasn’t until I heard my instructor yell, “TWO MINUTES!” while the door opened when I truly began to get nervous. I strapped on my goggles and watched three others jump out before I did. After each person made the jump, I looked down at my feet with a nervous laugh while many thoughts went through my mind, “Did they really just voluntarily jump out of an airplane at 14,000 feet?” and “I’m next! There’s no turning back now. The only way down is by jumping or by me becoming my instructor’s third person to fly back down by airplane out of her 1,000+ jumps.”
The Leap of Faith
Growing up in a business family while also owning my own business four years ago, I have learned that one must remain positive and poised while not showing fear. I may have failed a touch on the fear ordeal this time, but I certainly remained poised and positive. Instead of responding, “No!” when my instructor Bailey asked if I was ready, I responded, “I’m very ready! Let’s do this!” It’s the same ordeal with hiking and climbing a 14,000 foot mountain – you have to remain positive or you won’t reach the summit,
Poor Bailey, I was asking her what our altitude was at times and explained how this is the altitude in which I begin to struggle hiking up the mountains due to a lack of oxygen. I truly found it fascinating to be standing at 1,000 feet in elevation moments prior and looking up to the clouds to catch a glimpse of exactly how tall a 14,000 foot mountain is. I did the same thing while nearing 14,000 feet in the plane and looking down. In Colorado, you don’t catch a full glimpse of how high up you are as you are usually standing on cliffs and ridges no greater than 4,000 feet due to the gradual incline from Denver to the mountains.
Suddenly, it was my turn to jump. My heart was racing, my breathing was shallow, and I planted my feet along the edge of the plane while my mind went blank. The land of cornfields looked like one giant quilt, and it felt as if I were in a video game. I told myself, “This isn’t real. You will be safe. Look up and scream if you have to.” Bailey pushed us out, and the scream fest began with us freefalling at approximately 120 mph.
Being the logical and research nerd that I am, I confess, I Googled, “Does your stomach tickle when jumping from an airplane?” I was relieved to discover that your stomach does not tickle due to the forward movement of the plane while you drop vertically. I wasn’t afraid of death – I was afraid of that feeling you get while riding on a roller coaster or when you’re landing in an airplane despite actually enjoying roller coasters and flying. Prior to taking off, all jumpers were instructed to make a banana-like pose after jumping in order for us to float in the “belly-to-earth” position – back facing upwards and belly facing the ground. It is crucial to stabilize yourself as quickly as possible so your instructor is able to open the parachute that is on their back. It almost felt as if I were in the Apollo 13 scene when the astronauts had to do a manual course correction while continuing to keep Earth in the window for thirty-nine seconds in order to get home safely.
It was a little rocky for a moment as I had my back facing sideways instead of facing upwards. Bailey and I quickly stabilized ourselves, and I stopped screaming. Hallelujah! It was amazing to feel the wind rush against my face and arms while I tried to give the camera a thumbs up to show that I was attempting to have a great time. I was having a great time for most part, but I was in so much shock off and on throughout the fall that I was impressed that my fight-or-flight brain remembered to do the banana pose and hold onto my shoulder straps until my instructor tapped my shoulder twice.
Suddenly, I lost the banana pose, and I began to panic. What was happening? Why are my feet facing the ground, and why can’t I get them back into the banana pose? Why does my harness feel loose? Is Bailey having issues with the chute? I firmly, yet calmly yelled to Bailey, “What do I do? What do I do?” That’s when I heard the words I wanted to hear, “Ashlee, you’re flying!” The only other time in my life in which I have been outside above the clouds was when I’ve hiked 14,000 foot mountains. While I was still in a bit of shock, I do have to confess that it was amazing to see the Kansas City area – everywhere from the Kansas City International Airport, to downtown Kansas City, to the farmlands and the Missouri River that make up the Midwest. It was truly a special moment despite the shallow breathing and nervousness.
As we began to descend to approximately 6,000 feet, I noticed myself becoming nauseous. I’m used to altitude sickness while ascending too quickly with a lack of oxygen, but I didn’t think that would happen on my way down. My best guess is that after I helped Bailey with the cords to turn us in a circle, motion sickness kicked in with a touch of dehydration. We began to descend more to the point in which we saw our tiny cars transform into real-life sized cars, and that’s when I knew it was time for me to begin thinking about lifting my legs as much as possible while tugging on the cords to the parachute as hard as I could. Success! I slid nicely on my gluteus maximus along the grass and was now able to take a breath of relief. Despite arriving home later that afternoon, the memory of skydiving tagged along as I found grass in my pant legs.
Overall, despite the fatigue, the headache, and the nausea after the jump – I would possibly try it again as I now know what to expect. While it was somewhat of an empowering moment for myself, a bit of a stress reliever, and a great bonding experience with two of my friends – I was in shock for a majority of the fall unfortunately and was relieved to be back on the ground. If you’ve ever thought about skydiving, I would recommend trying it at least once while bringing along a good support system to jump with you or to photograph you to help shake off some of the nerves. If skydiving may be too extreme for you, then find something that terrifies you and try it at least once. By the way, thank you, Nadia for being the designated phone, keys, and sunglasses holder while getting in extra video and photos. It means the world to me.
Gabe asked me what else is on my bucket list, and I couldn’t think of anything off the top of my head. I’ve been to Everest Base Camp in freezing temps. I’ve hiked the German, Austrian, and Swiss Alps while traveling through parts of Europe. I slid down the tallest sand dunes in North America. I’ve seen amazing concerts. I’ve been inside of a castle to listen to Mozart. I’ve done mission work in Harlem, Minneapolis, and Vegas. I’ve summited seventeen of the 14,000 foot mountains in Colorado. I’ve volunteered at places near and dear to my heart, and I’ve worked hard in order to attempt and accomplish a lot of things I know many may not be able to try or would not even think about trying. Throughout my life experiences, I’ve discovered that I only have love to give with no time for drama and negativity.
If my friend were to ask me this question again, my answer would be, “I want to write for more small businesses to help them succeed. I also want to get married to someone who will love me for me, someone who’s positive as much as possible, someone that’s honest about anything and everything as I pass no judgment, and someone who will encourage me to continue exploring my soul only if they allow me to push them outside of their comfort zone in return.” I am a gentle, free-spirited soul who wanted to marry their eighth grade boyfriend if that says anything. I’m as picky and as committed as they come. While these goals may not involve heights, they are what my soul desires. I encourage people to make time for themselves and follow their passions. Life’s too short.
If you have any suggestions for my next big adventure, let me know.