I went indoor skydiving on my honeymoon. I mean that literally, not figuratively. If you’re for unique ideas for your honeymoon, take a look at Jettly to see if you could hire a private jet for your flights!
But let me back up and say first that I’m afraid of heights—at least I’m afraid whenever I think there’s some danger of dying as a result of those heights.
So of course one of my early dates with my future bride was mountain climbing. After two hours of hiking up the steep Chimney Tops trail in the Smoky Mountains, Carolyn and I arrived at the final challenge—a nearly vertical rock face. I didn’t like the look of it. Signs warned that some people had fallen to their deaths, so I confessed my phobia and revealed my wimpiness to the woman I most wanted to admire me. She was disappointed. I sat at the bottom of the rock face while Carolyn scampered up it like a mountain goat. A very attractive mountain goat, mind you. One with whom I’d be happy to have kids.
For our honeymoon a couple of years later, we were back in the Smokies—Gatlinburg—and Carolyn’s desire to try indoor skydiving would be my chance to redeem myself, my chance to demonstrate to my bride that her husband was a man who could master his fears and be a man. I was married to an adventurer now, so I, too, would be an adventurer—unafraid, confident, someone who shared her interests and matched her spirit. Yes, this is the interior peptalk that cycled in my mind as we drove to Flyaway Indoor Skydiving in Pigeon Forge, which turned out to be an odd cylindrical building about four stories high.
The first step in my quest to become an intrepid indoor sky flyer involved a 20-minute “training” video that was apparently produced by a high-powered team of lawyers. There were in fact some training tips, but the main gist of the video was to ensure that by the end of it, even if I were an awfully slow learner, it could easily be proven in a court of law that I fully understood all of the dangers my honeymoon adventure might entail. The oft-repeated refrain of the video was “You could be injured—OR EVEN DIE.” That’s the way the video narrator said it, with a dramatic pause and a deepening and intensifying of his voice when he got to the “OR EVEN DIE” part. The third time I heard this, my confidence began to waver. By the fifth time, my fears were resurfacing, and by the tenth time, I was convinced, “This is it. I’m gonna die.”
At the end of the video we were led into a small room, where in turn we were told to sit in a chair in front of a video camera so that there’d be a video record of our signing the legal release form that said, “Neither I nor my heirs will sue Flyaway Indoor Skydiving regardless of what happens to me—even if I am injured—OR EVEN DIE.” The new wrinkle that caught my attention here was the reference to “heirs.” Heirs? I didn’t have any heirs. Didn’t one have to be dead to have . . . ? Oh.
In phase two, we moved into the equipment room, where it was explained that we’d be flying in a vertical wind tunnel with a metal mesh floor, beneath which was a giant fan that could produce wind speeds up to 200 mph. We were warned to empty our pockets and to remove all jewelry since anything that fell off of us and hit the fan blades would be shot back up in our direction as a bullet-like projectile. This sounded like Russian roulette to me. What if a filling fell out while I was screaming?
We donned blousy nylon jumpsuits, goggles, and foam earplugs and were ready to begin our three-minute turns in the wind tunnel along with two men on the Flyaway staff. Were they spotters? Or had long practice determined that it took two men to drag away the lifeless bodies?
Too soon my turn came to step into the roaring tower. My bride watched through the small window of thick glass. It comforted me to know that she would witness my demise, could attest to my courage until the very end.
I stood in the center, the sweet spot, huge blades whirring below me. The fan revved, and the wind roared louder. The staffers cupped my elbows. The fan cranked higher. Still higher. Then I leapt up. Leapt into the prescribed posture of an arched spread eagle, a diver of the sky, a soaring paratrooper. And I lifted off. Saw she was smiling, she my wife now for twenty-five years. I rose. I was flying. Flying.
And I haven’t landed yet.