Dead calm on the edge

“Look up and in…. GO!

And I’m falling. Through fresh air with nothing more substantial in it than a few wisps of cloud. The ground is 4000ft below and the air is rushing past at 120kph.

Yet amid the chaotic whooshing, I feel strangely calm.

Because I know what to do. In 10 surprisingly physical hours yesterday, the RAPS instructors trained us to jump with a static line. All the stuff you need to do in the air, most of which happens in the five seconds before your parachute opens.

(Yes, I know it looks like a watercolour, but that’s me in the pic.)

I don’t do it quite textbook – my “ARCH THOUSAND, TWO THOUSAND…” speech is too fast, and when I look up the canopy’s still unfolding. You miss a lot by waiting, though: it’s a thing of beauty, like orchids expanding in timelapse photography. “Is it big?” No, but give it a moment…

Floating below a good canopy at last, I’m at peace.

Never been here before, but I recognise the place: it’s where you feel life at its fullest. The edge.

‘The edge’ is what I call any environment that’s alien to human beings, yet where by our resourcefulness we’re able to survive. Extreme cold in mountains, a searing desert, a solo jungle trek. Gore-Tex, Toyota, and Silva help us to balance on that line between life and death, as long as you know how to use them. The edge is where you learn what it means to be human.

Most species of animal live on the edge all the time. But too many of us humans have forgotten it, encased in our comfortable prophylactics of cities and services. We don’t appreciate running water or electricity or rooves over our heads because they’ve become too Normal, taken us too far from the edge.

All the problems of the world would just dissolve, if everyone lived closer to the edge.

And there’s a fairly strong case for skydiving being edge. Like all edges, it’s perfectly possible to survive and thrive simply by following certain rules. If I do something wrong, I’ll plummet a vertical mile and end up slightly dead. But as long as I don’t do anything stupid, there is only a one in four million chance that both my main and reserve ‘chutes will fail (far smaller still now the main’s inflated without trouble) and I’m in considerably less danger than crossing the street. Completely safe, in this utterly untenable environment.

I don’t have a care in the world, up here.

I was second out of the plane, so there’s only one ‘chute below me: he’s drifting some distance from the white X. Ha ha, I’m certainly not going to make that mistake. Let’s just line up with the landing arrow and do our three stage turn at 1000-500-300ft, shall we…

Two minutes later I’m directly above him, having turned around to face the wind for landing, and discovered the windspeed exactly matches the speed of the canopy. My descent is basically vertical, and I land in the muddy field several hundred metres from the X. Jumper 1 and I tramp back together.

But damn, it feels good. I’ve just traversed the distance between a plane in flight and the ground, VERTICALLY, using the contents of a rucksack. This rocks.

I’m the Buddha. I’m Zen. I’m the Bulletproof Monk. In a state of satisfied equilibrium that isn’t exhilaration; it’s more like… understanding. Comprehending the true vastness of human experience. And loving it.

Next challenge: 6 more jumps to start freefalling. The midterm goal is to freefall from 15,000ft by September. I’m on the ground now, but I’m still a mile high.

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