The body in flight
is the ultimate rush.
I’ve never been a risk-taking thrill seeker, not ever. But, I tell you, I could do with more experiences like my lesson today at Paraclete XP Sky Ventures. It was a learning experience for the mind and body. It was a learning experience for the spirit as well.
I arrived at Paraclete XP about a half hour before my lesson and when I got out of the car I could already hear the big hum of the wind tunnel. Inside, two teams were practicing “routines” in preparation for an international skydiving competition. The two groups, a 4-member and a 2-member team, worked alternately in 2-minute episodes. One of the quartet members smiled waved at me while spinning and flipping in mid-air. I gave him the thumbs up and smiled back. Later, after my own time in the wind tunnel, the two teams resumed their practice and I learned that the quartet was from Russia and the duo from Brazil. Both teams had traveled all the way to Raeford NC just to practice. As it turns out, Paraclete XP currently has the largest vertical wind tunnel
on the planet in the whole universe. I didn’t know that beforehand. And even if I had, I wouldn’t have realized what a big deal it was.
My instructor was a young man named James Flaherty who has over 6500 sky dives and a long list of credits and awards. I felt pretty safe in James’ hands from the beginning. There were four other people in my class: two journalists from DC and a father and his 12-year daughter from Chicago. All four had traveled to NC just to experience Paraclete. The journalists documented everything from beginning to end. They even interviewed me.
The classroom instruction was minimal, mostly safety and hand signals. There’s no use in trying to talk in the wind tunnel because it’s so loud (even with earplugs). The hand signals were basic: stretch legs, bend legs, chin up, and relax. I didn’t have any problems remembering the rudiments once my turn in the tunnel came up; however, that doesn’t mean that I could actually do what James signaled. After a time of instruction, we zipped up in wind suits (mine was blue) and put on protective gear.
I had two 2-minute turns in the tunnel. That might not seem like hardly any real time at all but it is. Two minutes in a vertical wind tunnel does not “fly by,” at least it did not for me. I worked hard the entire flight, mostly concentrating and trying to get my limbs to cooperate. The things I thought would happen didn’t. For example, I thought I’d be looking down (waaay down) to the very bottom of the chamber (3-stories down) and a little frightened (or a lot frightened), but I didn’t and I wasn’t. I also thought that the flight would feel like floating when in actuality it’s like stepping into a 150-mph category V hurricane. There’s no effortless floating about any of it. Still, afterwards I wasn’t wobbly or sore or even tired. In fact, I would have kept on going and going around and around if I could have.The last maneuver that James and I did in the tunnel was a spectacular ascending and descending spiral. James held on to one of my legs and one of my arms and did absolutely all the work while I just enjoyed the ride. It was the closest sensation to flying that I could ever have imagined. It felt like pure grace, a newly-found “thin place.”
By no means am I a “natural.” Instead, I flailed around today like a wet flag in gale-force winds. I wasn’t graceful or charming like the Russians or the Brazilians, but I did get the most amazing rush. Hopefully I also had a successful “first” lesson in light of my next scheduled flight in two weeks. We’ll see.