Chapter 11: Falling from 12,000 feet.

Trip Start Oct 01, 2003
Trip End Nov 2004

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Wednesday, November 19, 2003

This'll be short and sweet, as I wanted to report on today while it was still fresh in my mind. After years of wanting to try skydiving (and an aborted attempt last week), I finally got to leap out of a plane this afternoon! First things first, though...

Greymouth is a boring town. But it has good pizza, which is a rarity in New Zealand. The kiwis only seem to enjoy pizza with loads of awful crap on it (especially onions), which offends my puritanical pizza sensibilities. For example, buying a frozen plain cheese pizza at the largest grocery chain is impossible, but every corner store has nasty frozen ham & pineapple pizza. Weird. Anyway, I'll fondly remember the Bonzai Pizzeria in Greymouth for its non-onion-y tomato sauce, but otherwise I've already forgotten the town.

This morning I was psyched to wake up to beautiful blue skies again, and the bus ride down to Franz Josef Glacier was quick and uneventful. Well, maybe it was eventful for those people who got really turned on by panning for gold and the visit to the jade factory, but not me.

As soon as I checked into the Franz Josef YHA hostel (5 stars, says Qualmark), I got whisked away in a beat-up station wagon to Fox Glacier (30km south) by a hottie named Nathan who just got his pilot's license but wasn't flying today due to a broken wrist. Once we arrived at the Skydive New Zealand office (really a hut in a field by a Cessna and a short airstrip), Emma (from the UK) and I suited up, got a 10 minute tutorial, and hopped in the tiniest plane I've ever seen in my life! We were each attached to a different guy named Don, and we sat on the floor of the plane behind the pilot. There was no room to even wiggle.

We climbed up to 12,000 feet over 20 minutes or so, and the views on the way up were breathtaking. Fox Glacier, Mt. Cook, the Southern Alps, the rain forest, the lakes, and the coastline were all stunning, and seeing them from that vantage point was indescribably cool. We could even make out the helicopter far below on the glacier dropping off the afternoon ice hikers. Somehow I wasn't scared at all... just excited. I think that's partly because I didn't overthink it, partly because there was so much to gape at scenery-wise, and partly because it was all happening so fast.

Once we reached 12,000 feet, which is as tall as Mt. Cook and seems VERY high up, the door next to me swung open, and I had to lean/hang out of the plane with my legs bent at the knees and my arms folded. Don swung around behind me, and the next thing I knew we were somersaulting out of the airplane and I was watching it zip away above me! After one flip we levelled out and had 45 seconds of free fall during which I just felt the rush of wind, took in the spectacular landscape all around me, and thought "holy shit, this rocks!"

The parachute opened at 5,000 or 6,000 feet, and then I swung up into a sitting position. Don got my camera out and let me snap some photos, and then he handed me the controls and taught me the basics of how to turn, dive, and stop the 'chute. So much fun! The whole thing only took 5 minutes or so from jump to landing, but it was worth every penny (that would be about 16,000 US pennies, I think). I can't compare the exhilirating rush to anything else I've experienced! We'll see how the Nevis Highwire bungy jump compares...

OK, I'm beat, so I'll write again from Queenstown or Dunedin in a few days!

Safely on the ground (for now),
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