With a good friend, you can do anything. That's what I tell myself as the tiny plane putters higher into the sky. Anything. Even jump out of this plane.
It's a deal I made a year ago, over a glass of wine with my friend Jayne. We were dreaming up our next big trip. "Would you jump out of a plane?" Jayne asked. I said, "I will if you will. But you have to go first." I didn't think she would. She did. And now it's my turn.
You don't choose a skydiving school flippantly, which is why we picked Skydive Carolina!, one of the nation's largest and safest. After scaring us silly with a preflight video that declared God himself couldn't sue if we got hurt, our instructor, Chuck Hammond, reassured us with some comforting odds. Last year alone, Chuck led 700 first-time jumpers out of a plane. Why? "Because I feed off your energy," he says.
So now I'm going up, trusting Chuck with my life and trying not to punch the videographer asking me, for the fifth time, if I'm scared.
After 25 long minutes, we reach 13,500 feet. The door slides open, and a jumper with a helmet cam climbs onto the wing and dangles like a gargoyle. Chuck straps himself to my back and inches me toward the door.
You know the falling dream? Skydiving isn't anything like that. After the first step, it's easy.
At terminal velocity—120 mph—it doesn't feel like falling. I feel like a falcon, diving. My screams become hoots, then belly laughs. The fear is gone. I'm flying free. Nothing matters but this moment.
After a one-minute freefall, Chuck pulls the chute. There's an intense jerk and then a slow soar. As we swirl around, I spot Charlotte's skyscrapers and Crowders Mountain, a solitary peak 40 miles away. Too soon, we land, lifting our legs and scooting across the open field. Jayne greets me with high fives and a bottle of Champagne.
The entire jump, plane to ground, takes less than six minutes, but the emotional high lasts for months. I still dream about it. It ranks right up there with my other big life moments—getting married, giving birth.
And now I know that it's really true: With a good friend, you can do anything.
SKYDIVE CAROLINA! is based near Chester, South Carolina, between Charlotte and Columbia; skydivecarolina.com or 803/581-5867.