Day 14 – For the average human, I have more than my fair share of quirks. I get murderously angry if my impeccable bed sheets are mussed up before it’s time to sleep (KJ, you know all about this one). Sound effects – no, not the rude kind – are an important and not insubstantial part of my communication style. When it comes to finishing a book, I require absolute, undisturbed silence and – preferably – weather and conditions that echo either the book’s setting or the mood it is sure to put me in. Rainy days work for tear-jerkers. Beach reading for Robinson Crusoe. I put a lot of stock in how things end, and I do everything in my power to romanticize endings. Now apply this fanaticism to last day, last chapter if you will, of this trip of mine. The bar was not set low.
And through some miracle, I was not disappointed. On the docket for my last day in Queenstown were two biggies – skydiving in the morning followed by a casual afternoon bungy jump. Basically the Queenstowniest of things. In order for either of these two to happen I needed good weather. It’s generally frowned upon to have people jump out of a plane into a thunderstorm. Beyond cloudless skies I also needed the wind to chill out or, nope, wasn’t gonna happen. The gods blessed this day for me because when I got up the lake across the B&B was like a mirror, with no trace of the wind that had knocked me here and there on the boat at Milford yesterday. This was a quiet, whispering wind, wishing me luck on my final day of adventure.
I had a brief moment of disappointment. Today, no excuses like the easy out I was given at Franz Josef. The decision was left to me. To jump, or not to jump? Only one right answer.
Breakfast was a funny affair. I felt like I might be having my final meal, only half jokingly. Poached eggs and fried tomato have never tasted better. Then, wracked with jolts of excitement and pure terror, I hopped in my car and drove to the city base for the skydiving company, NZONE. The sign-up process wasn’t the most fun I ever had. They were a bit understaffed, and as it was the first good day of weather in weeks (yup – that’s how lucky I got), the store was overflowing with excited future jumpers. There was too much nervous energy buzzing about the place for any of us to worry about the wait or the paperwork. To further stir the frantic anticipation in the waiting room, NZONE played a 15 or so minute movie with clips of past experiences, following a couple people from the lead-up, footage in the plane, then in the sky and safely on the ground. It was amazing. And we could have our very own video for the low price of $240 NZ, roughly $140 American. Oi. But you have to do it. I had to do it. I did it.
The bus came to pick us up and take us to the jump zone, a twenty minute drive out. I sat up front with our driver, Vera, who said drives to the site were always creepy quiet like ours was. The way back? Completely different story. People are hyped up on adrenaline and pride and laughing and joking and causing a ruckus.
At our destination, we were lumped into groups of 5 or 6. I’d picked the highest jump. 15,000 ft with a 60 second freefall at the speed of 200km/hour. I mean, if you’re gonna do something like this then – like the dude says in my video, go big or go home. I went big. Within half an hour our group was called to suit up, and we stepped into these big goofy skydiving onesies. Mine was enormous and super baggy, but I was beyond caring at that point because I’d started doing my hermit crab retreat thing in my mind. When I’m really truly scared, my exterior begins to look as calm and placid as the lake from this morning. Creepy calm. My voice slows down, my movements are liquid, and I become the most extremely mellow and chilled out version of myself. Inside it’s chaos – fog horns wailing, alarms sounding, screaming. But outside, you might think I’d done this 1,000 times.
I met Jon, the guy assigned to shoot the footage of my jump. He was wonderful and very blase about it all. He’s been working for NZone for 8 years and said he estimated he’s jumped 5,000 times. WHAT?! That is actually madness. For whatever reason it made me feel much more at ease to hear that. If someone can do it 5,000 times, then surely I can jump just this once. Then I met my tandem master, Ricky, who too was chilled out but also enthusiastic and excited for me. They both checked my harness, then we went over some jumping procedure and technical terminology, “jump form is a banana. Just think banana,” and that was it. We all chatted for a few more minutes and then in a blur of a million different kind of emotions we were flagged to the plane and there was no turning back.
The close quarters on the plane would have been an awkward affair otherwise, but was instead incredibly comforting in my state of shock and fear. There were two low and long padded benchlike things parallel to one another. You straddled one with your back to the pilot and scootched back, one after another, basically stacking humans with their tandem masters. Once the two rows had been fully stacked, the plane started driving through the field and before we knew what was happening we were climbing up into the sky. In a tiny plane. With a very noticeable tilt. And no door at the tail end. The climb to the 15,000 foot level took about 10 minutes. This, not the actual jump itself, was the scariest part of the whole day. Anticipation is what kills. I did my best to appreciate the view of a fully illuminated Queenstown with Lake Wakatipu sparkling beside it and the skyline of The Remarkables mountain range falling beneath us. What a gorgeous day. What a beautiful city. What a perfect moment.
Then, snap! Time to jump. People just started falling out of the plane, or that’s what it felt like. We were fed out through the opening like Pez candy out of a Pez dispenser. Too soon, it was my turn. Ricky repeated instructions – head back, remember banana position, I’ll do the jumping, don’t forget to open your eyes. Him doing the jumping made this whole thing much easier than if had been up to me. Then there we were, at the edge of the plane with Queenstown stretched across the horizon for miles and miles. And then the plane dropped away. That’s kind of what it felt like. It was as if we were frozen where we were, spinning in place, while the plane fell away from our spot. The freefall was like being suspended in air, with a frigid, and I do mean frigid, wind pummeling and distorting your face. My face. Ricky had a cool helmet on, but I had a goofy cap and goggles that left my face fully exposed to the elements. Also exposed to better capture my petrified expression transform to laughter and amazement by the latter half of the fall.
Not surprisingly, the freefall was over in a blink. Then Ricky deployed the parachute and I definitely felt it as the full weight of our fall was countered. What followed was a drifting, paragliding sensation for 5 minutes or so. I’ll admit, my head was all wonky at that point. At 15,000 feet there’s not a super high oxygen content, so sure, that could have been part of it. That plus the intense blast of adrenaline and oh you know the fact that I just jumped out of a plane. I struggled putting sentences together and my brain felt like it was swimming in my skull. Dumbstruck is an accurate word for my state of being. The drifting was a much needed transition from the freefall to being back on earth again. Necessary for multiple reasons. I was grateful for those few quiet minutes. And I also had the presence of mind to reflect, very quickly, on my two weeks and how in less than a day I would be leaving this breathtaking place.
The landing was seamless, both Jon and Ricky being consummate professionals. High fives and hugs all around, and that was it. It was over. So quickly. So amazingly. What did I learn from it all?
Takeaways from skydive:
- I’m even more in love with New Zealand that I thought possible. A crazy, fierce love.
- I have a weird kind of courage.
- It actually doesn’t take that much courage.
- Seriously, anyone can do this, and I want all my family and friends to experience it.
- I WANT TO DO THAT AGAIN. No, but really, I want to do that again by myself this time. Once I get back to Minneapolis, I’m looking up solo diving lessons.
I rode that high all day. But the fun wasn’t over. Next up, Nevis Bungy. I opted out of the traditional and iconic Kawaru Bridge jump because that one is only 43m compared to the 134m of the Nevis. Similar to with the skydive, we drove out to the Nevis jump station. I won’t belabor this part of the day, but a couple things I did want to mention. When I made my booking for the bungy and skydive, the woman at the iSITE, who had done both of them, said to me, “oh, you get to do the easy one first.” Seems counterintuitive, eh? She was absolutely right. We took a little mini cable car thing to the suspended jump site in the middle of the canyon. Just that ride was scary. Then the site – because it’s suspended by wires – sways with the wind. And when it’s your turn, they adjust you on this terrifying looking dentist chair thing and then, because your legs are tied together by the bungy apparatus, you waddle onto the ledge. The waddle onto the ledge is the equivalent of the plane ride before the jump. Except worse! I was horrified that I’d accidentally waddle off. Finally comes the jump. No tandem master to make the call for you. Just the 143m below you and your own will, fighting against its human instincts for survival. I was shaking like a leaf. But I did it, and similar to the skydive, after go 1, the one thing going through my head was: AGAIN, AGAIN, AGAIN!!! Humans are weird.
I bought not only photos but also videos for both of these outings because I had to. Commemorates the trip, my craziness, and caps off my 30th in a pretty stunning way. Without further ado, here it is. Proof of a memorable last day in Middle Earth. The videos are hilarious, so there’s that. Enjoy. I sure did.
Like I said earlier, my body was experiencing a permanent high after all this nonsense. There was a smile frozen on my face, and when I arrived in Queenstown I found the perfect craft beer pub in which to celebrate the day, these two weeks, these 30 years. Idyllic. Everything. It’s been a dream, one that I am endlessly grateful for and loathe to wake from. But, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end.
Though this is the final chapter of my trip, I cannot say goodbye to this blog quite yet. After an epilogue or two, then I’ll tuck this away until next time. It’s been such a pleasure.