Following a wonderful weekend in Brisbane, catching up with Jenaya, doing some much-needed laundry (and indulging in some long-awaited downtime) I had to get back on the road and leave Queensland behind me. My first stop in New South Wales was the stunning seaside community of Byron Bay. Byron is very much a surf town and has the hippie vibe to match. I’d found a deal for a bunk at Aquarius Backpackers, quite a nice hostel right in the center of town. I didn’t have any firm plans for my short time in Byron, I had only one full day there. I looked into the possibility of another scuba trip, but the company I wanted to go with was only running weekend trips in the winter and I would have moved on by then. I wasn’t too bummed though, I’d been spending a lot of money on activities and it was good to give my wallet a rest, so I spent my time exploring the town on foot and trying to stay warm reading in the sun.
Aquarius has a bar/restaurant on the ground floor and on my first night there they were offering a chicken and rice dinner for only $7AUS along with a free welcome drink, so that was a no-brainer in terms of what I was doing for dinner. The featured entertainment for the night was going to be Jelly Wrestling, hosted by the resident drag queen Quiztina Aguilera. I had every intention of being long gone from the bar before that started up, but just as I was finishing my dinner, an older couple came and sat down with me. Ron, Cathy and I got to talking and they soon revealed that their son was the drag queen hosting the night’s festivities! This is not a situation I encounter every day and when they invited me to join them for the show, I felt like like I had to say yes. The show ended up being hugely entertaining and Quiztina did a fantastic job. The girls recruited to participate in the jelly wrestling took their roles VERY seriously and the matches were pretty fierce. Midway through the rounds, Quiztina auctioned off a skydive, which ended up being won by a girl from Perth at the next table. As some of you may remember, I went skydiving once for my 21st birthday and have always sworn I would never go again, so I did not bid in the auction. The evening went on and we were soon into the finals of the wrestling matches. I’d called my pick early on (Mary, a perky 20 year old from Colorado) and she ended up being the big winner! Soon after the event was over, Quiztina got back up on the mike and told us that the winner of the skydive auction had to back out, as she was leaving town in the morning and wouldn’t be able to go. Thus, the auction was back on and for reasons I still don’t understand, at the very last moment, I threw my hand in the air and cast the winning bid of $200AUS (about $100AUS below sticker price). My first thought was, “Oh crap, what have I done?!”, but there was no turning back. I’d committed.
The next morning, I slunk to the hostel’s travel desk to make arrangements to carry out my folly. I was leaving the following evening, so the next morning was the only option. Swallowing my apprehension, I agreed to a 7 a.m. pickup. For the rest of the day, I tried to put it out of my mind and just enjoy Byron, but I could feel it looming overhead like an ominous cloud. Back in the dorm that night, I had the whole place to myself so I was able to go to bed early and do some deep breathing to calm my nerves. I got to the pickup place in plenty of time, only to have them text me to say it’d been delayed an hour. The worst part of the whole experience is the nervous anticipation, so this news definitely didn’t help matters. Finally, I got picked up and taken out the airfield. There was a Scottish girl in my van who was about 100x more nervous than I was, which for some reason made me feel incredibly calm. After completing all the necessary waivers (“I promise not to sue you if I die” and so on), it was suddenly my turn!
My tandem jumpmaster was Kerry, a blond surfer dude who reminded me a little bit of Bodhi from Point Break. Bodhi was a master skydiver, so I felt irrationally reassured. We got all geared up and packed into the tiny plane like so many sardines. As we flew, I still felt pretty calm, though it did sort of feel as though my stomach had stayed behind on the ground the higher we flew. It was only when we reached 14,000 feet and they opened the door that it suddenly seemed real. Fortunately (unfortunately?) I was second in line to jump and so there was virtually no waiting around. Kerry and I shuffled over to the open door, I hooked my feet over the lower ledge, grabbed my harness with both hands and we were away!
My instincts were to scream, but I literally could not manage to take a breath. I knew Kerry was taking photos with a wrist-mounted GoPro and so I tried to keep my face from contorting too much and gritted my teeth into some semblance of a smile. The freefall seems to last forever, though in reality it was only about 45 seconds.
Which I suppose is an eternity when you are plummeting toward the earth unchecked. He finally pulled the chute, abruptly stopping our fall and silencing the wind that had been screaming in my ears. I was finally able to breathe again and gulped down the air. Kerry asked me how I felt and all I could say was, “Trying not to puke, dude.” The main thing I recall from my first skydive, lo those many years ago, was that the ride down on the parachute was a very queasy experience.
This time wasn’t as bad as I remembered, but it was still bad enough that I requested we skip all the flips and spins and things that are often part of the parachute drop and just get down to the ground, nice and steady. At one point, I looked down and saw that both of my shoes had come untied somewhere along the way, so in addition to being grateful for surviving, I was also glad to not have lost my shoes!
Once back on the ground, I felt great again and went in to check out my photos. They turned out pretty good, you can hardly tell I was slowly asphyxiating! I’m not sorry I gave skydiving one more shot, but this time I can say with 100% confidence: NEVER AGAIN.