A midlife crisis is sometimes seen as a bit of a joke, often involving a man who dresses inappropriately, takes a younger lover and leaves home. But I already dress inappropriately, am too busy to get a toy boy or move to Brazil and would miss Rich and the kids if I did.
More seriously, after visiting 44 countries, I’ve finally discovered that no matter how far you travel you can’t escape from yourself. The answers to our problems never seem to turn up during erotic encounters or on exotic beaches, they’re right there inside us, just waiting to be uncovered.
So I dreamed up the 52 Exercises quest where I try a new exercise every week to deal with this little mid-life crisis and reengage with myself from the comfort of our new home in Noosa. I also hoped to have fun, get fit and face a few fears along the way. Which is why I’m currently stuffed inside baggy blue and yellow trousers and matching polar fleece, trussed by harnesses and squashed into a teeny plane with 15 people I hardly know.
Right now I’m facing backwards, straddling a low bench and sandwiched in between two professional parachutists. It’s all strangely intimate and more than a little bit scary because we’re about to exit the plane en masse at 15,000 feet.
I came to Wollongong for the Social Media Tourism Symposium then, when Wollongong Tourism invited me to come a day early and go skydiving, I did what everyone should when asked to do something that scares the pants off them. I said yes.
Of course I’m regretting that now, but it’s too late. The plane is taking off and we’re airborne.
We’ve signed up for a tandem skydive, otherwise known as a parachute jump while strapped to another human who knows what they’re doing. This means that any idiot like me can do a tandem skydive without giving it any thought at all whereas you’d need to train for a whole weekend to do a solo parachute jump.
Still I’d like to know the skydiving basics and learn what’s ahead. As we circle over Wollongong slowly gaining altitude there’s time to ask a few last minute questions and make sure we all know what we’re doing.
“So what do we do when we land?” I ask my skydiving instructor Andre. We’ve only just met and soon we’ll be hooked together free-falling at 200km/hour. Andre doesn’t seem bothered by this but I am.
“Don’t worry about that now, because if the parachute doesn’t open it won’t matter,” pipes up one of the other instructors.
I’m glad I’m not skydiving with him.
“How many skydives have you done Andre?” I ask, hoping the other instructor will get the hint and keep quiet.
“About 8,500,” Andre says and I suddenly feel much better.
“And you haven’t died yet!” I say, then instantly wish I hadn’t. I’ve probably jinxed us now. We both fake laughter that’s soon drowned out by the drone of the plane engine.
It takes 15 minutes to reach 15,000 feet but it will only take about five minutes for us to get back down again. The exact time depends on how much you weigh and how long you free fall, free falling being the bit before the parachute opens.
As Andre starts tightening my harness and clipping me to him I wonder what free falling will be like. When he tells me to put my goggles on and sit on his lap and I know I’m about to find out. It feels a bit odd sitting on a strange man’s lap on a Tuesday morning but things are about to get stranger still.
Suddenly the roller door on the plane flies open and, as cold air rushes into the cabin and the roar deafens us, I feel a jab of pain in my stomach. Mild anxiety has just turned into full on fear.
We’re the fourth pair from our group who’ll jump and I sit there in a state of suspended disbelief as one by one my fellow jumpers shuffle over to the door way, sit on the edge and then disappear into the clouds. They seemed like good people. I wonder if I’ll ever see them again.
There’s a sudden jolt as Andre starts moving towards the door. I’m a rag doll that offers no resistance and second later I’m sitting in the open doorway with my legs dangling out and then we’re falling. Free falling. Fast.
I twist around to look back at the plane just in time to see it rush up, up and away into the clouds. Then I take stock of my situation. We’re spinning round and round through clouds that are 50 shades of grey but there’s nothing sexy about this. I’m cold, damp and the pressure on my ears is agony.
Forget fear. I am now consumed by total terror.
Andre taps my shoulder to let me know that I can take my hands of the harness now and put my arms out. The frigid air rushes by us at 200km an hour and I have to remind myself to breathe.
“Just breathe,” I say to myself. That’s all I can do right now.
I am literally frozen with fear, too terrified even to scream but then the cloud thins and there’s a whoosh. It feels like someone has slammed the brakes on. The parachute has opened and we’re floating through clear blue sky. I can see the ocean, mountains and buildings. There are cars and buses zooming along highways. The people of Wollongong are alive and going about their day and so am I.
A giant air bubble bursts in my stomach and I start laughing. It’s so peaceful and beautiful, a perfect moment in time and space.
Andre tells me to hold the parachute and steer us around. I try to pull down on the thin rope but my arm is too weak and Andre has to help. We turn lazily towards the sea then back towards the city.
Then I spot the field where we will land and Andre takes control again, effortlessly gliding us round and bringing us to the right spot. Things were just starting to get fun so I’m sad the skydive is over but I lift my feet and we slide slowly into the field on our bottoms.
“You can stand up now,” Andre says.
He’s unclipped me but my legs are weak and he has to pull me up. We hug and I take my goggles off, wipe the tears off my face and feel the fear slipping away.
Fear of flying, fear of heights, fear of sitting on strange men’s knees. We have all kinds of fears. We come up with fancy names for our fears like aerophobia and agoraphobia but no matter what you call it there is only one true fear: the fear of dying.
Today we have faced that fear and it feels better than ever to be alive.
Fear is nothing, life is amazing, and skydiving over Wollongong is the ultimate experience for advanced adventurers. No joke, and no midlife crisis required.
Would You Skydive?
If you think these photos are unflattering then check out the video – it’s worse.
Skydiving Exercise Review – Exercise #30 in the 52 Exercises Quest
Cost: Tandem skydiving with Skydive the Beach starts from $289 per skydive.
Peak Heart Rate: 128 beats per minute – all that deep breathing must have worked.
Fear Factor: 9
Fun Factor: 7
Post-exercise Glow: 10/10. Unbeatable.
I was a willing guest of Destination Wollongong and Skydive the Beach. Skydive the Beach have skydiving operations all around Australia but I recommend Wollongong and it’s the closest commercial skydive to Sydney making it perfect for Sydneysiders or as a way to start or end your Australian travels.
Would you go skydiving? Or maybe you already have?
Stay Tuned for more in the 52 Exercises Quest
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