My freshman year at BYU (76-77), I became good friends with a couple of guys who had lived within an hour of me in Illinois (but we hadn’t known each other prior to BYU; we had been in different stakes). Their nickname for me was DeKalb, which was the place I was from (they were from Wheaton). I’m not sure whose idea it was (I know it wasn’t mine!), but someone came up with the brilliant notion that we should all go skydiving together. And so we did.
We made a reservation for a Saturday and drove to the Cedar Valley Airport in Lehi. As we’re driving up to the airport, we see something hurtling out of the sky. As it approaches land, finally a chute opens, it sort of puffs out, then in, then out again, just shortly after which the object lands with something of a thud. The object, we found out, was a person, whose main chute hadn’t opened, and what we had seen was the emergency chute opening at the last possible second to save this person’s life. And that was my first introduction to skydiving! You’d think we would have turned the car right around and not looked back, but we were young and immortal and a little thing like a brush with death wasn’t about to dissuade us.
It was early on a Saturday, and basically you had to take a day-long course before you could do your first jump. The part I remember most was learning how to land. This was in the olden days with circular parachutes, and there was no expectation that we would land easily standing on our feet. As soon as you sensed your feet had contacted the ground, you pushed your body to the side and sort of rolled to absorb the force of the landing. After practicing this quite a bit, we had to do it from a series of raised platforms, each higher than the last, until we were jumping from about six or eight feet off the ground into a pea gravel pit. I ended up with bruises all up and down my legs; the training was actually much harder than the actual landing.
Finally we were cleared to do our first jump. Someone took us up in a little Cesna, and we didn’t go very high up; I think only about 3,000 feet. As we approach the drop zone, they open the door to the plane, and the jump master tells you to get ready. So what you do is you climb out the door and hang on the strut of the wing. Then when the jumpmaster tells you to “Go!” you simply let go of your grip and fall. (The chute was connected to a static line, so it would automatically open after a few seconds. It required more experience before they would let you pull your own chute open.)
So there I am, floating up in the air. That sensation was so incredibly cool. It was absolutely peaceful; you couldn’t hear anything, and you’re high up enough that you can’t distinguish much detail on the ground; you’re just floating. The feeling you have when you’re coming down is simply beyond description.
As you start to get close to the ground, you look for the wind sock and position yourself so you’re facing into the wind. (The old round chutes has a slit in them, and air would go out the slit and push you forward at about five mph, and you wanted to be facing into the wind to limit your horizontal movement at impact.) The landing wasn’t bad at all after all that training. We landed a fair bit away from the airport, though, and had quite a hike to get back there.
I didn’t have the money to make this a habit, and I never felt the need to jump again. Just going through the experience once was sufficient for me. As I look back on it, I can still scarcely believe I was hanging from the strut of a wing 3,000 feet above the ground, waiting for the instruction to just let my grip go and to fall into the warm Utah air.