If you'd have told me on the first day of June that by the end of the month I would have jumped from a plane at 14,000 feet I wouldn't have believed you. Skydiving is something that has always been on my bucket list, however it has always had a comfortable spot towards the bottom, as my fear of falling from heights at fast speeds over-rode my desire to jump from a perfectly good plane with a stranger strapped to my back.
Fast forward just over two weeks and I was hesitantly replying to an email from Jessica from Brazen PR, who had just offered me a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience the extreme sport on behalf of Chicago Town. In a brief moment of madness, Frances- the girl who once would have never set foot on a fairground ride- had signed up for her first tandem skydive*.
It was a fairly cloudy morning on the day of my dive and I spent the one-and-a-half-hour car journey from Warrington to Grange-over-Sands looking up at the sky and intermittently asking my grandad, "Do you think the weather will hold up?". To be honest, I'm not sure what I was hoping for- A part of me knew that I was now fated to jump out of a plane some time in the near future so I might as well get it over with as soon as possible, but the other half of me wanted another week or two to mentally prepare myself for it.
We were greeted by extremely friendly and humorous staff when we arrived at Skydive Northwest and after thirty minutes of training where we were briefed on how strong the harnesses were, how we were carrying not one but two parachutes and that our trendy leather caps were there to protect our tandem instructors, not us (no helmet is going to save you from a 120mph fall, silly!), we were placed in groups of three and it was time to meet our instructors and get kitted up.
My instructor, Peter Connor, led me over to the hangar where he handed me the sexy black ensemble that was going to keep me warm, and to some extent, safe during my skydive. I couldn't have asked for a nicer guy to trust with my life despite having only just met him- Peter kept making sure I was feeling okay, asked about my blog and what I had studied at uni and offered me some of his crisps, to which I politely declined (I mean, how was this guy even eating right now? I turned down pizza for this!)- If it wasn't for the fact that he was tightening a harness around me during all of this, I could have forgotten why I was there!
Afterwards, we waddled with the other divers and camera men towards the rather angry looking plane and posed for a few pictures before climbing in to the aircraft which ended up being quite cosy with ten of us crammed in between each others legs.
I can honestly say I felt no fear at this point. All of the experienced divers joked around and kept us "students" feeling relaxed as we sped down the runway and in to the air, and Peter quickly recapped with me what I had learned during the briefing. At this point I turned and asked him the much-anticipated question, "So, how long have you been doing this?", "Eighteen years, but I like to tell people that this is my third weekend", Peter laughed, "But no, I'm nearing 4,200 jumps now". I'll take that.
It took between ten and fifteen minutes for us to get up to 14,000ft, at which point Peter pulled me up on to his lap and attached me to his harness at four points on the hips and shoulders (really, is that it?). The door of the plane opened letting in a roar of wind and all of a sudden it all felt real. I was to be second out of the plane and as Peter edged us both forward I had my eyes glued to Jessica and her instructor as they positioned themselves at the door in front of me. I was almost shocked at how calm I felt as I witnessed them launch themselves in to the sky and fall in to the clouds below us in a matter of seconds. Peter grabbed my hand and gave it a last squeeze, "Just relax and enjoy the ride". Next thing I knew, I was dangling out of the plane, doing my best to smile towards my camera man, Duncan (who was casually clinging to the outside of the plane thinking he was Spiderman), whilst trying to remember my instructions; head back, hands on my harness and feet crossed underneath the plane.
The next minute or so was a blur. I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a "holy crap, what am I doing?!" moment as my body entered sensory overload just as we left the plane; all I remember is feeling Peter rock us back and forth a couple of times for momentum, and then watching the plane shoot past us before seeing white, then blue and then white again as gravity did its job and we tumbled back down towards the ground. Within about five seconds we had stabilised and Peter tapped me on the shoulder to assume free fall position. It's crazy to think that at this point we were falling at around 120mph because it didn't feel like I was falling at all. Everything looked the same up there and the strong air flow rushing up past me made it feel like I was just suspended in midair. It was the most exhilarating feeling, ever.
[Photos: Credit to Duncan Haynes]
Free fall lasted for around forty seconds before I saw Peter wave his arms in front of us to tell Duncan that he was about to deploy the parachute and I braced myself for the transition from 120mph to 20mph in about five seconds. This was probably the worst part of the entire dive for me- We jerked back and my legs swung down as I watched Duncan disappear below us and my stomach felt like it was going to come out of my mouth, making me glad that I had turned down the pizza and crisps earlier. At this point we emerged from the clouds and then we had the most breathtaking view of the Lake District, Lake Windermere and Morecambe Bay. The UK certainly looks nicer from 4,000ft. Peter handed me the cables and let me control the parachute whilst he loosened my harness and pointed out the sights. We glided around in the calming silence for about five minutes before we descended towards the airfield and Peter told me to lift my legs out in front of me as he slowed us down for a feather-light landing where we slid across the floor.
The high I felt from the experience is one I've never felt before. I had just jumped out of a freaking plane. Right to this very moment I still can't quite believe it, which is why I opted to get my skydive filmed and photographed (I might share the video with you all one day, but for now just enjoy the photos ;)). I thanked Peter for being so great and for getting us both down to the ground in one piece, returned my equipment to the hangar and then indulged in a few slices of Chicago Town pizza (which, might I add was very good, but more about that another day).
A huge thank you to Chicago Town, Brazen PR, all the staff at Skydive Northwest (Facebook), Peter Connor and Duncan Haynes for granting me/being a part of this amazing opportunity, and also to my grandad, who doesn't get enough recognition for driving me to all these events ;)
If anybody is hesitant about giving skydiving a go, I absolutely urge you to go for it. The feeling of detaching yourself from life for a couple of minutes and free falling through the sky is one that no blog post can explain. Take word from a girl who never thought she would do it. Would I do it again?
Yes I would (sorry, grandma).
Have you experienced a skydive?
*DISCLOSURE: This amazing opportunity was very kindly sponsored by Chicago Town/ Brazen PR. All opinions are 100% honest and my own.