In college, I spent a few semesters as the editor of the travel section of our daily student newspaper. It was the perfect “job” for someone like me, someone who loves exploring new places and learning about local history and enjoying random adventures.
It was the summer before my junior year when I decided that my travel section needed more action. Revolutionary War reenactments, cranberry bogs and potato chip factories are fun to write about, but my page lacked adrenaline. I had friends who were getting their skydiving certifications, and one of them had a car, so I asked if I could tag along on one of their trips.
I actually had no intention of going skydiving myself — I planned to watch my friends jump and interview them about the experience. But then we arrived at the airstrip. It was $200 for a first time jump. That’s so much money, especially for a college student. But…you only live once, right? I spent that summer teaching swimming lessons during the day and scooping ice cream at night — I worked six, usually seven, days a week. I had some savings. Yes, that money was earmarked for the next semester’s books and to help cover costs for my semester abroad in Sydney, but… you only live once, right?
A few minutes later, I was in the airplane hanger getting fit for a jumpsuit and parachute.
In this photo, I’m hoping the little elf man with zero body fat can be trusted to tighten our harnesses tight enough.
This was almost 20 years ago, and yet I remember it vividly. Michele (the friend with the car), two instructors, a pilot and I took off in a plane so small we had to spoon one another. We climbed to 11,500 feet, then crawled to the plane door, hung onto the wing for a second and let go. The actual fall lasted 44 seconds, though it felt like a lifetime. Finally, I got the signal to pull the ripcord, and the chute shot open. The nylon straps from the harness cut so fast and hard into my skin that I was nursing bruises on my thighs for weeks afterwards.
And then something I hadn’t anticipated: awkwardness. When you’re falling, the rushing wind means it’s incredibly loud. But then you pull the chute and grind to a halt and it’s silent and there is a complete stranger strapped to your back. The instructor and I made idle small talk. I commented on the beautiful day; he pointed out some New England landmarks. About 3 minutes before we hit ground, he talked me through what was going to happen when we landed and mentioned that some beginners break legs or fall flat and break a nose. It’s not like I could back out at that point, so I did what he said to bring our speed down and we landed softly and without incident. Back at home that night, I called my parents and my mom picked up the phone. “Great news!” I said. “I jumped out of a plane today and didn’t die.” She often reminds me of that conversation, and I never know if it’s because it was upsetting or because she appreciated me not telling her about it ahead of time. If I had to guess, I would say it’s a little of both.
A photo of me, not breaking my nose.
So this time when I went skydiving, I decided to take my parents with me.
Ok, it was a little different. Ever on a mission to add to my 40 before 40 list, we found ourselves last Sunday at an indoor skydiving facility in Denver. It’s basically a giant vertical wind tunnel. But while there is less risk, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the adrenaline is dialed down. In fact, after arriving, signing 900 liability forms and taking a seat in the viewing area to watch other customers, I had an overwhelming feeling of “what the hell am I doing here? This may have been a mistake.”
My group was called back to a classroom about 30 minutes before our flight time. Our instruction was a 15 minute sales pitch directed at getting us to return. Then, fully “trained,” we were escorted to a holding area and given helmets, goggles and a flight suit, helpfully colored to differentiate the thin people from the meatier ones.
We each got two one-minute opportunities to fly, and as the only person in our group without a friend or family member who was also partaking in the fun, I was last to get into the wind chamber. I watched my fellow classmates struggle, their bodies whipping around like a single wet noodle in a giant boiling pot of water. Several of them had to be rescued by the instructor after limbs began flapping uncontrollably against the walls.
Right before my turn, I looked down at my chest to see if I could see my heart pumping through my suit. My mom later commented that she’s seen me in some pretty high-pressure situations over the years, but this was the first time she’d ever seen me truly nervous.
I stood at the door and leaned into the wind tunnel and it quickly swept me up into the air. And quite to my surprise, once I surrendered to the experience and relaxed, it was not the slightest bit scary. For whatever reason, I seemed better able to control my body than my classmates, so for almost the entire time, I was flying on my own without assistance. During the second flight, I had progressed enough that the instructor had me take a running start into the chamber, flew me up to the top of the wind chamber a few times, and challenged me to walk across the floor at the end (leading to several belly-aching laughs as we watched the video later).
Speaking of video, my ever-supportive parents captured the whole endeavor, so it could be forever documented for the blog (special note to my husband, brother and sister-in-law: watch to the very end):
To summarize: if you ever have the chance to try this out, I highly recommend it. Even the wet noodles seemed to have a great time, and it’s definitely an unforgettable experience. I am actually grateful I don’t live closer to one of these facilities, because I am pretty sure all the money that should go into our house would be going towards flying.
Flying was one of three 40 before 40 items I was able to accumulate in the past few days. I also dragged my parents along for two other new experiences: a cat cafe and the Wild Animal Sanctuary.
Cat cafés have been popping up all over the world in recent years, largely because it’s a brilliant idea, combining hot caffeinated beverages, books, comfy chairs and cats into one single experience. The Denver Cat Company is just 10 miles from my parents’ home and offers customers the added benefit of being able to adopt a favorite feline immediately.
Even my mom, who doesn’t particularly love the idea of indoor pets (she honorably believes animals deserve to live outdoors) tolerated the cat cafe, especially after she realized that there were only 6 furry friends, not 35 as she had feared. (She also later admitted that she feared all 35 of these imaginary cats would be hissing at her the entire time. Why she thought that would be something ANYONE would want to experience, ever, is beyond me).
And finally, we spent some time at the Wild Animal Sanctuary, which is just an hour outside Denver and home to hundreds of exotic carnivores, like lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!). All of them have been rescued from horrible situations, like illegal circuses or — in most cases — the backyards of idiots who decide it would be fun to have a pet wolf until it grows up and tries to eat their children.
Zoos generally make me really sad, but I am glad a place like this exists to give these beautiful animals some semblance of a normal life. Since none of them have the skills to survive on their own in the wild, a sanctuary like this one is their best option.
They might be strong enough to tear you apart, but underneath it all, they’re still little kitty cats at heart.
With these last three experiences, I’m halfway to my goal of 40 new things before I’m 40. 15 months to go!
Special thanks to mom and dad for their willingness to accompany me for these three days of adventure!