There are many cures for this enervating lack of a good adrenaline kick, and some of us actively search them out. On a dare from a friend, I found myself driving to Skydive City in Zephyrhills, on a quest to prove that I could stomach jumping out of a perfectly good airplane.
The plan was simple, and as far as the website explained, relatively straightforward. I would be strapped into a harness which held me tight to a skydiving instructor, who would ensure my second thoughts meant absolutely nothing when the time came to step into the empty from a prop plane at 14,000 feet. 60 seconds of free fall would ensue, followed by a parachute ride for the last 5000 feet of descent. I assumed the 60 seconds of free fall would be something akin to the downward leg of a roller coaster ride, followed by sufficient time to gather my wits enough to look cool when I landed. Someone would video my descent, but I figured if I looked too terrified in the film, I could always destroy the evidence.
When we pulled onto the dirt and gravel path called Skydive Lane, a path to another world. Skydive City in Zephyrhills, Florida is a collection of ramshackle huts and packing tents, complete with a fire pit, a bar, and an RV lot right off the landing field. From the comfortable, lived-in atmosphere of the place, and the camaraderie between the small groups of divers and instructors drifting about, I began to suspect that there was more to skydiving than just jumping out of a plane.
The weather that day had been almost perfectly clear, but at the last minute, a bank of clouds drifted over the landing zone and I was given my first rain check. “Why can’t I jump out anyway?” was answered with a polite smile and an explanation of how painful raindrops are at 200 MPH.
It looked like my friend and I would have to call the dive off altogether. The next weekend I was busy, after which I would be leaving for Europe. But something had struck me about this place, this feeling in the air not unlike when my uncle used to take me to his windsurfing club meetings in the alpine lakes of Switzerland. Here were a bunch of guys drifting about the Drop Zone in various modes of apparel, toting gear, laughing and making fun of one another, packing ‘chutes and waiting for the sky to clear (and the next load up) or for the rain check of the day (and the opening of the bar).
So, we rescheduled for next weekend, got back in the car and drove home. I was more curious than ever about this sport of skydiving, but would have to wait another week for the experience…to be continued in the next issue of Tampa Bay Informer.