Thursday, May 17, 2012

Lodi – Ground School

           It’s Monday morning, the day Jesse and I start our AFF course. The day begins with a hearty breakfast of oatmeal and a cup of coffee. We pack a backpack with snacks and lots of water, as instructed when we signed up.

Jeff is almost finished with his and it’s going well so far. His instructor seemed pleased with his progress and he has only a few more jumps left in the course.

            The instruction starts with ground school. We make our way over to the main Parachute center building. The planes are out already and people are starting to load up for a first round. We meet our instructor, Mike, or Mikie, as some of the other employees call him, and he sits us down to fill out some forms. He‘s a thin guy with a shaved head and glasses. Not tall, not short. When he speaks, his voice has little inflection. I had expected someone with high energy to teach the course, but Mike is pretty even keeled.

We learn later that despite his reserved demeanor he is an amazing skydiver, with over 17,000 jumps under his belt. Some of the other employees say that he is definitely the best skydiver at the Parachute Center in Lodi, probably in the country, and maybe even in the world. Anyway, he’s a top-notch skydiver. But, you wouldn’t guess it when you first meet him because he’s so modest.
He takes us through the landing exercises, a few movies, and then Jesse and I split up with our separate jumping instructors. I stay with Mike and Jesse goes with a super friendly guy names Blaine. Blaine is more along the lines of the skydiving instructor I expected: high-energy, fast-talking, ready-to-roll-at-a-moment’s-notice. He is also an excellent skydiver. Secretly, I’m glad that I get to stay with Mike. I like how low-key he makes such an extreme activity feel. As if jumping out of a plane was a relaxing activity. And for him, it might in fact be, simply because he does it every day.
With our separate instructors, we learn a few more skills we will need during the freefall. And then, it is time for our jumps. We start to get ready, but before we check out our equipment, the owner of the Parachute Center, Bill, comes in to tell us that it is too windy for a first jump. Which is fine with me since the entire morning I’ve been trying to shove all this information in my memory and need a little time to digest.
So, our instructors tell us to scamper off and meet up again the next day all-set-and-ready to take our first jump. Jesse and I re-enact our exits and all the steps we’ve learned for the rest of the day, trying to prepare ourselves for the real thing. And the longer we wait, the better I feel. Though I have the time to get nervous, I think that the extra practice time allows me to prepare like a student, to study the material before the final exam. 

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