We’re miraculously not hungover, well-fueled on Croquenuts, and have the perfect level of nervous excitement as we leave the Cosmopolitan. Costas is in charge of the booking and logistics of skydiving. So, in other words, we’re running late for our 11:30am shuttle pickup after a lackadaisical departure.
Our pickup is “by the McDonalds near the MGM.” As anyone who’s walked the Strip knows from painful experience, you should go ahead and multiply your ETA by at least 2.5 when walking from casino to casino.
So Costas’ initial estimate of 10 minutes quickly proves misguided when we bust out Google Maps and settle the argument before it starts: 28 minutes.
After a tense couple of minutes speed-walking, the ETA has not adjusted, so he throws in the towel and orders an Uber in a huff.
We get to the McDonalds with time to spare. Déjà vu! It’s the same fine establishment where I bought my Smirnoff Ice ammunition last night.
We head to the back, where we find a group of people anxiously waiting. We don’t even have to ask if they’re headed to Skydive, because they’re all exuding the same nervous “holy shit am I really paying to jump out of a plane?!?” energy that we are.
As we tentatively begin to process what we’re doing, we alternate between getting cold feet and egging each other on. Fortunately, the shuttle arrives before the reality of what we’re doing has time to fully sink in; young male bravado/short-sightedness wins again!
The driver is a no-nonsense guy. He informs us that he’ll drop us off at the same spot — if we survive.
I chuckle, but nobody else is amused with his dark humor. Sensing our malaise, he cynically reassures us that we’ll all reach the ground — it’s just a matter of how fast.
He instructs us to complete our waivers by the time we get to the Boulder City airport, hits play on a cheesy safety film that is probably older than me, and embarks on our 30 minute drive.
The film makes a lot of things clear: skydiving is dangerous, there is a risk of serious injury or death, by signing the release we waive all rights and liability, and — in case you didn’t realize — you can die.
The film also tells us that 1 in 10,000 people are injured skydiving.
I’ve taken worse odds in the casino, for things far less valuable than my life.
With this comforting soundtrack in the background, I begin filling out my information, simultaneously trying to avoid getting carsick and ignore the large WARNING across the entire page.
My efforts to put my head in the sand prove futile when I get to the second page, which clearly reads DANGER.
As I slowly initial my life away, statement by statement, the reality of what I’m agreeing to sinks in: I’m going to be jumping out of a fucking plane.
No shit that’s dangerous.
By the time I get to the last page, I’m too shook to take a photo. I sign off on Eugene and Costas’ waivers as a witness, and we resign to our fate.
Our shuttle pulls into the Boulder City Regional Airport, and everything suddenly becomes ten times more real.
A friendly staff member helps us out of the shuttle and ushers us into a room, where we watch a second instructional video on safety positions.
We will exit the plane as a Flying Banana (legs curled, head tilted back), and wait until the tandem instructor taps us to indicate that we can spread out our arms. Then, before we land, we will lift our legs as high as possible at a right angle in a reverse squat. Failing to do either of these, of course, can result in… you guessed it: serious injury and/or death.
We’re tested on these positions in front of the group. Fortunately, I pass my first test since graduating college two years ago with flying colors. Unfortunately, an older gentleman and his wife are unable to lift their legs high enough, so they’re denied boarding and have to watch their sons jump out of the plane from the ground.
Next, we go over our waivers and scan our IDs at the desk. The process is kind of convoluted and there is some miscommunication among some of the staff, which does little to calm my frayed nerves or reassure me that I’m making a wise choice jumping out of a plane.
After literally signing our lives away, we head into the hangar, where we are fitted for jumpsuits. Which are surprisingly tight in the crotch.
Feeling sentimental, Costas, Eugene, and I force nervous smiles for what could be the last photo of us alive.
We’re suited up and ready to go! No looking back now! I’m feeling confident… until I make the mistake of literally looking back and seeing instructors hastily folding and packing tattered parachutes into a worn backpack.
I snap out of my Top Gun fantasy, and the sobering facts hit me: I’m trusting my life to another person, two straps, a scrap of fabric, and a piece of god damn string.
Then I hear a plane revving up, and look out to see a dinky single-propellor plane starting up on the runway. I’m pretty sure my deer-damaged 2007 Toyota Matrix with over 170,000 miles on it starts smoother than this thing. Yet today, I’m choosing to trust that this little plane-that-could will safely make it off the runway and into the air, only so I can jump out of it.
To celebrate the birthday where my pre-frontal cortex is apparently fully developed.
One by one, as if it’s our execution day, our tandem jumpers come and tap us on the shoulder.
They introduce themselves, give us a pair of goggles, and bring us out to the plane. First they come for the three other people. Then they come for Costas. Then it’s my turn.
Jace grabs my shoulder and introduces himself. He quickly sets himself apart by giving me a pair of gloves too; it’s these personal touches that make you comfortable with the person who is soon going to be strapped to your back and holding your life on theirs.
Even though we’re 2 feet away, we’re yelling to hear each other over the roar of the plane. Jace tells me that he’s done over 20,000 jumps, which is reassuring; for once in my life, I hope I’m average and not anything special.
As we walk towards our pond hopper, the only thing I can clearly make out is that we’ll be jumping out at 15,000 feet.
If it makes it to 15,000 feet.
Minding the very low ceiling, we enter the plane and take the last seat on the crowded bench.
At this point, the plane seems full, but it isn’t; Eugene and the other jumper get a seat on the floor.
With our tiny plane stuffed to the gills, Eugene’s instructor closes the hatch and the plane hurtles down the runway.
It feels like we’re on a rickety wooden roller coaster. Then we jolt up with a sudden lurch.
As we gain altitude, we can feel the plane chugging harder than Eugene drinking his Ices last night.
During our ascent, temperature drops noticeably. By the time we reach our cruising altitude, there’s a serious chill and we can see our breath.
All of a sudden Eugene’s instructor flings the hatch open and shimmies over to the door. In one swift motion, he throws his legs over the edge, jerks Eugene’s head back, and throws them out of the plane.
No sooner than Eugene is gone, the person in front of me hurdles out, and it’s my turn.
Jace moves us down to the floor and to the gate. My legs are hanging over the edge, and I’m looking down on the desert from 15,000 feet.
“It’s amazing how cold it gets up he—” I think.
Before I even have time to process, I feel myself plummeting out of the plane.
I’m disoriented as my body plunges out of the plane and hits a pocket of air resistance; I don’t know which way is up or down, or even how I’m falling. My body is confused.
I’m pretty sure I black out momentarily (which, while not my first time in Vegas, would definitely be my shortest).
I come to, and realize I’m in free-fall. It feels absolutely incredible. All I can hear is the roar of the wind as I reach terminal velocity; even though I’m moving so fast, it feels like time almost stops; everything is beautiful.
Except for the fact that I can’t breathe.
The air is moving too fast to breathe! I begin to panic, so I do what feels natural: scream like a lunatic.
I open my mouth, and the air forcibly goes down my throat.
Now that I’ve got sufficient oxygen, I can appreciate my free fall. I enjoy it for all of two seconds until a violent lurch rudely interrupts my adrenaline rush.
Once I realize that the sudden resistance is from my parachute, my frustration turns to exultation.
The initial impact gives way to a smooth, peaceful, slow, and surprisingly quiet descent.
In contrast to the constant, torrential gust of wind, the slight flap of the parachute in the breeze is almost silent. I revel in my survival. All of my daily stress and anxiety seems so meaningless as I slowly careen downwards, taking in the expansiveness of the desert landscape and appreciating the curvature of the Earth (checkmate, flat-earthers); the distant Las Vegas Strip looks so tiny, paling in comparison to the vastness of the terrain. Everything is beautiful; this is true peace and tranquility.
Jace and I talk a bit, and he hands over the reigns to the parachute and lets me steer for a bit. I put us into a sharp turn, which is the most nauseating part of the whole ride, so I ease up and hand the cord back to Jace.
He capably steers us towards Boulder City Airport. As the ground nears, he instructs me to get into the landing position, and I’m not going to argue.
We hit the ground softly. When the parachute finally catches up, Jace unclips me. What a rush! I survived skydiving!
I stand up, almost struggling to stand on my two feet. Jace and I high-five to celebrate our success.
Walking away on my shaky legs, the feelings of badassery start to set in as I realize that I survived jumping out a plane. My couple of minutes of glory are done, and my years worth of street cred and bragging are just beginning.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words; apparently a video is worth 1,750. If you still don’t believe that I’m a total badass, you can watch the video of my free-fall on Youtube (fortunately the wind resistance drowns out my screams, so the little reputation I have remains in tact.).
After Eugene and Costas land, we reconnect. We’re all wearing a shit-eating grin.
We buy a souvenir shot glass on our way to the shuttle.
Compared to skydiving, the ride back is boring, and we all begin to slump as the adrenaline rush wears off and hunger sets in.
And now, we resume our regularly scheduled debauchery for Day 2 of the